In mid-Victorian Britain, thirty percent of women were spinsters, and some sections of society became alarmed at so many women leading lives without husbands and thus failing to fulfil their social duties by becoming wives and mothers. The solution was to export them. Notices appeared in the press urging 'surplus' women to emigrate to Australia.
FEMALE EMIGRANTS There is an unlimited demand for wives of all ranks, from the shepherd to the gentleman squatter, with his 1,000 head of cattle and 20,000 sheep. The Colonists, as a body, whether emigrant or native born, make good husbands, kind, indulgent and generous. They are all rather rough in their language to each other, but no one ever heard of a bushman beating his wife. In the towns there is as much gaiety as England. Rather more. The bush huts have not generally been very comfortable; but there is no reason why they should not be as well built and furnished as English farm-houses. Young widows and orphans of small means will find themselves in reality far safer than in any of the greatest towns of Europe, better protected, and with better prospects. Of course some caution is necessary before accepting the first offers made, but there is little difficulty in finding out an Australian's character. There are obvious reasons in two or more ladies joining to make a party for the sea-voyage, besides reasons of economy. The can be no more impropriety in going to Australia than to India for the same purpose....
For governesses, there is a moderate demand. We should only recommend those to think of emigration who are not comfortable here. Every lady thinking of emigrating should know how to bake, boil, roast, wash, and iron, and then although she may not have to do these things, she will feel independent.
For domestic and farm-servants the demand is unlimited and will continue so for many years, as a good sober cook, housemaid or nurse is worth any wages, and may always have a house of her won within twelve months. A clever maid-servant is sure to better her position by emigrating to Australia, and will frequently save part of the passage-money by attending on one of the lady passengers.
Never stand out for good wages at first. Get a house over your head and then change if you can for the better. Hastings & St Leonards News 20 October 1848)
The article makes promises that cannot be substantiated. The final paragraph is particularly suspect: if the woman found she could not change 'for the better', she would in all likelihood be trapped thousands of miles away, in a situation as bad as, if not worse than, she could have obtained in Britain.
In 1862 Maria Rye of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and her associate Jane Lewin founded the Female Middle Class Emigration Society, an employment agency based at 12 Portugal Street that sent women all over the Commonwealth where their labour was both needed and well paid.
Manchester Times 16 June 1866
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