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The Homophobe


Algar Labouchere Thorold (1866-1936), a nephew and in the 1890s an employee of our subject, wrote a Life of Henry Labouchere in 1913. Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964), no relation to his subject, wrote Labby (The Life and Character of Henry Labouchere) in 1936. Both are amusing and beautifully written. I’ll refer to them again and again for both are rich mines of information.

The first, the nephew’s, in 1913 makes no reference at all in 513 pages, to the Labouchere Amendment or to Oscar Wilde, though Labouchere knew Wilde personally and Wilde was sent to jail under the terms of Labouchere’s Amendment.

The Pearson biography, 318 pages in 1936, also omits the Amendment but is uncomfortable about its subject’s ‘grave lack of sympathy’ with Oscar Wilde. Most recently R J Hind of London University wrote the very helpful Henry Labouchere and The Empire (1880-1905) about Labouchere’s hostility to further expansions of the British Empire.

1st Essay - We Are Born

Before this opening section, about the world when Labouchere was born in 1831, I’d like to give particular thanks to John and Mary Labouchere and a gay activist friend, Nicholas Billingham, who gave me hospitality in Norfolk in 2017 when I was getting to know who the modern Labouchere family are.

I’d also like to thank Joan Labouchere in France, to whom John introduced me, for his help in guiding me away from errors about the origins of the family. They bear, of course, no responsibility for the views I reach in these essays.

The Little Drawing
The ‘thumbnail’ inset picture here is a detail from a colour lithograph published in London on 23 January 1886 in the St Stephen’s Review, a journal that supported the British Conservative Party between 1883-1892.
Labouchere is standing with his back to us, threatening a fallen opponent. The complete cartoon, of which someone should make a tapestry as with the Raphael Cartoons, is called Conference of the Liberal Party and chairs and fists are flying everywhere.
It’s by William Mecham (1853-1902) who under the pseudonym of ‘Tom Merry’ called the big lithographs ‘presentation cartoons’ meaning they were for sale for framing and putting on the wall.
I first saw Conference of the Liberal Party exactly in that form, on a wall at the Reform Club, London, not at all a Conservative joint. The Club was founded in 1841 as a meeting-place for Liberal MPs – suggesting Liberals could take whatever Conservatives dished out.
It was on the wall of the downstairs gent’s toilet. Labouchere was a member of the Club at the time the cartoon was published. His favourite spot was the smoking-room ‘was the smoking-room of the Reform Club beneath ‘the windows that look across Pall Mall to the east side of St James’s Square”, Hesketh Pearson, 222.
The House of Commons Library has a large collection of Mecham’s cartoons. So did Winston Churchill’s father. Henry Labouchere appears in other presentation drawings by ‘Merry’ but never again as prominently as in Conference of the Liberal Party in January 1886.
That’s five months after Henry Labouchere proposed and successfully carried his ‘Labouchere Amendment’ outlawing sex between men, or any intention of sex, no matter at what ag or where. So, I stood still in the Reform gents in 2019 and stared and stared at the print.
I took a photo of it and people came in and frowned, and some went out hastily and one smiled broadly, bless him. I was saying to myself, could the detail of Labouchere - his identity confirmed on the drawing – be a contemporary rebuke to Labouchere for his Amendment? By a Conservative?
I thought yes it could. And then, brooding about it for the longest time, I though no it wasn’t.
Classic Difficulties of Interpretation
The more I studied this detail from Conference of the Liberal Party back home on my phone the more struck I was by how difficult it can be to decipher sexual intentions in a place and age that didn’t want to discuss them.
The position of the man on the floor interested me. Take the clothes off him and you have seated nude male (D) from the south (viewer's left) corner zone of the Parthenon's East Pediment (438-433 BC) currently in the British Museum.
So, was this a nod to a Parthenon world where male loves of males were less reviled? ‘Tom Merry’ would have been very aware that the gays amongst his Classically educated readers and buyers (whatever word for gay men, if any, he used in his head), and a lot who weren’t gay, would have picked up the reference at once.
I like that thought, but I grimly have to admit that art-students of Mecham’s time often copied casts of the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum. Putting a revered cultural object into natty 19th century gents’ clothing for a laugh doesn’t have to be a gay hint.
Again, this detail in Conference of the Liberal Party could plausibly have been a libertarian Conservative objection to the invasion of personal liberty represented by Liberal MP Labouchere’s Amendment.
One leading and personally straight Conservative certainly didn’t want the Amendment. This was Lord Salisbury (1830-1903) who was Prime Minister in August 1885 when the Amendment passed, heading a minority Conservative government from 23 June 1885 to 28 January 1886.
He’d said in 1881 that there were already quite enough British laws against sodomites when a plainclothes policeman surprised him during a House of Lords committee of enquiry into the trafficking of women by branching off into an (unrelated) request for more laws against sodomites.
I like that thought too. But there’s no proving that Mecham was aware of Lord Salisbury’s 1881 outburst or approved it.
Simple Kindness Could Explain It
Mecham was a top-of-the-bill music-hall/vaudeville artiste as well as a cartoonist for the St Stephen’s Review and in 1895-1896, long before Walt Disney, became a pioneer in filming animated cartoons.
So, he knew two industries irresistible to gays and containing a far higher percentage of unmistakeably gay men than other occupations. From the 1870s to the beginning of the 20th century he shared theatre stages and dressing-rooms with gays many a time, whatever word, if any, he used for them in his mind, some presumably talking Polari.
Could he have been amused by them, liked them, pitied them their fallen condition (in the eyes of their century)? Perhaps.
It would be pleasant to think that out of simple kindness a man in the artist’s corner of Henry Labouchere’s political world told him to his face with a ‘presentation drawing’, within months of the Amendment, that he, Labouchere, was a disgrace, by drawing him as a bully thrashing a fallen man.
If he didn’t do it for colleagues in the theatre, perhaps he did it for a colleague in the cartooning business - the Neapolitan Carlo Pellegrini (1839-1889). A friend of Degas, Pellegrini was principal cartoonist for Vanity Fair from 1868 under the pseudonym ‘Ape’, making gentle caricatures of politicians including Labouchere.
According to the DNB he ‘flaunted his homosexuality at a time when it was dangerous to do so’. Of course, the 1885 Labouchere Amendment would have made it yet more dangerous for Pellegrini to out-stare the English legal system and do as he liked.
Labouchere helped him in his early days in England by obtaining for him passes to sittings of the House of Commons so he could sketch leading politicians, Hesketh Pearson, Labby (The Life and Character of Henry Labouchere (1936), 241.
In 1874 Pellegrini drew Labouchere for Vanity Fair, (Wikipedia, Henry Labouchere/early life). Presumably Labouchere knew of his sexual reputation but wasn’t as shocked or intolerant in the 1870s as he became in the 1880s.
It would be pleasant to think that in his forties Labouchere could be civil and knowingly – knowingly - helpful to a gay man. But again, there can only be knowledge of possibilities rather than facts.
It would be pleasant to think that in his forties Labouchere could be civil and knowingly – knowingly - helpful to a gay man. But again, there can only be knowledge of possibilities rather than facts.
Who Was the Man on The Floor?
Was Mecham gay? Do we know if the man on the floor in the Parthenon pose was gay? For the matter of that, was Henry Labouchere gay? But since he’s the subject of this whole book I think I’ll leave him aside here.
The man on the floor in what might be a Parthenon pose is identified in a key to the large drawing as George Goschen MP (1831-1907), son of a German immigrant from Leipzig and in 1886 a Liberal MP, like Labouchere.
Or rather, unlike Labouchere. For whereas Labouchere stayed with the Liberal Party all his political life until his retirement in 1905, Goschen moved to the Conservative Party in 1886. In 1900 he was made Viscount Goschen in the House of Lords at the request of a Conservative leader.
Gay? I shouldn’t think so. He married at twenty-six and had six children with his wife Lucy. He could have been gay as well, of course, but unless someone knows anything to the contrary it’s safer to assume he wasn’t, or not to Mecham’s knowledge.
Was Mecham gay himself? As with Goschen, so far as I’m aware we don’t know. And so, again pending a revelation, we must assume statistically that he wasn’t since most grown men aren’t.
All About Ireland and Probably No Sub-Text
Whatever gay sub-text there may have been in Conference of the Liberal Party reluctantly I move to the probability that there wasn’t. The openly declared subject of the cartoon is Ireland.
In 1886 it was politically one island, regarded by all but the recalcitrant as one of Queen Victoria’s kingdoms. Among the recalcitrant was Henry Labouchere. He encountered the Boston Irish in 1854-1855 (Algar Thorold, 43-44) and by 1885 believed the island should be self-governing under the Crown.
This meant letting Ireland have back its former Assembly of Ireland (‘Dáil Éireann’), founded in Dublin in 1297, closed at the wish of Protestant Irish landowners in 1800, after which representatives of the whole island travelled to speak and vote solely at the House of Commons in Westminster.
In 1885 William Gladstone (1809-1898), leading the Liberal Party as Prime Minister of Britain and Ireland with 351 MPs against the Conservatives’ 237 MPs and sixty-three Irish Home Rule Party MPs, resigned over the murder of General Gordon. Conservatives began a minority administration.
In Opposition, brooding at his wife’s house in Wales, seventy-seven year old Gladstone began to move towards agreeing with self-government by Ireland and in December 1885, a month before the Mecham cartoon Conference of the Liberal Party, his conversion to the policy was announced.
All hell broke loose. The Irish Home Rule MPs at Westminster went into alliance with him, but a large part of the Liberal Party resigned his leadership, including George Goschen. They split away, forming a ‘Liberal Unionist’ Party opposed, like Conservatives, to reviving the Assembly of Ireland.
Before the split celebrated in Mecham’s jubilant Conference of the Liberal Party the united Liberal Party had held power over the British Empire under different leaders for eighteen of the twenty-seven years since 1859 and won five of the six elections held during that time.
By comparison, the reduced Liberal Party (including Labouchere) that was led by Gladstone until 1894, and then by others, would form Imperial administrations in only three of the next nineteen years.
The Assembly of Ireland resumed at the Dublin Mansion House on Tuesday 21 January 1919 without the consent of Westminster, flatly announced by the Irish Sinn Féin (“We Ourselves’) Party founded in 1905.
The great Liberal Party of Britain to which Labouchere and Goschen had belonged, and against which Mecham laboured, won no seats at all in the British general election of 2019 which was won by the Brexit party allied to the 19th century Conservative Party.
But their huge Club, the Reform, survives, and in it the gent’s cloakroom where Conference of the Liberal Party has such a proud place.
Portrayal of Labouchere with a Hat and Shillelagh
The battered hat on Labouchere’s head in Mecham’s Conference of the Liberal Party was meant, I think, to suggest to potential purchasers in 1886 the ‘bog-Irish’, as some English contemptuously called rural Catholics defined by Wiktionary as ‘people of low-class Irish ancestry (derogatory)’.
Those were the sort of people Labouchere, Gladstone, and their like, wanted to allow into the government of Ireland.
Similarly, I think the shape of Labouchere’s furled umbrella was intended to remind onlookers in 1886 of the ‘shillelagh’, the ‘thonged willow’ or the walking stick of knotty blackthorn with a hard knob of wood at the top that unarmed Gaelic-speaking poor Catholic Irishmen carried.
The cartoon is saying that Labouchere is an English-born Liberal who ought to know better who disgracefully is siding with Irish nationalists who at heart are ruffians of the bog - whereas Goschen, impeccably dressed on the floor, is trying to maintain a ‘civilised’ 19th century English lordship over Ireland.
A drawing of Labouchere about to thrash a defenceless fellowman: I thought, use it to start this book.
Young People Of 1831
Darwin’s efforts to get aboard HMS Beagle: Wikipedia, Second voyage of HMS Beagle.
Mary Louisa Labouchere twenty-three when she gave birth to Henry Labouchere of the Amendment: it seems she may have been born in ‘about 1808’: WikiTree retrieved 2/12/2019.
She married John Peter Labouchere in 1830, WikiTree.
Date of birth of Labouchere of the Amendment, Algar Thorold, 14.
Mary Louisa stands: She might have done sometimes during second labour.
Her supporters: I suppose a house the size of the ones in Portland Place would have had a female housekeeper (and a butler to manage menservants).
Just possibly Mary Louisa Labouchere was helped by a man-midwife: for their existence assisting midwives.
Probably one would only have been called if a medical emergency were affecting her or predicted.
For the description here of Mary Louisa Labouchere’s possible experiences during labour I’ve partly turned to NHS Labour and birth and NCT New Parent Support.
Mary Louisa Labouchere enters the second stage of labour late on 8 November. I say so for narrative purposes, given that the birth was the following day on 9 November 1831. The whole of this birth-scene is imaginary, for unless a contemporary letter surfaces describing it there’s no information.
No mother will know the sex of the child she’s carrying for another 170 years.
A few women of property succeeded in defying custom and voting in British elections before 1832. All women, however rich, were then forbidden the Vote by law in the otherwise Great Reform Bill of 1832, provoking the era of organised protests which culminated in the Suffragettes.
Perhaps the labour pains came on Mary Louisa before the due date. That Labouchere may have been premature is the merest guess, solely from Labouchere’s nephew’s information that when Labouchere was twelve he was ‘exceedingly small for his age’, Algar Thorold, The Life Of Henry Labouchere, 17.
In her bedroom: I don’t know the actual interior layout of the Laboucheres’ house in 1831. It’s been demolished and the site is covered by part of the BBC Langham Place.
Darwin eats at the Minerva with Captain FitzRoy of HMS Beagle on 8 November 1831: I’ve imagined he may have done.
If anyone knows to the contrary, or knows he couldn’t have eaten there or anywhere near because he was temporarily away from Plymouth, please email me.
It will be seen that I aim to show, via the Minerva Inn and Mary Louisa Labouchere’s labour, the ‘masses and classes’ world in which Henry Labouchere grew up.
Factually, twenty-two-year-old Darwin stayed in ‘quayside lodgings’ with twenty-six-year-old FitzRoy and the nineteen-year-old first mate of the Beagle from 24 October 1831 until Beagle sailed on 27 December 1831 - Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (1991), 107 & 110.
Repair work on the Beagle: Desmond & Moore ibid; also, Wikipedia, Second voyage of HMS Beagle/Darwin’s preparations.
If they don’t visit a pub the two can eat aboard the docked Beagle by text, habitable again after months of repairs, Desmond & Moore ibid, 110, but FitzRoy’s cabin was below deck and tiny, ibid, 107, and presumably they wouldn’t want to do so every day. They’d have to eat there every day once the Beagle was on the move.
If they ate together on the evening of 8 November 1831, they could alternatively have been invited to scull across to dine in best clothes in the Grand Cabin of a really big five-deck man-of-war as it readied to up anchor.
FitzRoy liked his food: on the day of departure, 27 December 1831, he had mutton chops and champagne, ibid 114.
See Minerva inn for more information.
That ‘crapping ken’ was the term for a communal toilet, Wikipedia, Thomas Crapper.
That there was one near the pub: maybe, guessing from The British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS)’s virtual museum/a brief history of the flush toilet.
Toilets flushed by water have been found in Neolithic ruins in Scotland, may have been invented in north-west India c.2000 BCE, are known from Crete c.1700 BCE, and were a commonplace in ancient Rome. The flush-toilet was invented in England in 1592 by a godson of Elizabeth I but largely ignored until 1861 when it was put into some royal palaces, BAUS ibid.
The drop in Northern European men’s average heights since 1300 CE: Science Daily, citing Richard Steckel, Ohio State University (2004).
1300 was the end of a European warm period, Britannica, John P Rafferty, Little Ice Age.
Meaning that Labouchere and his contemporaries in Northern Europe grew up towards the end of a nasty downturn in the weather.
Human heights began to recover during the 19th century, regaining the averages of the European warm period during the 20th century.
That Darwin was about 6ft: one of his sons said so, & Desmond & Moore ibid, 107. His discomfort, ibid, passim.
I assume the Minerva ceilings would have been low, like those of warships.
Minerva of Rome, & Wikipedia, Minerva.
FitzRoy continues to interview Darwin for the position of dining-companion on the Beagle: I imagine he would have done so, hoping against hope for a Tory (see below).
Desmond & Moore in their 1991 biography of Darwin consider the arrangement was definite from September 1831.
Fall-front trousers v. fly-front trousers: Wikipedia, the 1830s in western fashion.
I’m guessing that Darwin wasn’t fashion-conscious, though unluckily a drawing of him on the deck of HMS Beagle in 1832 doesn’t make clear what kind of trousers he’s wearing, for he has his back to us, Wikipedia, Charles Darwin, illustrations.
A Royal Navy captain’s uniform in 1831: this is my best shot after consulting Wikipedia, Royal Navy ranks, rates, and uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Masses and The Classes
The weather in England: there were only nine dry summers between 1800-1840 and 1831 wasn’t one of them. premium. It was wet in London in 1831, ibid.
December 1830 saw a ‘spectacular White Christmas in London, thought to be the model on which Charles dickens based his Christmas at Dingley Dell episode in the Pickwick Papers, ibid.
In 1939 Dutch climatologist and glacier expert François Émile Matthes will successfully propose that 1300-1840 CE should be defined as a European Little Ice Age.
The Abstract of Meteorological Journal of the Beagle (published 1839) indicates that the barometric pressure in Devonport, Plymouth, on the morning of 8 November 1831 was 29.80.
The King’s house at Brighton: The Royal Pavilion, Wikipedia, William IV/early reign.
That FitzRoy was mainly in Plymouth from June 1831 to 27 December: Wikipedia, Second voyage of HMS Beagle/ context and preparations.
FitzRoy inherited £6,000 from his father when he was twenty-five in 1830: equal to over £5 million today; relative to the wage of the average worker today (2021).
By the time he died at the age of fifty-nine in 1865 he’d spent it all on public causes, starting with HMS Beagle’s’ repairs in 1831. His destitute widow, mother of his five children, had to be rescued financially by, among others, Darwin and Queen Victoria, Wikipedia, Robert FitzRoy/death & legacy.
HMS Beagle was repaired and improved in Devonport, Plymouth, Abstract of Meteorological Journal of the Beagle (1839), and when fully refurbished was moved to an anchorage at Barn Pool on the Mount Edgcumbe shore of Plymouth on 23 November 1831.
The Old Men
The masses and the classes: I encountered the phrase, apparently popular in the 19th century, in Harry Cocks of Nottingham University’s Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century, (2003).
Labouchere’s definition of himself as middle-class: he’s quoted as emphatically saying so in his nephew’s 1913 biography of him. I’m waiting to find the page number.
The aristocrat who was cut off financially by his father was Lord Salisbury (1830-1903), the presiding Prime Minister at the time of the Labouchere Amendment in 1885. The story of the father’s anger, Wikipedia, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury/early life.
John Labouchere’s bank, which he put together in 1825-1826 when he was twenty-six, was Williams, Deacon, Labouchere & Co, later acquired by others and now a closed-doors part of Natwest; Natwest heritage hub & Wikipedia, Williams Deacon’s Bank.
I wasn’t able to access the Natwest Group heritage hub at the time of writing this, so the above is from memory.
John Peter Labouchere and Mary Louisa Labouchere married in 1830: so it seems, WikiTree retrieved 2/12/2019.
That Labouchere’s father John Peter went to Winchester College: this seems probable, for his only (and elder) brother certainly did, Wikipedia, Henry Labouchere, 1st Baron Taunton.
That Labouchere went to Eton at twelve, Thorold, 16.
Labouchere’s ‘fag’ at school: the teenage Fred Hervey, d.1907, who was the eldest son of the 2nd Marquess of Bristol and three years younger than Labouchere, Thorold, 17, n.1. Hervey’s family included an out gay in the early 18th century, Wikipedia, John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey, giving rise to a joke that there were three genders, men, women, and Herveys.
Labouchere’s political friendship with Lord Randolph Churchill, Thorold, 245 & 255.
I suppose the Minerva did an equivalent of fast-food in 1831 and might have had an ex-warship cook.
Free spending: FitzRoy is paying himself for the improvements to the Beagle and would have chartered a ship himself if Beagle hadn’t been forthcoming. Wikipedia/context and preparations.
Pig’s face is a dish so popular that they could have wanted it.
Sisig, Bath Chap, Guanciale: names from, and from Wikipedia, Guanciale.
Pig-exchanges: I remember people telling me they did this during the Second World War.
‘A pig eaten nose to tail…’:, referring to Parson James Woodforde’s description of his dinner in 1792.
‘Without a qualm…’. ibid.
Awareness of vegetarianism, Wikipedia, Vegetarian Society. The concept had been encountered by traders and sailors in India and elsewhere.
Labouchere himself will become more or less vegetarian by middle age – not deliberately but from possessing by then a very small appetite, R A Bennett, editor of Truth, cited by Thorold, 444.
‘Our modern sensibilities…’:
Recipe for ‘pig-face Pye’, ibid, quoting Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747).
For what cooks did with a whole pig’s head there are explicit photos in Eric Ernest’s recipe for Porchetta di Testa in West Coast Prime Meats Cooks (2015).
And that’s
‘Cambrian rocks…’: books, google / A Flora Of Shropshire by William Allport Leighton (1841). The landscape as it happens apparently also includes Upper New Red Sandstones, used as holystones on ships.
Dickens’ expeditions on the River Forth. Wikipedia, Charles Darwin/early life and education.
For William Alport Leighton, his Wikipedia entry.
By the age of eight or thereabouts: Darwin is known to have liked botany. Wikipedia, Charles Darwin/early life and Aeducation
For Darwin’s father Robert Darwin. Wikipedia.
That the same career as Leighton’s was planned for Darwin. Wikipedia, Charles Darwin/early life and education.
And probably planned for Labouchere: this is speculation by me, though I think very likely. Opening chapters 1 & 2 of Thorold, A Life of Henry Labouchere.