‘WANTED a BOY to make himself generally useful.’

In the 19th century the front page of newspapers was not the place for lurid headlines and large photographs designed to catch the eye. It was a serious place where births, marriages and deaths were announced; timetables for ferries listed; ‘superior’ accommodation, government tenders and everything from grain, newly milled flour and candles to ladies’ hats, artificial teeth and whisky newly imported from Scotland advertised. It was also the place where the Wanted ads were listed. These were not sorted into orderly categories as they are in newspapers today but rather advertisements for servants and workers were mixed in with those seeking accommodation, advertising their wares or seeking missing friends.

I am currently working on a story set in Hobart, Tasmania between 1878 and 1883. I needed to check the usual arrival time of the SS Southern Cross in March 1878 so took myself to the National Library of Australia’s invaluable Trove website where a vast number of Australian historical newspapers have been digitized and made freely available to the public. What should have taken me no more than ten minutes ended up as over two hours spent trawling the Wanted columns. More than the amusement that some of these provoke, they are also an insight into ordinary life at the time. All the advertisements below are taken from the Hobart Mercury between 11 March 1878 and 5 April 1878.

A variety of animals and objects were advertised for or offered for sale.
WANTED immediately, two or three first class SINGING MAGPIES, at the Toll Bar, Sandy Bay. A good price will be given for good birds. (18 March 1878)

WANTED a good MANGLE, apply to ‘H’, The Mercury office. State lowest price. (22 March 1878)
This advertisement was placed in all the issues of the Mercury that I viewed. Either ‘H’ was collecting mangles or the price was never low enough.

WANTED a good quiet COW, in full milk. Apply M SEAL, Elizabeth-st. (5 Apr 1878)

WANTED TO PURCHASE WALNUT HUSKS. Apply to J BIDENCOPE, 86, Murray-street. (5 Apr 1878)
J Bidencope was a hat maker. As walnut shells can be used to make dye, perhaps this was his use for them.

FOR SALE, a Capital HEARSE, in good order. Apply by letter to ‘D.S.’, office of this paper. (1 April 1878)

Business opportunities of all sorts were advertised or requested.
DR MOORE, after nearly 35 years’ residence, is RETIRING FROM PRACTICE on account of increasing ill-health, and wishes to find a suitable Successor.
New Norfolk (21 March 1878)

WANTED, for a term of years, a SHEEP RUN, with homestead, capable of carrying from 1,000 to 1,500 sheep. J.W. LORD, 63, Macquarie-street, Hobart Town. (26 Mar 1878)

WANTED TO BE KNOWN that Mr J HARCOURT, Ironmonger, of Elizabeth-street, Hobart Town, is AGENT for A.R. Bowcher’s Iron Ploughs. (22 March 1878)

And from the Mercury of 22 March 1878, a Wanted ad that has the feeling of a business proposition.

Accommodation was requested more often than it was advertised. Some were extremely particular in what they wanted.
WANTED a FURNISHED BEDROOM and USE of SITTING ROOM with board by a gentleman, Location central. Address ‘Comfort’, Mercury Office (22 March 1878)

WANTED TO RENT a HOUSE within three miles of town, containing eight or nine rooms, with coach house and stables, garden, etc. Application stating terms, position, etc., to RICHARD DOBBIE, 12, Elizabeth-street. (22 March 1878)

WANTED one BEDROOM for two gentlemen for one week. Apply, stating terms, to X.Y.Z., Mercury Office. (22 March 1878)

WANTED, a SITTING-ROOM and TWO BEDROOMS (Furnished), with BOARD, for a Lady and Gentleman, two children, and a nurse girl. Terms must be moderate. Address Mr JOHN H KERR, Office of this paper. (23 March 1878)

SINGLE GENTLEMAN requires BOARD and LODGING in a small musical family in Hobart Town. No other boarder. ‘ADEN’, Mercury Office. (30 Mar 1878)

Those in need of work advertised their services. Beneath the surface there are, no doubt, stories of genteel poverty and distress, particularly in those who described themselves as ladies or gentlemen.
AN ELDERLY GENTLEMAN (Protestant), capable of imparting plain English Education to a small family in the country, can hear of a comfortable home, with a moderate salary, on application to F.B. WILKINSON, Chemist, 66, Elizabeth-street. (23 March 1878)

A YOUNG LADY wishes to meet with an Engagement as Morning or Daily GOVERNESS to young children. Can undertake English, French, Music and Drawing. Address, ‘M’, Mercury Office. (25 March 1878)

TWO YOUNG LADIES are anxious to obtain Situations in the Country as NEEDLEWOMEN. Oatlands or Campbell Town preferred. Address ‘Y.Z.’, Mercury Office (25 March 1878)

WANTED by a respectable WIDOW a situation as working housekeeper at an hotel or station; the country preferred. Address ‘M.H.’, Post Office. (25 Mar 1878)

WANTED by a respectable married man, who has been well accustomed to horses and cows, a situation as GARDENER AND COACHMAN;can make himself generally useful. First class testimonials. Apply No 1, Barrack Square, opposite Canteen. (21 Mar 1878)

Friends and family members were sought.
INFORMATION WANTED of Mr THOMAS EDWARDS, who, in 1843, emigrated from Marsham, Norfolk, England, to Tasmania. J BURDON, No 16, Argyle-street. (14 Mar 1878)

W.J. ATKINS, please WRITE to your MOTHER, she would be glad to hear from you. Mrs ATKINS, Pakington-street, Geelong, Victoria. (15 Mar 1878)

WANTED THE ADDRESS of MRS ANN MOFFATT – maiden name ANN COLLINS or CULLEN – last heard of by her Sister at Sydney in 1850. F.G. BENNETT CUTLER, 89, King-street, Sydney. (26 Mar 1878)

Then there were those who were seeking employees. Once again, the more genteel positions hint at a degree of exploitation. Many required references or testimonials from previous employers as well as sobriety and honesty. There was a high demand for workers who could make themselves useful. And sometimes only a Protestant would do.

Mercury 21 March 1878

WANTED for the country, an elderly lady as GOVERNESS. Must be a good Musician, and competent to impart a good sound English Education. Apply for particulars by letter to Mrs W.C. BOWMAN, Cheshunt Park, near Deloraine. (15 Mar 1878)

WANTED at E ISAACSON’S Temperance Hotel, Thomas’s Plains, a good FEMALE GENERAL SERVANT. One from the country preferred. Wages, 10s per week. (11 Mar 1878)
It goes without saying that this servant would need to be of sober habits. It is one of the few advertisements to include the value of wages.

WANTED a GIRL to clean knives, etc, and to assist in the house work. Apply Broadland House, Collins street. (20 Mar 1878)

NURSE – A lady going to Queensland requires a NURSE for two children by Saturday. To a competent person highest wages given. Apply personally to Mrs ALLEN, Glen House, Macquarie-street, to-day or Friday, any time after 4 o’clock. (Thursday, 21 Mar 1878)

WANTED a COOK, to assist in housework. Apply, in the forenoon, to Mrs R.P. ADAMS. 180, Macquarie-street. (22 March 1878)

WANTED, by the 9th April, a strong middle aged FEMALE (Protestant) to take the care of an invalid lady. Testimonials as to honesty and sobriety. Apply to MRS JOHN CLARK, Montpelier-street. (25 Mar 1878)

WANTED, Three or Four OPOSSUM RUG MAKERS. Constant work for good hands. J OMANT, Furrier, Elizabeth-street. (25 Mar 1878)

A COMFORTABLE HOME, with instruction in French, is offered by a Lady requiring a Companion and Assistant in teaching the younger pupils in her school. Address, ‘MABEL’, Office of this paper. (29 Mar 1878)
But no mention of any monetary payment which would make it hard for the successful applicant to leave unless she had some means of her own.

WANTED a CHARWOMAN; also a USEFUL BOY, accustomed to horses. Apply to Mr JAMES LORD, Hobartville. (30 Mar 1878)

WANTED a sharp boy. Apply this office. (5 Apr 1878)

And finally, two people that I could definitely find a use for around the house. (21st century pay and conditions, of course.)
WANTED a Strong Active GIRL for a few hours during the day. Apply to Mrs ALFRED A BUTLER, Cromwell-street, BatteryPoint. (26 Mar 1878)

11 thoughts on “‘WANTED a BOY to make himself generally useful.’

          • Haha, right now we happen to be binge-watching the Sherlock Holmes tv series with Jeremy Brett. We never tire of them! Anyway, I loved this post, Catherine. I’d happily read a post several times longer, with many, many more of these fascinating snippets of life. They really do give an intriguing insight into what was such a very different world from ours. Thank you!

            Liked by 1 person

          • I remember watching them when they were first broadcast – Jeremy Brett was excellent.
            The Wanted ads are fascinating and are probably worth another post later on. There are things in this one that I should follow up such as whether ‘Bachelor’ advertized for a wife in other states before resorting to Tasmania. And I wonder what happened that Mrs Allen had to advertize for a nurse two days before her departure to Queensland. I should check too whether there are ads asking only for Catholics to apply.
            Interesting, too, that most ads only appeared for one or two days, so the jobs were quickly filled. I also think that that the Wanted ads are a brilliant source for anyone writing fiction set in the 19th century who is lost for ideas.


  1. Pingback: Wanted! A Wife. | Catherine Meyrick

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