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Business and Politics as Women’s Work:
The Australian Colonies and the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Women’s Movement

Female political activism and economic engagement in the Australian colonies are usually located within the last decades of the nineteenth century, yet a reexamination of the 1850s reveals that the twin issues of women’s political rights and activities within the public sphere were raised much earlier. This article shows that as the Australian colonies achieved self-government and manhood suffrage and experienced the upheaval of successive gold rushes around the Pacific, there were heated debates about women’s roles within the public sphere. Evidence drawn from the law, trade directories, passenger lists, newspapers, and contemporary fiction reveals the extent of both women’s work and the debate. The participation of women in business and the articulation of demands for political rights were part of a transnational midcentury phenomenon but had distinctive Australian qualities, preparing the ground for later suffrage success.

From July 1858 to January 1859, the reading public in Sydney and Melbourne was able to subscribe to The Spectator, which described itself as a Journal of Literature and Art for the Cultivation of the Memorable and the Beautiful. Edited by the enterprising but transient Cora Anna Weekes, who had arrived in Sydney after producing other short-lived journals in Texas and California, The Spectator presented its readers with a range of articles on gender relations and the status and condition of women. In the January 22, 1859 issue, for example, Weekes’s wide-ranging disquisition on the debate over “Woman’s Rights” and the contemporary movement “to remove certain social disabilities of Woman . . . and to enlarge the sphere of her activity and usefulness” hinged on the need for more “respectable employment for females.” “How many situations in life are open to industrious young women?” Weekes demanded, before going on to insist that “the Editor’s chair, and the lecturer’s desk” should be part of women’s “proper sphere.”1 While Weekes highlighted glamorous professions, her interventions drew connections between women’s rights and women’s work in a context where women were ubiquitous in everyday commerce. Short-lived as The Spectator was, its continued twice-monthly publication for six months was one element in the debates about gender roles that percolated throughout [End Page 84] the Australian colonies in the 1850s and after. These debates were related to questions of citizenship that were fundamental to the achievement of responsible government (self-government with bicameral legislatures) and were shaped by the contemporary international women’s movement.

Notwithstanding the transnational nature of this debate, it had specific inflections in the Australian colonies. Settlers were aware of the meetings, protests, and debate over women’s rights that had sprung up from the late 1840s in the United States and various places in Europe, not only because of new arrivals like Weekes but also because of coverage in the colonial press. Issues of political rights had special resonance in the Australian colonies in the 1840s and 1850s as the colonies gradually acquired democratic self-government in iterative steps. They moved from autocratic rule by London-appointed governors to increasing representation of propertied men in the 1840s and then fully fledged self-government within the British imperial system in most colonies by the mid-1850s, with manhood suffrage won in several colonies. As colonial men gained political status, the debate over women’s rights had immediate significance, especially the question of rights to suffrage and participation in the dramatically evolving parliamentary and municipal systems. At the same time, with the rapidly growing towns and the expanding albeit preindustrial economy, the gold rush that erupted in 1851 made women even more economically self-reliant than they had been, drawing attention to women’s productive work, not least their participation in business. The conjunction of debate about women’s political rights and legal and social issues surrounding their productive labor strengthened both the debate and women’s demands. Women’s calls for more rights stopped short of becoming an organized movement with membership-based societies, which would not come to fruition until the 1880s, but this midcentury ferment needs to be recognized as a precursor to Australian women’s early enfranchisement that began in 1894. The Australian colonies thus added to the international debate over women’s rights in the midcentury. The feminist novels of proportional representation activist Catherine Spence are examples of the colonies’ contribution, as they were published in Britain and focused on both women’s economic roles and political rights.

The British Parliament enacted constitutions for responsible government in the Australian colonies as follows: New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania in 1855; South Australia in 1856; and Queensland in 1859. While Western Australia did not have responsible government until 1890, this clustering of the achievement of self-government in the other colonies, with manhood suffrage also realized during these years in South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, represents a broad pattern of newly articulated gender roles in the 1850s. Reading across genres of sources, this article traces conceptions of gender linked to political citizenship around the time [End Page 85] of responsible government in the 1850s and demonstrates the significance of the changes and the debate among settler women and men. The introduction of representative and then responsible government into the Australian colonies brought democracy in a form that was both early and somewhat progressive by international standards, particularly in relation to manhood suffrage and the secret ballot. Like elsewhere in the world, however, it was a masculine preserve; the enfranchisement of men created a new division between the sexes. Most people assumed that men and women were different, in both abilities and moral natures. Yet some women in these years were active in public economic, intellectual, and cultural life, and there is ample evidence of the negotiation as well as articulation of gender difference during the period when Britain granted self-government to the colonies. And, just as Cora Anna Weekes drew attention to jobs available to women in The Spectator, this 1850s debate over women’s political rights was linked to their productive work.

A truism of women’s history has held that the middle of the nineteenth century saw a retreat of women into the home, as bourgeois ideas about gendered separate spheres proliferated in the Anglophone world. Within the context of the Australian colonies, historiographical orthodoxy has cast economic participation as a male prerogative and responsibility, with women valued for their reproductivity rather than their productivity.2 Several historians have suggested that marriage was the best, if not the only, option for women.3 Employment options for women were certainly limited in the colonies in the early and mid-nineteenth century. As convict transportation was ending, various schemes imported single women on free passages, initially to work as domestic servants but also in the hope that they would become wives for the disproportionately high number of single men in the Australian colonies. Once married, women became legal dependents responsible for hearth and home, colonial helpmeets in the private sphere.

At the core of the public/private sphere distinction was the idea of a male breadwinner. The 1907 Harvester Judgement, which first established a minimum wage in Australia and at once gendered it toward the male breadwinner, was the culmination of the growing influence of this idea.4 In the middle of the nineteenth century, the law of coverture enshrined the idea that a man was responsible for his wife and children. A husband controlled his wife’s property, including any wages she earned and profits she made. A wife could not make a contract or proceed in court independently of her husband. In return, a husband was responsible for his wife’s debts and her maintenance; she could run up debts in his name providing they were necessary for her support. [End Page 86]

Marriage for women did not, in fact, preclude moneymaking in the public sphere, in spite of domesticity rhetoric and legal restrictions. As the Australian historian Patricia Grimshaw points out, marriage was equally necessary for men in order to have a partner in economic enterprise as well as life.5 Some women used marriage as a springboard to opening their own businesses, supported by their husbands. Other women continued businesses they had run before marriage, their ownership of such perhaps part of their attraction as potential wife material.

Scholars have begun to recognize the participation of women in business in the nineteenth century in other parts of the Western world. As the historian Alastair Owens has noted, this scholarship challenges the earlier findings of Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, requiring a reconsideration of the lives of “middling women” in British and North American urban areas in the long nineteenth century.6 Scholars have offered various explanations and interpretations, including the way in which English coverture laws were manipulated or circumvented, the opportunities offered in specific areas by the development of industries, or the financial necessity of moneymaking for single women, who formed a significant proportion of the English population. The overwhelming impression, however, is one of variation in women’s experiences, suggesting a multiplicity of intersecting explanations. Importantly, scholars have recognized towns and cities as spaces in which public and private merged. Women exploited the boundaries of “feminine respectability” in the types and locations of their businesses.7 It is not surprising, therefore, to find this phenomenon repeated at the outposts of the British Empire—in Australia and New Zealand—where there was the added upheaval of the gold rushes in the middle of the century and, in Australia, the memory of additional freedoms offered to wives of convicts.8 The continuing notion that women were not part of the public economic sphere is perhaps testimony to the enduring power of the middle-class ideology of female domesticity. But, as the historian Joan Wallach Scott has pointed out in relation to the Western world, the “Victorian ideology of domesticity” was not “created whole” without dissension but was rather “the constant subject of great differences of opinion.”9

That there were irruptions of feminist thought and protest around 1850 in internationally scattered locations is a touchstone of women’s history. We have long known of the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, its “Declaration of Sentiments,” and the movement that it sparked.10 We have known too of Harriet Taylor Mill’s 1851 essay “The Enfranchisement of Women” and the London Langham Place Circle of education and reform-minded activist women in the 1850s and 1860s.11 The American historian Bonnie S. Anderson has demonstrated connections [End Page 87] between feminists in this period in France, the United States, Britain, and Germany, showing that their correspondence, shared readings, and political claims constituted what she calls the first international women’s movement.12 Britain’s white settler colonies, however, have not featured largely in the work on this topic. The major history of Australian feminism, Marilyn Lake’s Getting Equal, takes up its story in the 1880s.13 When historians have put Australian agitation into a mid-nineteenth-century frame, as in Richard Evans’s 1977 book The Feminists: Women’s Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia 1840–1920, they cast it as a sober moral reform movement rather than a political rights movement. Evans focuses on the female migration activist Caroline Chisholm’s midcentury work and then the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from the 1880s.14

There is, in fact, evidence of widespread debate about women’s political rights in the 1850s Australian colonies, a debate that women vociferously participated in and that in turn created a southern-hemisphere source for circulating feminist protest. Because of self-government and manhood suffrage, the Australian debate, moreover, linked women’s claims more directly to suffrage and citizenship than in most other countries at midcentury. By contrast, in Canada, where responsible government was achieved slightly earlier, some women had exercised the vote in Lower Canada earlier in the century but were explicitly excluded from suffrage in 1849.15 According to the Canadian scholar Cecilia Morgan, when the issue of women’s political rights appeared in the Upper Canadian press around 1850, it was in the form of lampooning women’s rights advocates south of the border, rather than an explicit discussion of Canadian women’s rights.16 In some ways, the Australian colonies had more in common with the American West, also a frontier area in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1869, Wyoming was the first territory or state to enfranchise women, followed in 1893 by Colorado and New Zealand and then South Australia in 1894. All four of these pioneers in women’s enfranchisement were frontier territories that were consolidating settlers’ hold on the land from indigenous people at the same time as articulating their own constitutions as part of federal (or imperial) systems; questions of women’s rights were connected to both processes.17

Public discussion about women’s rights was widespread in the Australian colonies in the 1850s. The colonial press endlessly discussed and defined the term universal suffrage as the struggle for representative and then responsible government played out. It was the topic of a debating society meeting in Melbourne in June 1842, where the Honorable Mr. Murray expressed his misgivings and questioned a speaker who advocated universal suffrage. “Did [the speaker] intend to include all, without even excepting women?” Mr. Murray asked.18 In Adelaide, in April 1851, at an election meeting, a Mr. Hagen dismissed the term universal suffrage as too broad: “The term [End Page 88] ‘universal suffrage’ in its most limited sense must include the wandering black natives; he thought no man could possibly think of giving them the franchise, though in saying this he did not mean to say that he would make colour of a man’s skin per se a test of political qualification. . . . [I]n the most extensive sense, universal suffrage . . . must include women and young children.”19 Despite such opposition, universal suffrage—meaning settler men only—was the consensus. No doubt, it was without conscious irony that the South Australian Register reported in September 1850 that “the local press to a man pronounced for universal suffrage.”20

Settlers around Australia debated gender differences and their import. For example, in 1853, the Swan River Mechanics’ Institute in Perth spent three nights debating the topic “whether Women do or would possess the same amount of Intellect as man if they had the same advantages,” concluding in the negative. The debaters contended that “women are incapable of equalling the man and taking the rules of Government into their own hands.” These men at the Mechanics’ Institute went so far as to say “Women have never had and never can have the same amount of Intellect and no one among us considers his wife is superior in Intellect to himself or superior in Governing powers.”21 As the authors of the pioneering feminist history Creating A Nation argue, this points to close contemporary connections between ideas of democracy and patriarchy.22 While this debate reached a highpoint in the 1850s, it had earlier roots; Kirsten McKenzie has written of colonial men “emphasizing a particular brand of masculinity” as they “sought to construct a society in which they had access to political rights” during the 1830s. The Australian historian Grace Karskens has commented similarly on the masculine nature of public political behavior among emancipists in the Sydney Rocks area in the early 1820s, noting that “women were largely absent from [the] embryonic stirrings of public life.”23 While men often translated their economic success into public political activity, businesswomen instead used their position to participate in charitable activities. Although they had no right to stand for public office or vote, women nevertheless often used charitable activities for political purposes—to campaign for better conditions for women and children, temperance, and eventually a political voice.24

In the 1850s, the debate ran hot. The Australian press featured articles concerning women’s political rights, their interest in politics, and the issue of whether they belonged in the private or public sphere. In 1857, the Tasmanian press reported local contention over a proposal to provide a public gallery for women to observe the legislative chambers and listen to political debate. One concerned commentator wrote to the editor of the Hobart Town Daily Courier on May 23, 1857, trying to convince women that they should not sit in the parliamentary gallery: “the wiser numbers of the fair sex must [End Page 89] by this time be satisfied that little enjoyment can be derived from listening to the debates of a colonial Parliament.” Parliamentary debate was too rough for women’s ears, this writer thought; even as listeners, women did not belong in the political realm, as he hoped to convince the newspaper’s “fair readers who are thoughtlessly inclined to indulge an unprofitable curiosity.”25 In August 1859, the Ipswich School of Arts in Queensland held a debate on the question “Would it be right to admit women to equal political privileges with the men?” A Mr. Cramp argued in favor of women’s rights, saying, “that woman is morally and intellectually capable of exercising the franchise, and taking a part in politics; that having been in all ages a conservator of peace, her influence would be beneficial. Good Queens, and women who had defended their country, proved their capability to govern.” Perhaps in reply to Mr. Violet, who “made a sensation by an unique [sic] speech against the ladies interfering in politics, based on Scripture,” Dr. Challinor argued that “Scripture had been misquoted,” and it did not contain anything “to discountenance the privilege of voting.” Moreover, he contended, “It is expedient for the country whose women are thoroughly versed in sound politics. Washington’s mother made him the defender of liberty. Women capable of conducting large businesses had a right to vote: nor has nature made such a difference as should bar their right to political privileges.”26 Although he did not win the day, Challinor’s highlighting of businesswomen indicates that the visibility and acceptance of women in the public economic sphere contributed directly and indirectly to calls for their political participation.

By the 1850s, some women were articulating their right to a voice in public affairs. A few women openly challenged the assumption that men were their intellectual superiors and urged women’s political involvement. The new emphasis on girls’ education and women’s literacy in the 1850s may have encouraged their outspokenness.27 Several letters published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1857 and 1858 expressed views of privileged women. A “Sarah Sands” argued against democracy for men on the basis that women of the upper classes would lose the little influence they had: “What! Is it not enough, that they should debar us from the franchise, but that they should also seek to deprive us of what little influence we have in the social scale?”28 Openly arguing for the privilege of “rank,” “Sarah Sands” called upon all women to oppose the Electoral Reform League because one of its leaders had criticized women who spent too much on finery: “I repudiate this League, and demand all of my sex to exert their influence to oppose it. It is antagonistic to us, its principals [sic] . . . are inimical to our interests and subversive of our influence.”29

In a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, an anonymous correspondent, who styled herself “H.,” accepted the rights of men to political [End Page 90] and social equality but asked that women be included: “Are there any valid reasons for refusing this privilege to women, who, but for their sex—the accident of birth—would, by the present laws, be entitled to it? I opine that numerous positive evils result to women, and through women to society at large, in consequence of that policy which restricts the franchise to male persons only; and that there are no objections to a more equitable distribution of civil rights, which will bear the test of calm, impartial, scrutiny. In the first place, Sir, it seems to me that this restrictive policy introduces a principle into our polity as, to my thinking, erroneous. It applies a physical condition as a test of moral fitness.”30 H. contended further that “the claims of women to participation in the elective franchise” were “a question deeply interesting to a large proportion of your readers, and one which will well bear ventilation just now.”31

These examples all show the extent that men and women discussed and debated issues of women’s exclusion from politics, their rights, and their roles in Australia around the 1850s. In the 1860s and 1870s, the issue continued to percolate, if at a slightly lower temperature, with articles and letters on women’s political rights appearing in newspapers ranging from the Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser in June 1861 to the Launceston Examiner in June 1867 and The Queenslander in April 1871, among others.32 Not surprisingly, there was a spike of interest in the issue in the colonial press in 1866 and 1867, with the passage of the British Reform Act, which enfranchised artisanal men, and John Stuart Mill’s championing of the issue of women’s suffrage in the House of Commons.33

As the American scholar Mary P. Ryan has shown of the evolving public sphere in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, women inserted themselves into public life and political debate in various ways despite their overt political exclusion.34 While the public sphere in the Australian colonies was different from that of the United States for a range of historically specific reasons—not least Australia’s much later beginning, its continuing ties to Britain, and the primacy of the debate over slavery in the United States—in both parts of the settler-colonial world the public sphere was changing. The active engagement of some women within it was one of the forces driving change. Despite their exclusion from the franchise as it was forged in the 1850s, women expressed their political views in a variety of ways. In Melbourne in February 1851, a meeting of the Australasian League against convict transportation drew a crowd of nearly two hundred, of whom “a very large proportion belonged to the fairer portion of the creation.” Mrs. Dalgarno used the occasion not only to expound her anti-transportation views but also to advocate the inclusion of women in local government: “She had heard of things going wrong in the City Council, and she did not at all wonder at it. Let them only try as a remedy, appointing half their [End Page 91] Councillors from the women, and she was sure this would cure it.”35 The historian Clare Wright argues that women were integral, outspoken, and bold participants in the political disturbances on the Ballarat goldfields in 1854, actively stirring popular democratic opinion in the turbulent protests leading up to the Eureka Stockade.36

This activism, according to Wright, was not limited to the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s but was sufficiently widespread and had such impact that it needs to be recognized as an early short-lived moment when women demanded emancipation. Women’s calls for political rights had become such a prominent part of public discourse in Victoria from 1853 to 1854 that they became the subject of satire. In 1854, the journalist and comic playwright William Akhurst wrote a farce called “Rights of Woman,” which was staged in Melbourne. A major protagonist in the play was “a strong-minded lady who is a Pupil of the New Age and a firm supporter of the Rights of Woman,” and the play further boasted a song titled “Woman’s Rights.”37

Political activism among women on the goldfields should not be surprising. In spite of being seen as an overwhelmingly masculine space, there was a visible female presence on the goldfields, and women were equally invested in the success of gold mining and other moneymaking ventures. Not merely onlookers, they were as determinedly entrepreneurial as men. This correspondence on the goldfields between the visibility of women in business and their participation in public political debate was less apparent elsewhere, perhaps because the issues that were at the center of political debate on the goldfields were economic and directly affected working men and women, whereas in the city, the issues appeared less pressing. Astute observer S. T. Gill’s well-known illustrations show women working gold claims alongside men.38 Women like Eliza Perrin, who had an unhelpfully intemperate and never-present husband, started businesses. Perrin was a refreshment-house and store proprietor. On a recent blog, the Ballarat Gold Museum described her as an “ordinary woman of the goldfields” (emphasis added), heralding a new recognition within public history and heritage circles of women’s varied roles in the gold rush era.39 After all, as Perrin’s contemporary, Martha Clendinning, a doctor’s wife and shopkeeper, commented, among the lower classes on the 1850s’ Victorian goldfields, “all species of employment for women seemed perfectly natural if they could carry it on with success.”40

Recent research has shown that, far from retreating from the public economic sphere in the middle of the nineteenth century, women in the Australian colonies remained active within it.41 In 1858, a stroll down Pitt Street, one of the busiest commercial streets in Sydney, revealed large numbers of busy businesswomen—from milliners and dressmakers, boarding [End Page 92] house keepers and publicans to grocers, prostitutes, basket makers, and midwives. This is quite apart from the women who actually operated the drapery stores nominally owned by their husbands. “William Robson, milliner,” for example, was actually his wife Mary Ann, who had been running her business on Pitt Street since the 1840s as a single woman.42 While signage and trade directory entries sometimes obscured the female management of these businesses, contemporaries, who read their advertisements in newspapers and contracted business with them on a daily basis, knew the truth.43 It is therefore difficult to know just how many women were in business. Although not a majority of the female population, they were nevertheless a very visible minority.44

Members of the upper-middle classes in the Australian colonies promoted the idea that women should be restricted to the domestic sphere. This was not always practicable for those further down the social scale. Many women needed to support themselves and their families. A stable and prosperous society based around the family unit with a male breadwinner at its head might have been the ideal, but mortality, desertion, and circumstance often made this model untenable. In addition, even when a family could boast a male “breadwinner,” the labor of other members was also crucial. Women were not only particularly visible in the public sphere as businesswomen, playing active roles in the colonial economy, but were also respected and respectable in those roles. One contemporary observer described Jane Craddock, a boarding house keeper and servants’ registry office proprietor, as “a respectable and obliging woman in her business.”45 The observer compared her to her “drunken and rowdy” husband, who was less gainfully employed, and it is significant that Mrs. Craddock’s respectability was tied directly to her business activities rather than those within the domestic sphere, an attitude also noted elsewhere in the English-speaking world.46 In addition, it could be argued, as Henry Challinor did in 1859 Queensland, that these women had earned the right to participate in public decision making, in which they had a vested interest as business owners.

A woman’s responsibilities, therefore, included the support of herself and her children when necessary. This occurred, most obviously, through widowhood, a common predicament and one potentially fraught with economic hardship in a world in which social welfare was nonexistent and the poor relied on the enthusiasm of private charitable organizations and individuals. The creeping erosion of dower rights in the face of a privileging of clear land titles and ease of property transfer meant that widows had to find alternative means of support.47 A widow was no longer entitled to a proportion of her late husband’s estate by right. Family property was often tied up in trust for children or passed directly to them, leaving a widow dependent upon the good will of her offspring or her husband’s trustees [End Page 93] or executors. Many widows did not have the option of relying on grown children or inherited wealth or of continuing a family business. Paid employment was often not possible because, like many married women, widows often had childcare responsibilities. Neither were female wage rates based upon the idea that the woman earning them was responsible for her own support, let alone that of a family.

The Australian public recognized widows’ importance as family breadwinners. Friendly societies provided some relief for widows of members, and life insurance was growing in popularity. When William Sellers drowned in 1848, he left a widow and three children under six years of age. During the ensuing public appeal for assistance for his widow, one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald took the opportunity to remind male readers of the importance of insuring their lives for the benefit of their families.48 Three years later, a correspondent to the South Australian Register similarly expounded the virtues of life insurance, in particular noting that “The sum of £100 obtained at so trifling a sacrifice [9d a week] would enable a widow to set up some little business, and then support herself and her family.”49

The frequent advertisements asking for charitable assistance for a newly widowed mother with young children were often to assist the woman in establishing a business to support her children. When Alexander Still of the commissariat in Sydney died in debtors’ prison in 1830, he left his wife with five young children. Government officials promised assistance only if she removed herself and her children to England. A much-vexed observer wrote to the Australian suggesting that Mrs. Still “possesses sufficient firmness of mind and judgment to choose which country she and her offspring may retire to” and sought public assistance so that she could remain. Importantly, the writer emphasized that such assistance, “coupled with the exertions of the widow herself, which she may be capable of making, would secure Mrs S. and family from . . . less distress . . . than to be dependent . . . on the charity of ‘friends.’” Frances Still lived up to her part of the bargain by establishing a boarding house.50

Society continued to expect widows to take responsibility and be self-reliant. In 1852, the South Australian Register published an appeal to the residents of Adelaide to give money so that the widow of Captain Kydd of the Metropolitan Police was “able to commence a business likely to provide a decent maintenance for her family” of four children.51 Some widows were fortunate to inherit businesses from their husbands. In 1844, Mary Ann Burdekin was widowed in her early forties with five young children. She quickly stepped into her late husband’s shoes, and although she had the assistance of trustees, much of the business correspondence was in her own hand. Indeed, her brother recognized her ability, albeit somewhat [End Page 94] condescendingly, even before her husband’s death, writing that he was “well aware that you know a little of business.”52

Widows clearly faced difficulties providing for their families because of changes in dower laws, numbers of small children, and limited employment opportunities, but establishing a business was a respectable and often viable option, one that the public encouraged and supported. More problematic was the position of wives whose husbands had deserted them, whether permanently, by an unwilling spouse, or temporarily, by one struck with gold fever. In either case, as a married woman, a deserted wife was subject to the law of coverture. While this meant that she could run up debts in the name of her absent husband, collecting those debts was difficult, and creditors could be understandably reluctant to give credit to a deserted wife. Running a business was even more fraught, as a married businesswoman could not pursue a debtor through the courts without her husband present. In addition, an errant husband or his creditors could turn up at any time and claim any money or property the wife had earned, as in law it belonged to the husband.

Wife desertion was not a new phenomenon, but it became particularly acute and visible during the 1850s and 1860s, the era of successive gold rushes around the Pacific. The Australian historian Christina Twomey’s investigation of deserted wives in Victoria highlights the influence of gold rushes in California; Victoria; and Otago, New Zealand, in contemporary public debates.53 In New South Wales, Sydney men were among the “forty-niners” who flocked to San Francisco in 1849 after the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Discussion in Sydney not only deplored the loss of labor but also lamented the distress suffered by families left behind—or rather, the burden that distress might potentially place on the government and charitable institutions.54

The departure to San Francisco of the licensees of several hotels in Sydney in 1849 was initially of little concern to twelve of their wives, who carried on the business of the hotels as usual. Although as married women they were not the official licensees, some had previously held hotel licenses as widows and were experienced publicans. For these twelve pub-keeping women with sixty dependent children between them, problems arose in the middle of 1850, when it was time to renew the hotel licenses. Licensees were required to be present before the licensing committee, which was clearly impossible for gold-seeking husbands in California. The women won the support of George Robert (Bob) Nichols, a lawyer, member of the Legislative Council, and advocate of state relief for the underprivileged.55 Nichols represented them in the licensing court using a variety of creative arguments to try to ensure that these women could continue in business rather than being forced out onto the street. [End Page 95]

His efforts in court failed, so Nichols made it a political issue. He presented a petition from the affected women to the Legislative Council in June 1850. He followed it up by introducing a Publicans’ Act Amendment Bill, which would allow women whose husbands had disappeared to California to hold publicans’ licenses in their own names temporarily. He received little support, partly because of concerns that coverture laws would protect married female publicans if they went into debt but primarily because parliamentarians were reluctant to be seen encouraging emigration to California by “offering a premium to persons who left their families destitute in this colony.”56

The issue of licensing married women dropped off the radar until the late 1860s. The companion issue of how deserted wives and children were to support themselves did not. Although the 1840 Act to Provide for the Maintenance of Deserted Wives and Children allowed women to claim support from a departed husband, the level of that support and the way it was to be enforced was unclear. And, importantly for a businesswoman, an errant husband or his creditors could claim any profits she made during his absence, leaving her and her children destitute. Neither could she act in court to chase debtors because she was legally a feme covert. Only with the cooperation and permission of her absent husband could she apply to be treated as a feme sole in business.57 In 1858, an amendment to the act allowed deserted wives to protect their earnings and apply to the court on their own to do so. While this was a clear recognition of women’s economic responsibilities in the absence of husbands, there was never any suggestion that married women cohabiting with their husbands should have control over their money or any independent legal standing in court.58 Throughout the Australasian colonies and the rest of the Anglophone world, similar legislation was being enacted, ranging from assistance for deserted wives to provision for divorce. In New South Wales, as elsewhere, this legislation recognized the presence of women active and visible in the world of business.59 These legislative responses to the deserted wives issue go to the heart of discussions about appropriate public roles for women. In the Australasian colonies, businessmen found themselves in government, and their citizenship was linked to economic participation. The legislation passed in the 1850s represented an acknowledgement that women had a place in the public commercial arena. Women who were busy running businesses were not necessarily those who called for political emancipation; they hardly had time, but nor were they generally of a social class whose voice might be heard and taken seriously in the world of masculine politics. Feminist commentators nevertheless highlighted their presence in the public sphere as a sign of female responsibility and investment in the colonies’ progress, and their presence gave considerable weight to suffragists’ arguments. [End Page 96]

One such feminist was Catherine Helen Spence in Adelaide. Her novels vividly portrayed limitations on women’s employment and rights. In 1894, South Australia became the first Australian colony to give women the vote, partly because of its progressive Liberals but also because of its organized women’s movement, a movement whose genealogy stretched back to mid-century. Catherine Helen Spence was a pioneering reformer whose feminist thought and advocacy of proportional representation transcended South Australia and had international impact. Spence had arrived in Adelaide in 1839, when she was thirteen and the colony just three years old, as a migrant from Scotland with her family. As the Australian feminist scholar Susan Magarey has argued, Spence’s writings of the 1850s and early 1860s show the first formulations of what would later become her public activism for electoral reform and women’s voting rights. In her novels, not least those from this period, Magarey argues, “Spence challenged the patriarchal dominance of Australian culture” with her “rebel” heroines, her focus on the financial bases of women’s lives, and her female characters’ engagement with public culture and political issues.60

Spence spurred the debate about women’s issues through her novels, including Clara Morison (1854) and Mr. Hogarth’s Will (1865). Like Weekes, Spence deplored women’s exclusion from professions, including banking and editing, but her characters represented women’s mundane laboring jobs and their entrepreneurship in commerce, including inn- and shopkeeping. Spence wrote Clara Morison to prove that women emigrating from Britain to Australia were not just destined to be wives but could be useful in other roles. Clara Morison is a genteel young Scottish woman, who is orphaned and compelled by her uncle to migrate to Adelaide. Despite family expectations that Morison will land a job as a governess, soon after arrival, she has no choice but to work as a servant. She endures both menial work and servile status but manages to maintain her dignity and self-respect. She stumbles on a family of her cousins whose hospitality rescues her from domestic service and, in the end, is rewarded with a happy marriage to a successful pastoralist in the midnorth. Morison herself is not an activist, but she is literary, holds firm opinions, and shows a consciousness of women’s subordination, including penning a feminist poem. Another character is Margaret Elliot, an alter ego for Spence, who refuses to marry despite two offers; is independent, knowledgeable, and opinionated; runs her family’s household; and criticizes social attitudes toward spinsters. Adelaide society regards Elliot as a bluestocking due to her intellectual abilities and pursuits: “She studied mathematics with George and law with Gilbert; she read the driest books, and made extracts from them in an old ledger. . . . She read all the newspapers she could get hold of, and was as well acquainted with current history as with Magnall’s Questions.”61 Not only educated and intelligent, [End Page 97] Margaret Elliot was passionately interested in politics: “Margaret’s [letter to Clara] was filled with politics; she told Clara what Council ought to do during the session, but what they would not do, and gave her own ideas of what would actually be done; quoted some speeches in Parliament on colonial questions, and enlarged on the ignorance of the British public with regard to their dependencies; deprecated the policy of the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land in writing home for more convicts, and hoped that the Home Government would not consent to such a suicidal request.”62 Clara Morrison suggests that women play crucial social roles and questions their exclusion from the public world.63

Mr. Hogarth’s Will was first published in installments in 1864, then as a novel in 1865. Spence set it in the late 1850s and early 1860s and directly tackled the question of women’s ability to make a living, the limited options open to them, and the relative advantages of these options. It is a protest against women’s exclusion from the professions and respectable, well-paid jobs. The central character, Jane Melville, was well educated in Scotland and wants to have a career in such fields as banking or publishing, but men will not employ her. She finds a job as a governess and housekeeper, migrates to Australia, and then marries, but after marriage she still seeks to play a role in the wider world. The novel deals with politics and electoral reform, explicitly advocating women’s right to the vote.64

There were particular reasons why the early 1850s were a moment when some Australian women were able to exert greater independence. In Clara Morison, Spence documented the effects of the “gold-fever” exodus to Victoria from Adelaide by Christmas 1852: “The clerks out of employment, supernumerary shopmen, failing tradesmen, parasol-menders, and piano-tuners, went first, but now everyone is going, without regard to circumstances or families. . . . Our butcher’s man has dwindled into a small boy, who tells us he’s the only man in the shop. Our baker drives his own cart, and you see women driving about quite independently now.”65 The 1852 effects of the Victorian gold rush on Adelaide were like those of the Californian gold rush felt by Sydneysiders in 1850; one of those effects was an expansion of women’s roles in business. When Clara Morison first arrives in Adelaide and is looking for lodgings, a Mr. Campbell advises her to go to Mrs. Handy’s boarding house: “Mrs. Handy’s house was thought very well conducted; . . . Mr. Handy had gone to California on a gold-hunting expedition, and though he had been gone more than a year, did not speak of coming back soon; but . . . in his absence, the boarding-house was very creditably managed by Mrs. Handy.”66 Much later, Mr. Handy finally returns from the Victorian goldfields, where he went after his failure in California, and lavishly throws around his new cash. Even then, “Mrs Handy was still doing her best to keep her boarders together, for she saw that her husband’s [End Page 98] habits of steady industry were completely broken up, and that she must depend hence-forward on her own exertions.”67 The relative absence of men from urban areas for a period in the early 1850s may have prepared the ground for the gender debates of the mid-1850s.

But settlers in the Australian colonies were well aware of the emergence of women’s rights groups in Britain and the United States around 1850. A colonial man visiting London sent a report on changes there back to the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1851, complaining of new attitudes among women, not least their presence in his club. He described his astonishment and disapproval at finding that “numbers of elegantly dressed women, were lounging luxuriously in easy chairs, in their especial drawing room, evidently as much at home at their club, as my wife was in her own house, and amongst her children.”68 In April 1851, the South Australian Register reported on “a Woman’s Rights Convention . . . held at Worcester, Massachusetts.” As the paper reported, resolutions passed at that convention included “‘that women are clearly entitled to the right of suffrage, and to be considered eligible to office.’ . . . ‘That as . . . women alone can learn by experience, and prove by works, what is their rightful sphere of duties, we recommend as next steps, that they should demand a co-equal share in the formation and administration of Laws—Municipal, State, and Nation—through Legislative Assemblies, Courts, and Executive offices.’”69 In February 1857, the Hobart Town Mercury reported on the “Women’s Rights Convention,” recently held in New York and presided over by Lucy Stone, which resolved, among other items, that “the main power of the woman’s right movement lies in this—that whilst always demanding for woman better education, better employment, and better laws, it has always kept steadily in view the one cardinal demand for the right of suffrage, asking in a democracy the symbol and the guarantee of all other rights.”70 In July 1858, the South Australian Advertiser noted, “Should the ladies of South Australia take it into their heads to demand such an alteration in the Electoral Act as will confer upon them the right of voting for representatives in Parliament, it may be well for them to know that their claims are not without precedent . . . that women formerly possessed, and at various times exercised, the elective franchise in the State of New Jersey. . . . In the Presidential contest of 1800 there were many instances of their voting in different parts of the State.”71 Such interest in women’s voting rights elsewhere occurred in the context of the constant parsing of the term universal suffrage, a low-level and often mocking refrain about whether it should include women and others.

In the 1850s, moreover, anomalies emerged in relation to women’s ability to vote in municipal elections in various parts of the Australian colonies. In Tasmania in 1857, the municipal franchise for rural districts was explicitly limited to men, whereas for Hobart and Launceston, it was not. [End Page 99] The 1858 New South Wales Act specified the municipal franchise referred to “ratepayers” without explicitly saying male ratepayers only, so some women did vote in subsequent elections, including Elizabeth Cadman in the 1859 Waverley Council elections in Sydney.72 And it is important to note that Cadman’s business success allowed her to buy property and earn that political status—and her acumen led her to use it. In 1861 in South Australia, the Municipal Corporations Act gave the local council vote to “every person of full age” owning or renting any property as long as they had not received public relief and had paid their rates.73 In Victoria in 1863, the ambiguous wording of the Municipalities Amendment Bill was openly discussed. The colonial government amended it with the result that women could not become councilors or mayors but could clearly vote in municipal elections. Because the municipal rolls were used as the basis for parliamentary electoral rolls, some women then voted in the 1864 Victorian parliamentary elections. In 1865, the Victorian Parliament acted to prevent women from doing so again by amending the electoral law to stipulate that only “male persons” enrolled as ratepayers could have parliamentary franchise.74 Despite the ambiguities, debates, and backfilling, some women in various colonies in the 1850s and 1860s had the experience of voting, and some continued to enjoy municipal franchise. In this area, women in the Australian colonies were a little ahead of their metropolitan counterparts. In Britain, Parliament established women’s right to vote in local government elections with a legislative amendment in 1869. In 1872, however, the courts limited this right to unmarried women ratepayers.75

The debate over women’s political rights and roles that was part of colonial public life in the 1850s was a direct product of the campaigns for and achievement of responsible government in the context of a society where women’s public face in business was visible and accepted. As settler men were enfranchised and gained political authority, the question of women’s simultaneous exclusion from political rights became a contentious issue, particularly when they were so much a part of the public economic sphere with recognized responsibilities for the support of their families. It was one component of the transnational debate over women’s political and legal rights that had erupted in places from London to Paris and Seneca Falls, New York, from the 1840s, but it was at once inflected with meanings specific to Australian colonial circumstances. Women’s pervasive economic participation, encouraged by gold rush conditions, added particular colonial dimensions to ideas of women’s capabilities and their demands for political inclusion and further access to employment. The debate and demands raised in the Australian colonies joined the transnational clamor, adding a southern-hemisphere source as well as volume and momentum to women’s midcentury movement, a rights-focused movement that, in Australia at [End Page 100] least, scholars often gloss over in assumptions that “First Wave Feminism” proper started later.

Catherine Bishop

CATHERINE BISHOP is a historian at Australian Catholic University and the University of Sydney. She is the author of a number of articles as well as Minding Her Own Business: Businesswomen in Colonial Sydney (NewSouth Publishing, 2015). Her other research interests include twentieth-century international businesswomen’s organizations, post-World War II world youth forums, and women missionaries.

Angela Woollacott

ANGELA WOOLLACOTT is the Manning Clark professor of history at the Australian National University and is currently president of the Australian Historical Association. Her research has been in the fields of gender and war, modern British and British Empire history, Australian history, whiteness, gender and modernity, settler colonialism, and transnational biography. Woollacott’s monographs include On Her Their Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War (University of California Press, 1994); To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2001); Gender and Empire (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); and Race and the Modern Exotic: Three “Australian” Women on Global Display (Monash University Publishing, 2011). She is the series editor for the high school textbooks History for the Australian Curriculum (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Her most recent book is Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture (Oxford University Press, 2015).


1. The Spectator, January 22, 1859, 1–3.

2. Katrina Alford, Production or Reproduction?: An Economic History of Women in Australia, 1788–1850 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1984).

3. See, for example, Kirsten McKenzie, “Of Convicts and Capitalists: Honour and Colonial Commerce in 1830s Capetown and Sydney,” Australian Historical Studies 33, no. 118 (2008): 199–222, 215.

4. See Desley Deacon, “Political Arithmetic: The Nineteenth-Century Australian Census and the Construction of the Dependent Woman,” Signs 11, no. 1 (1985): 27–47 and Katrina Alford, “Colonial Women’s Employment as Seen by Nineteenth-Century Statisticians and Twentieth-Century Economic Historians,” Labour History 51 (1986): 1–10.

5. Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath, and Marian Quartly, eds., Creating a Nation (Ringwood, Victoria: McPhee Gribble, 1994), 104; Norma Grieve and Patricia Grimshaw, eds., Australian Women Feminist Perspectives (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1981); and Norma Grieve and Ailsa Burns, eds., Australian Women New Feminist Perspectives (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1986).

6. Alastair Owens, “A Hidden Investment? Women and Business in England, c. 1750–1900,” Publications, http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/staff/owensa.html, an English-language version of “Una inverió oculta? Dones i empresa a Anglaterra, 1750–1900,” Recerques: Historia, economía y cultura 56 (2008): 61–89; Susan Ingalls Lewis, Unexceptional Women: Female Proprietors in Mid-Nineteenth Century Albany, New York, 1830–1885 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2009); Wendy Gamber, The Female Economy: The Millinery and Dressmaking Trades, 1860–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997) and The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); Sylvia D. Hoffert, “Female Self-Making in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 3 (2008): 34–59; Nicola Phillips, Women in Business, 1700–1850 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2006); Anne Laurence, Josephine Maltby, and Janette Rutherford, eds., Women and Their Money, 1700–1950: Essays on Women and Finance (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2009); Alison Kay, The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home, and Household in London c. 1800–1870 (London: Routledge, 2009); Robert Beachy, Beatrice Craig, and Alastair Owens, eds., Women, Business, and Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Rethinking Separate Spheres (Oxford: Berg, 2006); Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, “The Economic Role of Middle-Class Women in Victorian Glasgow,” Women’s History Review 9, no. 4 (2000): 791–814; Edith Sparks, Capital Intentions: Female Proprietors in San Francisco (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); and Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London: Routledge, 2002). [End Page 101]

7. See Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets, and Images in Nineteenth-Century London (London: Yale University Press, 2000), 62–74.

8. See Stephanie Wyse, “Gender, Wealth, and Margins of Empire: Women’s Economic Opportunity in New Zealand Cities, c. 1890–1950” (PhD diss., King’s College, London, 2008) although she focuses primarily on the twentieth century and Heidi Whiteside, “‘We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttleton, 1851–1893” (PhD diss., University of Canterbury, 2007).

9. Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 43.

10. Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience: A Concise History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 133–37.

11. Harriet Taylor Mill’s essay was published in the Westminster Review in 1851. For Langham Place Circle, see Philippa Levine, Feminist Lives in Victorian England: Private Roles and Public Commitment (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 28.

12. Bonnie S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement 1830–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

13. Marilyn Lake, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999).

14. Evans describes Australian feminism of the nineteenth century as part of the struggle of the “urban middle classes to impose their values and ideals on the men of the outback and the labourers of the new cities.” Richard J. Evans, The Feminists: Women’s Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840–1920 (London: Croom Helm, 1977), 59–61.

15. Bettina Bradbury, Wife to Widow: Lives, Laws, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Montreal (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2011), chap. 9.

16. Cecilia Morgan, Public Men and Virtuous Women: The Gendered Languages of Religion and Politics in Upper Canada, 1791–1850 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 212–13.

17. Patricia Grimshaw, “Reading the Silences: Suffrage Activists and Race in Nineteenth Century Settler Societies,” in Citizenship, Women, and Social Justice: International Historical Perspectives, eds. Joy Damousi and Katherine Ellinghaus (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999), 30–42.

18. “Port Phillip. Debating Society—Universal Suffrage,” Australasian Chronicle, June 14, 1842, 2.

19. The South Australian Register (SAR), April 28, 1851, 2.

20. Ibid., September 26, 1850, 2.

21. Marian Aveling, ed., Westralian Voices: Documents in Westralian Social History (Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1979), 284–87, quoted in Grimshaw et al., Creating a Nation, 102, 104–5. [End Page 102]

22. Ibid.

23. Grace Karskens, The Rocks: Life in Early Sydney (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1997), 233 and McKenzie, “Of Convicts and Capitalists,” 200.

24. This is well documented by historians. See, for example, Grimshaw et al., Creating a Nation.

25. “Admission of Females to Parliamentary Debates,” Hobart Town Daily Courier, May 26, 1857, 3.

26. Others argued the opposite side. For example, see The Moreton Bay Courier, August 10, 1859, 2 and August 13, 1859, 2.

27. Alan Atkinson, Camden: Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008), 280–82.

28. Sarah Sands, Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), August 13, 1857, quoted in The Push from the Bush: A Bulletin of Social History, no. 25 (October 1987), 54. Sarah Sands was a pseudonym, possibly taken from the name of a contemporary ship.

29. Ibid.

30. H., Letter to the editor, SMH, July 2, 1858, 5.

31. Ibid.

32. “Who Should Elect Members of Parliament,” Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser, June 27, 1861, 4 (reprinted from the Illawarra Mercury); “Female Suffrage,” Launceston Examiner, June 8, 1867, 6; and “Female Suffrage,” The Queenslander, April 22, 1871, 2.

33. For example, “The Debate on Female Suffrage,” SMH, July 29, 1867, 3. John Stuart Mill published The Subjection of Women in 1869.

34. Mary P. Ryan, Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825–1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).

35. “Tea Meeting,” The Argus (Melbourne), February 15, 1851, 4.

36. Clare Wright, “‘New Brooms They Say Sweep Clean’: Women’s Political Activism on the Ballarat Goldfields, 1854,” Australian Historical Studies 39, no. 3 (2008): 305–21. See also Clare Wright, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2013).

37. Clare Wright, “Golden Opportunities: The Early Origins of Women’s Suffrage in Victoria,” Victorian Historical Journal 79, no. 2 (2008): 210–23, 215.

38. For example, lithograph print by Samuel Thomas Gill, Zealous Gold Diggers, Bendigo, July 1st, ’52 (Melbourne: Macartney & Galbraith, 1852), NK586/10, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia. [End Page 103]

39. Claire Muir, “Eliza Perrin: An ‘Ordinary’ Woman of the Goldfields,” Gold Museum, Ballarat—showcasing Ballarat’s history (blog), February 8, 2013, http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/eliza-perrin-an-ordinary-woman-of-the-goldfields/.

40. Margaret Anderson, “Mrs Charles Clacy, Lola Montez, and Poll the Grogseller: Glimpses of Women on the Early Victorian Goldfields,” in Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia, eds. Iain McCalman, Alexander Cook, and Andrew Reeves (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 225–49, 237.

41. Catherine Bishop, Minding Her Own Business: Colonial Businesswomen in Sydney (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2015) and “Commerce was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington” (PhD diss., Australian National University, 2012).

42. SMH, May 12, 1849, 3; February 12, 1853, 1; November 7, 1854, 1; and Francis Low, Low’s Directory of the City and District of Sydney for 1847 (Sydney: Alonzo Grocott, 1847).

43. Catherine Bishop, “A Virtual Walk Down Pitt Street in 1858,” in Labour History and Its People: Twelfth Biennial Labour History Conference, ed. Melanie Nolan (Canberra: Australian National University, 2011), 116–43.

44. The difficulty of determining exact numbers of businesswomen is discussed in detail in Bishop, “Commerce was a Woman,” chap. 1 and 2.

45. SMH, June 1, 1843, 3; June 9, 1864, 8; June 10, 1864, 1; January 6, 1869, 1; February 22, 1871, 8; and George Boyle White, “Diary,” 21 May 1875, transcribed by Jenny McCarthy and Les Dalton, CY4700, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (hereafter cited as SLNSW).

46. George Boyle White, “Diary,” 21 May 1875, transcribed by Jenny McCarthy and Les Dalton, CY4700, SLNSW. See, for example, Peter Baskerville, A Silent Revolution? Gender and Wealth in English Canada, 1860–1930 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 191.

47. For the erosion of dower rights, see Nancy E. Wright and A. R. Buck, “The Transformation of Colonial Property: A Study of the Law of Dower in New South Wales, 1836 to 1863,” University of Tasmania Law Review 23, no. 1 (2004): 97–127.

48. SMH, July 14, 1848, 2.

49. SAR, May 29, 1851, 3.

50. The Australian, March 10, 1830, 3; March 17, 1830, 2; March 31, 1830, 2; and Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, October 19, 1831, 4.

51. SAR, December 24, 1852, 4.

52. John Bossley to Mary Ann Burdekin, 7 August 1843, Burdekin Family Papers, MLMSS 147 90/1, SLNSW.

53. Christina Twomey, Deserted and Destitute: Motherhood, Wife Desertion, and Colonial Welfare (Kew, Victoria: Australian Scholarly Press, 2002). [End Page 104]

54. SMH, June 19, 1849, 3.

55. G. P. Walsh, “Nichols, George Robert (Bob) (1809–1857),” National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nichols-george-robert-bob-4296/text6957. See SMH, September 22, 1849, 3; May 6, 1850, 2; August 28, 1850, 2; and March 24, 1851, 2.

56. SMH, June 8, 1850, 4.

57. An Act to Provide for the Maintenance of Deserted Wives and Children, New South Wales, 21 July 1840, http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/search/sessional. This issue is discussed in more detail in Catherine Bishop, “When Your Money is Not Your Own: Coverture and Married Women in Business in Colonial New South Wales,” Law and History Review 33, no. 1 (2015): 181–200.

58. An Act to Amend the Act for the Maintenance of Deserted Wives and Children, New South Wales, 25 August 1858, http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/search/sessional. The 1857 Australian Mutual Provident Society Incorporation Act protected women’s policies from their husbands. See SMH, October 26, 1850, 6 and March 5, 1857, 2. For debates about the new legislation, see Bishop, “When Your Money is Not Your Own,” 181–200; SMH, June 23, 1858, 4; June 26, 1858, 5; July 31, 1858, 5; and “Register of Orders under the Deserted Wives Act,” 1858–1948 (Sydney: State Records of New South Wales), 13476.

59. See Catherine Bishop, “When Your Money is Not Your Own” and Hilary Golder, Divorce in Nineteenth Century New South Wales (Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1985), chap. 2.

60. Susan Magarey, Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A Biography of Catherine Helen Spence (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1985), 66, 71.

61. Mangnall’s Questions was a widely used school text associated with a well-known Yorkshire girls’ school. Catherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison (Adelaide: Rigby, 1971), 160, first published 1854 by John W. Parker and Son.

62. Spence, Clara Morison, 343.

63. Jennifer Rutherford suggests that Clara Morison is “an exemplary novel of a pioneering feminism.” Jennifer Rutherford, The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan, and the White Australian Fantasy (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2000), 39.

64. Catherine Helen Spence, Mr. Hogarth’s Will (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, 1988), 274–75, first published 1865 by Richard Bentley.

65. Spence, Clara Morison, 170, 172.

66. Ibid., 22.

67. Ibid., 383.

68. “Contributions from Home,” SMH, January 4, 1851, 4.

69. SAR, April 25, 1851, 2. [End Page 105]

70. “Women’s Rights Convention,” The Hobart Town Mercury, February 25, 1857, 3.

71. SAR, July 13, 1858, 3.

72. F. A. Larcombe, The Origin of Local Government in New South Wales, vol. 2 (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1976), 152; and J. Selkirk Provis and Keith A. Johnson, Cadman’s Cottage: The Life and Times of John Cadman in Colonial Sydney, 1798–1848 (Sydney: J. S. Provis & K. A. Johnson, 1972), 120.

73. An Act to Consolidate and Amend Laws Relating to the Corporation of the City of Adelaide and to Enable Towns and Places within the Province of South Australia to be Incorporated under Provisions thereof, Proceedings of the Parliament of South Australia (Adelaide: Government Printer, 1861), clauses 11, 14.

74. See “Debate on Municipalities Amendment Bill 1863,” Victorian Parliamentary Debates, vol. 9; “Debate on the Electoral Law Consolidation Bill 1865,” Victorian Parliamentary Debates, vol. 11; and Audrey Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia: A Gift or a Struggle? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 132.

75. Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 7. [End Page 106]