The law, as it stood in the early 1880s, said that a girl of thirteen was legally competent to consent to her own seduction. Girls under the age of eight were not allowed to give evidence against those who had abused them, as it was thought that they were too young to understand the oath.

Josephine Butler, a campaigner for women's rights, wrote a letter to Florence Booth, the wife of The Salvation Army's Chief of the Staff, Bramwell Booth, concerning the sale of young girls into prostitution. We have this letter and other correspondence relating to the case, including letters written by Catherine Booth, The Army Mother, to Queen Victoria.

Josephine Butler
Florence Booth, as pioneer leader of the Army's Womens Social Work, had gained an insight into the lives of girls working as prostitutes. Through this work, the practice of trafficking girls to be used for immoral purposes, both in Britain and overseas, came to the attention of The Salvation Army.

Bramwell Booth had walked the streets of London, seeing for himself the desperate situations that many of the young girls found themselves in. What he saw prompted him to speak with W. T. Stead, Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

Stead was an admirer of The Salvation Army and was horrified to think that young girls were being bought and sold. He investigated the claims made by The Salvation Army and published his findings in the Pall Mall Gazette , 6-10 July 1885. The articles appeared under the title The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, and Stead received much support. On 14 August 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act became law, raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen years.

W. T. Stead,
Editor of the
Pall Mall Gazette
The articles in the Pall Mall Gazette, copies of which are at the Heritage Centre, played a major role in securing support for the age of consent to be raised. However, a vital part of the plan involved the agitators in what could technically be considered the abduction of thirteen-year-old Eliza Armstrong.

The trial at the Old Bailey began on 23 October 1885. Bramwell Booth was found not guilty; Rebecca Jarrett (a recently converted ex-brothel-keeper who had played a major role in the plot), was sentenced to six months in prison; and Stead was sentenced to three months in Holloway jail, even though the jury had recommended mercy. In the long term, the trial helped the Army to gain recognition, and enabled the Army to further its social work objectives in Britain and overseas.

Amongst the material relating to the case in the archives of the International Heritage Centre, is a document entitled The Truth about the Armstrong Case and The Salvation Army, which includes W. T. Stead's defence, as well as biographical information and personal letters written by Rebecca Jarrett. These fragile original documents are only available to researchers who visit the Heritage Centre, and photocopies cannot be provided.

The International Heritage Centre: