Commissioned to write obscene ballad

Captain Rigby book cover
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From November 2011 to February 2012 I had a residency at the London Metropolitan Archives, as part of the Write Queer London Festival along with other writers in residence at places like the British Museum and National Maritime Museum.

Most of whatís at the archives about gay men is to do with them coming up against the law, because thatís what left a trace (and the lesbians are pretty much absent from records). Court records can be depressing, and itís often hard to tell what was really going on, but the case of Captain Edward Rigby in 1698 is documented with a luxurious amount of detail, as the young man who was set up to entrap him was determined to record as much as possible of the conversation and the Captainís amorous advances.

I turned the story into a 74-stanza ballad, with all the explicit detail of the evidence. It was premiered at the Museum of Londonís 2012 Valentine Ball, and since then Iíve performed it at Polari on the South Bank, at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and Have a Word, Brighton as well as at Gayís the Word for the launch of the pamphlet version with illustrations by Peter Forster. Historian Rictor Norton also spoke at the launch, and you can read about the Rigby case on Rictor Nortonís website. The ballad appears on the WQL site.
Hereís the Prologue (the whole poem is nearly 60 stanzas):

The Ballad of Captain Rigby
Convicted of attempted sodomy, December 1698


I have a cautionary tale
that I will shortly tell,
but full of sodomy and filth
and blasphemy as well.

And so I beg your pardon
if youíre easily offended;
I hope youíll learn some history
by the time the tale is ended.

At the Metropolitan Archives
I have spent a little while,
and most of what Iíll tell you
is verbatim from the file,

plus more from other sources,
and of course itís only right
to acknowledge what Iíve found online
on Rictor Nortonís site.

William the Third is on the throne,
in sixteen ninety-eight;
heís had a Russian visitor Ė
Tsar Peter, called ďthe GreatĒ.

The usual naval wars with France
have ended in a truce,
and Captain Edward Rigby
is ashore, and on the looseÖ

©   Peter Daniels.

35 Benthal Road, London N16 7AR. 020 8806 6121. Email me