Was this Australia's first transgender person?


Olga Khazandec


Ellen Tremaye was not like most of the other passengers aboard the Ocean Monarch, a ship sailing from Ireland to Victoria in 1856. Though the 26-year-old, Irish domestic servant was travelling alone, she brought along a trunk full of men's clothes labelled "Edward De Lacy Evans", fuelling speculation that she had been abandoned by a suitor after being tricked into bringing his belongings aboard. Then there was her unusual behaviour: 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 shipmate 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.

When Tremaye arrived in Victoria, 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. Precisely what happened next is not known, but at this point Tremaye transformed forever. She 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, male pronouns shall be used henceforth.)


According to accounts from the time, the couple "did not live comfortably together", and they separated in 1862. Over the next two decades, Evans went on to remarry twice, all while working as a miner and blacksmith around Australia's south-east.


It seemed that Evans' maleness was accepted by both his wives and neighbours, although his fellow miners occasionally referred to him as an "old woman", suggesting that his physical womanhood might have been an open secret.

Evans' third wife, Julia Marquand, eventually had a child by her brother-in-law, sparking bitterness between the couple. He began lashing out at Marquand and her daughter, and gradually descended into a deep depression. In 1879, Evans was committed to the Lunacy Ward of the Bendigo Hospital and diagnosed with "amentia", a general, anachronistic term for mental illness. To avoid being discovered as a woman, Evans refused to bathe.


After six weeks, however, he was moved to Kew Asylum, a psychiatric hospital in the Melbourne suburbs. There he was stripped, and his gender discovered. "The fellers there took hold o' me to give me a bath, an' they stripped me to put me in the water, an' then they saw the mistake. One feller ran off as if he was frightened; the others looked thunderstruck an' couldn't speak. I was handed over to the women, and they dressed me up in frocks and petticoats," Evans later said of the experience.

Doctors diagnosed him with "cerebral mania" and "mental weakness," and offered him only female attire to wear. He refused to wear it, or to eat, for days at a time. Over the course of Evans' three-month treatment, physicians subjected him to extensive vaginal and rectal probing, during which he reportedly "sobbed and wept". 

Marquand later claimed she had no knowledge of Evans' biological sex - he never let her see him changing, she would later attest. This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds: a few other documented cases of women posing as men at the time involved stories of strap-on dildoes used for sex.

For Marquand, though, this might also have been a face-saving excuse. She also later claimed that she did not know how she got pregnant, and that she must have mistaken an intruding "real man" for Evans when he snuck into her house.

Evans' exposure caused, to put it mildly, an incredible stir. One local photographer snuck into the hospital and took photos of Evans dressed in both male and female clothing, as well as in a straitjacket. Local sideshow operators offered the hospital five Australian pounds a week to display Evans as an oddity.

After his release, Evans did appear in one such travelling carnival, where reporters noted that he appeared "weak and half-witted" from the ordeal. Sideshows billed him as "The Wonderful Male Impersonator" and a pamphlet about his life, The Man-Woman Mystery, was published in 1880.

One newspaper attributed his cross-dressing to nymphomania, writing, "It is evident ... that the woman must have been mad on the subject of sex from the time she left Ireland dressed as a woman," and later celebrated Evans' return to femininity after "treatment" by writing, "Her breasts have almost regained their normal condition; the wrinkles in her face have disappeared, her arms are becoming fleshy, and the scars and marks on them being eradicated."

It wasn't Evans' cross-dressing that so disturbed his contemporaries - there had been other, contemporary instances of women donning men's garb as a joke or for a performance - but the fact he had duped society, and seemingly his own wives, for so long. News reports used quotation marks around both male and female pronouns in describing Evans' life, somehow implying that he wasn't truly either. Some reporters speculated that Evans must have become pregnant out of wedlock while on the sea voyage and took on a male identity to hide his shame.

In the end, Evans wasn't able to reap much of a fortune from his sideshow appearances. The following year he moved into a Melbourne poorhouse, where he went by "Mrs De Lacy Evans" and lived for the next 21 years, wearing drab, gray dresses and tending a garden. He died of the flu in 1901.