By Elizabeth Doherty
He was an Irish male prostitute who slept with the aristocracy in the 1890s – with rumours of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s grandson, being a paying customer – but Jack Saul may also have also been the very first gay activist.
The writer behind TV detective show Taggart, Glenn Chandler, is set to release a book on Saul, born just off Kevin Street, Dublin.
Saul was a member of the notorious Telegraph Messenger Boys, who worked for the General Post Office in Victorian London.
The gang, some as young as 15, sold sexual services to members of the aristocracy from behind the velvet curtains of 19 Cleveland Street in London in the 1890s.
One of the clients, who regularly visited the brothel was Lord Arthur Somerset, private equerry to the Prince of Wales – and another, reported in the American press, was Prince Albert Victor Edward, known as ‘Prince Eddy,’ heir to the throne.
Award winning playwright and writer, Glenn Chandler, who created Scottish TV detective Taggart, the world’s longest running police drama – set about digging into the history of Saul.
The rent boy’s pivotal role in almost bringing down royalty, was a mystery he felt compelled to solve.
Chandler’s book, The Sins of Jack Saul, released on March 21, unravels a Victorian scandal that shook the foundations of the British state.
“I found newspaper articles, and I then carried out genealogical research and traced him back to where he was born, Kevin Street, Dublin in a tenement slum,” Chandler said.
“Jack’s father was a jarvey, a hackney cab driver. His mother kept house for a large family. She was illiterate, couldn’t read or write. Jack had sisters and two brothers, who were also taxi drivers.
“If Jack stayed in Dublin, he would have ended up a cab driver, earning very little.
The fact Jack was a mystery, that no one knew anything about him, the more I wanted to find out. I like a mystery – and the more I found out, the more interesting he became.
The very notion royalty and high class figures, including lords and members of parliament, could have been paying for sex with Saul and other gay sex workers, sent the machinations of the British legal system into overdrive, Chandler said.
The brothel was raided by police and shut down, with some of those involved forced to flee to France.
And one of the most high profile policemen of the era, Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, who had led the investigation into Jack the Ripper – was assigned to the case.
A royal scandal was borne and the editor of the North London Press, Ernest Parke, took the brave step of identifying one of the establishment figures buying sex from male prostitutes.
The small newspaper, with a circulation of only around 4,000, reported that the Earl of Euston visited 19 Cleveland Street for “sodomitical purposes,” – a matter the earl vigorously denied.
Parke was forced to defend a libel action in court it seemed he could not win – but a fortuitous occurrence took place when Saul, at the age of 32, decided to become somewhat of an anti-hero.
The rent boy volunteered himself in the witness box as defence for the newspaper editor, to tell a truthful account of the Earl’s debauchery.
He told how he had met the earl in Piccadilly Circus and how they had returned to the brothel together on several occasions.
I think he did it because he genuinely felt that this editor was being unfairly treated, Chandler said.
“The North London Press was a very small newspaper. The young editor, who was about the same age as Jack, was quite a radical and he had published articles in favour of Irish home rule.
“I took the view that Jack must have thought this young editor has been screwing the establishment for the past six months, ‘I have been doing it all my life.’
“I think Jack genuinely wanted to do something good in his life and help someone because no one forced him to do it. He could have done what a lot of other gay men did and jumped on the ferry to France.”
The Dubliner stood in the dock of the Old Bailey in 1889, several years before Oscar Wilde uttered mention of “the love that dare not speak its name”.
Saul risked his liberty – Wilde was later sentenced to serve two years hard labour in prison for sodomy – for the same admission.
Chandler believes Saul may have took this unpredictable step, to redeem himself after years of immoral living.
He had been part of a gang, who had blackmailed wealthy men to pay up or have their private lives spread across London and of course he had used his body as a convenient commodity against poverty.
“To stand up in court several years before Oscar Wilde and say, ‘Yes, I am a sodomite. I make my name sleeping with gentlemen. I took the Earl of Euston back to Cleveland Street and I have seen him a number of times,’ was a terribly risky thing to do,” Chandler said.
“Jack did this at a time when he could have been sent to prison for two years hard labour. In a sense he was the first gay activist and years before Oscar Wilde put his head on the block.
“Despite admitting ‘I am a sodomite,’ the archive records show the court decided it could not convict this man only on evidence from the witness box. In other words Jack knew where the bodies were buried.
He mentioned names of members of parliament, wealthy stockbrokers, military, and the founding member of Barclays.
Chandler believes that now is the time to tell the story to a the new Ireland – post gay marriage referendum. The writer hopes the book will see a new generation recognise the bravery of a flawed character – who lies in an unmarked grave in Glasnevin Cemetery.
He believes tribute should be paid to Saul, for standing up for what was right, coming out so openly as a gay man in those dark, Victorian days.
“The libel case was lost in the end, the young editor went to prison and the Earl of Euston walked away without a stain on his character,” Chandler said.
“The aristocracy always win and the judge was absolutely homicidal to Jack. He branded him a ‘loathsome, melancholy creature.’
“He said to the jury ‘How can a creature like that walk the streets of London? ‘Look at him, gentlemen,’
“Jack was in court with a silver topped cane and a flashy ring on his finger,” Chandler said. “This was an Irish rent boy, sleeping with all and sundry in the British aristocracy.”
“He gave a long statement to Chief Inspector Abberline of the Metropolitan Police, but because he knew so much, he was never charged.
“Jack walked away from the court. The government of the day thought if we put him in the box and charge him, what on earth is he going to come out with.
“He knew too much. The Old Bailey didn’t send him to prison. The authorities were desperate to keep Prince Eddy’s name out of the scandal.
“The prince’s name was never mentioned in the UK papers. It was only ever reported as someone in high up circles, but in the American press, they said the prince went to the brothel.
“The Prince Eddie rumour was well known.”
Saul made moves to rebuild his life after the case. He became a servant at a London hotel, a gentleman’s valet and butler.
“These were popular jobs for homosexual men back then,” Chandler said. “Eventually he went back to Ireland, to his family.”
But this was only one scandal Saul was involved in. There is another infamous tale that his name is wrapped up in.
Jack Saul also featured in a scandalous and pornographic book, ‘The Sins of the Cities of the plane,’ published in 1881.
The book, a mix of fact and fiction, depicts the life of Saul, a “handsome man in London, who has found his body to be his best asset and makes his way through life as a prostitute.”
The novel incorporates real-life accounts of those involved in the Cleveland Street Scandal, the Oscar Wilde trials, and other shocking cases of the period.
The book was one of the first accounts of homosexuality in Victorian England and even Oscar Wilde bought a copy.
It became an influence on the more famous gay erotic novel, Teleny, penned by Wilde and published in 1893.
There is only one copy left and it is in the British Library but this is not the original text. That is believed to be unobtainable today.
The fact Wilde was inspired by the book, to write Teleny – and that incidentally the men are likely to have known each other in Dublin, is also a matter of intrigue for the writer.
When Jack lived in Dublin, he was based in the same street as Wilde’s favourite restaurant and I would say they crossed each other’s paths, Chandler said.
The history of Saul is a familiar one, of a poor Catholic boy in Dublin in the Victorian era. While his protestant, middle class counterparts had opportunity to thrive in Irish society, he was destined to a life of destitution.
But Saul wanted more – he had dreams beyond his Dublin, slum home.
In 1875, at the age of just 17, Saul was again caught up in dishonour, when he met and Chandler believes, fell in love, with a young lieutenant in the Dublin Militia, Martin Oranmore Kirwan.
Kirwan was the protestant son of a wealthy Galway landowner and justice of the peace, a cousin of Lord Oranmore.
The Victorians abhorred the very notion of social classes mixing, let alone having sex, and the idea of homosexuality, was of course, the stuff of scandal and criminality in Ireland in these times.
In 1884, Kirwan was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit sodomy. Saul, who was linked with him, was arrested in London and taken back to Dublin to give evidence but fortunately this was never used and Kirwan was released.
Kirwan was acquitted but his reputation damaged – so much so that Chandler claims he is still remembered for ignominy today by the few aware of the history.
When researching the book in recent months – Chandler claims a woman who lives near Kirwan’s home, just outside Galway city, slammed her car door shut on the writer, when he mentioned the lieutenant’s name.
He said she drove off hastily to avoid any discussion about the lieutenant.
“I’ve been over to Ireland quite a few times,” Chandler said. “To Dublin, Wicklow and Galway, tracking down Jack’s history and where he had lived.
“Jack died in Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross. He was taken in with Tuberculosis, aged 46 and he is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, in an unmarked grave.”
Despite Saul having purged himself of his dark past, leaving prostitution behind for an honest living, it seems like the lieutenant he loved, shame is still attached to his memory, Chandler said.
Even those who are his kin do not wish to be publicly linked to Saul, it seems.
I have spoken to one or two relatives, Chandler said. They asked me not to reveal their identities. They just confirmed his name was accurate and that he was born just off Kevin Street, that he was christened in Latin, Johannes Saul and he was born in 1857.
“I think Irish people would be quite shocked, all this went on, back in Victorian times,” Chandler said.
“Here is a sort of Irish villain, mixing in these circles, but Jack does something good with his life in the end.
“It seems sad he is then buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But he has faded from history. I hope his sins can be forgiven and he can be remembered for good now, in history.
“Jack Saul was born at a time when there were 6,000 soldiers based in Dublin.
“He was a Catholic boy from a slum with little chance of elevating himself to a better life. A protestant could could walk into a good, clerical job at that time and a Catholic boy, sweep floors just to survive.”
With so many soldiers in Ireland, many were looking for male prostitutes, according to Chandler and at the age of just 17, Saul learnt a less conventional way of survival in harsh economic times.
The Sins of Jack Saul can be ordered in all good book shops and can be ordered from Amazon. It is priced at £9.99 or around €12.89.
Meanwhile Chandler has also created a musical in honour of his Dublin muse. The Sins of Jack Saul – The Musical, will be staged at Above The Stag Theatre, Arch 17, London from May 11 until June 12.
Book tickets online for at: http://www.abovethestag.com/
They are priced at £19.50 or around €25.