Oxford, UK  A diary written by a Yorkshire farmer more than 200 years ago is being hailed as providing remarkable evidence of tolerance towards homosexuality in Britain much earlier than previously imagined. Historians from Oxford University have been taken aback to discover that Matthew Tomlinsons diary from 1810 contains such open-minded views about same-sex attraction being a natural human tendency. The diary challenges preconceptions about what ordinary people thought about homosexuality  showing there was a debate about whether someone really should be discriminated against for their sexuality.

In this exciting new discovery, we see a Yorkshire farmer arguing that homosexuality is innate and something that shouldnt be punished by death, says Oxford researcher Eamonn OKeeffe. Whats striking is that hes an ordinary guy, hes not a member of the bohemian circles or an intellectual, says OKeeffe, a doctoral student in Oxfords history faculty

OKeeffe came across what seemed, for the era of George III, to be a rather startling set of arguments about same-sex relationships. Tomlinson had been prompted by what had been a big sex scandal of the day  in which a well-respected naval surgeon, James Nehemiah Taylor, had been found to be engaging in homosexual acts with Thomas Ashton, a boy of the royal marines, his servant, according to naval records (Bit.ly/2T7T4CG). A court martial had ordered Taylor to be hanged  but Tomlinson seemed unconvinced. It must seem strange indeed that God Almighty should make a being with such a nature, or such a defect in nature; and at the same time make a decree that if that being whom he had formed, should at any time follow the dictates of that Nature, with which he was formed, he should be punished with death, he wrote on January 14th 1810. If there was an inclination and propensity for someone to be homosexual from an early age, he wrote, it must then be considered as natural, otherwise as a defect in nature  and if natural, or a defect in nature; it seems cruel to punish that defect with death.

Matthew Tomlinson was a widower, in his 40s when he wrote his journal in 1810  a man of a middling class, not a poor laborer but not rich enough to own his own land. We know where he lived  Doghouse Farm in Lupset, because he carefully wrote it on the front of his journals. The farm, at the edge of the landowners estate, is now under a housing estate and a golf course. All that survives are his diaries, covering 1806 to 1839, three volumes; at least another eight are missing. t (BBC News  Sean Coughlan at Bbc.com/news/education-51385884; read original source material at Rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1810tayl.htm)