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Wed Dec 18, 2013, 04:05 PM

The 'Curing' of Australia’s First Transgender Man


A cut-and-paste portrait of Edward de lacy Evans taken in September 1879. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ellen Tremaye was not like most of the other passengers aboard the Ocean Monarch, a ship sailing from Ireland to Victoria, Australia in 1856. Though the 26-year-old, Irish domestic servant was traveling alone, she brought along a trunk full of men’s clothes labeled “Edward de Lacy Evans,” fueling speculation that she had been abandoned by a suitor after being tricked into bringing his belongings aboard. Then there was her unusual behavior: She wore the same green dress every day, but with trousers and a man’s shirt underneath. She told her fellow passengers that she was going to marry her ship-mate, Mary Delahunty, as soon as they reached Australia, and she reportedly had “intimate friendships” with two other women who shared her bunk at various points in the voyage.

In the late 1800s, Australia was a collection of untamed colonies. Like the American West, it was in the throes of a gold rush, overrun by outlaws, and gradually being settled by increasing numbers of white people. At the same time, it was still governed by Christian and Anglo-Saxon social mores, with male public officials claiming that the declining birth rate could be attributed to “selfish women” who suffered from an overabundance of “love of luxury and social pleasures.”

When Tremaye arrived, she found a job as a maid for a married couple in Bacchus Marsh, northwest of Melbourne. One day when the man of the house was out of town, Tremaye spent the night with his wife, and the husband horsewhipped her when he returned, according to research by Lucy Chesser in the Journal of Women’s History.

Tremaye soon left the job and traveled to Melbourne. We don’t know precisely what drove what happened next, but at this point Tremaye transformed forever. He began using the name Edward De Lacy Evans, started dressing in men’s clothes, and married Delahunty. (In line with Evans’ apparent wish to live as a man, I’ll use male pronouns from this point forward.)

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