Gender & History
This article reconstructs the circumstances of the little-known Edward S. W. De Cobain gross indecency scandal in the early 1890s. I examine its significance to Victorian notions of class, Anglo-Irish politics and gender performativity through an analysis of newspaper reporting, personal correspondence and court documents. Edward De Cobain, Member of Parliament for East Belfast, became the focus of attention after serious allegations of attempted buggery were launched against him. De Cobain absconded from Britain upon word of the charges, but he continued to maintain his innocence while abroad until his eventual incarceration in 1893. In this article I revisit this sexual scandal involving a parliamentarian and disadvantaged young men but I aim to focus our attention away from the trial and toward the period of intense scandal that preceded it. The protracted and contradictory nature of the scandal invited public moralists, lawyers and journalists to debate the appropriate response to accusations of this sort, whilst politicians struggled to leverage the scandal to their party's advantage. Moreover, the scandal – like Dublin Castle and Cleveland Street before it – brought into question the moral integrity of Britain's ‘public men’.