Mary Anne Walker was raised in Hertfordshire. Her father Henry Walker was a farmer and landowner, although later in 1853 he became the licensee of a large pub in Westminster, probably The Three Johns in Little Park Street. Mary Anne had been to a
first-classboarding school, and was an adept pianist. She worked in the family pub, and "She showed a fondness for wearing male attire, first by adorning herself with a waitcoat, turn-down collar, fancy tie, and a sort of semi 'Chesterfield', and ultimately she took to the entire paraphenalia of dress adopted by the male sex, and absconded from her home".
Henry Walker died in 1860. The three daughters suddenly needed to find work. One of her sisters found work as a housekeeper for a nobleman, and the other as a governess. Mary became male full time. He worked as a porter at Jesus College, Cambridge, and then as booking clerk with the London and North-Western Railway, and then an engine cleaner for the Great Northern Railway at King's Cross Station. He worked two years as a ship's steward for the Cunard Line. He had also worked as a dock labourer and as a light porter at a cheesemongers in London. He used the names John Walker or John Turner. Throughout this time Walker's aunt
made repeated but ineffectual attempts to reclaim her.
In 1867, using the name Thomas Walker, he was a barman in Royal Mortar Tavern in the London Road, Southwark. He was accused of stealing monies in that marked coins were found in his possession.
Walker was remanded. The gaoler described Walker:
a full masculine face, rather sunburnt, hair cut short and slightly curledand with a masculine voice. No-one at the prison thought they had anything other than a young man in their custody, until he was ordered to take a bath, whereupon he confessed to being female.
Arthur Munby describes Thomas' appearance in the dock:
"a bluff and brawny young man, of four or five and twenty ... rough dark hair, short as a man's, and evidently worn in a man's fashion for a long time past. Her head was bare, and so was her strong bull neck: about the waist she wore nothing but a blue sailor's shirt, with the sleeves partly rolled up. Standing there, with broad shoulders squared and stout arms folded on the dock rail, she seemed just such a fellow as one may see drawing beer at an alehouse, or lounging about a seaport town; and it was almost impossible to believe that she was a man".
For subsequent court appearances Walker was compelled into a women's blue striped prison uniform, in which he was clearly uncomfortable. The cheesemonger's son appeared to also accuse Walker of absconding with £30 (close to a year's wages). Other evidence was presented: a fiancée, Rosina, who visited him in prison, another fiancée who had had banns read in the local church causing him to flee, and a previous employment as a barmaid when she had been fired on suspicion of being a man.
Walker plead guilty to the two charges of embezzlement, and was sentenced to three month's imprisonment with hard labour. While he was in prison, another 'female barman' was discovered. Named as 'Jane Dixon, he had been working at the Jamaica Tavern in Sunderland for two years.
After release Walker was sent to the Elizabeth Fry Refuge in Hackney, but was rejected because of his male appearance. Using the name Charles Arnold, he obtained work with the Great Western Railway, loading and unloading goods wagons. One day he fell ill and his landlady sought to help by applying a mustard plaster to his chest. Although she said that she would not tell anybody, he left the next morning, taking the property of some of the other porters.
In March 1868 Walker, busking, was arrested and charged with
placing herself in a public thoroughfare, called Cable-street, Whitechapel, for the purpose of asking and collecting alms. He was sent to the workhouse in St George-in-the-East.
However three months later he was being advertised as "Mary Walker, the Female Barman" at the Duke's Head in Norton Folgate, where he had a 12-month contract. However in August, the licensee of the pub, after a comment by Walker that was probably misconstrued, first ordered Walker to leave and then punched him in the chest when he attempted to do so. At the subsequent court case it was ruled that the punch was not enough to be considered assault, and not enough reason to break the contract.
However the court summons that the contract be completed was later withdrawn and in November Walker sang on stage at the Marylebone Music Hall:
"She was dressed in men's clothes, and gave a sort of auto-biographical recitation to the tune of "Champagne Charley," and made a second appearance in naval uniform, and sang another song. The people were, of course, delighted to gaze upon one who has attracted so much attention, and their applause must be regarded as an expression of their pleasure at having curiosity gratified, rather than as a token of their admiration of the performer's abilities as a vocalist."in 1870, Thomas was working as a barman at a pub in Shoreditch where it was hoped that his celebrity would bring in custom. However they became estranged over a sum of £3 10s, and the case went to court. The publicity from this resulted in the landlord being unable to complete the transfer of his license as teh Bench felt that "they would be recognising a very immoral act if they were to grant the transfer".
In later years Walker appeared in other towns, usually working as a barman, and often advertising for such such work: "Miss Mary Walker, the world-renowned Female Barman, begs to inform Publicans &c., she is now open to an Engagement. Terms moderate. Highest references given." He was in Manchester in 1876, Halifax in 1877, Sheffield, Leeds and Lincoln in 1880, Leicester in 1884 (where he was mentioned in a licence renewal hearing for the Robin Hood Vaults on Gallowtreegate), Derby and possibly Colchester in 1887. Then Harlepool and Aldershot the next year. The last mention seems to be Derby again in 1890.
Thomas was immortalized in the ballad, She-he Barman of Southwark:
You bonny lads and lasses gay,*Not the crossdressing female doctor in the US also called Mary Walker.
Who like a bit of chaff,
I'll tell you of a She He Barman,
And I'm sure 'will make you laugh.
She did not like the petticoats,
So she slipped the trousers on,
She engaged herself as a barman,
And said her name was Tom.
At the Royal Mortar Tavern, London Road,
She served the customers all round,
The She He Barman was engaged
By Mr Frederick Brown,
She popped around the bar like steam,
The girls and chaps did wink,
When they went in for a drop of gin,
But little did they think.
That Tommy Walker was a maid,
When they together met,
Last night a costermonger said,
Who'd thought Tom's name was Bet.
In the morning she put on her shirt,
Her trousers, coat, and boots,
She He Tommy Walker
A regular swell did look;
She could drink a little drop of stout,
And smoke a mild cigar,
Tommy Walker, the female barman,
Was a clever chap, oh ! la!
She had neither beard or moustache,
And her belly was not big,
But Tom the He She barman
Turned out to be a prig;
She nailed the sixpences and shillings,
And she prigged the half-a-crown;
She three months was Tom the barman
At Mr Frederick Brown's.
She Tom had been a sailor,
Two years upon the main,
She was dropped from the Royal Mortar,
On board the ship Horsemonger Lane
Three years she doffed the petticoats,
And put the trousers on,
She served behind the counter,
And the people called her Tom.
For years she plough'd the ocean,
As steward of a ship,
She used to make the captain's bed,
Drink grog and make his flip.
She could go aloft so manfully,
This female sailor Jack,
But if she slept with a messmate,
Why of course she turned her back.
Now tired of a sailor's life,
She thought she'd be a star,
She got a crib at Mr. Brown's,
To serve behind the bar,
This pretty female barman—
Her modesty don't shock—
It is better than handling of the ropes,
To be turning on the cocks.
If you'd seen her take them in her hand,
You'd have said she was a caulker,
So nicely she handled them—
She said her name was Walker.
To see her put on a butt of beer,
And when the brewers come,
She nicely drove the spigot in,
And then out came the bung.
The ladies like the trousers,
Of that there is no doubt.
Many would be a barman,
But fear they'd be found out.
Tom was not a handsome female,
She too long had been, adrift,
Since she put on the Gurnsey,
And chucked away her shift,
- See NicBhrìde for a detailed list of 19th century newspaper mentions.
- Curiosities of Street Literature, London, Reeves and Turner, 196, Strand, 1871.
- Derek Hudson. Munby, Man of Two Worlds: the Life and Diaries of Arthur J. Munby, 1828-1910. Abacus 1974: 237-8.
- Julie Wheelwright. Amazons and Military Maids: Women who dressed as men in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Pandora 1989: 84,114.
- Feòrag NicBhrìde. "Thomas/Mary Anne Walker, the 'Female Barman' ". 4th Nov,2012. http://feorag.livejournal.com/528324.html.