Yesterday evening, at half-past eight oclock, an inquisition was held before Mr. Higgs, at the Coach and Horses, Flood-street, Deans-yard, Westminster, on the body of a person, who has been known for years by the name of Eliza Edwards, about 24 years of age, who died under the following extraordinary circumstances:
The Mystery of Eliza Edwards
In January 1833 a person known as Eliza Edwards died of a lung infection. As "Miss Edwards", she had first appeared on the stage in 1820. She was said to have excelled in tragic roles, mainly in Tewkesbury, Norwich and other provincial theatres. But at the time of her death, she had fallen on hard times, and had sold her piano, her jewels, her stage dresses, and even her walking-dress. In her final years she was reduced to reciting passages of Shakespeare in return for a glass of gin in pubs around the Coburg Theatre. At her death, letters from various gentlemen were found among her few possessions, most of them making arrangements for meetings in the streets of London or a few hours’ visit at her lodging. During the past few years she had been supported by different gentleman. Her most recent protector was a wealthy young gentleman from Leatherhead, who paid her rent on Linden Cottage, Clarence Gardens, Regent’s Park. As no friends or relations came forward to claim Eliza Edwards’ body, it was sent to Guy’s Hospital for dissection. There it was discovered to be the body of a perfect man. In other words, "Miss Edwards", with his beautiful long hair in ringlets and pierced ears, was a transgender woman. At the subsequent inquest, which was so packed out with medical students that the police had difficulty keeping order, two men confirmed that they had known Mister Edwards in Dublin many years ago, where he was an actor, and alternately passed for a man or a woman. Details of the case were very widely reported, for example in the Oxford Journal, Hereford Times, Suffolk Chronical, Leicester Chronicle, Leamington Spa Courier, Bucks Gazette, Bell's New Weekly Messenger, The Examiner, Wolverhampton Chronicle, Worcester Journal, Coventry Herald, Nottingham Review and many other newspapers across the country, as well as in subsequent medical journals. The story takes another strange twist, because Miss Edwards sometimes went by the name "Miss Walstein", and she was later claimed to be one and the same person as Eliza Walstein, popular Dublin actress, who strangely disappeared from the stage at the same time that Miss Edwards first appeared on it. The following is an attempt to unravel the mystery, using a full range of newspaper reports, the coroner's report, and contemporary memoirs, as well as, for the first time, theatrical notices about the stage career of Miss Edwards.
24 January 1833
The inquiry was instituted by order of Lord Melbourne, the Secretary of State, who was of opinion that there were circumstances in the case which required a public investigation.
The deceased and a sister resided in Union-court, Orchard-street, Westminster, and both were supposed to be kept women. Last week the deceased died, and there being no claimants for the body it was taken to Guys Hospital for dissection, when it was at once discovered, to the surprise of every one, that the deceased was a perfect man. This circumstance was communicated to the parish authorities, and on a representation being made by them to Lord Melbourne, directions were given to the Coroner to summon a Jury. The case excited the greatest interest in the neighbourhood, and the Jury-room was crowded to excess.
After the Jury were sworn, they proceeded to view the body of the deceased, which was at St. Margarets Workhouse. It was of very effeminate appearance, no appearance of a beard beyond that of a boy of 17, and the whiskers seemed as if they had been plucked out with a pair of tweezers. The hair of the head was light brown, and upwards of two feet long behind, of a soft, glossy texture, and the whole appearance of the countenance was that of a female.
Dr. Clutterbuck, of new Bridge-street, Blackfriars, stated that he had examined the body of the deceased in St. Margarets Workshouse, at the request of Dr. Somerville, who was desirous that he should identify the body as the person whom he had attended a few weeks before under the name of Lavinia Edwards, at her lodgings near the Coburg Theatre. He had attended the deceased for a dangerous inflammation on the lungs. He had no idea but that the deceased was a woman. He had attended her previously at the request of a gentleman under whose protection the deceased lived, and who paid him several fees for his attendance. The deceased had always a very effeminate appearance, and a kind of cracked voice, not unlike a female.
Juror. In what situation was the deceased three years ago?
Witness. Much better off than she was lately.
Maria Edwards, who passed as the deceaseds sister, was next examined. She stated that she was born in Dublin, and was 17 years old. She had lived with the deceased constantly for the last ten years. The deceased was a performer on the stage, and travelled about the country, and played female characters. Witness mostly slept with the deceased.
Coroner. How long have you been in London?
Witness. We have been about three years.
Coroner. How was the deceased supported during this time?
Witness. By different gentlemen.
Coroner. Where did you reside prior to coming to London?
Witness. At Leatherhead, about six months.
Juror. How did you know that the deceased was your sister?
Witness. My mother told me so, and we lived together.
Juror. Do you know any of the gentlemen who visited the deceased?
Witness. I remember a gentleman coming to see her when we lived in the Westminster-road.
Juror. Any person else?
Witness. Yes. * * * * who is gone to Italy, he formerly lived at Leatherhead.
Juror. Will you undertake to say that you did not know what sex the deceased was?
Witness. I always thought her to be a female, and never knew to the contrary.
Juror. How long have you lodged in Lemon-court?
Witness. About three weeks, during which time she was confined to her bed, and wanted the common necessaries of life.
Juror. Did you make application to the parish for relief?
Witness. I did, and receied a trifle.
By the Coroner. Last Wednesday night she went to bed with a wheezing in her throat, and very ill. About three oclock the deceased called me up, and said, Maria, I am dying; it has pleased God to call me; and in about five minutes the deceased expired. The deceased had beautiful long hair, which hung in ringlets, and in the country she played under the name of Miss Edwards, in the first line of tragedy.
Juror. Did the deceased ever perform in London?
Witness. Never; the last place she played at was Tewkesbury.
Juror. Did she ever play under any other name?
Witness. Yes, under the name of Miss Walstein.
It appeared from one of the letters read by the sister, that she was introduced on the stage by the celebrated Talma.
Mary Mortimer, residing in Union-court, stated, that she had known her about ten or eleven years. Never knew her sex, until the present day. She had every reason to believe that the deceased died a natural death.
Juror. Will you swear that you did not know the sex of the deceased?
Witness. I will. She always appeared as a most lady-like woman, and has performed at the Norwich theatre. I have slept with the deceased repeatedly, and never for a moment supposed that she was a man.
The Coroner and Jury expressed their greatest astonishment at the evidence adduced.
Mrs. Shellet stated that she collected the rents in Lemon-court. The deceased and her sister were not very regular in their rent. Witness heard the deceased cough, and thought at the time that it was a man.
In answer to further questions the witness identified the body to the satisfaction of the Jury.
Juror. It is almost impossible.
Another Juror. Look at the head of hair, and the ears pierced for ear-rings.
Juror. It is the most extraordinary case I ever met with, I almost doubt the evidence of my own senses.
Coroner. It is extraordinary.
A long conversation now took place amongst the Jury, and at last further evidence was called in, and completely satisfied every one that it was the same body.
A number of letters, and other documents, found on the person of the deceased, were read to the Jury, by which it apepared that she had passed under various names. The documents excited the most intense interest.
Maria Edwards was again recalled and examined. In answer to questions, she said that she was only 17 years of age. She never knew the deceased to use a razor, or a pir of tweezers, was positive that she never shaved.
Coroner. This appears to be one of the most horrible cases of depravity I ever met with.
A Juror said that although there was no doubt of the identify of the body, he considered it disrespectful in not having the attendance of the medical gentlemen from Guys Hospital, and he thought they ought to adjourn, which was agreed to, until tomorrow evening.
The greatest interest appeared to be excited amongst all present. (Morning Advertiser)
24 January 1833
Yesterday evening an inquest was held at the Coach and Horses, Flood-street, Westminster, on the body of a person who has been known for years by the name of Eliza Edwards, about 24 years of age, who died under the following extraordinary circumstances: . . .
Dr. Clutterbuck, of Bridge-street, Blackfriars, examined the body of the deceased at the request of Dr. Somerville, and he identified the deceased as the individual whom he had attended for a dangerous inflammation, but Dr. Clutterbuck had no idea at the time that it was a man he prescribed for; he attended deceased previously at the request of a Mr. Thomas Smith, under whose protection the deceased lived.
. . . [Maria Edwards testified} about three o-clock on Thursday morning the deceased called me up and said, Maria, I am dying; it has pleased God to call me, and in about five minutes the deceased expired; he played in the names of Miss Walstein and Miss Edwards, and in the country took the first line of tragedy.
. . . The Coroner and Jury expressed the greatest astonishment at the evidence, and, after some conversation, a Juror said, that although there was no doubt of the identity of the body, he considered it disrespectful in not having the attendance of the medical gentlemen from Guys Hospital, and he thought they ought to adjourn, which was agreed to, until to-morrow evening.
In the course of the proceedings, several letters and other documents were read, which were found on the deceased. It appeared from their contents, that the father of the deceased was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the East India service, and died when the deceased was young, who was brought up under the protection of his uncle, from whom he eloped at the age of 14, in Dec. 1823. He first appeared in public at Norwich, in the character of Isabella, in The Fatal Marriage. The above is from one of his own letters addressed to a gentleman, and he signed himself Lavinia Walstein. In others he is addressed by gentlemen as a female, and they forward him money for his support. They were in the most affectionate terms. One gentleman met the deceased in Regent-street, and was so enraptured, that he writes and implores another interview; but it does not appear that it was granted. It also appeared the deceased was introduced to the Stage by the celebrated Talma. He must have carried his impositions to a great extent, but from his appearance no one could tell him from a female. (Morning Chronicle)
25 January 1833
THE EXTRAORDINARY INVESTIGATION.
Higgs and the Jury re-assembled at the sign of the Coach and Horses, Flood-street, Deans-yard, Westminster, to inquire into the death of a person known by the name of Eliza Edwards, aged 24.
On the arival of the Coroner a most tremendous rush was made to gain admittance into the Jury-room by crowds of persons who had assembled outside, principally consisting of medical students. The crowd was so great that it was at last found necessary to send for the police authorities to keep order, as the witnesses could not gain admittance.
Previous to the meeting of the Jury a number of medical Gentlemen viewed the body of the deceased.
The first witness sworn was Mr. Alfred Taylor, of No. 35, Great Marlborough-street, surgeon. He stated that he had examined the body of the deceased, and it was the same that he had seen in the dissecting-room at Guys Hospital. On opening the stomach, he found it perfectly healthy; the liver was much diseased, and presented that appearance seen in persons addicted to drinking, commonly called a drunkards liver. The death was occasioned from disease of the lungs. The deceased was a perfect man.
Juror. Has the head of the deceased been separated from the body?
Witness. It has not.
Some other questions were put to the witness, which created the greatest astonishment from the answers, but the evidence is unfit for publication.
Mr. Ollier, surgeon, of Delahoy-street, Wstminster, corrborated the evidence of the last witness. In addition, he said that the body was covered with blotches, which in his opinion were .
Thomas David, the porter at Guys Hospital, stated that on Sunday morning last Nicholson, the beadle of this parish, brought two bodies to the hospital, there were printed forms with them, according to the late Act of Parliament, and they were described to be females. Nicholson also said that they were both females. On examination he found that one of the bodies was that of a man, and he had seen the body again that afternoon in St. Margarets workhouse.
Coroner. Did you notice the hair on the head of the deceased?
Witness. I did; it was very long in front as well as behind, and turned apart like a females.
Juror. How long was it before you discovered that the deceased was a man?
Witness. About four hours. I was certainly very much surprised.
Mr. Ollier, the surgeon, said that as soon as it was known at Guys Hospital that the deceased was a man, information was sent to the parish authorities, and from that the inquiry took place.
Mr. Arbor, one of the Overseers, said that he had seen the body, and from what he had seen of the manner in which it had been returned, he should have no objection to give his own body for dissection.
A desultory conversation took place between the parish authorities and some of the medical gentlemen from Guys Hospital, as to the propriety of continuing the dissecton of the body after the extraordinary discovery took place.
The students of the Hospital interrupted the proceedins several times, and were rebuked by the Jury, who said that such conduct was highly indecent.
A Juror said that it appeared to him to be a most extraordinary case of depravity, and he was of opinion that the body ought not to be buried in the usual way; and that some proceeding should be adopted to warn others from such unparalleled acts of turpitude, which reflected the highest disgrace upon human nature.
A person here stepped forward, and said that from what he had seen in the newspapers, and understanding that the deceased came from Dublin, he was satisfied that he knew the party. About twelve or thirteen years ago the deceased sometimes passed for a man and sometimes a woman. She had lately performed on the stage in the country in the principal tragic characters.
Juror. Did you know her sister?
Witness. I never knew that the deceased had a sister.
Another gentleman stepped forward and said he believed he knew the party, and the father was a gunsmith, in Dublin.
The room was ordered to be cleared of strangers, but from the great crowd that was found impossible, and the Jury retired to an adjoining room, and after a few minutes consultation the following verdict was returned That the deceased died by the visitation of God; and in returning this verdict the Jury are compelled to express their horror at the unnatural propensities the deceased had evidently indulged in, and strongly recommended to the proper uathorities that some means may be adopted in the disposal of the body as will mark the ignominy of the crime.
While the Jury were in the adjoining room, for the purpose of considering the verdict, the conduct of several of the medical students present became highly reprehensible, and called forth some severe remarks from gentlemen present. Some idea may be formed of their conduct when we state, that several of them called the Jury a set of humbugs and jackasses. (Morning Advertiser)
28 January 1833
. . . There were revolting circumstances connected with the case, which have decided us against admitting the details into our columns. The deceased, it appears, had been educated in Paris, and instructed in acting by the celebrated Talma had eloped from Paris at the age of 14, and, under the names of Lavinia Edwards, Eliza Edwards, and Lavinia Walstein, had performed in this country, at the Norwich and other Theatres, with considerable success. . . . (Reading Mercury)
The suppressed evidence given before the Coroner, but omitted by the daily press.
Maria Edwards, the supposed sister of the deceased, stated that her sister always supported her, and behaved to her in the most affectionate manner. Witness never went out in the streets herself, until her poor sister was taken ill, and unable to support herself: her sister would never let her go out. When she was taken ill, about two months ago, witness was compelled to go out and pick up men to support her sister.
Juror. Did she say any thing to you when you went out? Oh, yes, sir; she could not bear the idea. It almost broke my poor sisters heart, she was so fond of me.
Juror. When your sister went out, where did she walk? At different places sometimes she walked in the Haymarket, Jermyn-street, and the Quadrant.
Juror. Did she often bring gentlemen home with her when she went out? Very frequently.
Juror. What sort of persons did they appear to be? Quite gentlemen, sir.
Juror. When your sister brought a gentleman home, what did you do? I always walked out of the room, and left them by themselves.
Juror. How long did they remain together? Sometimes a long time perhaps an hour or two.
Juror. Did you ever hear any noise or disturbance in the room? did you ever hear any quarrelling? Never, sir, that I remember.
Juror. Did the gentlemen give your sister money? Yes, sir.
Juror. Did you know the names of any of the gentlemen? I did not, sir, only their christian names.
Juror. Did any of the gentlemen ever come a second time to visit your sister? Oh, yes, sir.
Juror. And on your oath, you positively never knew that the person you call your sister was a man? Oh dear, no sir! I had no idea of it.
Mr. Taylor, one of the surgeons of Guys Hospital, in addition to what has already appeared, described to the Jury the organs of generation of the deceased, which he had minutely examined. The penis was six inches and a quarter long, and the testicles of the usual size; the rectum was unusually large, and a halfpenny might be dropped into it. There was not the slightest doubt in the minds of the Jury as to the horrible practices of the deceased.
Mr. Ollier, surgeon, of Delahay-street, in addition, said that the body of the deceased was covered with sores, arising from venereal disease.
The Jury were horror-struck with the evidence adduced, as no person could possibly imagine how a person could have carried on such detestable practices for such a length of time, without being discovered. . . .
On further questioning the sister, she said, that a few years ago, the deceased was visited by a number of gentlemen, but she did not know their names, with the exception of those she had mentioned on the inquest. They all appeared to her to be very rich. Latterly, the deceased had been reduced to the greatest state of distress. . . .
(Michael Ryan, A Manual of Medical Jurisprudance and State Medicine, London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1836, pp. 235240.)
Autopsic examination of the body, by Mr. Alfred Taylor.
. . .
These facts have led many to believe that it was a case of sexual ambiguity; but so far from this, a simple inspection of the exterior of the body would have sufficed to remove all doubts upon the subject. The features were somewhat of a feminine character; the hair was long, and like that of a female, parted in the middle of the forehead. These were the only points in which any resemblance to the other sex could be traced. A great part of the beard and whiskers had evidently been plucked out, and the hair which grew under the chin had been dexterously concealed by the peculiar headdress which he wore during life. The deceased was about twenty-four years of age at the time of death, and it appears that his voice had been remarked by several witnesses to be hoarse and peculiar, though not unlike that of many females at the middle period of life.
FURTHER PARTICULARS OF THE LATE EXTRAORDINARY INVESTIGATION IN WESTMINSTER.
After the verdict of the Jury had been returned in the case of the being who passed as Eliza Edwards, a consultation took place amongst the parish authorities as to the disposal of the body, when it was agreed that it should be sent back to Guys Hospital, which was carried into execution the same night.
On the 24th January, I was called upon officially to examine the body of the deceased, in order to ascertain the cause of death. With the exception of the appearances already described, it had every character of that of a full-grown male. There were no mammae, the male sexual organs were perfectly developed, and the lower extremities exhibited those prominencies of the muscles and bones characteristic of the male sex. The upper extremities were somewhat slender and tapering, and the hands had evidently been unused to hard manual labour. Having laid open the thorax, the lungs were found considerably diseased, and adhering to the internal parities of that cavity, they felt hard and tuberculated, and upon making a section through each, it presented a series of small abscesses filled with matter. There was scarcely a portion of the organs which could be termed healthy: the pericardium contained a larger quantity of serous fluid than usual; but the heart was free from any appearances of disease, although somewhat large.
Upon opening the abdomen, the liver was found greatly enlarged, of a pale nutmeg colour, and presenting the appearance commonly observed in the bodies of individuals who have been addicted to the use of spiritous liquors. The stomach was distended with about a pint of fluid, presenting nothing remarkable in smell or colour: its coats, both internally and externally, were healthy. No trace of inflammation could be perceived in any part of the alimentary canal, nor was there any poison to be discovered in the fluid contents of the viscera; indeed, the suspicion of poisoning was clearly negatived by the history of the symptoms immediately preceding the death of the deceased, and by the facts of his having been attended to the last by a physician who prescribed for him, and watched the progress of his case. The other viscera of the abdomen were found in a healthy state; the internal organs of generation were perfect, and the contents of the pelvis presented no ambiguity either in form or disposition.
It is the opinion of those who were present on the examination, that the deceased had been living for nine years in the lowest state of infamy, and that he had probably assumed and maintained the disguise of a female in order more effectually to conceal his nefarious practices. (The London Medical and Physical Journal, Vol. 14, No. 80, February 1833, pp. 168169). [This autopsy from the Medical and Physical Journal, 1833, was repeated verbatim in Michael Ryan's A Manual of Medical Jurisprudance and State Medicine, 1836, except for one significant change: the approximate age of the deceased was changed from "twenty-four" to "thirty-four".]
. . . The breasts were like those of a male, and the male sexual organs were perfectly developed. They had evidently been drawn forward to the lower part of the abdomen. The state of the rectum left no doubt of the abominable practices to which this individual had been addicted. . . . (Alfred Swaine Taylor, A Manual of Medical Jurisprudence, Philadelphia: H. C. Lean, 1873, p. 678.)
28 January 1833
The young woman named Maria Edwards, who has always passed as the sister of the deceased, was taken care of in St. Margarets Workhouse, by order of the overseers, and all documents and papers which had been read before the Jury were given up to her, which she immediately burnt, with the exception of one letter. This has not been published. The supposed sister is far advanced in pregnancy, and on Friday she underwent a rigid examination before the parochial board, and she still persisted that she never knew the deceased to be a man, or had the slightest suspicion that such was the case. In answer to further questions, she said that the father of the child with which she was pregnant was a young man, a harness-maker by trade, who lived at the west end of the town.
Two of the performers from Drury-lane Theatre came to the workhouse on Friday, anxious to see the body of the deceased, and were much disappointed upon being informed that it had been taken to Guys Hospital. One of them said that he was certain that he knew the deceased; and that, about four or five years ago, he played Villeroy to her Isabella, in the Fatal Marriage, at Colchester. It was a partial failure, in consequence of her peculiar hoarse, husky voice; and in the last act, where Isabella shrieks, the sound had such a ludicrous effect upon the audience, that the whole house was convulsed with laughter. In consequence of this failure she soon received her discharge from the manager; previous to which she, however, peformed several characters: Belvidere, in Venice Preserved; Helen McGregor, in Rob Roy; and the principal character in the farce of the Lady and the Devil. She complained, on receiving her discharge, that she had not been fairly dealt with by the manager, and attributed the peculiarity of her voice to a cold which she had unfortuantely caught. We understand that the gentleman has identified the body as the same person. On questioning the sister, on Saturday, she said that, a few years ago, the deceased was visited by a number of gentlemen, but she did know their names, with the exception of those she had mentioned on the Inquest. They all appeared to her to be very rich. Latterly the deceased had been reduced to the greatest state of distress. Within the last two or three years she has been well known on the Surrey side of the water, particularly in the neighbourhood of the Coburg Theatre; but the habits of the deceased have been very profligate and dissipated. At the different wine-vaults in the vicinity of the theatre she was well known in her assumed character of a woman; and, for a glass or two of gin, would recite passages from Shakespeare and other dramatic authors with considerable talent. On making inquiries on Saturday, we were informed by a theatrical gentleman, who had known the deceased for some years, that her first performace on the stage was in the city of Dublin, at the Rotunda Theatre, for a benefit, when she personated the character of Emily Worthington, in the Poor Gentleman. About three years ago he again met her in the New Cut, Lambeth, and Miss Edwards, as she was styled, begged for some halfpence of him to get some gin. About the theatre she was generally nicknamed Lady Macbeth, but her importunities for gin were so incessant that it was quite a nuisance. When Elliston had the Olympic Theatre, she was either engaged or was in treaty to perform there, but, from some cause or other, she never appeared. At Norwich she was engaged to lead the business, and also played at Colchester and Tewkesbury. A circumstance came to our knowledge which cannot be repeated, but it entirely sets all doubt at rest as to the horrible mode of life of this most extraordinary monster. (Morning Advertiser)
28 January 1833
. . . After the inquest several gentlemen applied for permission to view the body, and on being informed that it had been conveyed to Guys Hospital, they appeared to be much disappointed. One gentleman observed that he knew the party well, and took great delight in hearing him recite, he at the time believing him to be a female. Another said he had played at one of the country theatres with the deceased, who took the leading female tragic characters. . . . He was also well known to many of the performers of the Coburg and Surrey Theatres, who always considered him to be a female. The public-houses in the vicinity of the above theatres were frequently visited by the deceased, who was, until lately, rather fashionably attired in female apparel. He used occasionally to show off his abilities in theatricals, by reciting numerous passages from various plays, and his reward used to be sundry glasses of liquor. The female who passed for his sister has stated that, some time since, the deceased applied to Covent-garden and Drury-lane for engagements, but was not successful. There were some letters relating to this and other circumstances, but they have been destroyed since the investigation. The affair is the common topic of conversaton everywhere.
TO THE EDITOR. Sir, In the papers of Thursday there is a statement, that at the inquisition taken on view of the remains of a most depraved man, it appeared that that person had been instructed in the art of acting by M. Talma. Nothing of the kind appeared at the inquiry in question. The only way in which the name was introduced was in the draft of a letter supposed to have been written by the deceased, in which he said that he had seen M. Talma perform, and the impression then made created his inclination for the stage.
T. HIGGS. (Globe, London)
(François-Joseph Talma was a celebrated French actor who died in Paris on 19 October 1826, still acting when he died.)
THE CASE OF THE PERSON CALLED LAVINIA EDWARDS.
The following case may be put in juxta-position with that of Lavinia Edwards:
7 February 1833
. . . Another said, he had played at one of the country theatres with the deceased, who took the leading female tragic characters. The unnatural voice of the deceased was the principal cause of his dismissal from the Norwich theatre. He was then playing Isabella in the Fatal Marriage, and other principal characters, and, on being informed that his engagement was at an end, he complained bitterly at being dismissed, because he had a cold. . . . (Northern Whig)
2 February 1833
At a Quarter Sessions held at Taunton, in Somersetshire, Mary Hamilton, otherwise Charles, otherwise George Hamilton, was tried for pretending to be a man, and marrying fourteen wives, the last of whom, Mary Price, deposed that she was married to the prisoner and bedded, and lived as a man and wife a quarter of a year, during which time she thought the prisoner a man, owing to her vile and deceitful practices. After a debate upon the nature of the crime, and what to call it, the Court agreed that she was a most infamous and notorious cheat, and sentenced her to be publicly whipped in Taunton, Glastonbury, Wells, and Shepton Mallet, to be iimprisoned for six months, and to find security for her good behaviour during so long a period as the Justice at the next Quarter Sessions should think fit. From Boyles Chronicle, 1746.
A gentleman, now resident in Taunton, had an account of the evidence in the case from two persons who attended the trial, one of them as a juryman. The arts which the imposter practised were as curious as revolting, but of course are unfit for publication. Her object was to obtain the little property the females possessed; and that being accomplished, she disappeared to practise her arts in other situations, and which she did successfully for some years. At the trial, those of the first thirteen wives who gave evidence, deposed that they entertained no doubt whatever but that the prisoner was of the male sex; but Mary Price, the fourteenth, who was the first widow whom the prisoner married, discovered the imposition after three months' cohabitation, on which she was brought to trial and convicted.
The motive for reviving this ancient and extraordinary case, is compassion for the respectable individuals whose names have been so improperly introduced to the public in the investigation as to Lavinia Edwards, and to show the possibility of imposition as much in one case as the other. Taunton Courier. (Morning Chronicle)
The Extraordinary Investigation
of the Jury
ON THE BODY OF A MAN, CALLED
Eliza or Lavinia Edwards.
WITH HIS PORTRAIT. Sketched as he lay in his Coffin, in St. Margarets Workhouse.
This pamphlet was intended for Sale; but on deliberation it was deemed prudent to suppress it, the contents not being thought fit for general perusal; and only twelve copies were struck off.
January 30, 1833.
[This pamphlet essentially matches the text of An Extraordinary Investigation as reported in the newspapers, but with some names filled in, plus other testmony, notably the text of the letters read out at the inquest. They begin with a letter written by Eliza Edwards to the father of her protector, Thomas Grimstead.]
Witness [i.e. Maria Edwards] I remember a gentleman named Smith coming to see her, when we lived in the Westminster-road.
Juror Any person else.
Witness Yes, a Mr. Grimstead, who is gone to Italy. He formerly lived at Leatherhead.
. . .
The following are the Letters read during the inquisition:
5, Hartford Place, Westminster Road.
My dear Sir. With a heart overflowing with gratitude I now address you, but had I the masterly style of Dryden it would prove inadequate to express my feelings. There is something in your looks and manners that assures me of your forgiveness of the faults I have committed. After seeing you yesterday, I was taken violently ill; I am still very weak; my heart burns and my hand trembles, knowing that I am addressing the father of the lord of my life and soul. Oh, do have mercy upon me and Mr. Thomas, whom I should like to see this day. What is done cannot be undone, my sufferings are coming on daily and hourly. When Mr. Grimsted [sic] first took me under his protection, it was from the purest motives of friendship, which ripened into love. I have been subject to so many misfortunes, that it seems as if I was surrounded with a magic chain, which it is impossible to escape. It was my misfortunes and ill health that first induced him to take me under his protection, until I was sufficiently recovered to return to my profession on the stage; then he would have said, While I was fretting my hour on the stage, this is my adopted her have I saved from impending ruin and an early grave; but every thing has gone wrong. Heaven knows how much I have suiffered since I saw him. My piano, my jewels, my stage dresses, my very walking dress, have I parted with since I left Leatherhead; but, poor fellow, he could not help it. My father was a lieutenant-colonel in the East India Companys service, and died when I was quite an infant, and I was placed under the protection of my uncle at Paris. As I grew up I had a particular fancy for the stage, and I eloped from him at the age of 14, in December 1823. I first appeared before the public at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, in the character of Isabella, in the Fatal Marriage, and I soon became a great favourite as an actress. But I soon met with the most bitter misfortunes, which followed in rapid succession. Had I been aware of them I would have consulted the Book of Fate. Wherever I go, I still meet with friends, but the evil genius which pursues me, prevents me profiting by them. I trust I shall not be long without seeing him. Hoping to obtain your ladys entire forgiveness, I remain your humble broken-hearted wandering actress,
LAVINIA WANSTEAD [sic].
Ashstead, May 9, 1830.
Madam, You will excuse me for stating, that if you have any regard for the welfare of Mr. Thomas Grimstead, you will not annoy him with any more letters. It is my orders to him not to have any further intercourse with you in any way whatever. If I know he has, he forfeits my favour for ever.
I have the honour to be, madam, your most obedient servant, and his father,
21, Portman-street, Portman-square,
March 5, 1830.
My dear Lavinia Edwards, I have scarcely time to say it is impossible for me to be with you before to-morrow. I have been much disappointed, and still feel my wants will not be relieved in the way in which my expectations have led me to hope for, but I will explain when we meet; till then I hope that you and your young protege will make yourselves happy. I have enclosed £2. trusting that you will not require more until to-morrow or Sunday. Have you enquired about rooms yet, or has your health been too bad to take walks? I hope you are already much restored in your health and spirits. Wishing you every comfort and happiness, believe me, with best love, my dearest Lavinia, ever sincerely,
Ashstead, March 23, 1830.
My dearest Lavinia, I hope you did not expecct me at the cottage last night, as it would not do. My aim in sending this is that you may make use of my servant, (his name is Leman) he has been to the dressmakers, therefore he can satisfy you on that point, or he can call again if you wish it. I am just going out hunting, and shall not be at home till late; if possible we will meet in the evening. Good bye, Heaven bless you, and preserve you for future greatness.
My dearest Lavinia, your sincerely attached,
Ashstead, May 9, 1830.
My dearest Lavinia. With degrading humility I have obtained £6. which you had better give to Old Constable, and tell him it is inconvenient for you to settle all the rest at present, as you did not think of doing so until you gave up the cottage, and may be shall have the remainder of his money in a few days. Attend to your health; keep up your spirits and give no room to blue devils. With best love, believe me, my dearest Lavinia, your sincere and poor friend,
P.S. If old Constable should ask if he will have the remainder of his money by Wednesday, you had better tell him it will not suit you so soon.
To Miss Edwards, Linden Cottage.
The gentleman who had the pleasure of meeting you in Jermyn-street on Tuesday night, and was so far honoured as to be invited to spend a few hours at your apartments, did himself the pleasure of attending yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, when he was so unfortunate as not to find you at home. In case you should be walking any where, in the neighbourhood of Regent-street this evening (Monday), I shall be at the corner of Conduit-street, exactly at nine oclock, where I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you.
To Miss Edwards, 14, Clarence-gardens, Regents-park.
(The Extraordinary Investigation, 30 January 1833, pp. 57)
It seems very likely that Eliza Edwards' early protector was Thomas Grimstead (18031884), son of Joseph Valentine Grimstead, a very wealthy gentleman who was established in Merry Hall, Lower Ashtead, Leatherhead from about 1820 (the Grimstead family was long established in the Epsom area). Joseph Valentine Grimstead was involved in a noted bankruptcy case from 1821; he had advanced £60,000 to a firm of annuity brokers, but his claim of £47,000 from them was refused. The case ran until mid-1826. He subsquently refused to settle the debts owing to his own creditors and he was confined in the Fleet Prison for contempt of Court, where he died in December 1834. We identify Thomas Grimstead with Eliza's protector of that name mainly because the Grimsteads were a noted family living in Ashstead at the time of the letters read at the inquest, and his father would very likely have disapproved of his son's liaison with an actress (his sister Charlotte had married Thomas George, Lord Glamis in 1820). The argument against this interpretation, is that the letter from his father is signed "T. Grimstead", not "J. V. Grimstead"; also, in May 1830 his father may already have been incarcerated in the Fleet Prison, though that is not known for certain. But all the other circumstances seem to "fit in" with the Eliza Edwards case.
We don't known much about his son Thomas, other than the fact that he played cricket. An article in the Sporting Magazine in 1831 reported that he participated in an Epsom Cricket Club team, playing against Clarence Club, on 23 May 1831, on Epsom Downs; he later played in a Marylebone Club against Norwich Club. In the 1841 Census Thomas is recorded as a bachelor living in Church Street, Epsom, with his unmarried sister Frances, and by 1851 they resided at The Priory, High Street, Redbourn, Hertfordshire. He described himself as a "Landowner". He died in St Albans in 1884. (Notes from an article by Brian Bouchard for the Epsom & Ewell History Explorer website (https://eehe.org.uk/?p=25554), dated September 2017.) In general, I believe this Thomas Grimstead is indeed Eliza's protector. In one of his letters read at the inquest, he says he is "just going hunting", which suggests he regularly hunts on his estate; Thomas Grimstead of "St. James, Westminster, and Ashstead Surrey" is recorded as paying Game Duty in the London Courier and Evening Gazette for 19 September 1829, and "of Redbourn, Herts" in the Hertford Mercury and Reformer for 13 September 1836, and in The Sun for 23 September 1839 and 2 October 1839 (this is a duty payable by persons qualified by the ownership of property to kill, hunt or sell game).
Later Actions of Maria Edwards
It seems fairly clear that Maria Edwards, who lived with Eliza Edwards for the last ten years of her life, was not really her sister. But the contemporary assumption that Maria knew that Eliza was a man and had sexual relations with him, is contradicted by Maria's subsequent life, and the fact that the father of her child came forward and agreed to pay money towards her support.
30 June 1833
QUEEN SQUARE. Tuesday, Maria Edwards, with a fine child in her arms, applied to Mr. White to order the beadle of St. Margarets to apprehend the father of her child. The applicant, who is about 18 years of age, is the person who called herself the sister of Lavinia Edwards, the extraordinary inquest on whom will be recollected. The general impression is, that the father of the child was this Lavinia Edwards, with whom the applicant lived and slept, but she strongly avers that the father is a journeyman sadler, named Trehern, whose residence she said she had lately discovered. It appears that since her discharge from St. Margarets workhouse she has been living with a laundress at Clapham, who is said to be the mother of the applicant. Mr. White said the matter rested with the Overseers, and they are determined not to interfere at present. (Bells New Weekly Messenger)
1 July 1833
On Wednesday Maria Edwards, with a fine female child in her arms, applied to Mr. White, to order the beadle of St. Margarets parish to apprehend the father of her child, so that he might be compelled to contribute towards its support.
The application, Maria Edwards, who is about 18 yars of age, is the person who called herself the sister of Lavinia Edwards, the extraordinary man-monster, on whom an inquest was held some months ago, at the Coach and Horses, in Deans-yard, Westminster, when some very extraordinary circumstances came to light. The applicant, who was in the family way at the time the inquest was held, and who gave evidence, it will be recollected declared that she never knew the deceased to be a man, although she had lived for years with him, and had slept in general with him. She declared, positively, that the deceased was not the father of the child, but that it was a young man named Treherne, a journeyman saddler, who used to visit her. In consequence of this statement she was taken into St. Margarets workhouse by the overseers, when she was delivered of a female child, and subsequently she affiliated it before two county magistrates at the house, on George Treherne, although the general impression of every one is, that the deceased person, called Lavinia Edwards, is the real father. Some time after she was confined at the workhouse, and perfectly recovered, she was discharged by order of the overseers, and left the house with her infant, and it now appears that she has been living with a Mrs. Nesbitt, of No. 10, Park-place, Clapham, who carries on the business of a laundress. She is said to be the mother of the applicant, Maria Edwards, and it has been traced that Nesbitt formerly lived in Henry-street, Waterloo-road, and afterwards at Tulse-hill.
Mr. White told her that she must find out the father of her child.
The applicant said that she had found out where he lived, and she wanted the beadle to apprehend him.
The beadle asked the overseer how he should act? and, after some short conversation, he was directed not to interfere at present.
The applicant then left the office with her infant. (Bells Weekly Messenger)
2 October 1834
THE SISTER OF LAVINIA EDWARDS, THE MAN-MONSTER. Maria Edwards, the supposed sister of a man monster, who passed by the name of Lavinia Edwards, and died about two years ago, came to the office to apply to Mr. White for advice under the following circumstances:
It may be recollected that on the inquest held on the monster at the Coach and Horses, in Dean-street, the applicant, who had always lived with the person she called her sister, declared most solemnly that she never knew he was a man until his death; at this time she was in the family way, and very strong suspicions were excited in the minds of the Jury that the deceased was the father of the child; she, however, swore that the father of the child was a young man, named Treherne, a journeyman saddler. She was taken into St. Margarets workhouse, where she was delivered of a child, and before the Magistrates at this office she affiliated the child on Treherne, who agreed to pay 1s. 6d. per week for the maintenance of the child. This money, she said, she had regularly received from the parish until the present day, when on applying for her weekly allowance, as usual, she was informed that the money would be paid to her no longer.
Mr. White told her that she must apply to the overseer.
The applicant said that was of no use whatever, the overseer would pay no attention to her.
Mr. White told her that she must come with the overseer to him.
The applicant said that she should not like to part with the child; but if they stopped the 1s. 6d. per week, ordered by the Magistrates, she would be compelled to take the child to the workhouse.
Mr. White again told her to go to the oveerseer, and she left the office for the purpose of taking the child to the workhouse. (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser)
The Acting Career of Miss Edwards
A survey of theatrical notices in the newspapers indicates that the first appearance of "Miss Edwards" was at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, early in 1820, in the children's role of Arpa, the Good Genius of the Harp, in the pantomime Jack and the Bean Stalk; or, Harlequin and the Ogre (British Press, reports for 17 January, 22 January, 29 January and 20 March 1820). However, she then disappears from the London stage. The exact identity of this "Miss Edwards" may be uncertain. Nevertheless, it is certain that Eliza Edwards began her full career in Dublin later in 1820. As reported at the inquest in 1833, shortly following the inquest "we were informed by a theatrical gentleman, who had known the deceased for some years, that her first performance on the stage was in the city of Dublin, at the Rotunda Theatre, for a benefit, when she personated the character of Emily Worthington, in the Poor Gentleman." The accuracy of this statement is confirmed by the following newspaper advertisement:
25 November 1820
For some time past the only novelty we have been accustomed to witness, is the first appearance of young ladies, giving no very high promise of future pre-eminence in their profession, and possessing very questionable qualifications for the entertainment of the public. It is our pleasure, perhaps it is our duty too, to sometime offer a gentle violence to our judgments, and encourage the first appearance of performers; but doubly so is it our pleasure, and ought it to be our duty to encourage and applaud the first appearance of those who present their own merits as irresistible pretensions for approval, and wring from us, as it were by force, the meed of our applause. This was precisely the case of the debutante of last night (Miss Edwards) whose performance formed a splendid exception to the comparative mediocrity of many predecessors, who have made their furst appearance at the Theatre this season; nor is it in talent alone, but in beauty too, that she displayed a successful rivalry over the other fair Candidates for distinction. Her figure is extremely good, her appearance most interesting, and her deportment elegant and without stiffness. Her countenance is expressive of much delicacy, and possesses what painters would term flexibility for the expression of any strong emotion or very vivid feeling. This expression was peculiarly well marked in the scene in which she indignantly spurns the dishonourable advances of Sir Chas. Cropland. In a clear, feeling and emphatic tone of voice, she spoke the spirited reply of the insulted Emily Worthington, which commences Vice is vice still, however society may polish it, and seduction is seduction still, however deceit and flattery may sanction it. The desperate fidelity with which she clings to her father in his misfortunes, and with the fond affection of a daughter prays to accompany him to prison, to cheer, to console, and succour him in his distresses, was given in a style true to nature, and merited the repeated peals of applause which it drew down. . . . After bestowing praise, it is unpleasant to take up the task of censure; with respect to Miss Edwards however, we take it up with less reluctance than usual; the defects of her performance are few and of easy remedy. She may sometimes give her voice which is naturally clear and strong, more boldness and more rapidity of utterance to advantage. This is nothing more than the free exercise of her own powers, which the embarrassment of a first appearance naturally might prevent. Upon the whole, we, without hesitation, pronounce her debut the best we have yet seen at the Rotunda. If she receives encouragement proportinate to her deserts, and if her performance of last night be considered an equitable rule, by which to estimate her probable success, she will no doubt prove a great acquisition, and in due time a great ornament to the stage. Mr. Russell, as Ollipot, displayed an inexhaustible fund of spirits and good humour; we always see him with pleasure, but never can forget that it is Mr. Russell whom we see. Mr. Farren, as Frederic, was very entertaining indeed, and the applause he received was, we think, as well merited as it was freely given. Miss Lucretia MTab had an excellent representative in Mrs. MCulloch. (Freemans Journal)
29 November 1820
THEATRE-ROYAL [The Rotunda].
THIS Evening, November 29, his Majestys Servants will perform Shakespeares Comedy of
KATHERINE & PETRUCHIO.
Petruchio, Mr. Farren. Katherine, by the young Lady who performed Emily Worthington, her second appearance on this Stage. (Saunderss New-Letter)
Thursday, 30 November 1820
Tuesday night was the night of Mr. Farrens benefit, and the Theatre was attended by the fullest, and most fashionable audience we have seen since the commencement of performance at the Rotunda. . . . We congratulate the Proprietor, Manager, and Public on the abundant fruit which this plan has lately produced in the decisive success of Miss Edwards, who made her first appearance in Emily Worthington, and her second last night in Katherine, in the Play of Katherine and Petruchio. The house was very crowded, which we chiefly attribute to the interest which a very numerous and most respectable body of friends took in her success, and to the desire of the public to see a young Lady of her high promise. The part of Katherine affords more scope for the exercise and display of talent than that of Emily, and in it she put forth new powers and discovered new resources. The several passions of pride, anger, pettishness, &c. with which the play abounds, had most happy representatives in the very great flexibility of Miss Edwards countenance. The execution too, was more rapid, and she had evidently attained to a more free exercise of her powers, than on the first night of her appearance. We hope to see her often and hope too that each time we see her, our pleasure may increase, as it last night did much increase indeed. Mr. Farrens Petruchio, was in his usual perfect and happy style. We cannot conclude without giving the well earned meed of our applause to Mr. Russells Sambo. His imitations were excellent, many of them were certainly superior to Mathews. That of Incledon gave most universal delight. We own, however, we would wish to see them introduced elsewhere than in a piece in which an Irish Baronet is represented to be nothing better than a blundering, uneducated clown, of the most degrading description. The original vulgarity of the authors conceptions lost nothing in the corresponding vulgarity of Mr. Hamertons expression of them. (Freemans Journal)
In early 1820 a new Theatre at Fishamble Street was established, mainly featuring the performances of private theatricals by skilled amateurs, with professionals donating their performances for various good causes (Saunderss News-Letter, 19 January 1820). Miss Edwards appeared at Fishamble Street for the benefit of the Vintners Asylum on 12 January 1821, as Miss Vortex in The Cure for the Heart-Ache (Freemans Journal, 11 January 1821); a fellow performer was Mr Farren, who had also worked with her at the Rotunda Theatre. She was very well received:
In the present dearth of public entertainments in this city, it was very recreating, to be afforded so excellent a specimen of performance, as we last night witnessed at this fashionable little Theatre. . . . Too much praise cannot be awarded to the gentlemen of the Theatre Royal, who in the handsomest manner volunteered their services on this occasion. They sustained their respective parts with their accustomed ability, Mr. Farren as Young Rapid, and Miss Edwards as Miss Vortex, were peculiarly happy in the delineation of their characters. The former gentleman is a long established and meritorious favorite of the Citizens of Dublin, and the public estimation in which he is held, is only proportionate to his very high deserts. Miss Edwards is the young lady whose very successful debut at the Rotunda Theatre it gave us much pleasure to announce, and whose augmented claims to public favor since that period we very readily acknowledge. The same vivacity of manner the same animated expression, and lady-like deportment stamped the same decided success on her performance of Miss Vortex, as distinguished her performance of Emily Worthington and Katharine. We have no hesitation in renewing the pledge which we then made, that she will be a very valuable acquisition to the Corps Dramatique of the new theatre, among whom we are glad to perceive her name is enroled. (Freemans Journal)
13 January 1821
However, the new venture was not a great success for dramatic plays, and the theatre became a venue for popular entertainments such as acrobatics and rope dancers. By July 1821 it was engaged by Mr Bologna for his Panoramic Mirror of "Pictoreal, Optical and Mechanical Illusion" (Freeman's Journal, 7 July and 16 July 1821). A few years later it became a popular venue for boxing matches and ventriloquist acts. But Miss Edwards had already left Dublin, and sought her fame in London, appearing at the Coburg Theatre in April 1821:
The Royaly Theatre in 1825
24 April 1821
ROYAL COBURG THEATRE. This Theatre was re-opened last night, and has been much improved during the recess by some judicious embellishments, and may be now justly termed the most beautiful of our Minor Theatres. It had to boast a crowded audience, and the Pieces performed were received by the holiday gentry with great applause. The Performances commenced with a new Serio-Comic-Melo-Drama, called The English at Paris; or, Events of 1821. In this Piece, a MISS EDWARDS, from the Dublin Theatre, made her first appearance, and evinced considerable talent; she was very favourably received. After the Melo-Drama, the celebrated IL DIAVOLO ANTONIO performed on the Slack Rope, and much delighted the audience. The evenings amusement concluded with another new Serio-Comic Melo-Drama, entitled Michael Howe; or, The Terror of Van Diemans Land. (The Star)
She then appeared briefly, on 12 May and 30 May 1821, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as Mrs English in "the Extravaganza Giovanni in London." However, her career at Drury Lane was short-lived, for she then tried her luck at the Royalty Theatre, Well Street, Well Close Square. This was an out-of-the-way theatre in the East End of London, in Whitechapel. This first opened in 1781, catering to a working-class audience of seamen loading and unloading ships in the nearby port of London. It was rebuilt in 1815, and was the first theatre to install gaslight, in 1816. It burned down in April 1826. Here are some illustrations of the theatre, followed by a notice of Miss Edwards' first appearance:
Royal Theatre Amphitheatre and Proscenium
9 September 1822
WILL OPEN, for the WINTER SEASON, THIS EVENING.
The Public are respectfully informed, that the interior of this Theatre has undergone several improvements and alterations, with a view to the comfort of the audience the superb ornaments and gilding have been re-burnished, and the whole ground-work re-painted every avenue of the Theatre has been completely repaired, and fitted up in a style worthy the splendid arrangements of the Establishment.
The Performances to commence with an entirely new local sketch, under the title of WARMING THE HOUSE, or Old Friends and New Faces. A popular Song by MISS EDWARDS, of the Theatre Royal, Drury-lane. After which an entirely new Serio Comic Melo Drama, called the HEBREW PATRIARCH and THE UNKNOWN KNIGHT. An entirely new Comic Song, about This, That, and the Other, by Mr. Norman. The Entertainments to conclude with MARRIED OR NOT; or, Puzzles and Penalties. (Morning Advertiser)
The entertainments offered at the Royalty Theatre were distinctly downmarket, and Miss Edwards' performances seem to have been relegated mainly to singing:
THE ROYALTY THEATRE,
9 September 1822
WELL STREET, WELLCLOSE SQUARE,
WILL OPEN FOR THE WINTER SEASON
THIS EVENING, SEPTEMBER 9, 1822.
. . . The Performances to commence with an entirely new local Sketch, interspersed with Songs, Chorusses [sic], Dances, Processional Arrangements, &c. . . . Jerry Sneak (with a new Comic Song), . . . Pat Monny (a blundering Bricklayer, with a Song of Blunders), . . . Timoleon Tag Rag (a wandering Actor, seeking to recommend himself by Speeches, Songs, Dances, Gymnastic Exercises, Pathetic Appeals, Harlequin Leaps, &c.), . . . In the course of the Piece will be exhibited the Saloon of a Theatre, with the Statues of Comedy and Tragedy, and a Grand Allegorical Hall of British Worthies, in which will be displayed, in conspicuous situations, the Portraits of our late most celebrated Naval and Military Commanders. A popular Song, by Miss Edwards, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. . . . (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser)
There were repeated performances of her Popular Song through September. In October she regularly performed "A Popular Ballad", then went back to "A Popular Song", throughout November.
26 November 1822
WELL STREET, WELLCLOSE SQUARE.
THIS present EVENING, and during the Week, . . . an entirely New Comic Extravaganza Sketch, written by J. H. Amherst, called, THE THREE CRIPPLES, and the QUEEN of BILLINGSGATE; in the course of this Piece will be introduced PARODIES on various favourite Airs, particularly on, Were a Noddin, by Miss Ainslie; Tremble all, by Miss Edwards; . . . (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser).
These performances ran through December 1822. On 20 January 1823 she sang "the popular Air of "My Friend and Pitcher". In February and March 1823 she performed "Lady Georgina (with a Song)". On 21 April 1823 she appeared as "one of the Principal Characters" in The Mistake; or, The G. G., at the Royalty Theatre, and on 29 April 1823, as Sue in an Extravaganza, Tom, Jerry, and Logics Life in London, which continued into May 1823. She then seems to disappear, and we next hear of her in Ipswich:
3 January 1824
IPSWICH THEATRE. . . . Miss Edwards made, we hear, her first appearance on Saturday night; but a cold and illness with which she was then afflicted, have prevented her appearance since. . . . (Suffolk Chronicle)
One wonders if this is the first sign of the consumption that will eventually kill her. Then she disappears again, for a longer period, returning to the Royalty Theatre in late 1825, where she sang "a Favourite Song" on 17 October 1825, then appearing in the role of Mrs Marigold in The Three Cripples and the Queen of Billingsgate on 22 November 1825, and as Julia Mannering in Guy Mannering on 17 December 1825. Shortly afterwards, she appeared in An Epithalamium, Act III of "a Pathetic Melo-drame, taken from the Tragedy of Isabella" (i.e. from The Fatal Marriage), but she was not listed among the principal characters (e.g. a Mrs Stanley now took the role of Isabella) (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 31 December 1825). The following is the very last notice of any appearances by Eliza Edwards:
5 April 1826
THIS EVENING, (the 5th of April) . . . a Comic Burletta, founded on the popular Comedy of PAUL PRY. Paul Pry, Mr. Monk; Phoebe, (with a Song) Miss Edwards. . . . (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser)
That is the last we hear of Miss Edwards, until the coroner's inquest into the death of Eliza Edwards in January 1833. The various newspaper notices do not match exactly the story that emerges from the evidence given at the inquest, but perhaps we can form a reasonable composite narrative:
The person later calling himself Eliza Edwards was born in Norwich in 1808/1809; he was orphaned and given into the care of his uncle; he first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in a children's role as a singing harp in Jack and the Beanstalk, then made his debut as a young girl at the Rotunda Theatre in Dublin, in November 1820; then at Fishamble Street Theatre, Dublin, in 1821; then the Coburg Theatre in London, again briefly at Drury Lane, then settled in at the Royaly Theatre, London in 1822; he left his uncle in December 1823 at the age of 14; she appeared at Ipswich at the beginning of 1824, when she may have shown early signs of consumption, then went back to London in 1825, and the last notice of any appearance was in early 1826; some time after about 1824 and before about 1830 she travelled about the country, playing at various provincial theatres, namely in Norwich, Colchester and Tewkesbury, for which she received no theatrical notices, perhaps last appearing in Colchester around 1828. During the last nine years of her life she suffered various misfortunes, and lived by the kindness of strangers, notably gentlemen protectors, and during her final few years by singing for drinks from the theatrical performers of the Coburg and Surrey theatres; she died of consumption, living in either a brothel or a workhouse at the time. She then gains posthumous fame as a "man-monster" when her body is discovered to be that of a man.
The Career of Eliza Walstein
As if the story were not already sufficiently extraordinary, from the beginning of the twentieth century Eliza Edwards was conflated with the Dublin actress Eliza Walstein, a frequent performer upon the Dublin stage in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. This identification no doubt arose because Eliza Edwards was said to have occasionally performed under the name "Miss Walstein" and she sometimes called herself "Lavinia Walstein". Both were actresses, both appeared on the Dublin stage, and both shared the same stage name "Miss Walstein". What more do we need? The actress Eliza Walstein always styled "Miss Walstein", never "Lavinia Walstein" disappeared from the Dublin stage and from public view in 1820. The last appearance of Miss Walstein was as Widow Belmour in The Way to Keep Him at the Fishamble Street Theatre in Dublin in early April 1820 (The Globe, 18 April 1820). One of the earliest appearances of Miss Edwards was at the very same theatre, the Fishamble Street Theatre, early the following year, on 12 April 1821, as Miss Vortex in The Cure for the Heart-Ache (Freeman's Journal, 13 January 1821). This strange coincidence the disappearance of Eliza Walstein/Miss Walstein in 1820 and the appearance of Eliza Edwards/Lavinia Walstein/Miss Walstein in 1821, at the same theatre helped to contribute to the proposed narrative of the same actress's subsequent 'reappearance' as a failing actress-cum-kept-woman. I think this conflation of the two persons is erroneous, but let us examine some of the evidence, beginning with a survey of the career of Eliza Walstein, Dublin actress.
There seem to be no records of the birth or death of Eliza Walstein, but there are full records of her acting career. On 10 July 1800 appeared a notice for the Theatre-Royal, Liverpool, announcing that "To-morrow, (not acted these 6 years) the Tragedy of the Fair Penitent, Calista by a Young Lady, being her first appearance on any stage" (Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser). This is believed to refer to Eliza Walstein. At any rate, the first appearance of "Miss Walstein" by name was announced for 22 November 1800 at the Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh, as Miss Blandford in Speed the Plough "her first appearance on this stage" (Caledonian Mercury, 22 November 1800). Later she performed as Julia in The Rivals on 5 March 1801, a benefit for the Edinburgh Charity Workhouse (Caledonian Mercury, 2 March 1801), and again on 5 March 1801. In May, at the Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh, a benefit was staged for her:
"Miss Walstein respectifully acquaints her Friends and the Public, that her BENEFIT is fixed for Next Saturday, May 2, 1801, When will be presented the Favourite Comedy of THE HEIR AT LAW. . . . Tickets and places in the Boxes to be had at the Theatre and of Miss Walstein, at no. 7, Shakespeare Square" (Caledonian Mercury, 27 April 1801). In December 1801 there was praise for "the young actress" in her performance as Imoinda in Oroonoko at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh (Caledonian Mercury, 28 December 1801), though one reader responded with a strong criticism of the "fulsome idolatry" given in praise of Miss Walstein's performance, "without wishing to detract in the smallest degree from Miss Walstein, whose natural qualifications, and rising merits, are eminent, the most bigoted partiality must allow that her performance of Imoinda was very far inferior to her usual stile of acting" (Caledonian Mercury, 31 December 1801). From these early notices we can conclude that Eliza Walstein's first appearance on the stage, as "a young actress", was in 1800. I would deduce from this that she was 12 or 13 years old at the time: meaning that she was born around 1788.
Eliza Walstein's earliest appearances seem to have been in Edinburgh and Liverpool and the north of England. On 1 April 1801 The Scots Magazine felt that she was too young for her role as Lady Macbeth at the Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh: "Miss Walstein's youthful, innocent appearance, could not assist her in such a character as Lady Macbeth; but her appropriate action, expressive features and clear voice, when aided by maturer judgment, will render her a valauble acquisition in any Theatre." In 1802 she appeared in Liverpool, along with "several other provincial performers of high repute" (Morning Post, 26 August 1802). A Benefit performance of School for Wives and Paul and Virginia was given for Miss Walstein at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, on 10 April 1802 (The Scots Magazine, 1 April 1802); on 15 April she published her thanks to her audience (Caledonian Mercury, 15 April 1802). The Carlisle Journal reported on 29 May 1802 that "We hear that Mr. Grant . . . has . . . voluntarily undertaken to stop one night here, in his way from Edinburgh to Liverpool" with his two female colleagues "Miss Walstein and Miss Biggs (who, we understand, have also kindly offered their gratuitous services for the evening)". Eliza Walstein went to Dublin at the beginning of 1803; the Hibernian Magazine for January even published a portrait of her (Saunders's News-Letter, 3 February 1803). In August that year she performed a trouser role at the Theatre Royal, Dublin: "THE HEIR AT LAW. Between the Play and Farce an occasional Poetic Address, written by Joseph Atkinson, Esq. to be spoken by Miss Walstein, in the character of an Irish Yeoman" (Saunders's News-Letter, 3 August 1803). Early next year she performed another trouser role, as Theodore in The Wife of Two Husbands (Dublin Evening Post, 4 February 1804). May 1804 was a very busy month, as she was scheduled to appear both as Lydia Languish in The Rivals and as Roxalana (with songs) in the farce The Sultan, or, A Peep into the Seraglio (Saunders's New-Letter, 17 April 1804) and as Ophelila in Hamlet on 31 May 1804.
The Theatre Royal was closed at the end of May 1806 because of poor attendance, but "Miss Walstein will be engaged to perform at Crow-street [location of the Theatre Royal], during the after season" (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 31 May 1806). In November 1809, in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, she "received great applause" in the farce of High Life below Stairs" (British Press, 25 November 1809). There is little point in presenting a year-by-year survey of her career: she appeared in literally hundreds of productions in the following years, at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, Cork Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, and very frequently at dozens of productions at the Kilkenny Private Theatre during each season from 1803 to 1812. By 1813 she was described as "our long-admired favourite" (Saunders's News-Letter, 10 July 1813), and by about 1815 she was at the peak of her career.
A stipple engraving labelled "Miss Walstein" was published by John Bell on 1 October 1815, engraved by John Alais, after a portrait by Moses Haughton Jr.
There is another portrait, rather softer-featured, of "Miss Walstein" "From a Painting by Mr. F. G. Gainsford Engraved by George Hayer". F. G. Gainsford was active 18051828. He painted a striking romantic portrait (c.1816) of John William Polidori, Byron's physician and author of the first vampire tale. Gainsford's "Portrait of Miss Walstein" was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815 (Forty-Seventh Exhibition of the Royal Academy, Catalogue, entry no. 381).
These two portraits were no doubt commissioned at the height of her popularity, and they clearly portray the same woman, age about 25.
She spent the season of 181415 performing on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. It is clear that by this stage she was no longer young, but now had to compete with a more youthful actress: "Last night Miss WALSTEIN, who has so long held the most distinguished place on the Dublin Theatre, made her first appearance in London in the character of Calista. . . . she not only had to bear up against the acknowledged eminence of her rival in the public esteem, but . . . against the favour which is sure to be attached to youthful beauty. . . . The curtain fell amidst thunders of applause" (The Star, London, 16 November 1814). She repeated her performance as Calista on 18 November, "with increased effect", and in one scene received "three distinct rounds of applause" (Morning Post, 19 November 1814). She also appeared as Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Stratagem (Evening Mail, 23 November 1814), and in other roles. Her reception was generally favourable, but some reviews were very mixed, pointing out a stiff formality: "the lighter and more delicate pictures of the drama must be given to others; . . . the form and features of Miss WALSTEIN naturally give over to her the dark and solemn . . . . Miss WALSTEIN occasionlly declaims too much" (Evening Mail, 16 November 1814).
A long and rather damning review curiously emphasised her masculine appearance and manner, and adds some details of her early career:
20 November 1814
Miss Walstein, whose engagement had been announced with all that could enhance the expectations of the public, and who came from the Dublin stage, (though, we understand, not a native of Ireland,) . . . made her first appearance in the part of Calista, at this theatre, last Tuesday. This lady, we are informed by persons who witnessed her performances at the time, held a considerable rank on the Edinburgh theatre fourteen years ago, when she gave an additional charm to her dramatic exhibition. She afterwards made the usual provincial tour, and, at last, settled in Ireland, where the friends of declamation granted her a hearty welcome and a home. She has now been called from the seat of her fame to try whether it could be extended to the British metropolis . . . . Nature has not fitted her for the melting mood, or even to delineate the softer emotions of the proudest female bosoms. Her features are cast in almost a more than manly mould. . . . Miss W.s voice and delivery unfortunately yield her no assistance towards bringing her within the pale of feminality. Her voice, without being remarkable for strength, has a certain elevation and monotony of tone which fatigues the ear, and her delivery is more like the studied declamation of a boy than the language of an able expounder of the passions. . . . There is also too much pomposity in her tread, and too studied and evident a desire of displaying her figure. This is still elegant, and when fuller, must have been remarkably handsome, . . . She is, however, highly respectable, and if she would correct the pruriency of her declamation, rein in her bursts of voice, refrain from injudiciously dividing her sentences, and appear less occupied with her own person, she would certainly claim more applause than she has received, and would rise superior to the hisses with which it was frequently accompanied. (National Register, 16 November 1814).
Just a few days after her initial appearances at Drury Lane, she was compelled to break off her engagement and return to Dublin "in consequence of the alarming illness of her Mother, who is represented to be in a dying state" (The Star, 26 November 1814). The notices of her sudden departure mentioned that she was in London with her sister and brother, whom the management suggested she send back to Dublin to tend to her mother (National Register, 27 November 1814). Her mother recovered, and she returned to Drury Lane mid-December, where she was given a warm reception, apparently having profited by the earlier criticism and attempting less. Her last farewell performance was on 14 February 1815 (The Sun, 15 February 1815). Many years later, an actor who remembered Miss Walstein, said that during this 181415 season she "was on the shady side of forty", lacking the youthful beauty of her younger rival Miss O'Neill (born in 1791), so she may have been even older than I have speculated (Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, Voiume 10, 7 December 1872, p. 447). Douglas Kinnaird, a member of the subcommittee handling affairs for the Drury Lane Theatre, wrote to his friend Lord Byron on 2 October 1814 that "our sapient managers, in consequence of Miss O’Neill’s success, have sent for a Miss Walstein from Ireland, who is old, ugly, & thin" (Bentley’s Miscellany, Volume 18, 1845). The English actor John Kemble, who had visited Dublin and had helped to arrange Miss O'Neill's engagement at Drury Lane, wrote to his brother "They call her here . . . The Dove, in contradistinction to her rival, a Miss Walstein, whom they designate as the Eagle. I recommend the Dove to you as more likely to please John Bull than the Irish Eagle, who, in fact, is merely a Siddons diluted, and would only be tolerated when Siddons is forgotten" (James Ellis, The Irish National Theatre: Its History and Its Biography, 1876, vol. 4, p. 631).
At about this time, it was rumoured that she had become the mistress of George Bryan (17701843), militia officer and Catholic politician. According to Christopher O'Keeffe, The Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell (18634), "Major Bryan had a fortune of £10,000 a-year, every penny of which he squandered. He inhabited a magnificent house in Henrietta-street, which was superbly furnished. His liveries, his horses, his equipages were of the most gorgeous descrpition. . . . In addition to his house in Henrietta street, which he inhabited, the major held a second house near one of the squares, which he occasionally visited. This was occupied by a beautiful creature named Miss Walstein a brilliant actress, as famous for theatrical talent in her day as Miss Fanny Kemble in ours. This lady, from an amiability of disposition which the major appreciated, did him the great favour to accept his 'protection,' and what with her servants, carriage, and establishment, rendered him, it was whispered, very effective assistance in getting through his ten-thousand a year" (vol. ii, pp. 1920). Bryan was very active in promoting Catholic interests, and in 1837 became MP for Kilkenny. He acknowledged an illegitimate daughter, assumed to be by Eliza Walstein.
When she returned to Dublin following her 181415 engagement in London, she tried to negotiate with the Theatre Royal for a higher fee than they were willing to pay, more than twice the amount paid to her rival Miss O'Neill (Morning Post, 5 April 1815). The Theatre Royal did not make the offer. Miss Walstein does not seem to appear again until late 1817, in a benefit, as Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Stratagem (Morning Post, 8 October 1817). Her appearances during her ensuing career seem limited to one-off benefits, or at provincial theatres.
26 April 1818
Miss Walstein, who has some time past retired from the stage, has returned to the Dublin Theatre, to play for the benefit of the performers. (National Register)
18 September 1818
Miss WALSTEIN, who displayed considerable talents a few seasons ago at Drury-lane Theatre, has returned to the stage, and is engaged at the Kilkenny Theatre. Her sister is to appear there merely for her own pleasure, not meaning to adopt the theatrical profession. (Statesman, London)
27 October 1818
The Waterford Theatre is about to be opened under the direction of Mr. CLARKE, who has already engaged as dramatic stars Miss WALSTEIN, Miss STEPHENS, and MATHEWS. (The Star)
When Eliza Walstein returned for the 1818 season at the Kilkenny Theatre, her sister Anne Walstein appeared with her, for the first (and last) time. Eliza appeared as Volumnia in Coriolanus, and in several other roles, while Anne appeared as Cordelia in King Lear (The Private Theatre of Kilkenny, 1835, p. 188).
An awkward incident occurred in Kilkenny. At the Kilkenny Dinner in October 1818, the gentlemen of the theatre voted to honour Eliza Walstein with "a brilliant Cross of considerable value", "as a testimonial of her talents and long services therein", but she declined accepting it. This was somehow brought to public notice nearly two years later, when she felt compelled to explain her reasons for refusing it (Saunders's News-Letter, 20 June 1820). It's a complicated story, but it's basically because Miss O'Neil was chosen to perform in roles previously promised to Miss Walstein during the Kilkenny Theatricals of 1818 and she later felt compelled to share with the newspapers the letter (signed "ELIZA WALSTEIN") that she had sent to the management complaining of "a duplicity of treatment" (Freeman's Journal, 23 June 1820).
There was another hiatus, after which Miss Walstein returned to the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in January 1820, where she appeared in three roles, as Madge Wildfire in The Heart of Midlothian, as Blanche in The Lady of the Lake, and as Lady Anne in Richard the Third. But following some dispute, "Miss Walstein has thought proper to withdraw her services from the theatre" (Saunders's News-Letter, 14 April 1820). She wrote a letter to the editor, signing herself "ELIZA WALSTEIN, Mount-street, April 13", explaining that she had declined appearing in benefits where it might seem that they were for her own sake, but had offered to appear in a benefit for the entire company, but that benefit was not advertised to take place (Saunders's News-Letter, 15 April 1820). In that month, April 1820, Eliza Walstein made her last appearance, as the Widow Belmour in The Way to Keep Him, together with a company of amateurs, at the Fishamble Street Theatre, Dublin: "We never saw Miss WALSTEIN act better, look better, or appear in better spirits" (The Globe, 18 April 1820). That is the last notice of any appearance of Eliza Walstein in the Irish or British press. Almost exactly one year later, on 12 April 1821, Miss Edwards would make her appearance at the Fishamble Street Theatre (Freeman's Journal, 13 January 1821). Eliza Walstein would have been about 33 years old, possibly even older. Her stage career seems to have ended, having been eclipsed by her younger rival Elizabeth O'Neill (born in 1791). The other rising star, Eliza Edwards, would have been about 12 years old.
It is not clear why Eliza Walstein disappears from view. She had lived for a long time on Mount Street, Dublin. An advertisement for her Benefit at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, given on 15 May 1808, advises "Tickets to be had of Miss Walstein, 39, Lower Mount-street" (Saunders's News-Letter, 12 May 1808). "Miss Walstein" is recorded as residing at 59 Mount Street, Dublin, in The Treble Almanac Directory for 1818, in Wilson's Directory for 1820, in the Post Office Directory for 182021, and in The Treble Almanac Direcctory for 1822; and "Thomas Walstein" is recorded as living in Lower Mount Street, Dublin, in January 1831. Her mother's death is recorded at this address in 1817: "in Lower Mount street, Dublin, on the 12th, Mrs Walstein mother to the celebrated actress of that name and sister to the late Dr Douglass, Roman Catholic Bishop of London" (CMC M 20 Jan 1817, Irish Newspaper Transcript Archive, Ffoliott Collection 17561850) (also recorded in the Freemans Journal and the Public Register according to the Tipperary Clans Archive). (Notice of burial was in the Freeman's Journal for 14 January 1817). "The late Dr Douglass" would be John Douglass, who was born in Yarm, Yorkshire in December 1743 (his father was Scottish, and a Jacobite supporter); at the age of 13 he went to the English Catholic seminary at Douay, where he became a Doctor of Divinity in 1766; he taught at the English college at Valladolid from 1768 through 1773. He then returned to England, and served as a priest at York. In 1790 he was ordained Bishop and became the Vicar-Apostolic of the London district, and was active in Roman Catholic religious-political campaigns henceforth. He died in London on 8 May 1812. As a Catholic Bishop, presumably he was unmarried. (The Douglas Archives).
It will be noted that at the time that Miss Walstein was recorded as living in Mount Street in Dublin in 182122, Miss Edwards was recorded as performing at three theatres in London. Clearly the two actresses were two separate individuals. It is difficult to understand why Eliza Edwards should wish to style herself "Miss Walstein" and "Lavinia Walstein". It is possible that Eliza Edwards pretended to be Miss Walstein when she sought employment in the provincial theatres or at Drury Lane. She was an impostor in regard to her sex, so there was little to be lost in becoming an imposter in regard to her name. Presumably she wished to exploit the cachet that still attached to the name of the Dublin actress, of whom she was perhaps aware as her predecessor at the Fishamble Street Theatre in 18201821. That the name "Miss Walstein" still had its attractions even in the 1840s is demonstrated by another actress who chose to take the stage name "Miss Walstein" from early 1841, who performed regularly in London, at Deptford Theatre (Kentish Mercury, 20 February 1841), the Theatre Royal, English Opera House (The Examiner, 18 April 1841; Morning Post, 6 May 1841; plus many other notices), the Edinburgh Adelphi Theatre (Caledonian Mercury, 12 July 1841), the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (Newcastle Journal, 5 March 1842), and in Glasgow. I briefly wondered if this was a reappearance of Eliza Walstein, until I discovered that the last public performance of this "Miss Walstein" was in 1842, at a concert at Glasgow City Hall, a few days after which, on 6 June 1842, she was married to William Lachlan M'Quarrie Redfern, and the report gave her maiden name as Jane Bastable Walker (Caledonian Mercury, 9 June 1842; Perthshire Courier, 9 June 1842).
Although the inquest of 1833 reported that "Miss Edwards" acted in Dublin and called herself "Miss Walstein", none of the papers that reported the findings of the inquest alluded to any connection between Eliza Edwards and the well-known Dublin actress Eliza Walstein; not even the Dublin papers when they reported the story felt compelled to make such a link. The 1833 case was widely re-told in 1870 as a result of the sensational case involving the cross-dressers Boulton and Parke (Fanny and Stella), but no mention was made of a link to the real Dublin actress. The first person to make the claim that Eliza Edwards and Eliza Walstein were one and the same person was R. J. Broadbent in his book Annals of the Liverpool Stage, 1908, in which he reviews "one of the strangest life histories in the annals of the stage" (p. 102); he sensationalilses the story about the actress he calls "Miss Lavinia Walstein", and makes no attempt to account for discrepancies, nor gives any survey of the theatrical notices for Miss Edwards.
Several modern sources ranging from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's page on the engraver John Alais; to a long footnote in John Gamble's book Society and Manners in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland (2011); to two web pages by Naomi Clifford discussing the 1815 portrait (24 October 2014 and 4 November 2014); to an article on "Trans History" in Trans*Action Magazine (Issue 1, Spring 2017, pp. 2223) combine the stories of the transgender woman and the Dublin actress into a single unified individual named "Lavinia Walstein", but in fact there is no real evidence to support the theory that Eliza Edwards and Eliza Walstein were one and the same person. Let us sum up the evidence.
The insuperable difficulty to identifying the two individuals as one person is the clear discrepancy between their ages. Theatrical notices in newspapers demonstrate that Eliza Walstein first appeared on stage in 1800, as a young lady, which would mean that she was born around 1788, and would further mean that she was about 45 years old in 1833, when Eliza Edwards died. The surgeon who examined the body of Eliza Edwards for the inquest in 1833 described her as being about 24 years of age. The surgeon might have misjudged her age, but he isn't likely to have mistaken the body of a 45-year-old for that of a 24-year-old. In a letter produced at the inquest, Eliza Edwards herself said that she left her guardian uncle "at the age of 14, in Dec. 1823". Conceivably the figure "14" in the letter is a typographical error, but the figure would have to be, say, "34" to tie in with Eliza Walstein's age in 1823, which was probably about 35. Why would Eliza Edwards tell her protector's father that she was 34 in 1823? In the letter she is describing her childhood she would not have waited until the age of 34 to leave her uncle! No, the age of 14 in 1823 matches up with the surgeon's report that she was about 24 in 1833. Theatrical notices in newspapers during 1820 and 1821 repeatedly confirm that "Miss Edwards" first appeared on stage as "a young lady" at that time, which would tie in with her probable birth date of 1809. In other words, when Miss Walstein first appeared on stage, Miss Edwards would not have been born yet; and when Miss Edwards first appeared on stage, Miss Walstein was already approaching middle-age.
Just to confuse things, there is a third date for Eliza Edwards. In 1836, three years after the inquest of 1833, the autopsy report was reprinted in Michael Ryan's A Manual of Medical Jurisprudance and State Medicine, exactly reprinting verbatim the autopsy report as it appeared in the Medical and Physical Journal of February 1833, but changing just one detail: it said the deceased was "about thirty-four years of age". This older age of 34 rather than 24 was subsequently used in later reports and histories of the case. The alteration seems to be deliberate rather than a typographical error (i.e. it says "thirty-four" rather than "34"), but it's not clear why the change was made. Was it a correction offered by the surgeon who made the autopsy? But Ryan's Manual reported on hundreds of cases; why would the author/editor consult with the surgeon who made this particular autopsy? It does not seem likely. In any case the surgeon in question, Alfred S. Taylor, published his own Manual of Medical Jurisprudence in November 1843, in which he repeated that the deceased's "age was 24" (Alfred S. Taylor, Medical Jurisprudence, Third Edition, London: John Churchill, 1849, p. 611).
However, let us assume for the minute that Eliza Edwards was 34 in 1833, and therefore was born in 1799. Where does that get us? That would still leave her too young to be the Miss Walstein who first appeared as the character in a play in 1800, i.e. she would have been only one year old. It would also leave her too young for the portraits of Miss Walstein in 1815, as the woman portrayed seems to be more than 15 years old. So the claim that Eliza Edwards was 34 at death is really a red herring, and does not solve any dilemma; that is, it still fails to establish any possible link between her and Eliza Walstein. In any case, an age of 34 in 1833 would clearly contradict her own claim to be 14 in 1823, and many other details given at the inquest and in the theatrical notices.
We have contemporary portraits of the two women, bearing out the fact that they were different women. The portraits of Eliza Walstein from 1815 that I have reproduced above illustrate a woman of about 25 years of age. The portrait of Eliza Edwards in her coffin, made in 1833, also shows a young woman of about 24, though the flesh has already begun to sink in, and the skin is tightened about the nose, for the corpse was already nearly a week old. But clearly the face of the body in the coffin is not 18 years older than the faces in the pair of portraits.
Other circumstantial evidence would argue against Miss Edwards being an elderly Miss Walstein. Miss Edwards' protector, Thomas Grimstead, was born in 1803; it is hardly likely that Miss Walstein, who was born in about 1788, would have a "protector" who was 15 years younger than herself. And what about Maria Edwards, Eliza Edwards' alleged "sister"? Maria was 17 years old in 1833, but Eliza Walstein would have been 45 years old: it is not likely that Maria would claim to be living with a sister nearly 30 years older than herself. That age discrepancy is too wide for two sisters, even fictional ones. In any case, Miss Walstein lived with her mother, sister and brother, whereas Miss Edwards was an orphan fron an early age. The evidence given at the inquest is that Eliza Edwards left the stage because she fell on hard times, which was due to bad luck and illness, not to aging, whereas the theatrical notices about Eliza Walstein clearly show that she became a middle-aged actress and left the stage in the decline of her powers. Miss Edwards' "bitter misfortunes" are alleged to have begun not very long after she first went on stage (which matches the short span of her theatrical notices). In other words, Eliza Edwards suggests that her career was struck short by misfortune, whereas Eliza Walstein had had a successful career of twenty years before she left the stage. Everything in the evidence about Eliza Edwards suggests that she was relatively young in 1833, while everything in the evidence about Eliza Walstein suggests that she was relatively old by 1833. Does there still remain a nagging possibility that Eliza Walstein really was Eliza Edwards? To accept that interpretation, we wouldn't have to reject anything in the documented story of Eliza Walstein. But we would have to reject and 'explain away' a large amount of evidence in the documentation regarding Eliza Edwards in order to accept the claim that she was the same person as Eliza Walstein. Perhaps the reason why the discrepancies have not been so clearly realised before, is that previous researchers have not bothered to investigate the theatrical notices in the newspapers documenting the acting career of "Miss Edwards". They have totally ignored an important field of research in their eagerness to construct a myth about a non-existent "Lavinia Walstein".
Much as I would like to believe the tale that once there was a young man who took on the role of an actress named Lavinia Walstein, had a brilliant career on the Dublin stage for twenty years, then came to London where her career faltered over the next ten years, and who was reduced to seeking protection from men in her cottage in Regent's Park, and finally ended up singing for pennies to buy gin on the South Bank, dying in poverty, her body unclaimed and acquired for dissection, when she was discovered to be a man much as I would like to believe that story, there never was such a person. In January 1820, Eliza Edwards was appearing as "Miss Edwards" on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, at the same time as Eliza Walstein was appearing as "Miss Walstein" on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Dublin. "Lavinia Walstein" was two separate individuals, living two separate lives that did not quite touch one another.
SOURCES: Archive records, pamphlets, books, and especially newspapers, dates as cited.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Mystery of 'Eliza Edwards'",
Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 27 May 2012, greatly expanded 7 July 2020