20 September 2012

Unnaturally Offensive: Queensland Zoophilia

Given that a Federal senator recently lost his job as a parliamentary secretary after suggesting that allowing equal marriage rights could lead to calls for the sanctioning of bestiality, it is perhaps timely to briefly reflect on some of the history regarding the law and bestiality here in Queensland, where it was classed together with homosexuality as an "unnatural offence" well into the 20th century.

A grown adult who sees this as a logical sequence gets to be an actual Federal Senator.

As a kid growing up in Lancashire, there were two kinds of people that were taunted for being ‘sheep shaggers’ – Yorkshiremen and Australians. After arriving in Queensland I soon learned that New Zealanders get pretty much the same treatment here. And just like in Lancashire, you can soon work out the level of a person’s sense of humour by how funny they think it is and how endlessly they refer to it.

Australian law has generally taken a tough stance on bestiality (or, to use a new word I just learned, 'zoophilia'). Until the mid-19th-century it was considered illegal enough to warrant the death penalty, although I’m pretty sure nobody was ever hanged for the offence here. It remained a capital crime in Queensland until 1865, when the Offences against the Person Act changed the maximum sentence to penal servitude for life with a minimum of ten years. In the Unnatural Offences section of that Act, bestiality was dealt with in the same sentence as sodomy, both being referred to as “the abominable crime of buggery committed with mankind or with any animal", and also as "an infamous crime”. Maybe this is where Senator Bernardi gets his ideas from.
The vast majority of "unnatural offence' court cases in the historical records relate to homosexual acts, especially against children. Even men who engaged in anal sex with their wife could face the death penalty, as Lawrence Maher of Maryborough found out in 1864. The death sentence was recorded but not carried out in his case. Trials for bestiality were few and far between in early Queensland, and these all involved male defendants because "unnatural offence" laws about bestiality and homosexuality did not apply to women.

One of the earliest trials involved a Chinese immigrant named Tee Ang. In 1852 he was living in a camp in South Brisbane, where he was arrested for committing the crime on a dog there. The newspaper articles did not go into many details in these matters, but in this case it was reported that the dog was so badly injured by the act that it had to be put down. At this time such "unnatural offences" were still a capital crime and Tee Ang was sentenced to death, although his sentence was later commuted to 12 months hard labour working on the Newcastle breakwater. Two more Brisbane cases during that decade involved attempted bestiality and attracted two-year sentences. The first was 60-year-old John Moore in 1857, and then Benjamin Jackson during the following year for his attack on a dog, the details of which were described in the Moreton Bay Courier as "horrible and disgusting".

Another case involved William Sunnington (or Sturmington or Simmington), an English immigrant working as a farrier (with horses hooves and shoes) in Maryborough. In 1875 a man and woman witnessed him committing bestiality, although the species of animal was not referred to in reports. Sunnington received ten years imprisonment. He was initially sent to the penal establishment at Saint Helena Island, where he worked as a farrier, before being sent to the old gaol on Petrie Terrace where he died of heart disease in 1878 at the age of 58. He was buried in Toowong Cemetery.

William Sunnington, 1875  (Qld State Archives)
William Sunnington, 1875. (Qld State Archives)
It seems the minimum ten-year sentence was not always applied. In 1886 one old Brisbane man received 12 months for the crime, but in 1894 George Gayton of Bundaberg got ten years (although he was released after two on remittance). One Blackall man also received ten years for the crime in 1900, but in 1909 another Blackall man only got three years. In 1919 the unfortunate William Webster received a two-year sentence in Cairns for attempted bestiality. Apparently he was too drunk to succeed in his attempt.

George Gayton, 1894  (Qld State Archives)
George Gayton, 1894. (Qld State Archives)

So there you have a quick run-through of some Queensland cases. They were relatively rare, but we have to assume that the prosecuted cases were only the tip of the iceberg as far as the extent of the practice goes. It is one of the more unfortunate details of Australian legal history that homosexuality (which was widespread in the colonies) was treated under the same laws as bestiality, paedophilia and incest. Perhaps the parliamentary speech that cost Senator Bernardi his job shows that there is still some cultural hangover about this issue. 

Under current Queensland laws bestiality carries a maximum seven-year sentence although, as is the case with most things, the situation differs in other Australian states and territories.
  • New South Wales - maximum 14 years 
  • Northern Territory - maximum 3 years 
  • South Australia - maximum 10 years 
  • Tasmania - maximum 21 years 
  • Victoria - maximum 5 years 
  • Western Australia - maximum 7 years 
  • Australian Capital Territory - maximum 10 years (although between 1988 and 2011 it was not a crime here) 
  • (DID YOU KNOW? Bestiality is still technically legal in 15 states of the U.S.A., and is permitted in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.)

1 comment:

  1. Northern Territory....... That's sooooo backward! 3 years maximum??? That means that a zoophilliac may never even SEE prison! The damage it does to the animal is horrific and they often have to be put down!! Shame on you. A petition is needed here.

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