British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Sir Eugène Goossens, conductor of Australia’s Sydney Symphony Orchestra, had been having a romantic affair with Australian occultist Rosaleen Norton, a controversial artist whose illustrated book of erotica was deemed obscene by the courts. After Goossens’s home was raided, he was arrested after police found pornographic materials in his luggage upon his return from a trip abroad. The ensuing scandal damaged Goossens’s career and forced him to return to his native England.

Summary of Event

Eugène Goossens established himself as a leading conductor in Great Britain and the United States and enjoyed a reputation as an accomplished composer. In 1946, with his third wife, wealthy socialite Marjorie Foulkrod, he moved to Australia to become conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and director of the New South Wales Conservatorium. A lifelong student of the occult, he bought the book The Art of Rosaleen Norton (1952), which illustrated the erotic art of Australian occultist Rosaleen Norton, and began an affair with her the following year. Goossens and his wife were apparently emotionally estranged, and those who knew him claimed that he found both emotional release and artistic inspiration in Norton’s company. At about the same time, however, Goossens also began an affair with a young pianist, Pamela Main. [kw]Pornography, British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing (Mar. 9, 1956) Main, Pamela Trevenar, Bert Morris, Joe Pornography;and Eugène Goosens[Goosens] Goossens, Eugène Norton, Rosaleen Main, Pamela Trevenar, Bert Morris, Joe Pornography;and Eugène Goosens[Goosens] Goossens, Eugène Norton, Rosaleen [g]Australasia;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [g]Australia;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [c]Law and the courts;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [c]Music and peforming arts;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [c]Public morals;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000] [c]Sex crimes;Mar. 9, 1956: British Conductor-Composer Is Arrested for Possessing Pornography[01000]

During the 1950’s, Australia was extremely conservative on issues of sex and sexuality. Whether Goossens knew it or not, he was leaving himself open to both legal action and blackmail after he bought Norton’s book. The book had been the object of a successful obscenity prosecution in 1953, the year after Goossens bought his copy. Furthermore, a sexually explicit film involving Norton and another of her lovers, Gavin Greenlees, had been stolen and offered to various newspapers. The editor of the Sydney Sun alerted the New South Wales vice squad, and Chief Ron Walden sent Detective Bert Trevenar to confiscate the photographs and to open an investigation. Trevenar allowed Sun reporter Joe Morris to accompany the vice squad on a raid of Norton’s property in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. During the raid, Morris found a packet of incriminating letters from Goossens to Norton. It was later revealed that the conductor had urged Norton to destroy the letters. However, she did not do so, and Morris got a hold of them. He turned them over to Trevenar.

Trevenar was on the verge of arresting Goossens for “scandalous conduct” when the conductor left Australia for a concert tour of Europe. Goossens received a knighthood while in Britain but used his visit for other purposes as well, purchasing large quantities of material from London sex shops. Without his knowledge, he was being followed by an agent for the Sun, who witnessed the purchases and notified Morris. In turn, Morris shared the information with Trevenar. Goossens returned to Australia and was met by police officials at Mascot Airport in Sydney on the morning of March 9, 1956. Trevenar, Chief Walden, and a senior customs investigator, Nat Craig, were at the airport when he arrived; a photographer for the Sun was there as well.

Authorities confiscated from Goossens seven packages wrapped in brown paper and labeled with the names of composers. The packages, containing more than one thousand items, included sexually explicit books and photographs, a roll of film, and items considered pornographic at the time: sticks of incense and several rubber masks. Upon being questioned by Trevenar, Goossens admitted his relationship with Norton and described in explicit detail the “sex magic” rituals involving oral stimulation that the two had participated in. In doing so, he left himself open to charges that could have resulted in a sentence of several years in prison.

The Sun and other Australian newspapers treated the incident as a major event and suggested breathlessly that many more cultural and financial figures were implicated in the satanic rites. With his house under siege by the media, Goossens now realized the gravity of the situation. On March 12, he requested a temporary leave from his directorial duties, and the homecoming reception that had been planned for him was canceled. On the following day, March 13, two customs officials served Goossens with a summons, charging him with violating the Customs Act Customs Act of 1901 (1901, 1954).

Goossens, who had suffered from heart problems for some time, braved reporters to consult with his medical specialist. The latter declared him unfit to appear in court the next day, so the case was adjourned until March 21. On that day, however, Goossens was still too ill to appear, but he pleaded guilty through his lawyer to the customs charges. He was convicted and fined £100, the maximum allowed by law. Despite the considerable evidence of Goossens’s involvement with Norton, however, the New South Wales attorney general chose not to pursue further legal action, a decision that clearly disappointed Trevenar.

Apparently, Goossens hoped that his position with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra might be salvaged, but public opinion and the leaders of the orchestra were against him. He wrote a letter of resignation on March 26, and his resignation was accepted on April 1 by the Australian Broadcasting Australian Broadcasting Commission Commission (ABC). The orchestra further refused to take part in a public farewell. Soon afterward, Goossens wrote a letter to friends hinting at threats that had induced him to buy and smuggle the explicit materials, but no further details were forthcoming. In any case, Goossens left Australia for Britain by way of Rome, Italy, on May 26, flying under the name of E. Gray. He never returned to Australia.

Goossens’s lover, Main, eventually followed him by ship and was reunited with him in London. Although the two hoped to marry after Goossens obtained a divorce, his health was in decline, and he died on June 13, 1962. Shortly before his death he made out a new will and left his estate to Main.


Goossens was the dominant figure in Australian musical life, but despite (or perhaps because of) his position, his downfall was swift. Although sex was the ostensible reason for the scandal, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, and class antagonism also played important roles.

The Australia of the 1950’s was sexually and intellectually conservative, and Australian law prohibited not only the depiction of sexual acts but also many of the acts themselves. Goossens’s admission regarding the exact nature of his relationship with Norton left him open to a legal charge of scandalous conduct, and although authorities had detained him for bringing prohibited material into Australia, Detective Trevenar clearly anticipated arresting him on the more serious charge. In the decades following the scandal, prosecutions for scandalous conduct would become uncommon, although the law remained on the books.

Goossens himself deserves much of the blame for his predicament. His patrician attitudes led to many enemies in media circles, and his open disregard for contemporary Australian mores fueled resentment among the native-born, working-class members of the police force and the civil service in general.

What Goossens planned to do with the materials he was carrying remains unclear, and although he hinted to friends that he was acting under duress by bringing the materials into Australia, he apparently never elaborated. His behavior at the airport is also puzzling. He may have thought that his position would shield him, or he may simply have been tired after his flight. Had he called in his lawyer, he might have escaped prosecution, for he had not been charged or arrested and was under no obligation to submit to questioning.

One incident suggests that not all those who knew about the impending arrest of Goossens at the airport were sympathetic to the trap being laid. Years later, ABC general manager Charles Moses revealed that he had received an anonymous telephone call on March 8 that urged him to warn Goossens about unspecified trouble brewing at the Mascot Airport, but he had dismissed the caller as a crank. Main, Pamela Trevenar, Bert Morris, Joe Pornography;and Eugène Goosens[Goosens] Goossens, Eugène Norton, Rosaleen

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drury, Nevill. The Witch of Kings Cross: The Life and Magic of Rosaleen Norton. Alexandria, N.S.W.: Kingsclear Books, 2002. Biography of the artist and occultist whose involvement with Goossens drew the attention of authorities. Includes her letters to British writer and theologian C. S. Lewis, illustrations, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goossens, Renée. Belonging: A Memoir. Sydney: ABC Books, 2003. Autobiography by the daughter of Goossens and his second wife, Janet Lewis. Discusses not only the scandal in which her father was involved but also her mother’s assertion, which she does not accept, that Goossens was not her birth father. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norton, Rosaleen. The Art of Rosaleen Norton. 2d ed. Sydney: Walter Glover, 1982. Updated edition of the 1952 work that led to Goossens’s involvement with Norton. Includes poems by Norton’s lover Gavin Greenlees, an introduction by Norton’s biographer Nevill Drury, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosen, Carole. The Goossens: A Musical Century. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993. Comprehensive study of the Goossens family, including a full account of the scandal and its aftermath. Numerous black-and-white illustrations, a select bibliography, a list of compositions, and a discography.

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