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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.