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Wanted, A Wife

A few months back, while looking at the Wanted ads in issues of the Hobart Mercury of 1878, I was surprised to find, in amongst those for capital hearses, magpies and generally useful boys, an advertisement headed Wanted, a Wife.

Mercury, Tas, 22 March 1878

Initially, I was interested to see if ‘Bachelor’ had advertised elsewhere and while I could find no other advertisement from him, I found that such advertisements were not uncommon. I limited my search to the 1870s and the results are in no way comprehensive or the product of rigorous research but they do provide a glimpse of one way marriages were sometimes made in this period.

These sorts of ads were more common in some Australian states than others. I would have expected that the larger states with lower populations would have more, assuming that some men living there were more isolated and so had fewer opportunities to meet ‘suitable’ women. That does not seem to have been the case as I found only one advertisement each in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The advertisement from Western Australia is eye-watering.

Eastern Districts Chronicle (York, WA) 9 February 1878 p.2

At this point, the age of consent in Western Australia was twelve years old (or possibly ten according to some sources). This was not unique in Australia, or for that matter other western countries, at this time. It was raised to fourteen in 1883. ‘X.Y.Z.’ is clearly clinging to the old idea that one of the benefits of marrying a young woman is that she will be more tractable than an older woman or a widow, and the husband can train her in both good manners and her duties.

There is the element of a business proposition in many of these advertisements with physical characteristics of lesser importance. The one advertisement I found for the Northern Territory is along these lines. WANTED, a WIFE, by a young Man under thirty years of age, of sober and steady habits. She must be domestic. Money or personal attractions of no consequence. Under twenty-five years of age preferred. Address, ‘OVERLANDER’, Palmerston. Send Carte de Visite. (Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 26 Feb 1876, p.1) While ‘Overlander’ claims to have no interest in ‘personal attractions’, he does ask for a Carte de Visite. These, initially, were a calling cards with a photograph but here it simply means a photograph.

For some, it seems, any woman would do, and they had no problem with anyone knowing who they were. MATRIMONY. An Englishman, 36 years of age, wants a wife. Address George Wilson, General Post-office, Melbourne. (Herald, Vic, 8 Jan 1870, p.1)

Others had simple requirements, such as this young man from South Australia who clearly wanted the company of someone around his own age. WANTED, a WIFE to live in the Bush, myself aged 24, and I wish to correspond with some young Lady about 20. Address G.H.T.N.P., Arrowie, Far North. (Adelaide Observer, 20 May 1876, p.1)

Similarly, some give the sense that the impetus behind the advertisement was the need for company and support in less populated areas. A STEADY, educated, WORKING MAN, aged 45, having small capital, WANTS a WIFE with some little means to accompany him to Port Darwin. Address ‘N.T.’, office of this paper. (South Australian Advertiser, 20 Sep 1873, p.1) For ‘Sailor’ below, working in the desert laying the Overland Telegraph line would give him limited opportunities to meet women. This advertisement was placed several times in June 1873 then again in September 1873. I suppose he either had no luck with his first advertisement or else the women who answered either were not suitable or decided that ‘Sailor’ was not to their taste. It would take a special kind of woman of spirit and determination to marry a barely known man and go to live in a remote location. SAILOR, three years on the Overland Telegraph Works, WANTS a WIFE; aged 28; tolerably educated, and of steady habits. Would exchange photos. Correspondence treated with strictest confidence. Address ‘Sailor’, Alice Springs, MacDonnell ranges, Overland telegraph. (Evening Journal, SA, 14 Jun 1873, p.1)

For other men, all that was wanted was good looks. Wanted a Wife WANTED by a Young Man in good circumstances to correspond with a Young Lady with a view to matrimony. Must be good looking. Carte de Visite. Money no object. Address C.D.E., Post Office, Leighton, Baldry. (Burra Record, SA, 28 Mar 1879, p.2)

And here looks as well as age and height are a ‘must’. Can we assume from this that J– W– was short man?

Border Watch, SA, 14 Jun 1876, p.3

Many realised that they needed to show the advantages that would come to any woman who was successful in applying for the position of wife. Wanted – A Wife. I AM over Thirty years of age, and considered good looking. Address ‘F.D.’ Per August Post-Office, till called for. (Burra Record, SA, 25 Jul 1879, p.2)

Some offered more than just their good looks as an enticement. A YOUNG MAN, 28 years of age, WANTS a WIFE. He is of sober habits, and has considerable Property. Address Country, Post-Office, Dublin. (South Australian Register, 16 Aug 1876, p.1) and REGINALD, Tall, Dark, Handsome, £400 per annum, wants a WIFE. Reply, enclosing photo, P O Sandridge. (Herald, Vic., 2 Aug 1879, p.3)

The character of the woman applying was of importance too. And it is good to see that not every man wanted a wife in her teens or early twenties.

Hamilton Spectator, Vic, 25 Aug 1877, p.3

Money was a factor to be considered both in prospective husbands and in wives. Faith and denominational affiliation could be important as well. WANTED, a WIFE, a sincere Christian, age about 40, and possessed of some few Pounds. Address Bone Fide, office of this paper. (South Australian Register, 26 Aug 1870, p.1)

It is surprising, in the advertisement below, that ‘M.N.O.’ used the newspapers rather than church channels in his search for a wife. And along with the wide range of accomplishments required, quite sensibly, the ability to milk cows is included, not just here but in several other advertisements WANTED A WIFE—A YOUNG MAN, about 22 years of age, of prepossessing appearance, is desirous of CORRESPONDING with a YOUNG LADY, with an ultimate view to MATRIMONY. His height is 5 feet 7 inches. He is also of light complexion. Young lady must be accustomed to milk; in fact do all the duties pertaining to a farmer’s wife. She must be a Primitive Methodist; and also in favour of residing on a small farm within a radius of 5 miles of Strathalbyn. Money not so much an object as a genuine, loving heart. Carte de Visite can be enclosed, but is not necessarily. Address M.N.O., Stratalbyn P.O. (Southern Argus, SA, 6 Sep 1872, p.2)

Where religious affiliation was mentioned, it was most usually for Protestant wives but this man is seeking a Catholic. The wording is slightly ambiguous and I am unsure, though, if what he is actually looking for is a woman with a home ready-made for him. WANTED, a WIFE—A respectable middle-aged person, with good temper and sober and business habits, wishes to become united in matrimony to a pleasing companion for life with a happy home or independence. She will require to be of a kind disposition, temperate, and a Catholic. To save time, please enclose portrait (if possible), and state particulars. The strictest secrecy and honour promised and expected. Address C.E., Herald Office. Open for a week. (Sydney Morning Herald, NSW, 23 Jun 1877, p.2)

Many were even more particular. WANTED a wife by a gentleman having an income of £500. Small income no objection. Must be of amiable disposition, medium height, musical, a good housekeeper, and not a girl of the Period. Address, enclosing name and carte, to Multum in Parvo, Post Office, Launceston. N.B.-Strictly confidential. (Cornwall Chronicle, Tas, 23 Aug 1875, p.1) The pseudonym 'Multum in Parvo' is interesting, meaning much in a small space. Does it mean that the Mr Multum in Parvo is a very short man or even a rotund very short man? The statement ‘small income no objection’ is intriguing. Would an income of her own be considered a disadvantage in a wife? Perhaps to someone who doesn’t much like the modern girls of his time, he is being quite magnanimous in considering a wife who had the independence of a small amount of money of her own.

‘Bona Fide’ below also mentions ‘money no object’, though, in this case I wonder if it means that he doesn’t mind a young woman who would bring nothing but herself to the marriage. Then again, he could be saying that he will lavish on his wife whatever she wants. WANTED A WIFE—a Young Man, 28 years of age, comfortably situated in life, is desirous of entering into the marriage state, and would be most happy to correspond with an intelligent and accomplished young lady, from 18 to 25 years of age, with a view thereto. Money no object. Address by letter, and inclose photograph to ‘Bone Fide’, Post-office, Ross. (Mercury, Tas, 26 Aug 1874, p.1)

And then there is this 'young gentleman' who clearly has a definite role in mind for his wife.

Newcastle Chronicle, NSW, 6 January 1870, p.1

And 'Satzuma' from Sydney either had tickets on himself or a sense of humour – I hope the latter. MATRIMONIAL—The undersigned, middle-aged, good-looking, good prospects, good birth, good position, much admired, wants a wife equally gifted. SATZUMA. (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr 1876, p.1)

It seems, too, that these matrimonial advertisements were read for entertainment by those not wanting a wife.

Mercury, Tas, 17 August 1877, p.1

This elicited the following response in the Tasmanian Punch of Saturday 25 August 1877 (p.4) Wanted! A Wife The following advertisement appears in the ‘Mercury’, of the 17th instant:— ‘Correspondence—Wanted a Young Lady to correspond with a Gentleman, having a view to matrimony. Blonde preferred. Address by letter, “Bachelor”, Post Office, Forcett.’ Be in time, ladies, be in time. Are you a blonde, Miss. No! Then look sharp, and transmogrify yourself into one. Don't blush, you know how it’s done. ‘Bachelor’ has not a view to a matter-o’-money, we do assure you, but to the holy estate of wedlock itself. Take pity on this poor young man—stay: on second thoughts he might be an old buffer with plenty of cash and very little liver. Soon got rid of, if so. Well, no matter whether he is young or old, he seems to be unable to find a gal, save by advertising. Lose no time. Write to him, and ask for his ‘photo’. Get it before you send yours. Why should the ladies not have a good laugh over the gentlemen’s ‘photos’ as well as the gents have over theirs? Mr. Punch knows a youth who advertises for a wife occasionally, and he can assure the ladies that this admirer of beauty has no less than one hundred and twenty-five albums full of ladies’ ‘photos’. Such a man must be regular Bluebeard in prospective! Ladies, we implore you not to leave this poor fellow of Forcett to pine away in single solitude. Take compassion on him, do, or else you may soon hear of a fearful, horrifying, blood-curdling suicide at Forcett.

And then there were the advertisements that didn’t go quite to plan and, once again, the newspaper set out the details for the amusement of its readers. Unfortunately, I have not managed to locate the original of this advertisement but the Portland Guardian reported on it in its issue of 23 February 1878 (p.2). MATRIMONIAL—We notice that at Orford near Belfast, wives are so scarce that the eligible young bachelors are forced to advertise for partners. Were they to visit Portland they should we fancy find no great difficulty in suiting themselves. Belfast is the former name of Port Fairy on the south west coast of Victoria about 75 km from Portland by road and 60 km by boat.

I couldn’t find the original article in the Hamilton Spectator but the outcome was widely reported in a number of other newspapers. Poor J.A. of Orford. WANTED A RESPECTABLE WIFE The Belfast correspondent of the Hamilton Spectator writes: – ‘In the advertising columns of our local journal, the following matrimonial notice appeared in February last: “WANTED A RESPECTABLE WIFE – If this should meet the eyes of a respectable, good-looking young woman, who wishes to join her affections with a married life (and who can milk three or four cows) to a respectable young man who resides near Orford. For further requirements, apply to J. A., Orford, near the Post Office.” Though not very explicit, I hear the advertisement has secured if not to “J. A.” to “J. A.’s” brother the desire of his heart. The announcement immediately brought a letter containing a carte, from Melbourne; but “J. A.” being too busily engaged to leave home, despatched his mother to ascertain the bona fides and qualifications of the fair applicant. So satisfied was the old lady with the appearances of her would-be daughter-in-law, that she invited the girl to visit Orford; and Mrs A. returned to her home, and introduced her son to his future wife. But the truth of the old adage about “true love” obtained further exemplification; for, after a day or two of “cooing and billing” with “J. A.”, a younger brother came home, and entirely transplanted the affections of the lady. However, the exchange does not seem to have affected the happiness of the family, for “J. A.” readily agreed to the reception of the young lady into the household if only as a sister; and it was there upon arranged that the younger brother should benefit by the exertions of the advertiser. The lady returned to Melbourne fully “engaged”, and the sequel appears in the matrimonial notice in the Gazette of Friday last.’ (Geelong Advertiser, Vic, 23 Jul 1878, p.3) While the Belfast Gazette has not been digitized, I was able to use my genealogical sleuthing skills to work out who these people most probably were. 'J.A.' was likely John Abraham, born about 1843 at Langley in Essex, the son of Joseph Abraham and Martha Haggar who migrated to Portland, Victoria in 1851. John would have been about 35 when he placed the advertisement; I have been unable to discover anything more about him. His brother William was born in 1853 at Portland. He married Ada Fanny Palmer, the daughter of Francis Palmer and Fanny Sparks of Collingwood, on 11 July 1878 at Orford. Sadly Ada died just over a year later on 3 September 1879, three weeks short of her 19th birthday. It would appear that she died as a result of complication of childbirth, her infant child dying with her. William remarried in 1897 to Dorothea Frances Parkinson and died in 1933. I suppose this is a reminder that even behind lighthearted stories there are people with experiences that encompass the range of life's vicissitudes.

By the end of the 1870s newspapers were starting to have separate Matrimonial sections in their advertising pages. This time saw the rise, too, of matrimonial agencies, not quite as quickly here as in the United States or Britain. Many viewed them with suspicion.

This advertisement is perhaps a precursor to such agencies as the ‘widower without encumbrance’ (children?) has used a labour agency. WANTED to negotiate with a respectable Spinster, or widow without family, with a view to MARRIAGE with a Widower, aged 43, without encumbrance, residing in the New England district. A cheerful domesticated English Protestant, seeking a comfortable home, would find this an eligible opportunity. Apply, personally, at Glue’s Labour Agency, 176, Pitt-street. (Sydney Morning Herald, NSW, 5 Nov 1873, p.8)

Now who would not jump at such an opportunity?


All the advertisements and their images can be found using the invaluable Trove search portal of the National Library of Australia. [*]

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