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23 November 2008

William Ernest Edwards (1874 – 1956) sheep shearer, barman, performer, bookie.

Marion Edwards was born to a Welsh-born blacksmith outside Melbourne. At 1896 she transitioned to William, giving the rational of earning more money. William acquired a horse and male clothing and headed for the bush, working on sheep stations. He learned to shoot, and to fight. Although only 5”4’ the work and exercise brought his weight up to 10st 4lb (65.3 kg).

On New Year’s Day 1900 Bill married a 30-year-old widow in a Catholic church, but they soon separated. In April 1905 he was arrested for burglary when found in a hotel at 3 am. He explained that he was trying to catch a prowler, but absconded to Queensland before his gender was outed. His wife who had put up £50 bail, was sentenced to one month’s gaol for his default.

In Queensland he worked in house painting, and as a barman. However an old associate outed him. In October 1906 Bill was arrested and returned to Melbourne as a celebrity. With the publicity, he performed as a sharpshooter at the Fitzroy cinema between film shows, and at the waxworks billed as 'The Far-famed Male Impersonator'. At his trial in November, he was found not guilty.

The police tried to make him live as a woman, but he would not. He also published his memoirs, with photographs of himself in both male and in female garb. He also claimed to have worked as a female impersonator entertaining troops in South Africa during the Boer War and to have delivered horses to India.

In 1927, he was working as pony trainer. In the 1930s, he worked in hotels, iron foundries and factories, and as a bookie. He was listed on the electoral roll as a dyer. Later in life neighbours described him as an ‘old gentleman’, although apparently most of them knew his original gender.

He finally entered the Mount Royal Geriatric Home in Melbourne, where they forced him to wear women’s clothes.

In 1984 he was the subject of a play, In Male Attire.

The accounts in the ADB and Radical Tradition are contradictory in several details, including Edwards' birth year. I have taken from both accounts.

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