Three Extracts from the Transcript of the Queensberry Libel Trial
The Queensberry libel trial – ‘Regina (on the prosecution of Oscar Wilde) v. John Douglas, Marquess of Queensberry’ – was held on Wednesday 3 to Friday 5 April 1895 at the Central Criminal Court before Mr Justice Collins and a jury. The trial ended abruptly on the Friday morning, as explained at the end of the third of these extracts.
The complete transcript of the trial, which came to light only in 2000, was published in 2003 in Merlin Holland’s Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess. The extracts given here – the passages that relate to Alphonse Conway and Worthing – are printed by kind permission of Merlin Holland. Because Queensberry’s Plea of Justification uses the spelling ‘Alfonso’, Holland standardised to this spelling throughout his book; but ‘Alphonso’ is the version of the name that appears in the original transcript, and is used here.
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EDWARD CARSON QC, LEAD COUNSEL FOR THE MARQUESS OF QUEENSBERRY, QUESTIONS OSCAR WILDE (AFTERNOON OF 3 APRIL 1895)
CARSON: Did you become intimate with a young lad named Conway?
WILDE: I beg your pardon.
CARSON: Did you become intimate with a young man named Conway?
WILDE: Oh, yes, at Worthing.
CARSON: What was his Christian name?
CARSON: He sold newspapers on the pier at Worthing?
WILDE: No, never to my knowledge.
CARSON: Or at the kiosk?
WILDE: No, never.
CARSON: What was he doing?
WILDE: Oh, enjoying himself in being idle.
CARSON: He was a loafer at Worthing?
WILDE: I call him a very happy, idle nature. You can call him what you like.
CARSON: He had no money?
WILDE: Oh, none. When I say none, his mother had a house at Worthing.
CARSON: No occupation?
WILDE: No, he had no occupation.
CARSON: Did you know or have you ever heard that his previous occupation had been selling newspapers?
WILDE: Never in my life.
CARSON: Would it astonish you to hear that he had so much industry?
WILDE: I think it would.
CARSON: Was he a literary character?
WILDE: Oh, not at all. (Laughter.)
CARSON: Was he an artist?
CARSON: What age was he?
WILDE: I suppose about eighteen – about eighteen, I should think.
CARSON: About the same age as Shelley?
WILDE: Yes, if Edward Shelley was that age. I don’t know Edward Shelley’s age.
CARSON: How did you come to know him?
WILDE: To know Alphonso Conway? When I was at Worthing last August, Lord Alfred Douglas and I were in the habit of going out in a sailing boat and one afternoon while this boat, which was high-beached, was being dragged down by the boatmen, Conway, and a younger boy who was in flannels, were helping to draw down the boat. I said to Lord Alfred Douglas when we reached the sea: ‘Shall we bring them out for a sail?’ or, ‘Shall we ask them whether they would like a sail?’ and he said: ‘Yes.’
CARSON: Then, he was assisting you in putting out the boat?
WILDE: No, I wasn’t taking that trouble. He and the boy – younger who was in flannels – amused themselves by helping the two boatmen to drag down our boat which was high-beached. I amused myself with contemplation and as they had been taking the trouble to do this and so on, I said to Lord Alfred Douglas: ‘Shall we ask them whether they would like to have a sail?’ and they seemed very delighted and they came out for a sail. They came out every day.
CARSON: They came out every day?
WILDE: Yes, every day.
CARSON: Did you become intimate with Alphonso?
WILDE: Oh, yes. We were great friends.
CARSON: Great friends?
WILDE: Great friends.
CARSON: Did you ask this boy that you met upon the beach to lunch with you?
WILDE: To lunch with me?
WILDE: He has dined with me.
WILDE: At my house in Worthing.
CARSON: At the Haven?
WILDE: At the Haven.
CARSON: Did he also have a meal with you at an hotel there?
WILDE: Oh, yes, – I remember – yes, the second day.
CARSON: At the Marine Hotel?
WILDE: Yes he lunched with me and Lord Alfred and the other friend.
CARSON: Was his conversation literary?
WILDE: No, it was, on the contrary, quite simple and easy to be understood. (Laughter.)
CARSON: He was an uneducated lad wasn’t he?
WILDE: Oh, he was a pleasant, nice creature. He was not cultivated. (Laughter.) Don’t sneer at that. He was a pleasant, nice creature. His ambition was to be a sailor.
CARSON: What was his class in life?
WILDE: If you ask me what his class in life was, his father had been an electrical engineer who had died young. His mother had very little money and kept a lodging house – at any rate she had one lodger. That he himself was the only child, that he had been sent to school where naturally he had not learned much. His desire was to go to sea as an apprentice in a merchant ship. One thing he cared about was the sea. His mother was to a certain extent reluctant for him to leave her. That was the story he told me.
CARSON: And you conceived a great fondness for Alphonso?
WILDE: A most pleasant creature.
CARSON: Now, did you ask him to meet you by appointment on the parade in the evening at about nine o’clock?
WILDE: On the parade? I didn’t know there was such a place at Worthing.
CARSON: Isn’t The Haven near the end of the parade?
WILDE: I have never – I don’t think I have ever seen Alphonso with the exception of twice when I gave him tickets for the theatre – no, I have never seen him in the evening.
CARSON: Did you take him one evening after nine o’clock to walk towards Lancing?
CARSON: Are you quite sure of that?
WILDE: Yes, quite certain. Yes.
CARSON: Is Lancing near there?
WILDE: It is about two miles off.
CARSON: Is it a lonely road?
WILDE: I have never been there in the daytime. It is a road by the sea.
CARSON: Did you kiss him on the road?
WILDE: Certainly not.
CARSON: Did you put your hands inside his trousers?
WILDE: No, certainly not.
CARSON: And had you any familiarities with him of any kind?
WILDE: None of any kind.
CARSON: Did you give him anything?
WILDE: Oh, yes.
WILDE: I don’t think I ever gave Alphonso any money – no, I don’t think so.
CARSON: No money?
WILDE: No money.
CARSON: Did you give him sums from time to time amounting to fifteen pounds?
WILDE: Good heavens! No, certainly not.
CARSON: Why should that be astonishing?
WILDE: Because it didn’t happen.
CARSON: He was a poor boy?
WILDE: I don’t know about that. I say his mother had a house of her own.
CARSON: Did you know his mother?
WILDE: No, I did not.
CARSON: Did you ever go into his house?
CARSON: Did you give him a cigarette case?
WILDE: I think I might have – yes, that I might have done. I forgot about that. I remember certain things I gave him.
CARSON: What did you call him?
CARSON: Did he call you Oscar?
CARSON: Are you quite sure of that?
CARSON: This is the cigarette case you gave him?
WILDE: I dare say, yes.
CARSON: Did you put this inscription in it ‘Alphonso from his friend Oscar Wilde’?
WILDE: Whether I wrote it or he, I don’t know until I see it.
CARSON: Will you look at it?
WILDE: It is more than probable I wrote it. Yes, that is my writing.
CARSON: You gave him your photograph?
CARSON: Just take that please and tell me if that is your writing?
WILDE: It is sure to be on my photograph, yes, that is my writing, certainly.
CARSON: ‘Oscar Wilde to Alphonso’?
CARSON: And you gave him a book?
CARSON: The Wreck of the Grosvenor. ‘Alphonso Conway from his friend Oscar Wilde. Worthing, September 21st 1894’.
CARSON: You gave him that?
WILDE: I gave him – well, I don’t know.
CARSON: You were fond of this boy?
WILDE: I liked him. He had been my companion for six weeks.
CARSON: He had been your companion for six weeks?
WILDE: A month, I suppose.
CARSON: Would you be surprised to hear that the only occupation that he ever had was this selling of newspapers?
WILDE: I never thought Alphonso had any past. I don’t know why I should be asked if I would be surprised – yes, I would be rather – from what he said to me, that would surprise me – he told me that he had no profession of any kind. Certainly that would surprise me.
CARSON: Did you give him a walking stick?
WILDE: Yes, I gave him a walking stick.
CARSON: For a newspaper boy. Just look at that! He was a newspaper boy out of employment.
CLARKE: I beg your pardon.
WILDE: It is like the way you talked of Edward Shelley.
CARSON: You bought that for Conway?
CARSON: What did that cost?
WILDE: Five or six shillings.
CARSON: This is silver.
WILDE: Ten shillings or something.
CARSON: Fifteen shillings?
WILDE: It is not beautiful.
CARSON: It was a handsome stick for a boy of that class.
WILDE: I don’t think it a beautiful stick myself. I don’t think it a beautiful stick, but the choice was his. (Laughter.)
CARSON: It is not real art, I suppose?
WILDE: I don’t think so.
CARSON: Did you bring this boy away with you to Brighton?
CARSON: How was he dressed?
WILDE: A suit of clothes I had given him – a suit of blue serge clothes that I had given him.
CARSON: That you had given him?
CARSON: What kind of a hat had he?
WILDE: That I forget; I fancy, a straw hat.
CARSON: A straw hat with a red and blue ribbon?
WILDE: Yes, with a red and blue ribbon.
CARSON: Did you select the red and blue ribbon?
WILDE: No, that belongs to the Corps – it was an unfortunate selection of his own – I mean, because I believe the colour pleased him. (Laughter.)
CARSON: You paid for the hat?
WILDE: Yes, I did, certainly. I gave him a suit of clothes, straw hat, flannels, a book to read – I gave him a lot of things.
CARSON: You dressed him up to bring him to Brighton?
WILDE: Not to bring him to Brighton.
CARSON: You dressed him up for Worthing?
WILDE: Yes, oh, certainly. Yes, for a regatta to which he was very anxious to go.
CARSON: In order that he might look more like an equal?
WILDE: Oh, no, he never would have looked that (Laughter.) No, in order that he shouldn’t be ashamed, as he told me he was, of his shabby and ordinary clothes – because he desired to have flannels and blue serge and a straw hat.
CARSON: He was ashamed of his shabby clothes?
WILDE: Yes, he was in a certain degree.
CARSON: Did he look better when he was dressed up?
WILDE: Yes, he looked much nicer, much nicer.
CARSON: You took him to Brighton?
CARSON: Did you take a bedroom for him?
WILDE: We stayed at the hotel.
CARSON: Did you take a bedroom for him?
CARSON: He had no money?
WILDE: Yes, of course. I took him as a trip to Brighton.
CARSON: Was the bedroom communicating with your own?
WILDE: That I forget; it might have been so.
CARSON: Green baize folding doors?
WILDE: Green baize folding doors?
CARSON: On the first floor?
WILDE: It was on the first floor, yes – it was on the first floor – sitting room and two bedrooms, yes.
CARSON: The Albion?
WILDE: At the Albion Hotel.
CARSON: Did he come into your bed that night?
CARSON: Are you certain of that?
WILDE: Quite certain of that.
CARSON: What did you take him to Brighton for?
WILDE: I took him to Brighton because I had promised that before I left Worthing I would take him some trip, to any place where he wished to go, because he had been a very pleasant, happy, good-humoured companion to myself and my children. He wished to be at Portsmouth, because he wanted to be a sailor. I, having been abroad – to France – I came back then to Worthing. I said I couldn’t take him to Portsmouth – it was too far for me to go – I was just finishing a play. I said I couldn’t afford the time. He then asked me whether I would take him to Brighton, as he wished to go to a theatre and that he would regard it as a trip. I expressed my surprise, he living so close to Brighton, that he should consider it as a trip. It was his own choice. If I had had time I should have brought him to Portsmouth.
CARSON: Did you go to the theatre?
WILDE: I didn’t, no – I sent him.
CARSON: Did you take him to dine there at a restaurant?
CARSON: How was it that he was such a pleasant companion for you?
WILDE: Because he was a pleasant, bright, simple, nice nature. That is what I call him.
CARSON: A nice personality?
WILDE: I would not say for him personality, no.
CARSON: When did he go back to Worthing?
WILDE: We went back the next day.
CARSON: Did you go back with him?
CARSON: Did you ever take another boy to the Albion?
WILDE: I have stayed at the Albion. I don’t know what you mean. Just kindly tell me exactly what you mean. I have stayed with my friends at the Albion often.
WILDE: Lord Alfred Douglas – I stayed with him at the Albion.
CARSON: Not Lord Alfred Douglas.
CARSON: Are you sure?
WILDE: Quite sure, yes.
CARSON: No one else?
WILDE: No one else.
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SIR EDWARD CLARKE QC, LEAD COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION, QUESTIONS OSCAR WILDE (AFTERNOON OF 4 APRIL 1895)
CLARKE: With regard to Alphonso Conway at Worthing, when was it you went down to Worthing?
WILDE: I think the 1st of August I went there.
CLARKE: And about how long did you stay there?
WILDE: I stayed, I think, two months at Worthing.
CLARKE: Did you stay there continuously or did you leave Worthing to go to London for a time and go back there?
WILDE: No, I went once to Dieppe; that was for four days. I came up to London once for a day to see a theatrical manager. But I was there continuously with the exception of four or five days.
CLARKE: What house was it that you had at Worthing or rooms? Did you have a home? WILDE: Yes, it was a house: my wife and my children and myself lived in a furnished house that we had taken from a friend of my wife’s.
CLARKE: It was a furnished house that was taken for a time?
CLARKE: Did your wife and your boys go to Worthing at the same time you did?
CLARKE: And remained there during your stay?
WILDE: At the beginning. Sometime in September – I can hardly say exactly when – both my boys had returned to school; my wife returned to town with them to prepare them for going back to school and I stayed on for, I fancy, a fortnight after that.
CLARKE: And did Mrs Wilde rejoin you?
WILDE: No, she went visiting in the country.
CLARKE: You have told us, with regard to this boy, the circumstances under which you met him. He was not at that time in any employment so far as you know?
WILDE: None at all.
CLARKE: Did you ever hear of his having been employed as a newspaper boy?
WILDE: No, I had no idea; no, certainly not. I never heard of it, nor had any idea that he had any connection with literature in any form. (Laughter.)
CLARKE: So far as your information went as to his desires or wishes as to employment, what was that desire and wish?
WILDE: Oh, an intense desire to go to sea in the Merchant Service as an apprentice.
CLARKE: And did he go out from time to time sailing with you?
WILDE: He used to go out every day after I met him with myself, with my son, with my son’s friend and with other friends who were there. We went out every morning and bathed from this boat and fished in the afternoon.
CLARKE: Was Mrs Wilde acquainted with Conway?
WILDE: Oh, yes.
CLARKE: Did she see Conway?
WILDE: Oh, yes, constantly.
WILDE: After bathing we would return to the beach. My wife would meet us, that is my son and myself and my son’s friends, and, of course, I introduced Conway to her – she knew him quite well. He had also been to a children’s tea at our house while my wife was there. He was a great friend of my son’s as well as myself.
CLARKE: When did you leave Worthing?
WILDE: I fancy about the 2nd or 3rd of October I went round to Brighton.
CLARKE: Have you ever seen Conway since then?
WILDE: No, I have never seen him since then – no. I have written to him one letter.
CLARKE: Do you remember when that was?
WILDE: Writing the letter?
WILDE: I think it was in the month of November last. It was with reference to his becoming an apprentice in the Merchant Service. I had consulted a gentleman who was a great friend of mine who has many ships and so on, and asked him the circumstances under which it could be done, and I wrote to Conway and told him the circumstances of the case.
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THE LAST PART OF EDWARD CARSON’S OPENING SPEECH FOR THE DEFENCE (MORNING OF 5 APRIL 1895)
I take now in contrast to the case of Parker, the case of Conway – Alphonso Conway. Why I am now taking Conway in contrast to the other case is for this reason: Conway was not procured by Taylor, but was procured by Wilde himself. Wilde at the time was living in Worthing and he had not Taylor at hand when these horrible lusts came upon him to procure a boy and so let us see how he gets at poor Conway. Now, was there ever a more audacious story confessed in a court of justice than that confessed by Wilde in relation to Conway? What is it? He sees a boy upon the beach at Worthing; he knows nothing whatsoever about him except that he is a boy there assisting about the different boats. His real history, as Wilde proved to you, is this: he had previously sold newspapers at Worthing at the pier at one of these kiosks, and I must say that I do not think a more flippant answer ever was given by a witness than what Mr Wilde said yesterday. When he was asked if he knew anything about Conway being previously connected with selling newspapers, he told us he did not know that he had had any previous connection with literature. No doubt he thought in many of his answers he was making very smart repartee and probably that he was scoring off counsel who was cross-examining, or something of that kind, but Conway is upon the beach and he helps Mr Wilde to take out his boat and through that an intimacy springs up. Now, if you had not heard it proved by Mr Wilde himself, could you have believed that within a day or two that boy was lunching with Wilde, was brought to his house and if Wilde’s evidence is true, which I hope sincerely it is not, was introduced to his children and to his family. At the time when he first met Conway, it appears his wife was not at Worthing, but I rather gathered from him that his children were; at all events, he said that at some time or other Conway had been in association with his children, an extraordinary fact – this young man Conway of twenty being told to you to be in association with two little boys of eight and nine – well, you find Conway lunching. Now, what happens? Of course Wilde could not bring about this boy, there or anywhere else, looking in his extraordinary condition, and what does he do? And – now, it is really here that the disgraceful audacity of the man comes in – he procures him a suit of clothes and he dresses him up like a gentlemen and he puts some of these public school colours, something of that kind, upon his hat and he makes him look as if he were a proper person to be associating with him. Really, really, gentlemen of the jury, the thing is past belief. It is almost past belief if we had proved that as against Mr Wilde you would have almost not believed it. But Mr Wilde knew that we had the witnesses to prove it all, we had all the things here to produce as you saw and Wilde dare not deny it. What did he dress Conway up for? I venture to say that if he was really anxious to assist Conway, the very worst thing he could have done was to take Conway out of his proper sphere and to begin, as he did with Parker, giving him champagne lunches, taking him to his hotel, treating him in a manner which, of course, Conway in the future could never expect to live up to. I could understand the generous instincts of a man who would say: ‘Here is a smart boy at Worthing whom I have met at the pier. I will try and get him employment; I will educate him; I will give him some money; I will try and assist him in any way I can,’ but is it any assistance to a boy like Conway to do as Wilde did, to take him up and dress him and take him about giving him champagne lunches and all the rest of it? (Here Carson pauses.) Would your lordship excuse me for a moment?
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Sir Edward Clarke and his junior, Willie Mathews, returned to the court at this point, having been absent for about ten minutes. Clarke plucked Carson by the gown, and they conferred inaudibly. Clarke was informing Carson that Wilde had decided to withdraw his prosecution. Clarke and Carson then each addressed the judge, and the judge directed the jury to find the Marquess of Queensberry not guilty; which they duly did.