Uncategorized

‘The Female Cabdriver’

I came across this individual not so long ago when revisiting Alison Oram and Annmarie Turnbull’s book The Lesbian Sourcebook. (1) ‘A Woman as A Cabdriver for Ten Years’ was the headline that was published in the Liverpool Mercury 1875. As the story unfolded it was clear that this person that was known in Liverpool as William Seymour was actually born Mary/Margret and grew up in Taunton, Somerset. Mary was forced into marriage at the age of fourteen to a man by the name of Honeywell (an army surgeon). Although the article did not go into detail, it did discuss how the marriage was unfulfilled and miserable, as a result Mary escaped to London, assumed a different identity and led a better life.

Wm Seymour .jpg
1871 Census Record for ‘Wm Seymour’ who is third from the bottom, with his occupation as ‘cab driver’

Working backwards from William being 25 in 1875, I have estimated that he left for London in 1866 and stayed their for three years before coming to Liverpool in 1869. I accessed the 1871 Census and found that there was a ‘Wm Seymour’ who was born in Taunton, Somerset in 1850 and was married to ‘Agnes Seymour’, the couple and Agnes’ brother were living in 167 Back Ashton Street. Today Ashton Street houses the beautiful Victoria Gallery and Museum. Their local parish has since been flattened but was St Silas’ Church at Pembroke Place. This census records recognises ‘Wm’ to be male and head of the household. Despite Agnes being recognised as his wife, the pair may have been cohabitating as I have been unsuccessful in locating their marriage certificate.

St Silas Pembroke Place 1940.jpg
This is the earliest image of St Silas Church, Pembroke Place, 1940

Interestingly, it was not the fact that William was a female cabdriver that was the main body of the article, although it would have grabbed a readers attention when reading the newspaper. Instead William had been arrested for thieving 30lbs of beef and veal from Henry Moorby who had a butchers on Leece Street. The Liverpool Mercury described the trial and what happened to William.

I located the Quarter Sessions for that year and found that William Seymour was actually tried under the name of Mary Honeywell – the individual had actually changed to their biological identity whilst in the trial. Despite Mary not having any previous convictions, they were still sentenced to 2 months Hard Labour at Whitton Gaol – or as we know today Walton Jail.

20170208_102353.jpg
William Seymour in the Quarter Sessions in February 1875. Accessed at Liverpool Central Library

In the Liverpool Mercury article, the recorder Mr J. B. Aspinall Q.C. asked,

‘How do you account for the way you are going about in male clothes and as a car driver? What is the meaning of it? Of course, that is not an offence but one wishes to know something about you’. (2).

This I find astonishingly progressive for 1875 in that an individual knowingly concealed their biological identity and their same-sex marriage essentially, however both were not illegal. Yet here we are in 2017 still having a discussion about where and how people can use public restrooms. Despite the sniggering and laughter that was recorded from the courtroom, the article of the Liverpool Mercury article was not disrespectful to William. Having read a number of similar articles, I can confirm that the nineteenth century was lenient in their discussions of ‘female husbands’ and other gender passing individuals. Yes, inevitably, there were some pronoun slippages however, there was a level of respect and to an extent admiration that these individuals were living a gender that was contrary to their biology but they did it in a way that showcased their abilities in their community and employment.

Unfortunately after this I have been unsuccessful in locating anything else about William or his whereabouts after his trial. Despite contacting Taunton and Somerset Archives, I have been unable to locate the birth or registration of Mary or locate anything about the army surgeon Honeywell.

Ashton Street 1849.png
This is an aerial view of Ashton Street in 1849 with thanks to ‘Liverpool in Black n White’

Reading

(1) Oram, A. and Turnbull, A. (ed.), The Lesbian History Sourcebook: Love and Sex between women in Britain from 1780-1970, (London; Routledge, 2001).

(2) ‘A Woman as a Cabdriver for ten years, A Romance of the Rank’, Liverpool Mercury, (Liverpool; England), 13/02/1875.

‘A Female ‘Cabman’, Extraordinary Freak’, Edinburgh Evening News, (Edinburgh; Scotland), 13/02/1875.

‘Domestic’, Liverpool Mercury, (Liverpool; England), 13/02/1875.

‘A Female Cabdriver’, The Western Daily Press, (Yeovil; England), 15/02/1875.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s