John Saul, aka Jack, aka Dublin Jack, was a blond, beautiful and stunningly well endowed young man who became a rent boy. This is his biography.
He started part-time as a young boy, walking out with soldiers in Dublin in the 1870s when sodomy but not homosexuality was illegal. High profile friends got him a respectable job in service with a Dublin doctor. But he was caught in what appears to have been an attempted burglary. He was acquitted (it seems that the people he stole from were unwilling to come forward, perhaps because they had had sex with him) but lost his job and his good name so went to London where he became, like so many runaways since, a rent boy in Piccadilly Circus.
He was obviously rather good at his trade.
Early in his career he attracted the attention of a pornographer who persuaded him to write a 'memoir'. The Sins of the Cities of the Plain became notorious. The British Library copy is the only remnant of the 250 strong first edition although it has since been republished.
Shortly afterwards he was taken back to Dublin to testify against two former customers who were accused of sodomy. His evidence was never used, probably because it related to encounters prior to the time frame of the charges. But the 'Dublin felonies' became a major scandal in the aftermath of the Phoenix Park murders.
He returned to London and resumed his profession. By now homosexual relations had been made illegal. One day he attracted Lord Euston (I was at school with a later Lord Euston) and brought him back to the male brothel at 19 Cleveland Street where he worked. Other famous people using the brothel (if not Jack) included Lord Arthur Somerset, Equerry of the Prince of Wales, and a banker whose family bank later became Barclays. Royalty knew these people and there are persistent rumours that Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the Prince of Wales who later became Edward VII, famed dissolute and one of the many Ripper suspects, attended the brothel. As well as Jack and a number of professional 'Mary-Anns' there were some part timers who worked as telegraph boys at the Post Office. One of these was caught and confessed; Inspector Abbeline (of the Ripper murders) investigated but his superiors refused to bring prosecutions (too many important clients), a paper found out and published names, Lord Arthur Somerset fled abroad (and lived out the rest of his days in exile in the south of France) and Lord Euston sued for libel. The only person prepared to testify against his noble lordship was Jack Saul. The Cleveland Street case became a cause celeb.
There is a slight difficulty in knowing what moral stance to take. On the one hand the prevailing view today is that homosexuality should never have been made illegal. And today sex workers are thought to be victims rather than corrupters. So it becomes necessary to disapprove of their clients. But these men were homosexuals finding love where they could. So it becomes difficult to tell a story of good versus bad.
Chandler can be witty. I particularly liked the way he takes the rise from some of the euphemisms of the time, for example the idea that gay men are necessarily musical ("All of the witnesses seemed to be of a musical bent with good singing voices. They certainly used them."). My favourite line is the rent boy on the witness stand who testified "he had obliged Cornwall reluctantly and was disgusted, though he had gone back to his house to be disgusted on two further occasions" (p 103).
This was a fascinating account of male prostitution in Victorian London told by a man who can tell a good story and keep you interested. February 2017; 282 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57