Theresa Berkley

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Theresa Berkley or Berkeley (died September 1836) was a 19th-century English dominatrix who ran a brothel in Hallam Street, just to the east of Portland Place, Marylebone, London, specialising in flagellation. She is notable as the inventor of the "chevalet" or "Berkley Horse", a BDSM apparatus.

Career as a dominatrix[edit]

Theresa Berkley ran a high-class flagellation brothel at 28 Charlotte Street[1] (which is today's 84–94 Hallam Street).[2] She was a "governess", i.e. she specialised in chastisement, whipping, flagellation, and the like.[3] She invented the "Berkley Horse", an apparatus that reportedly earned her a fortune in flogging wealthy men and women of the time.[4] There are no artworks depicting what Theresa Berkley looked like, and occasional descriptions usually report that she was attractive, with a strong disposition. An expert with all instruments of torture, her talents became highly sought after by the aristocracy of the day. She was a master of the art of inflicting pain for pleasure, and practised absolute privacy to protect her clientele. Her clients were said to have been both men and women of wealth, and her career was financially lucrative.[5] Her fame was such that the pornographic novel Exhibition of Female Flagellants was attributed to her, probably falsely.[6]

One writer[7] said of her:

She possessed the first requisite of a courtezan, viz., lewdness; for without a woman is positively lecherous she cannot keep up the affectation of it, and it will soon be perceived that she moves her hands or her buttocks to the tune of pounds, shillings, and pence.[8]

Quotes related to her deeds of domination and sexual torture[edit]

According to an unnamed source quoted by Henry Spencer Ashbee:

"Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o'-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battledoors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher's bush [?butcher's broom]; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phlebotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full."

"Mrs Berkley has also in her second floor, a hook and pulley attached to the ceiling, by which she could draw a man up by his hands. This operation is also represented in her memoirs."[9]

She enjoyed a certain amount of torture inflicted on her by her clients, given that they were willing to pay her price, but she also employed a number of women for that task if indeed her clients wished to inflict more pain than she was willing to take herself.[10] As reflected in the below quote:

"For those whose lech it was to flog a woman, she would herself submit to a certain extent; but if they were gluttons at it, she had women in attendance who would take any number of lashes the flogger pleased, provided he forked out an ad valorem duty. Among these were Miss Ring, Hannah Jones, Sally Taylor, One-eyed Peg, Bauld-cunted Poll, and a black girl, called Ebony Bet."

After her death[edit]

Shortly after her death in 1836, her brother, who had been a missionary for 30 years in Australia, arrived in England. When he learned the source from which the property she had left him had been derived, he renounced all claim, and immediately went back to Australia. In default, the property was bequeathed to Dr Vance, her medical attendant and executor; but he refused to administer, and the whole estate, valued at £100,000,[11] was escheated to the crown.[9]

Dr Vance came into possession of her correspondence, several boxes, which was said to have contained letters from the highest aristocracy, both male and female, in the land. The letters were eventually destroyed.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Chancellor, Edwin Beresford (1971). The Pleasure Haunts of London During Four Centuries. B. Blom. p. 187. 
  2. ^ Pentelow, Mike, & Marsha Rowe, Characters of Fitzrovia, Felix Dennis, Pimlico, 2002, p. 97 footnote.
  3. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (2001). The Victorian Governess. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 137. ISBN 1-85285-325-5. 
  4. ^ Simons, G. L. (1974), The Illustrated Book of Sexual Records, repr. Random House Value Publishing, 1983, ISBN 0-517-42800-8, p. 125, quoted by "The history of flogging". Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  5. ^ Hurwood (1965) p. 160.
  6. ^ Mudge, Bradford Keyes (2000). The whore's story: women, pornography, and the British novel, 1684–1830. Ideologies of desire. Oxford University Press. p. 246. ISBN 0-19-513505-9. 
  7. ^ Quoted in Hurwood, B. J. The Golden Age of Erotica.
  8. ^ Most famous female flagellant
  9. ^ a b The Flogging Whores of Old London
  10. ^ Hurwood (1965), p. 161.
  11. ^ Markun, Leo (1930). Mrs. Grundy: a history of four centuries of morals intended to illuminate present problems in Great Britain and the United States. D. Appleton and Company. p. 236. 


  • Anil Aggrawal, Forensic and Medico-Legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, CRC Press, 2008, ISBN 1-4200-4308-0, p. 150
  • Patricia J. Anderson, When Passion Reigned: sex and the Victorians, BasicBooks, 1995, ISBN 0-465-08991-7, p. 98
  • Åke E. Andersson, Nils-Eric Sahlin, "The complexity of creativity", Synthese library: studies in epistemology, logic, methodology, and philosophy of science v. 258, Springer, 1997, ISBN 0-7923-4346-8, p. 59
  • Iwan Bloch, Le Marquis de Sade et Son Temps, Editions Slatkine, repr. 1970, p. 196
  • Iwan Bloch, The Sexual Life of Our Time in Its Relations to Modern Civilization, BiblioBazaar repr. 2009, ISBN 1-113-13717-7, p. 573
  • Iwan Bloch, Sexual Life in England, Past and Present, F. Aldor, 1938, p. 353
  • Bernhardt J. Hurwood, The Golden Age of Erotica, Sherbourne Press, 1965
  • John K. Noyes, "The mastery of submission: inventions of masochism", Cornell studies in the history of psychiatry, Cornell University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8014-3345-2, pp. 12–14
  • Mike Pentelow, Marsha Rowe, Characters of Fitzrovia, Chatto & Windus, 2001, ISBN 0-7011-7314-9, p. 97
  • Geoffrey Leslie Simons, A Place for Pleasure: the history of the brothel, Harwood-Smart Publishing, 1975, ISBN 0-904507-02-5, p. 52
  • Autumn Stanley, Mothers and daughters of invention: notes for a revised history of technology, Volume 36", Rutgers University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8135-2197-1, pp. 585–586


  • Ashbee, Henry Spencer Ashbee (aka "Pisanus Fraxi") (1969) Index of Forbidden Books (written during the 1880s as Index Librorum Prohibitorum). London: Sphere
  • Marcus, Steven (1966) The Other Victorians: a Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-393-30236-9