Inspector Minahan Makes A Stand

The age of sexual consent was and is a source of perpetual dissent. In 1874, that age of consent was 12. Brothels were illegal in the United Kingdom and thrived. Policemen were invited to sample the goods. They made use of girls and boys on offer. In return, they happened to overlook the brothels’ existence. And that is the more salubrious part of the story.

A thriving export industry was in place, too. Girls and boys were kidnapped, drugged and shipped to the Continent. Certified virgins of both sexes were first made available to older and often syphilitic men at a price. Medical understanding was partly still medieval; they believed in healing syphilis by having sex with a virgin. After that, the girls and boys were made to work in brothels.

This trade had a long tradition. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was married to Princess Charlotte of the United Kingdom and Hanover. Charlotte would have been Queen one day, had she not died prematurely in child-bed. Instead of Charlotte, Victoria became Queen. Prince Leopold's time spent in England might explain his predilection for all things British. He found another job as King of the Belgians. He ran an account with a London madam to supply him with medically certified virgins that cost him £800 a month.

In 1875, parliament raised the age of consent to 13. Furious protests ensued on grounds of tradition, the Bible or whatever; we all know how that works. The legal change changed nothing for the brothels in the United Kingdom or the export trade to the Continent. Teenage and younger girls and boys continued to be held and imprisoned as sex slaves on both sides of the Channel.

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

Undaunted, Minahan appealed directly to the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. The Home Secretary refused his appeal and with reasons to spare. Sir William Harcourt was in an incestuous homosexual relationship with his son and a well-known customer in just about every boy brothel in London and beyond. Everybody who was anybody knew about that. There is nothing more uplifting than the strict morals of the Victorians.

Jeremiah Minahan teamed up with the Social Purity movement and the Pall Mall Gazette under editor W.T. Stead. The latter dreamed up the most hare-brained plot imaginable. He abducted an innocent girl to the Continent just to prove it could be done. He got arrested for kidnap and sexual assault. The stink that ensued rocked the establishment and sent the Pall Mall Gazette’s sales figures rocketing sky high. In 1885, the age of consent was raised to 16 as a consequence. New penalties were introduced to prevent young girls and boys from being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Inspector Minahan Makes A Stand by Bridget O’Donnell was published by Picador. It would be a good book if it weren't for her choice of language and style. She waxes eloquent. Her style is florid like a Victorian lady’s boudoir. Notwithstanding, she has done her homework but like an overeager pupil she has to show off all the time. She gets seriously side-tracked and the added twists and turns are unnecessary. They just make a complicated story even more complicated. But as weird and wacky history goes, this book is a definite must read.

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