Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwards, Marion (Bill) (1874–1956)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Marion (Bill) Edwards (1874-1956), transsexual barman, pony trainer and bookmaker, was born on 19 March 1874 at Murchison, Victoria, fourth child of John Edwards, a Welsh-born blacksmith, and his wife Margaret, née McKay, from Scotland. Marion claimed to have been born in Wales and brought to Australia by her parents at the age of 4, but it is probable that she used her father as a model for her male persona. According to her fanciful memoir, Life and Adventures of Marion-Bill-Edwards (Melbourne, 1907?), she worked on her uncle's farm on the Goulburn River, and as a waitress, refused offers of marriage and 'made hot love' to women. About 1896 she decided to dress and live as a man, claiming that this earned her more money. Edwards later purported to have appeared as a female impersonator entertaining troops in Africa during the Boer War and to have delivered horses to India.

As William Ernest Edwards, on New Year's Day 1900 at St Francis's Catholic Church, Melbourne, Marion went through a form of marriage with a 30-year-old widow Lucy Minihan, née Repacholi, a lodging-house proprietor. In her memoir, Edwards claimed that the marriage was one of convenience. They soon separated. In April 1905, arrested for burglary when found in a hotel at 3 a.m., Marion explained her presence by saying she was trying to catch a prowler. Fearful that her gender would be discovered she absconded to Queensland. Her 'wife', who had put up bail of £50, was sentenced to one month's gaol for Bill's default. After a second arrest in Brisbane in October 1906, Edwards returned to Melbourne, a celebrity once her masquerade was revealed. Taking advantage of the publicity, she performed as a sharpshooter in an exhibition between film shows at the Fitzroy Cyclorama. She also appeared at Kreitmayer's Bourke Street waxworks, billed as 'The Far-famed Male Impersonator'. At her trial on 1 November 1906 she was found not guilty. About this time her memoir was published, illustrated with photographs of her posing in male and female garb. Interviewed by Lone Hand in 1908, she was described as a modern Mademoiselle De Maupin, from the novel dealing with bisexuality.

Although there are references to Edwards in Truth and police records on 'sly-grog' matters, nothing was proven. A newspaper article in 1927 referred to her as a pony trainer at Port Melbourne. Living in West Melbourne from 1930, her lesbian notoriety forgotten, but still in male attire, she worked in hotels, iron foundries and factories, and as a starting price bookmaker. Electoral rolls gave her occupation as dyer. Neighbours knew she was female but described her later as an 'old gentleman'. Bill preferred to appear as a male. Nevertheless, near the end of her life the Mount Royal Geriatric Home forced her to dress in women's clothes. She died on 22 March 1956 at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. Her death certificate stated wrongly that she was Sarah Isobel, known as Marion Edwards, an actress, and gave incorrect details of her parents. In 1984 she was the subject of a play, In Male Attire, performed at St Martin's Theatre, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • Lone Hand, 1 Jan 1908, p 305
  • Refractory Girl, no 5, Summer 1974, p 21
  • Brisbane Courier, 5 Oct 1906, p 5
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Oct 1906, p 5, 23 Oct 1906, p 7, 7 Nov 1906, p 12
  • Truth (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1916, p 2, 21 Nov 1953, p 3, 7 Apr 1956, p 1
  • Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 3 Sept 1927, p 3
  • VPRS 30/P, unit 1434, item 425, VPRS 807, unit 332, item C2048 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Edwards, Marion (Bill) (1874–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-marion-bill-12901/text23305, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Edwards, William Ernest
Birth

19 March 1874
Murchison, Victoria, Australia

Death

22 March 1956
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation