Harry’s life hit the headlines in 1838 and 1859. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear Harry’s own voice in these news reports and the facts reported cannot always be taken at face value. However they are a great source to learn more about how gender variant people were viewed at the time.
Below are transcripts of four news reports on Harry’s life which were reprinted in papers across the country. Two articles date from 1838 and tell of how events unfolded after Harry’s wife outed him as being “not a man but a woman”. Two reports from 1859 tell of the inquest into Harry’s death.
There are inconsistencies within these varied accounts of Harry’s life. Some of the facts reported do not tie in with the evidence in the archives about Harry’s life.
Notably elements of the final report from the Salford Weekly News, October 1859 seem particularly embellished. The article tells of how Harry’s first marriage lasted just one day, whereas we can see from the 1838 reports that it lasted for over 20 years. It also exaggerates stories of Harry’s manly achievements: “in the days of the Chartist riots she was sworn in as special constable, and was made captain of her company” – the Chartism movement only began in 1838, after Harry had been outed by his first wife, and had moved to Salford.
A FEMALE HUSBAND – The Manchester Guardian, Wednesday April 11, 1838, p2
In the Manchester Times of Saturday last is a paragraph to the following effect: –
Unfounded Report. – A silly report has been industriously propagated this week, to the effect, that a respectable female in this town has been married for about 17 years to a person who, within the last few days, is discovered to be a woman. As it is was not impossible for such a circumstance to have occurred, although very improbable, we had curiosity enough to make inquiries on the subject, and found that the alleged “remarkable discovery” was a gross fabrication.
We, too, have had curiosity enough to make inquiries in the subject, and find that the “unfounded report” of the “remarkable discovery” which though “not impossible,” is “very improbably,” is really, in the main, true. All the circumstances communicated to us relative to this very singular case, we do not feel justified in publishing; but we may mention a few of the principal facts connected with what here is known of the history of this Chevalier D’Eon in humble life, of course suppressing the names of the parties.
A few days ago, a respectable female waited upon an attorney in this town, and asked his advice in a case of a very peculiar nature. It seems that her husband, a master bricklayer, who had been in the habit of trusting her implicitly in his business, even leaving to her management the booking keeping requisite in his trade, had of late, for some cause or other, refused to allow her the usual weekly sum for housekeeping. Having also, in other respects, treated her as she conceived in an unkind manner, she came to take advice as to how she should proceed, under the circumstances, against her husband, whom, to the no small astonishment of the professional gentleman she was then consulting, she declared to be not a man, but a woman.
The attorney thought it his duty, under such singular circumstances, to bring the matter under the notice of Mr. Foster, the magistrate, who directed that Mr. Thomas should take the case under his management, and bring the parties for private examination before him (Mr Foster), at the police office. Mr Thomas took the necessary steps; and on Thursday last, the parties were brought before Mr Foster, in the deputy-constable’s room at the police office, when the truth of the wife’s averment to the attorney was corroborated in the most distinct and unqualified manner by Mr Ollier, surgeon to the police, who gave a certificate declaring that the individual in question was a woman. The woman-husband, we believe did not make the least attempt to deny her sex, but contented herself with stating, that her wife had only been led to make this exposure, because she had withheld from her the weekly allowance of money for housekeeping expenses. The wife replied, that this was not the only cause she had of complaint against her spouse; for that she (the husband) was occasionally intoxicated, and that, when in that state, the husband treated her very ill. The wife has also stated, that she accidently made the discovery of the sex of her husband as much as two or three years back; but that she had kept the secret till the present time.
From what could be gleaned of the history of this female-husband, it would seem, that she had assumed the garb and character of a boy at an early age, and that in that character she was apprenticed, at the age of 16 or 17, to a master builder, in one of the large towns of Yorkshire. Being of good exterior, with prepossessing appearance and manners, and of features rather handsome, the supposed young man attracted the attention of many females in the same condition of life; and, amongst others, was the one who afterwards became the wife. The attentions of the young bricklayer were acceptable and accepted; and the union took place shortly after the expiration of the apprenticeship. Soon afterwards, this couple came to Manchester, we are told, about the year 1829, where the husband commenced the business of a builder; and by considerable skill, ability, and attention to trade, was tolerably successful,
Amongst other branches of the business, this builder became remarkable, indeed, almost to celebrity, for skill and success in the erection of flues, ovens, etc; and, we believe, is, at this moment employing several hands, and giving very general satisfaction to those for whom any work has been executed. The wife had the entire management of the books and accounts in the business; and, as far as we have heard, there was not the slightest imputation on her character, We believe that nothing was done in the way of legal proceedings. Several articles, claimed by the wife as her property, have been sent to the police office, by the husband; who so far as we have heard, has not offered any reparation to the wife, for the cruel and painful position in which she is now placed.
One thing is tolerably certain, that after the exposure which has taken place, and the affair was currently talked of as early as Thursday and Friday last, the women who has ventured to assume the character of a man will no longer be able to carry on business in this town, and that she must either lay aside her disguise, and resume the appearance which most befits her sex; or, if she will retain her unfeminine appearance and character, she must seek to hide her imposture in some place where she is not known, and where she may hope for a while to escape detection.
We believe that many persons, who have employed her, join in declaring that they had not the slightest suspicion that she was other than what she seemed. It is somewhat remarkable, that this is not the first case of this nature which has been brought under the attention of Mr. Thomas. In January 1828, a labourer in the service of Mr Crisp, ship-builder at Dockhead, London, while assisting in sawing a log of fir, was struck by the severed part of the log with such force on the head, as to die of the injury while being conveyed to St, Thomas’s Hospital. On stripping the body to prepare it for internment, it was discovered that the deceased, who was about 38 years of age, was a women. She had been known for about twenty-two years to have filled various situations as groom, shipwright’s labourer, and other subordinate occupations in dock-yards, vitriol works, etc, and hd been twenty-one years married; and his wife declared in the most solemn manner, on the inquest, and befire the police magistrates at Bow Street, that during the whole of that period, she had been in utter ignorance of the real sex of her supposed husband.
‘THE WOMAN-HUSBAND’ Manchester Guardian, 14 April, 1838, p2
THE WOMAN-HUSBAND. – Subsequent inquiries confirm the truth of the statements made in the Guardian of Wednesday last, as to this singular case. As the circumstances of the case, and the name of the husband, have now become pretty generally known throughout the town, we see no longer any necessity for concealing the latter. The assumed name of the master bricklayer is Henry Stoakes; her real name is believed to be Harriet Stoakes, and till the late exposure the parties resided in Cumberland Street, Deansgate.
This woman-man, who, for probably more than five-and-twenty years, has succeeded in concealing her sex, and in pursuing a trade of more than ordinarily masculine and hazardous description, with a degree of skill and ability which had led to her establishment of a good business in this town, bound herself apprentice at the age of 16 or 17 years, to a Mr. Peacock, a bricklayer and builder at Bawtry, a small market town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on the river Idle, which separates the counties of York and Nottingham. She did not remain with Mr. Peacock during the whole period of her apprenticeship, but was “turned over”, as it is called, to another person in the same business.
It was during her apprenticeship that she met with her present wife; and they were married at the Old Parish Church of Sheffield, in the year 1816, when the wife was only 17 years of age. Since the investigation and the disclosure of the circumstances on Thursday week the wife and husband have separated. We believe that although no legal proceedings have been, or indeed could be taken in this extraordinary case. Mr. Thomas, the deputy-constable, has had several interviews with the husband, in which he has endeavoured to induce her to make some provision for the women whom she has so shamefully deceived; and who having, for twenty-two years, filled the character of a wife, greatly benefitting the interests of the supposed husband, not only by her care of household concerns, but of the business, books and accounts, had surely some claim to compensation as servant, if she were unable by law to demand the maintenance of a wife. We believe that Mr. Thomas so far succeeded in this humane negotiation, to induce the husband to agree to give up to the wife the house in which they had resided up to the time of the discovery, with all the furniture that it contains. The wife is, therefore, still residing there; and the husband has gone to lodge elsewhere. The habits of the latter, we believe, are much more in accordance with those of her assumed sex and occupation that of a women; and no one, except perchance for the beardless cheeks, and a certain shrillness of voice could, for a moment, suspect that the little broadset bricklayer was of the softer sex. At present, she employs in her business, besides being most industrious herself in its practical details and manual operations, eight men, and a boy who is apprenticed to her. In her business and dealings, she appears to have had hitherto, a good character for punctuality and honest in her payments; and we believe she had stated that she has made enough by her business to enable her to live in ease without labour. Yet, strange to say, with a degree of irritability which we should rather expect to see in the injured than the injurer, she vehemently refuses to consent that any sum shall be set apart as a provision for her so-called wife.
Among other special duties which this female husband has performed during her residence in this town, is one that certainly it might be well expected, if the least feelings appertaining to her sex had remained, she would anxiously have endeavoured to evade. But, on the contrary, there seems to have been a sort of perversity in her, which carried into all extremes.
She was for many years a special constable, in the 13th division of that body, acting for this town; and we are assured that, on all occasions where the services of the division were required, as at elections, orange processions, and meetings of trades’ unions, turn-outs, &c; so far from absenting herself from what, as in the case of well-grounded apprehensions of a riot, must have been, to a woman, a post of some unpleasantness, she is remembered to have been one of the most punctual in attendance, and the most forward volunteer in actual duty, in that division. We understand that she is no longer a special constable, because she did not, on the last annual procession, held for that purpose at the New Bailey, present herself to be resworn. She was not discarded or discharged; there was no complaint against her; and probably the extension of her own business was her only motive for not resuming the danger of this office. Altogether this is by far the most singular case which has ever reached our knowledge. The celebrated Chevalier D’Eon was never married; and James Davis (so-called), the discovery of whose sex took place only after death, had not been married for so long a period as the woman whose case is now under notice. There, too, the discovery was made too late to obtain from the party as to any clue to the motives which led her to so unfortunate a course of deception; but here both parties of the supposed marriage are alive; and the one who presumed the male sex is still alive to give, if she desires, the true history of her reasons or fancy for throwing aside the garn and character of her own, and assuming the appearance, and undertaking the toil of the other sex, which would certainly be a very curious chapter of biography.
A WOMAN PASSING AS A MAN FOR FORTY YEARS – Manchester Examiner – reprinted in the Ashton Weekly Reporter, Saturday 22 October 1859.
On Saturday morning last, the coroner, Mr Rutter, received information that a man had been found drowned at Mode Wheel, on the river Irwell, in the township of Pendlebury, in the borough of Salford. On going to take the inquest in the afternoon, the body appeared to be that of a man about 50 or 60 years of age.
From the evidence it appeared that a man of the name of Yates, employed at the Mode Wheel Works, discovered the body in nearly erect position, at half-past six that morning, in the sluice leading from the river Irwell. With the assistance of a man named James Moyles, he got the body out of the water, and conveyed it to the Swann Inn, Pendlebury, where it lay until Saturday night.
Mary Gorton, who keeps a beershop near the Swan Inn, stated that on Friday afternoon this man came to her house and remained from three o’clock until five. He appeared perfectly sober. During the time he remained he asked for a glass of beer and a pipe of tobacco, and had four glasses in all, for which he paid sixpence. Before leaving, he inquired of her at what time the gates of the lodge leading to Mode Wheel were closed for the night. She inquired if he were going to Manchester, when he replied, “No, to Throstle Nest.” The witness said “he appeared to be upset in his mind”, and she had no further conversation with him. He was a stranger to her before this.
One of the jury remarked that if it was the person he supposed, he knew him well. His name was Henry Stokes; but though he was known by this name he was not a man, and his proper name was Harriet Stokes. She had assumed the name and garb of a man for a great number of years, and had served an apprenticeship as a bricksetter, afterwards working as a journeyman, and then for several years in business, having constructed many of the warehouses, chapels, and dwelling-houses in the neighbourhood of Manchester, the last work being the erection of a factory chimney for Mr. Simpson.
The coroner then directed two women to examine the body, who came back tittering, saying it was true; it was the body of a woman.
Harriet Taylor, who lives in the neighbourhood, said she knew Stokes well. He was a bricksetter. The proper name was Harriet Stokes, but he went by the name of Harry Stokes. Some years ago Stokes married a women in Manchester. They lived together as man and wife, and kept a beershop in Quay Street, Manchester.
Several of the jury recollected the case, and that ballads were composed and sung in the streets on its being known that the supposed man was a woman. The verdict was “Found Drowned. Supposed suicide.”
Since the inquest we are ascertained from inquiries that it is stated that about twenty-five years ago this woman was married to a female, who made complaint that her husband was not a man, and left her in consequence. The consequence was a great uproar, as we have mentioned above. A women by the name of Frances Collins stated to the police on Saturday that she lived at a public-house, in Cupid’s Alley, Manchester, where Stokes came as a customer to have his drink. Through sympathy with the poor fellow, considering him ill used, they became acquainted. She left this house, and removed to a cottage in Corporation Street, Salford, where she allowed him to live with her as a lodger. They resided there for two years, when they removed to an old-fashioned house, at the top of Quay Street, Manchester, which they altered and made into a beerhouse. The name of Frances Collins was out over the door, and they remained there eleven years. A little before the expiration of the eleven years, they took another house as a beerhouse, in Camp Street, called Pilgrim’s Rest. The name of Thomas Eaton [*John Heaton] was placed over the door, and thus Harriet Stokes attended to the one house and Frances Collins to the other for a short time, and then then they came to live together at Pilgrim’s Rest (Thomas Eaton [*John Heaton] was the son of Collin’s first husband, she having been married twice before.) Stokes and Collins remained there for six years, and then went to live at 11, Richmond Street, Salford, where they resided up to the time of Stokes’s death. From the statement of Thomas Eaton [*John Heaton], it appears that he always regarded Stokes as his step-father, and that his mother assumed the name of Stokes, and passed as his wife. It is assumed that Stokes first assumed male attire when she left her home, near Doncaster, in consequence of a quarrel with her father, when very young.
“HARRY” STOKES, THE MAN-WOMAN’, from the Salford Weekly News, October 1859. Reprinted in papers around the country including the Liverpool Mercury, 24 October 1859, and the Whitehaven News 27 October 1859.
THE most remarkable woman of this century was Harry Stokes, the bricksetter, who committed suicide in the sluice of the river Irwell, at Mode Wheel, last night week. For about 30 years this extaordinary person had lived in Manchester and Salford as a journeyman bricksetter; he had been twice married to other women; had kept a beer house, and served customers at the tap as a “jolly landlord;” had worked at her trade as a bricksetter, and erected many important buildings in both towns; and had obtained the reputation of being the most skilful fire-grate setter and “chimney doctor” in the neighbourhood. She always dressed as a man, in the clothing peculiar to her trade; invariably superintended the men in her employment; and could lift a weight, spread the mortar, and set a brick with the best of them. Her habits were those of a man. She attended a daily ordinary in the town along with other bricksetters, drank, smoked and joked with the hardest, and joined in the evening carousals. Yet, with all this constant and close intimacy with the opposite sex, this strong-minded woman contrived to keep her own great secret; and there is every reason to believe that she has gone down into the valley of death at the advanced age of 60, or thereabouts, having throughout the whole of her remarkable life maintained an unbroken check upon those passions which crowd the streets of every large town with the unfortunate of her sex. Her great endeavour was on all occasions to keep up the manly character she had assumed. From a child she had been accustomed to the severe work of one of the most laborious occupations in which man is engaged, and the skill she had attained in trade reveals an amount of persevering energy which made her worthy of a better fate than that of the wretched suicide.
It is curious to know what first induced her to assume the garb and occupation of a man, and what powerful agency it was that enabled her to remain faithful to the line of duty she had thus marked out for herself. There are instances innumerable where the influence of love, or a romantic disposition, has clothed the form of woman with male attire, and sustained her amid the perils of the battle field, in the dangers of the deep, or in wild adventure in foreign lands; but we know of no other case in history or tradition where a woman has so wonderfully repressed her own feelings and natural disposition, so completely assumed the habits of a man, and been so successful in evading the prying curiosity of the world. Harry Stokes has indeed played her part so cleverly that it is with the greatest difficulty we have been able to glean the following facts, which, meagre as they are, throw some little light on her past history. She was a daughter of a bricklayer in a village in the neighbourhood of Doncaster. Before she could well balance her own little body she was made useful in the house; and ere many years had passed over her head she was brought into acquaintance with some of the roughest and toughest work in those hard-wrought days. Little Harriet Stoke’s lines had not been laid in pleasant places. She was so ground down by the iron hand at home that, when she was about eight years old, she put on a tattered suit of boy’s clothing, and walked forth into the wide, wide world. Arrived at the village of Whitby, she looked about for work. She had not run away from her father’s house because she did not like work and preferred to eat the bread of idleness. The hard treatment of parents ignorant of their responsibility had driven her from the protection of home and from all the associations which should enchain the young mind to home. That she was not afraid of hard work was apparent when she offered her services to a bricksetter in Whitby. Though somewhat undersized, she appeared a broad-set, active, useful lad, and was speedily set to work. Her first efforts to please were attended with success, and she was soon taken as an apprentice.
From this point we must drop the feminine appellative, and speak of “Harry Stokes” as a boy who has worked his way to the dignity of a journeyman bricksetter. For something like 20 years from this point we lose the connecting links which join this Yorkshire experience to his Manchester life. About 25 years ago, however, he was brought prominently under the notice of the public by the consequences of an eccentric excursion which he had taken into the domains of matrimony. Harry Stokes, wanting a companion in life, executed a matrimonial contretemps. True to his role as a man, for he had now reached the age when the average of bricksetters are fathers as well as journeymen, he cast about, and fixed his choice upon a plump little widow who kept a beerhouse in Cupid’s alley, off Deansgate, Manchester. He had been accustomed to take his pot of beer and smoke his short pipe under Betsy’s roof, and had at least taken a decided fancy to Betsy herself. He was a good-looking young man was Harry Stokes, for, although still undersized and innocent of whiskers, a face as smooth as a woman’s, he was stoutly built, had a capacious depth of chest, and a pair of hips which gave an unusual profit to suit, for he had the reputation of being a good steady workman, and was doing pretty well as a bricksetter. It was resolved that they twain should become one flesh; and so to the church they hied. Harry discharged the duties of bridegroom at church to perfection; but when the widow got him home there was a terrible row. The night was spent in downright quarrel and fight; and the lamentable result was a summons taken out by Betsy against her husband for assault, for which he was condemned to the New Bailey for one or two months. During the hearing of the case, Betsy, with great vehemence, declared that her husband was not a man, and that she therefore wouldn’t live with him. The case created great amusement and gossip at the time, and formed the subject of popular ballads, which were sung and hawked about the streets of Manchester. Harry Stokes, on issuing from the New Bailey, was considerable persecuted by those little gamins who know so well how to torment street celebrities, while he was also the subject of much curios speculation among his brethren of the trowel. He, however, maintained a discreet silence to his sex, threw out hints that the woman he had married was mad, and as the most affective proof that she was a malevolent libeller, he soon afterwards married another widow, rejoicing in the name of Frances Collins, who was some 15 or 20 years his senior, and who had grown-up son and daughter living with her. His connection with this woman, with whom he lived until he committed suicide, is the most mysterious phase of this mysterious history. She declares with solemn earnestness that she did not know, until informed the other day, that the person with whom she had been living for 25 years, sleeping together night after night in the same bed, was a woman, and her own children looked upon Stokes as their stepfather. She asserts that she took Stokes into her house in the first instance out of pity, to shield him from the persecution to which he was subjected. It may be that, though out of a sense of shame the old woman thus attempts to conceal her knowledge of Stokes’s sex, she did in reality know from the first that the person was a woman, and that she was in all probability induced by Stokes to consent to the union in order that the appearance of married life might dispel the rumours afloat, and enable him to live “in peace and quietness.” Whether or not that was the intention, the acquaintance brought about that result; for although there were surmises that “Harry” Stokes was a woman, and he was constantly the object of curious glances, he escaped the open molestation to which he had been previously subjected. Harry and Fanny took a beerhouse in Corporation Street, Salford, where they lived for two years, when they “flitted” to Quay Street, near Deansgate, turning a private house into a beerhouse. At this house they stayed 11 years, during part of which time they held a second beerhouse in Camp Street, off Deansgate, which they called “The Pilgrim’s Rest.” and was superintended by Mrs Stokes’s son. To this house they themselves finally removed, and kept it on for six years, when they carried their furniture to No 11 Richmond Street, between St Stephen Street and Broughton Road, Salford, where they still lived together as man and wife, though the neighbours had their little whisperings together, the staple of their conversation being the peculiar figure of Harry Stokes, and speculations thereabout.
They were living in Richmond Street up to the time of the tragedy which has revived the whole history of this singular person. Harry Stokes appeared latterly to be falling into decayed circumstances, and the fear of poverty is believed to have induced him to commit suicide. On Friday evening the deceased went to the Swan public house, Pendlebury, and after drinking four glasses of ale he left for the purpose of proceeding, as he stated, to Throstle Nest. In the morning a hat was found on the top of the water in the sluice of the river Irwell, at Mode Wheel, and on examination the body of a man was found standing upright in the water. At the inquest before Mr Coroner Rutter, on Saturday, the body was identified as that of “Harry” Stokes, the well known master bricksetter of Salford; and it would probably have been buried in its clothes as it was, and the secret of the poor, courageous, hardworking Harriet Stokes would thus have been buried with her, had not one of the jury been acquainted with a portion of her past history. He mentioned his suspicion that the deceased was a woman and not a man, and two women who were sent by the coroner to solve the mystery returned tittering into the court with the information that, true enough, the body in the man’s clothes was that of a perfect woman, and no man. She was very full-breasted, but the shape of her womanly make was distorted by a broad strap which was buckled round her body under the arms. There is something of grandeur, after all, in the character of that strange woman. She has left mementos of her industry and skill all over Manchester and in many places in Salford. She was very clever in the erection of tall chimneys, and some of the highest in Manchester have been wholly or partially constructed under her superintendence; she has built churches, chapels and extensive blocks of dwelling houses, among which are mentioned the large houses at the back of St Philip’s Church, Salford; she was most expert in fitting stoves and fire-grates, and her aid in this branch of her trade has been obtained in some of the best houses in Manchester; and in the days of the Chartist riots she was sworn in as special constable, and was made captain of her company. Her industry and skill at one time placed her in very comfortable circumstances, and there are persons who are now esteemed among the foremost men of Manchester who have been entertained at the rearing suppers given by “Harry” Stokes.