“Oh, it doesn't matter, and the sooner they put me out of the way and get done with me the better.”
– Edward De Lacy Evans
Content warning for forced institutionalization
The legacy of many trans people is complicated. That’s not an inherently bad thing, either; being transgender can be complex. Treating one’s relationship to gender with care and room for contradictions is healthy. Sometimes, though, a spade is just a spade. In the case of Edward De Lacy Evans, a man is just a man.
Speculations around Evans’ early life is just that: speculation. His story is nothing more than rumors until 1856. He was a twenty-six year old born in Kilkenny who had just boarded a ship from Ireland to Australia.
Upon boarding the ship, he wore a green dress as was expected for his assigned gender. Beneath it lay traditionally masculine clothing. He is said to have worn two different outfits, one over the other, every day he was aboard the ship. During the voyage he also began relationships with three different women, including one he promised to marry upon arrival.
When he reached Victoria, Evans found work as a housemaid for a couple. He only kept the job for a short while; when it was found that he spent the night in the wife’s bed, he was horsewhipped by the enraged husband. Though he was still considered a woman at the time, his punishment was exceedingly harsh.
Considering that this was a period in which Queen Victoria was denying women were even capable of sexual relationships with other women, it is probably true that the line between lesbian and transgender man was not as clear as it is now. Some historians have also noted that Evans may have been a lesbian who, after recieving such a negative reaction to sleeping with a woman, did everything possible to avoid that backlash again.
It should be noted, however, that Evans himself always vocally identified as a man, and never called himself a lesbian. Beyond the vocabulary, he never described his relationship with his sexuality in a way that lesbians do. He had a much clearer connection to heterosexual men.
He was living and accepted as a man when he married his first wife, Mary Delahunty, a woman he’d met aboard the ship from Ireland. The marriage was brief, and when Delahunty remarried, she denied accusations of polygamy by pointing out that the law never accepted their marriage in the first place.
Evans moved and married Sarah Moore. Their marriage was short but happy, and the two remained together until Moore’s death five years later. During this time, Evans worked as a carter, miner, blacksmith, and ploughman, all the whole owning shares in several gold mines.
Shortly after Mary’s death in 1867, Evans went on to marry Julia Marquand, and woman who had lived with her sister and brother-in-law. Her brother-in-law was a prominent businessman who had preyed upon Julia from a young age. When Julia gave birth to a daughter in 1877, she swore to the courts that her brother-in-law was the father. Evans tried to corroborate her story, but his testimony was thrown out based on his mental state.
Though he did his best to support his wife and new daughter, going so far as to sign her birth certificate, he was said to be “deeply disturbed by the circumstances in which his wife became pregnant.” This, along with an injury from the mines, would lead to a breakdown in which he became a danger to himself and those around him.
He was taken to Bendigo Hospital but escaped when they attempted to forcibly bathe him. He was involuntarily committed at Bendigo for six weeks, all the while refusing to bathe. He was then transferred to the Kew Asylum and forcibly bathed. When his genitals were revealed, staff transferred him to the female ward. He described the incident saying:
"The fellers there took hold o' me to give me a bath, an' they stripped me to put me in the water, an' then they saw the mistake. One feller ran off as if he was frightened; the others looked thunderstruck an' couldn't speak. I was handed over to the women, and they dressed me up in frocks and petticoats."
His assigned gender was revealed to the press, who wrote extensively about the situation, and the hospital performed invasive medical procedures without his consent. He was forced to wear women’s clothes and though he attempted a hunger strike and even stole men’s clothes, his wishes were ignored.
The press exploited his misery, selling photographs of him, including an edited photo of him dressed in frocks and petticoats next to him dressed in men’s clothing. People began to approach the hospital, offering to sell tickets to give the public access to Evans. In its’ only humane act toward him, the hospital refused.
Considering the physical and mental damage they committed against him with their invasive, unnecessary, non-consensual medical procedures—procedures whose results would later be released to the public—there is hardly credit due for a single merciful act.
He was released in 1879 under the condition that he use only his dead name and wear women’s clothes for the rest of his life. Should he ignore these, he was be re-committed.
With very few job prospects, he was exhibited as ‘The Wonderful Male Impersonator”. This work was not very successful, as he was never a performer but an ordinary man. One newspaper noted that 'neither [his] mind nor body possesses the vigour once so noticeable'.
When he applied for admittance to a Benevolent Asylum in 1881, he was instead sent to the Melbourne Immigrants’ Home. He died there in 1901, still under his dead name and forced to wear dresses.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
The Mysterious Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evans: The Picaresque in Real Life. (2002). Retrieved from http://www3.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-69/t1-g-t9.html
Collins, P. (2014). An Irishman’s Diary on Ellen Tremaye, Australia’s first transgender person. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/an-irishman-s-diary-on-ellen-tremaye-australia-s-first-transgender-person-1.1929681
Edward De Lacy Evans. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://melbqueerhistory.tripod.com/evans.html
Khazandec, O. (2014). The Irish maid who lived as a man in 19th-century Australia. Retrieved from https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/2492259/the-irish-maid-who-lived-as-a-man-in-19th-century-australia/
Ellen Tremaye, alias Edward De Lacy Evans, the Female Impersonator. (1879). Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/70973757
Edward De Lacy Evans. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-09/edward-de-lacy-evans/7254858
Chesser, Lucy. 1998. "A Woman Who Married Three Wives: Management of Disruptive Knowledge in the 1879 Australian Case of Edward De Lacy Evans" in Journal of Women's History vol 9 no 4: 53-77. Retrieved from https://www.alpennia.com/lhmp/lesbian-historic-motif-project-91-chesser-1998-woman-who-married-three-wives-management
Bent TV. (2018, April 30). MIT - Edward De Lacy Evans. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Efi_1pnElA