An Irishman’s Diary on Ellen Tremaye, Australia’s first transgender person
A journey across continents and genders
Ellen Tremaye from Kilkenny, who, as Edward de Lacy Evans, became Australia’s first transgender person. Photograph: Aaron Flegletaub, circa 1870. Copyright: La Trobe Picture Collection; State Library of Victoria
Kilkenny has contributed much to Australian history over the centuries since white settlement. John Kinchela arrived in Sydney in 1831 and rose to attorney general of New South Wales. John O’Reily became archbishop of Adelaide in 1895, and Martin Loughlin of Castlewarren made a fortune in Victoria’s gold rush.
Less well known, perhaps, is Ellen Tremaye, who, as Edward de Lacy Evans, became Australia’s first transgender person.
Tremaye (sometimes written as Tremayne) arrived in Australia in June 1856 as an assisted migrant. According to the Ocean Monarch’s shipping list she was a 26-year-old Catholic, could read and write and was described as a housemaid. She was considered an oddity on the voyage to Australia; having brought a trunk full of men’s clothes marked “Edward De Lacy Evans” and wearing a man’s shirt and trousers under the same green dress every day. Some thought she had been abandoned by a man, but others though Evans was a man pretending to be a woman. Tremaye reportedly had “intimate friendships” with three women on board, including Mary Delahunty, a 34-year-old governess from Harristown, Co Waterford. Tremaye told fellow passengers she was going to marry Delahunty when they got to Australia.
Having gained employment as a housemaid for a married couple in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Tremaye spent a night with the wife while the husband was out of town and was horsewhipped when he found out.
From there on Tremaye became Evans, dressed in men’s clothes, and did indeed marry Delahunty. Given that their nuptials were performed at St Francis’s church in Melbourne, it may have been the first Catholic gay marriage.
However, contemporary reports say the couple “did not live comfortably together”, and they separated in 1862. Evans married twice more while working as a miner, ploughman and blacksmith. Sarah Moore died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1867, but third wife Julia Marquand gave birth to a daughter in March 1878.
Though Evans was registered as the “father”, a lingering resentment at that biological impossibility was the possible cause of her becoming violent to Julia and the child 15 months later.
Marquand claimed she did not know Evans was a woman. But she also said she did not know how she got pregnant, and that she must have mistaken an intruder for Evans. The real father of the child is thought likely to have been her brother-in-law.
Suffering from a deep depression, Evans was committed to the lunacy ward of Bendigo hospital and refused to bathe for fear of being discovered.
Six weeks later she was moved to Kew asylum where, she later recounted: “The fellers there took hold of me to give me a bath, and they stripped me to put me in the water, and then they saw the mistake. One feller ran off as if he was frightened; the others looked thunderstruck and couldn’t speak. I was handed over to the women, and they dressed me up in frocks and petticoats.”
A local photographer sneaked into the hospital and took photos of the inmate in both male and female clothes, and in a straitjacket.
After being released, Evans appeared in a carnival sideshow, billed as “The Wonderful Male Impersonator”. A pamphlet called The Man-Woman Mystery was published in 1880.
A newspaper report at the time said Evans must have been a nymphomaniac. “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,” it said.
Evans did not spend very long on the carnival circuit. The following year she moved into a Melbourne poorhouse, going by the name Mrs De Lacy Evans. She lived there for more than two decades, wearing drab dresses and tending a garden, before dying of the flu in 1901.
On the State Library of Victoria website it is speculated that Tremaye “may have been a transsexual, or gender dysphoric, that is, a person who felt herself to be male, despite being anatomically female. Today she might have had surgery and hormone treatment to arrive at gender comfort. On the other hand she might have been lesbian, preferring sex with women and using male garb as a way of surviving in an ostensibly ‘moral’ and heterosexual society.”
Either way, Tremaye/Evans has a place in Australian history.