"Melbourne - Queen City of the South"
Melbourne Gay & Lesbian History series
In the wee small hours of April 30 1905 a policeman in Collingwood, investigating a strange noise coming from a pub, encountered two shadowing figures. As he lit a match one of them threw himself through a window and escaped into the night. The other was arrested and charged with burglary.
He turned out to be Bill Edwards, well known in the area. After seven days he was finally bailed by Lucy Minehan, who described herself as his landlady. Edwards immediately skipped bail, left Melbourne and made his way to Brisbane.
And that might have been that except for the chance encounter of Edwards and a friend who - as friends will do from time to time - informed the police of Edwards' whereabouts. And of the fact that Bill was, in fact, a woman - Marion Edwards.
Thus began one of the major cross-dressing sagas in Australian history. Through newspaper reports and her own autobiography we know more about Marion/Bill than we do about many other such cross-dressing, or passing, or as we might say transgender people - but given her propensity to embroider the truth, we cannot always be sure that what we know was in fact the case.
Born in Murchison in country Victoria in 1874, Marion left home at the age of 13 and started living as a man sometime shortly after that- and living as a rather masculine man at that. He held a range of occupations from horse-training to furniture-working and was interested in sports such as shooting. And with his 'winning ways' he exercised a great attraction for the local young women. He was, shall we say, very much a ladies man.
In the end he married, as even the wildest young men will. He and Lucy Minehan (the very one who was later to bail him, claiming to be his landlady) tied the knot at St Francis Catholic Church in the city. (Co-incidentally the same church where another famous passing women Edward De Lacy Evans had married half a century before.) And they had, Edwards would later say, a healthy sex life - although he always declared that Lucy never suspected his true sex.
Bill's unmasking at the time of his re-arrest in Brisbane created a sensation. Large crowds gathered at the courthouse in Brisbane and at the wharf as he was taken off to Melbourne - and larger crowds,' still at the Melbourne docks. He was greeted and seen off with cheers. His appearance as a sharpshooter in Cyclorama exhibitions attracted large audiences - and even his accidental shooting -of a member of the audience did not seem to put people off.
The publication of an autobiography was inevitable and in 1906 it appeared:
The Life and Adevntures of Marion Bill Edwards, the Most Celebrated Man- Woman of Modern Times: Exciting Incidents, Strange Sensations, Told in the Graphic Manner by Herself.
No holding back there! Bill resurfacing
briefly and to renewed fame in 1916 when his new landlady was tried
for slygrogging (selling alcohol without a license). After which Bill's
life became rather less dramatic. He died in north Melbourne in 1956.
| © text copyright Graham
Willett, Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives 2002|
image: State Library of Victoria