Cast of Historical Actors: Eliza Armstrong, Phulmoni Dasi, & Rukhmabai Raut

“The Case of Eliza Armstrong-The Lost Child.” The Illustrated Police News, September 3, 1863. Obtained from the Australasian Journal of Salvation Army History, Volume 1, Issue 2

Eliza Armstrong was a 13-year-old girl from an impoverished family in London when she was procured by W. T. Stead, a reporter for a leading London newspaper, as part of his expose on child prostitution in late Victorian London.[1]

Stead was a well-know ‘moral purity’ and women’s rights’ campaigner in the late 19th century, best known for his journalism and the campaigns to end child prostitution he believed to be rife in London. At the time of Stead’s investigation in 1885, the British parliament had failed to pass the Criminal Law Amendment Bill to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 despite it being presented to them three times.[2] Stead, determined to use his platform to bring a change, enlisted the help of a former madam to find a young girl to buy and sell to the brothels of London in order to expose to the public the stark and bleak state of affairs in London where children could be bought and sold so easily into the sex trade. Eliza’s mother reluctantly sold her to Mr Stead for £5 after she was assured, according to her testimony, that Eliza was to serve as a maid to a wealthy family.[3]

Stead did not disclose to Eliza his true purpose, and led her to believe she was being procured, and even made her endure a physical examination to verify her virginity by an abortionist midwife. Following this, Eliza was shipped off to France and cared for the Booths of the Salvation Army, in the months that followed. Eventually, after a highly public trial Stead was prosecuted for assault and abduction along with his accomplices and was sentenced to 3 months in prison.

Stead then published the story in the Pall Mall Gazette called “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” where he described how easy it was for someone to purchase and exploit young children under the existing criminal laws. The story caused a violent scandal and as a reaction to it, the bill to reform the age of consent was back on the table and passed by the parliament shortly after. Thus, the age of consent in the UK was raised from 13 to 16, where it remains today.

Read more on the academic context and significance of the case of Eliza Armstrong:

Laura Lammasniemi, (2020) “Precocious Girls”: Age of Consent, Class and Family in Late Nineteenth-Century England, 38(1) Law and History Review, 241-266

[1] Buck, S., 2017. To expose child prostitution, this London journalist actually bought a 13-year-old girl. Timeline, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 April 2020]

[2] Lammasniemi L (2020) “Precocious Girls”: Age of Consent, Class and Family in Late Nineteenth-Century England, 38(1) Law and History Review, 241-266

[3] Stead, W., 1885. The Maiden Tribute Of Modern Babylon. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 April 2020].

Phulmoni Dasi was a child bride, aged 11 from Bengal and was married to Hari Mohan Maiti who was over 30 years old at the time. Phulmoni Dasi tragically died on the night of the wedding due to forced consummation.[1] There was a case filed against the husband, Empress v Hari Mohan Maiti, which went to trial at the Calcutta Sessions Court on 6th July 1890. Hari Mohan was convicted and was sentenced to 12 months of hard labour.

This case led to the passing of the Age of Consent Bill 1891 which amended the previous age of consent at 10 years to 12 years and made having sex with a girl below the age of 12, even if they were your wife, illegal.

Read more on the academic context and significance of the case of Phulmoni Desi:

Tanika Sarkar, (2020) Intimate Violence in Colonial Bengal: A Death, a Trial and a Law, 1889–1891 38(1) Law and History Review, 177-200

[1] Whitehead, J., 1996. Bodies of evidence, bodies of rule: The Ilbert Bill, revivalism, and age of consent in colonial India. Sociological bulletin, 45(1), pp.29-54.

Rukhmabai Raut, the first practising female doctor in India, was revered as a pioneer of the women’s right movement in India. This was no easy feat to accomplish in 19th century India where women’s rights were barely given a second thought.

Rukhmabai was born in Bombay in 1864. Her father passed away when she was about two years old and her mother was only seventeen. Her mother remarried a few years later to Dr Shakharam Arjun.[1] At the age of 11, Rukhmabai was married off to Dadaji Bhikaji who was 19 at the time. Rukhmabai’s stepfather, Shakharam insisted that she finished her education and ensured that she stayed at her natal home for the duration.[2] When Rukhmabai was 20, Dadaji demanded that she live with him. Rukhmabai refused to comply and wanted to further her education instead. This caused Dadaji to petition the Bombay High Court to restore his conjugal rights over his wife.[3]

The court case that ensued caused a mighty stir not just in India but also in England and highlighted the issues of child marriage and women’s rights. Rukhmabai argued that she could not be forced to honour a marriage that took place without her consent.[4] During this time, Rukhmabai wrote two newspaper articles for a leading publication in India under a pseudonym which garnered massive public attention and delved into the need to abolish child marriage and raise the age of marriage. Eventually, Rukhmabai appealed to Queen Victoria who dissolved the marriage. Rukhmabai paid Dadaji monetary compensation.

Rukhmabai continued her education in England where she trained to be a doctor. Eventually, she returned to India several years later and served as a chief medical officer in a women’s hospital in Gujrat. Through it all, she continued to write against child marriage and promote women’s right. Her defiance against prevailing patriarchal norms and the stir caused by her court case eventually led to the passing of the Age of Consent Act 1981 and raised the age of consent from 10 to 12 years.

Read more on the academic context and significance of the case of Rukhmabai:

Kanika Sharma. (2020) Withholding Consent to Conjugal Relations within Child Marriages in Colonial India: Rukhmabai’s Fight 38(1) Law and History Review, 151-175

[1] Chandra, S., 2008. Enslaved daughters: colonialism, law and women’s rights. Oxford University Press.

[2] Ferry, G., 2019. Rukhmabai: doctor and social reformer. The Lancet, 394(10210), p.1703.

[3] Bose, M., 2017. Rukhmabai, pioneer of women’s rights, celebrates 153rd birth anniversary Read more at: Deccan Herald, [online] Available at: <Mrityunjay Bose Read more at:> [Accessed 7 April 2020].

[4] Chandra, S., 1996. Rukhmabai: Debate over woman’s right to her person. Economic and Political Weekly, pp.2937-2947.