The White Sex Slaves of 1874

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was married to Princess Charlotte of the United Kingdom. Charlotte would have been Queen instead of Victoria, had she not died in child-bed. His time spent in England might explain the German Prince's predilection for all things British. Once he was crowned King of the Belgians, Leopold ran a £800 a month account with a London madam to supply him with medically certified virgins. 

The age of sexual consent was and is a perpetual source of dissent. In 1874, that age was set at 12. Brothels were illegal in the United Kingdom; and thrived while policemen made use of the girls and boys on offer and conveniently overlooked the brothels’ existence in the process. A thriving export industry was in place, too, shipping drugged and kidnapped girls and boys to the Continent to work in brothels there. Medically certified virgins were made available to older and often syphilitic men, at a price. Victorian medical understanding was partly still medieval; many believed in healing syphilis by having sex with a virgin. 

In 1875, the age of consent was raised to 13. Furious protests ensued. The legal change changed nothing for the brothels in the United Kingdom or the export trade to the Continent. Teenage girls and boys continued to be held and imprisoned as sex slaves on both sides of the Channel. 

Fast forward to 1882 and a sleepy London outpost called Chelsea. Join Jeremiah Minahan on the beat, taking down notes outside brothels about customers entering them. Minahan had been transferred to the backwater called Chelsea by the Metropolitan Police after refusing to hush up or condone the beating of prisoners by fellow police officers. When his notebook went missing from his locked desk, he reported it and its contents to his superior, for which he was demoted and sent to a post in Highgate at half pay. 

Undaunted, Minahan launched an appeal directly to the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. Harcourt refused his appeal with reasons to spare. The honorable Home Secretary was in an incestuous homosexual relationship with his son and a well-known customer in just about every boy brothel in London and beyond. 

Jeremiah Minahan subsequently teamed up with the Social Purity movement and the Pall Mall Gazette under W.T. Stead’s editorship. Stead dreamed up the most hare-brained plot imaginable. They abducted an innocent girl to the Continent. Stead got arrested for kidnap and sexual assault. The stink that ensued rocked the Victorian establishment and sent the Pall Mall Gazette’s sales figures sky high from 15,000 to one million. In 1885, the age of consent was raised to 16 and new penalties were introduced to prevent teenage girls and boys being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. 

Inspector Minahan Makes A Stand by Bridget O’Donnell was published by Picador. It would be a good book if I could take her choice of language and style seriously. Her metaphors are as florid as a Victorian lady’s boudoir inspired by Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. But she has done her homework, no doubt about that. Like an overeager pupil she shows off all the time to the point of overkill. With this, she gets side-tracked and the unnecessarily added twists and turns make a complicated story even more complicated. But as weird and wacky history goes, this book is a definite must read. 

Related articles:
The President’s Slaves
Those Good Old Times
The Abolition of Slavery

Reference for this book review: Book 'Inspector Manahan Makes A Stand'; Author 'Bridget O'Donnell'; Publisher 'Picador'; Published 'London, September 2012'.