Matrimonial advertisements were a common feature of the Wanted section of Australian newspapers in the second half of the 19th century; however, those placed by women were far less common than those by men. This is to be expected, in part, seeing that in the 19th century men outnumbered women, particularly in the earlier years, by almost two to one, and single men often worked in remote locations offering little opportunity for social interaction with women.
The scarcity of eligible women is reflected even in newspaper reports of the arrival of immigrant ships—the author of this report on the Medway in Melbourne in 1854 suggests that the young women would quickly be snapped up.
A CHANCE FOR BACHELORS.—Yesterday, about noon, nearly a hundred female immigrants were landed from the Medway. They appeared to be a fine healthy set of young women, and well suited to the Colony. Many of them were decidedly good looking, and therefore will, in all probability, quickly change their names. There were amongst them a few that seemed to belong to what is called the educated class of society. Single gentlemen, be on the alert! They were all marched off, two and two, to the Depot, under the guidance of a vinegar faced looking old fellow, who will not long have the control of such a valuable consignment.
(Melbourne Morning Herald 2 March 1854.)
I have had a rather quick ruffle through the papers up until the early 1880s to see if they were different from those placed by men.
This advertisement from 1854 clearly involves some editorial tinkering and possibly doubt about the truth of the advertiser’s claims.
WANTED A HUSBAND—A widow, in the prime of life, advertises for a partner. She professes to be of affectionate and soothing disposition, assuring any gentleman in search of such that this opportunity will prove an invaluable one. Her address in K.O.R., Courier Office.
(Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania 25 March 1854, p. 3)
Interestingly, this appeared in the ‘Local Intelligence’ column of the Hobarton Guardian and was originally placed in a rival newspaper. The original draws attention to the benefits of the advertiser’s care for any future husband, and is perhaps the female equivalent of ‘sufficient means‘.
A RESPECTABLE WIDOW in the prime of life, and with a fair share of personal attractions, has no objection, if meeting with an eligible partner, to again enter the holy bonds of Matrimony. To any gentleman of easy circumstances, in search of domestic comfort, or of declining years requiring the sympathising care and solace of an affectionate wife, the present opportunity may prove an invaluable one. Address (and while the utmost secrecy will be observed, none but Principals will be treated with), to K. O. R. Courier Office.
(Courier 23 March 1854, p. 3, also 24 March 1854)
Some advertisements were brief with quite limited requirements.
Matrimony—Wanted, A Husband, by a Young Lady, army or navy preferred. Address, ROSE, Botany Post Office.
(Empire (Syd.) 15 Feb 1858 p.4)
I wonder if the appeal of a husband in one of the services was the regular pay or the prospect of time spent apart.
Wanted A Husband
BY a young Female (widow) age 22, without incumbrance; considered good looking, and enjoying an annuity of £30.
Address: “Amelia’, Post Office.
(Hobart Town Daily Mercury 4 Feb 1858 p.3)
These two advertisements display the difference between those placed by men and women. The young woman has simple requirements, though perhaps those not easy to discern without long acquaintance. The young man seems to think his physical appearance and his ‘respectable circumstances’ enough to draw attention—and he may be right. The half mile where young ladies were to promenade, white handkerchief in hand, was away from the busy centre of Hobart Town and appears to have been mainly residential, although a Wesleyan Church was near the Elboden Place end of Davey Street. I can imagine this tall redheaded young man pacing up one side of the street and down the other for his ninety minutes, watching carefully any young woman approaching, possibly with a friend in tow, the young woman’s handkerchief safely hidden in her reticule, only to be whipped out once she had sized him up. It should be remembered, too, that in Hobart, June is the first month of winter, the season of colds and flu, and there might be a few ladies young and not so young with handkerchiefs in hand. I wonder how it all worked out.
Another advertisement from the same decade and again from Hobart Town. This was placed only once and, given the age of the ‘young lady’, I do wonder if it was placed as a joke by someone (male) with money to spare.
Two advertisments appeared together in the Riverine Herald in 1878 with almost identical wording which has me wondering if these were two friends encouraging each other on.
WANTED A HUSBAND—A Young Lady wishes to correspond with a Young Gentleman of fair means; age 25 to 27; exchange, send carte de visite, ‘A.M.E.’, Echuca Post-office.
WANTED A HUSBAND—A Young Lady wishes to correspond with a Young Gentleman of fair means; age 25 to 30; exchange, send carte de visite, ‘P.F.J.M..’, Echuca Post-office.
(Riverine Herald 5 March 1878 p.3)
For these two Young Ladies, the financial position of the young man was important, and the age, although the second is more relaxed allowing men up to the grand age of thirty. No doubt the carte de visite (photograph) would give them a decent idea of the physical appearance of the Young Gentlemen.
In the following advertisement, the Widow Lady would, no doubt, be hoping that her wealth would offset the number of her ‘incumberances’.
A HUSBAND Wanted by a Wealthy Widow Lady (six children) E.W.E., Box 729, G.P.O.
(Evening News (Syd.) 6 November 1883)
This advertisement was brief and to the point.
WANTED a good Husband; enclose Photo.
Address; ‘F.A.’ Riverine Herald office, Echuca.
(Riverine Herald 25 June 1884 p.3)
While this, from four years earlier, is more reminiscent of advertisments placed by men, I am not completely sure whether the description is of the young lady or the ideal husband.
WANTED a HUSBAND, by a young lady of 18, tall, dark, and good-looking, with a good income; a fair man preferred, Answer by letter, with carte de visite enclosed to ‘K.C,B,’, Post Office, Brisbane.
(Telegraph (Brisb.) Tuesday 10 August 1880 p.3)
By the end of the 1870s, in many newspapers, matrimonial advertisement were no longer appearing in amongst the miscellaneous wanted ads but had their own discrete section. There were also, by this time, separate papers published containing nothing but matrimonial notices. A number of the ads placed in general newspaper seem to be a means of initiating contact rather than explicitly seeking a marriage partner.
TWO YOUNG LADIES wish to CORRESPOND with two Young Gentlemen (not Civil Servants).
Nellie—short, dark; Minnie—medium height, dark.
Address, enclosing photos., to Nellie, Minnie, Herald office.
(The Herald (Melb.) 11 February 1878 p.3)
MAY, VIOLET, and ROSE, wish to Correspond with three young Gentlemen. Address, Photo, Hotham Post Office.
(The Herald (Melb.) 11 March 1879 p.3)
THREE young ladies wish to correspond with three young gentlemen. Nellie, Cory and Queenie. Address Melbourne Post Office.
(The Herald (Melb.) 7 August 1879 p.3)
I wonder if some of these are more of a ‘lark’ than a genuine prelude to marriage. The giggles as the Minnies, Violets and Queenies read over the letters together and look at the photographs are easy to imagine.
GRACE, a domestic, twenty, dark, wishes to correspond with energetic, trustworthy tradesman, not more than twenty-five. Address Affectionate, P.O. Emerald Hill.
(The Herald (Melb.) 13 August 1879 p.3)
While Grace is only seeking to correspond with a young tradesman, there is an unwritten ‘view to matrimony’ sense in this advertisement. An ‘energetic, trustworthy tradesman’ certainly sounds like a sensible match for a hardworking and affectionate young woman seeking a stable life.
Those with an explicit ‘view to matrimony’ were usually quite brief. Some simply wanted to get married.
TWO LADIES, both fair, aged 19, 20, small incomes, wish to correspond with two gentlemen with a view to matrimony.
Address NEMO Post Office, Kyneton.
(Kyneton Observer 27 March 1879 p.3)
ETHEL and CARRIE wish to correspond with two young gentlemen, view to matrimony. Address, Post Office, Richmond.
(The Herald (Melb.) 7 August 1879 p.3)
Others highlighted their own accomplishments and the most important aspect of a potential husband’s assets, though occasionally this was no more than the man’s age.
A MAIDEN English Christian Lady, 40 to 50, machinist, in humble circumstances, (if little cash, well,—no matter) will meet a faithful and striving partner. Direct to Business man, Herald Office, till called for. Communications held sacred.
(The Herald (Melbourne) Thursday 7 March 1878 p.3)
LADY, well educated, wishes to correspond with Protestant gentleman, between thirty and forty, view to matrimony. Trustworthy, ‘Herald’ Office.
(The Herald (Melbourne) Thursday 7 August 1879 p.3)
WIDOW LADY, Accomplished, without money, would like to Correspond with Gentleman about 40. View to Matrimony. Y.Z. Post Office.
(The Herald (Melbourne) Tuesday 17 September 1878 p.3)
SINCERITY, a Young Widow, and CONFIDENCE, her Sister, both dark, not fond of Society, wish to meet with two Steady Young Gentlemen. View Matrimony. Money no object. Address Omega, post Office Collingwood.
(The Herald (Melbourne) Wednesday 31 July 1878 p.3)
The fact that these last two young women were ‘not fond of Society’ is one possible reason they would need to make use of the advertising columns.
TWO Young Ladies from Hobartown wish to Correspond with two Gentlemen with a view to Matrimony. Must be-good tempered and loving dispositions like themselves. Squatters or Businessmen preferred.
Address Birdie and Ducksey, Collingwood Post Office.
(The Herald (Melb.) 7 May 1878 p.3)
TOSSIE (fair), ROSE (dark), wish to correspond with two young tradesmen, with a view to marriage.
Address, enclosing photo., to Tossie and Rose, Post Office, Melbourne.
(The Herald (Melb.) 30 December 1879 p.4)
I suspect Tossie and Rose have more realistic expectations than Birdie and Ducksey. Birdie and Ducksey placed their ad only once so perhaps they did find what they were looking for. Most advertisements were only placed once or twice.
Matrimonial advertisements by women appear to have amused quite a number of newspaper editors as they sometimes reported them as an item of news.
The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser (Heathcote) of 10 August 1866 (p.2) reported, no doubt in an attempt to amuse readers, on an ‘amorous notice’ in the Daylesford Express.
Wanted a husband by a respectable young girl. No counter jumper, or butcher, or tailor need apply. A digger preferred. Address A.B., Post Office, Daylesford.
This ‘young girl’ appears to have had an aversion to certain occupations although they might actually have provided a steadier and more comfortable life than that of her preferred occupation – a gold digger. Perhaps the supposedly ‘amusing’ inference here is that she is the ‘gold digger’!
The Mount Alexander Mail (21 August 1868 p.2) reported on an item in the Avoca Mail which showed some surprise that women had to resort to advertising although the advertisement itself does explain why, in this case, the young woman needs to.
‘The Avoca Mail thus writes: — “In another column appears an advertisement embodying a bona fide request for a husband. We are induced to ask, what are our young men about? The other evening, at the Wesleyan tea meeting, Mr John Green seemed to ask the same question. Why should our delicate damsels be always ‘singing the same sad song?’ When it comes to advertising we give up the solution of the problem as unattainable, and can only look forward to a shower of applications next week. We repeat our assertion that the advertisement is really genuine.” The following is the advertisement referred to; perhaps some of our local gallants might be tempted to make application:
“Wanted a Husband—A young lady of prepossessing appearance, and great expectations at the death of relatives, is desirous of being married; but as she is much secluded, and has had none of the opportunities young ladies so much desire, she is compelled to advertise. Bona fide answers: will meet with every consideration from INEZ, P.O., Maryborough.”’
Although I have no proof, I suspect sometimes the advertisements were not genuine, placed to encourage amused discussion, possibly even by the newspaper in which they appeared. An advertisement originally in the Sydney newspaper the Empire on 7 July 1857(p.4), found between advertisments for porters and plasterers, was dissected by the satirical newspaper the Melbourne Punch and republished in quite a number of other newspapers.
And then there is this advertisement placed in the Avoca Mail in 1868.
This was also widely shared through local newspapers, even as far afield as the Tasmanian newspapers and the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter in New South Wales, in its chatty ‘Table Talk’ column (12 June 1869 p.2). The item begins ‘Oh! that I were young, a bachelor, and above all a squatter. As I am neither one nor the other, I generously place the following desirable property under offer to more fortunate friends.’ He then sets out the advertisement and ends by saying ‘Comment on the above splendid lot would be superfluous.’
About six weeks later ‘Jessie’ apparently wrote to the Avoca Mail (Saturday 31 July 1869 p.2) complaining about the less that enthusiastic response to her advertisement.
‘Our fair correspondent ”Jessie” whose photograph we have before announced is to be seen at this office, again writes us to express her surprise that no gentleman has up to the present time replied to her advertisement, “Wanted a Husband”. We can assure ”Jessie” that we are equally surprised and indeed quite shocked at the lack of gallantry displayed by Victorian bachelors.
A fair widow of five and twenty, the mistress of an extensive station, should not in these times long want a wooer. We have to re-assert our belief in the genuineness of the proposal made by the original of the charming portrait alluded to, which, do our best, it will be difficult if not impossible altogether to efface from memory.
The following is a copy of the last neat missive received from our fair correspondent, which, alas! in the fear of melodramatic consequences, we are compelled to conceal from the hitherto partner of our joys:—”Collins Street, July 29, 1869. To the Editor of the Avoca Mail.
Sir,—Can you tell me the reason that I have never received one answer to the advertisement I sent you some weeks ago. I thought I should have no difficulty in finding a gentleman suitable in every respect. Perhaps they think I am not serious about it, but if they will write and address ‘Mrs Dyenever, General Post-office Melbourne,’ they will perhaps be convinced, If any one has answered and addressed to Ararat, I have never been able to get any letters from there. If you will kindly make some remark concerning this on Saturday, you will greatly add to the obligations of JESSIE DYENEVER.”’
As would be expected Dyenever is a pseudonym.
The Melbourne Punch ran a column of fictitious matrimonial advertisements which were slightly more even-handed with men the butt of their jokes as well as women.
And while these advertisements both genuine and ‘comic’ were a source of amusement for many newpaper editors and their readers, in the case of the genuine they were serious business. It would take a degree of courage to place a public advertisement even using a pseudonym, especially as it could be seen as an admission that the methods of finding a spouse that worked so well for everyone else had failed for this person. Beyond issues of companionship and romance, marriage was a crucial matter for most women. In a time when so many occupations were closed to women and when women earnt far less than men, they still needed to support themselves and their children. Marriage to a reliable hard-working man meant the possibility of life with a degree of comfort. The division of labour usual at this time could ensure there was shelter, warmth and food on the table, that children were supervised and had the chance to learn self-discipline and the skills they would need as an adult. And in the genuine ads we can catch glimpses of the longing for this with the use of words like trustworthy, faithful and steady and underneath these words too the understanding that marriage to someone who lacked these qualities could result in a life that was far worse than being single.
All the advertisements and their images can be found using the invaluable Trove search portal of the National Library of Australia.