Even before the government crisis in June 1885, on 23 May, W.T. Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette was approached by Benjamin Scott, who called his attention to its being set aside again. Stead, one of those who had been opposed to the Contagious Diseases Acts since the 1870s, was convinced to agitate popular support for protective legislation. His subsequent investigations were published in the Gazette from 6–10 July 1885 under the title "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon". Not only did he base his investigations on interviews with the police, as well as those who were involved in the flesh trade, he went beyond it by setting an example: he "purchased" a girl and wrote about it.
With the assistance of Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army, Stead bought 13-year old Eliza Armstrong from her parents, who lived in the Lisson Grove area of west London, and went through the procedure of preparing her for export. She was examined to prove that she was still a virgin, then she was brought to a brothel and lightly drugged to wait for Stead, her purchaser. He entered Eliza's room and, having regarded this as confirmation that he had his way, withdrew to write his story. Eliza was turned over to the care of the Salvation Army.
The revelations caused an uproar. Copies of the Pall Mall Gazette were snapped up, often fetching premium prices. While many denounced Stead's exposé, it did what it was intended to do: it prompted Parliament to resume the debate over the Criminal Law Amendment Bill on 9 July 1885.
Stead and several of his accomplices were later brought to trial as a result of the unlawful investigative methods they used (see the Eliza Armstrong Case) and Stead himself served three months in prison. Stead's reports were an early but potent example of a 'new journalism' which was not afraid of creating a 'news-event' rather than just plain reporting. According to Roland Pearsall, "it was the death knell of responsible journalism".
Eliza Armstrong case
In 1885, Stead entered upon a crusade against child prostitution by publishing a series of four articles entitled The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. In order to demonstrate the truth of his revelations, he arranged the "purchase" of Eliza Armstrong, the 13-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep. His first instalment was trailed with a warning guaranteed to make the Pall Mall Gazette sell out. Copies changed hands for 20 times their original value and the office was besieged by 10,000 members of the public. The popularity of the articles was so great the Gazette's supply of paper ran out and had to be replenished with supplies from the rival Globe.
Though his action is thought to have furthered the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, his successful demonstration of the trade's existence led to his conviction for abduction and a three-month term of imprisonment at Coldbath Fields and Holloway prisons. He was convicted on technical grounds that he had failed to first secure permission for the "purchase" from the girl's father.
The Maiden Tribute campaign was the high point in Stead's career in daily journalism. The series inspired George Bernard Shaw to write Pygmalion, and to name his lead character Eliza. Another of the characters described, the "Minotaur of London", is reckoned to have inspired Jekyll and Hyde.