by Margaret Lockyer
Mustapha Pochowachett was a Turkish man who was arrested, tried, and charged the committing Buggery. The event occurred on May 11, 1964 and he was seen in court on May 24, 1964. He did not speak English and was therefore given a translator in order to communicate with the court. He was accused of committing Buggery upon a boy named Anthony Bassa who was approximately 14 years old. Bassa was not present during the trail as he was sick. Bassa said that Pochowachett had “used him in a very unnatural manner”. There was only one other person consulted on the case during the trial, a Surgeon. The Surgeon swore that Pochowachett gave Bassa a sexually transmitted disease, and the Surgeon had seen the sores for himself. Pochowachett claimed he personally had no such sores, but a search on his body was never conducted. He was found guilty of Buggery and sentenced to death.
By using this case to explore the 18th Century, I have given myself the opportunity to explore issues directly related to topics that I am interested. I did not want to choose a murder or a robbery because the concept of these crimes is so over saturated in all forms of media that I normally encounter, that I was worried that most viewpoints on the topics are more heavily explored than probably the crimes of sexual assault.
I chose the trial of Mustapha Pochowachett from the Old Bailey database because I believed that it would provide interesting and informative insight into the 18th Century. While technically it takes place in the 1600’s it is still informative about the 1700’s. This is true because cultural and social trends, morals, and ideals do not fit neatly into patterned timelines. There are plenty of examples of fuzzy timelines in History as era’s are defined by events and actions, not by equally patterned dates. This trial is helpful in better understanding in two key areas. The first is the relationships with people of a foreign race in England. The second is the issue of sexual offences and how they are not only perceived but handled.
Relationships Between Races
While doing some background reading on this topic, I found interesting information about Mustapha Pochowachett. He served in the court of King George. During this time period there was a large range of ways the Turkish people were perceived by the English. On one end of the scale they were seen as adversaries to the Christian lifestyle, and on the other end they were looked to as economic partners (Aljenfawi 36). In fact it is largely believed that Catholics were actually hated more than Muslims during this time. Pochowachett was serving in the court with one other Turkish man named Mahomet. While at the time the Turks were not England’s primary adversaries, there still existed much controversy surrounding their positions. During this time it was believed that anyone who was not from England, or White, or Christian was assigned to being an “other”. There was a perpetuation that the “other” was so different that that the differences were exploded within the mainstream society.
Also during this time there was an abundance of over the top stereotypes about groups that fall into the idea of the “other”. A stereotype that existed about Turkish people was that within that culture there was a prevalent inclination for men to perform sodomy, and therefore a high concentration of acts of sodomy. Since this exploded stereotype existed, it is safe to entertain the notion that Pochowachett was targeted for this particular crime. He was a man in a political position, and he belonged to a sub group of the “other” which had a particularly damning stereotype. It is almost the perfect storm for a sabotage or set up. This is going back to the point that Pochowachett was in a controversial political position, he was so clearly an “other” and he held a political position that it is not outrageous to assume that he might actually be as innocent as he claims. This is a major factor that helped to lead me to question the validity of the charge.
I was particularly interested in taking a closer look at a case that involved a sexual offense. While looking through the database, there was certainly no shortage of this type of offenses. I was looking through a couple different cases of rape, and sodomy or buggery, when I noticed a type of trend. What I noticed was that there seemed to be the tone that sodomy was significantly worse, and less Christian than rape. I find that this phenomenon is really telling about social issues and practices of the 18th Century, particularly issues surrounding the treatment of beliefs about women.
I did some research into the treatment of gay men, and women during this time period. One of the most common facts that I encountered was that in the 17th Century, male sodomites were given a very similar status to female prostitutes. Needless to say this social status was not high. According to the readings I did, this was to reinforce and maintain the assigned gender roles within society. This idea of rigidly enforced gender roles is a major reason why sodomy was considered to be such an awful and unforgivable offense.
My research also led me to the idea that the victim of sodomy was taken more seriously than victims of rape. The different tones in the reports also led me to that assumption. In the reports of rape, it was often specifically mentioned that the victim’s husband, father, or brother even, were upset, or involved, or in some cases even spoke for the woman. There was an effort to draw attention to how the rape affected the men in the woman’s life. This not only shows the society’s compete preoccupation with men at the expense of women, but it also shows why these people thought rape was so bad. My understanding is that rape was considered so bad because it was an offense and a crime against another man. This directly leads to why
In this case the reporter describes Buggery as something “which is so detestable, and not fit to be named among Christians,” (Mustapha Pochowachett, 24th May, 1964). I believe that if this case was tried in court today, the charge would be rape. The charge of rape obviously existed in the 18th Century, so it really got me thinking about how people in the 18th Century viewed sexual assaults. Buggery was considered worse than rape because rape was an indirect offense against another man, but buggery was a direct offense against another man. I think that this fact is really telling about the nature of gender and the treatment of women in the 18th Century in England.
Based on the information I discovered from secondary sources, and class lectures, I was able to draw a few conclusions about the facts of this trial. The conclusions that I have drawn from the case help to convey information about the 18th Century.
The first major conclusion that I made about this trial is that the facts of the case seem unreliable. There is a feeling of suspicion surrounding the facts presented that condemned Pochowachett. The first thing that seems suspicious to me is the fact that the accuser does not appear to be directly involved in the proceedings. He seems to have spoken to someone and had that person relay the information. While this conclusion I have drawn may not be correct, I think that the fact that it is even a strong possibility is enough to call into question the overall validity of the case.
The second thing that seemed suspicious was that the Surgeon did not perform a search of Pochowachett for signs of sores that are a consequence of the sexually transmitted disease he supposedly gave to Bossa. I find it very strange because if the presence of these sores on Bossa were so clearly evidence of the Buggery act, than should they therefore also be present on Pochowachett? The act of a search, to which Pochowachett consented, would have been a clear and simple determinant of his guilt or innocence.
I am not trying to imply that Pochowachett is absolutely innocent, it’s just that the entire time I was reading and looking into the facts of this case, there was just something that did not sit right with me. I have tried to look for specific examples (as seen above) to support this feeling. However, not all feelings can be directly supported. This may be one of those instances where I am looking for a problem that is actually there. I would like to stress that I am not calling Bassa a liar, nor am I claiming that Pochowachett is a saint. I am just saying that the nature of the evidence leaves room for doubt which is in a way quite unsettling when studying this case as factual history. Pochowachett was sentenced to death for his crime, and I cannot help but wonder if it was entirely deserved.