Just tootling around the ‘net, as one does, I found a review of a book that sounds fascinating- Aging by the Book: The Emergence of Mid-Life in Victorian Britain by Kay Heath. The review is well worth reading, and you’ll find it at the Rorotoko site.
2009, 262 p.
Here’s the blurb for the book from the publisher’s website, which also includes a download of the first chapter:
Aging by the Book offers an innovative look at the ways in which middle age, which for centuries had been considered the prime of life, was transformed during the Victorian era into a period of decline. Single women were nearing middle age at thirty, and mothers in their forties were expected to become sexless; meanwhile, fortyish men anguished over whether their “time for love had gone by.” Looking at well-known novels of the period, as well as advertisements, cartoons, and medical and advice manuals, Kay Heath uncovers how this ideology of decline permeated a changing culture. Aging by the Book unmasks and confronts midlife anxiety by examining its origins, demonstrating that our current negative attitude toward midlife springs from Victorian roots, and arguing that only when we understand the culturally constructed nature of age can we expose its ubiquitous and stealthy influence.
One of the things that struck me when looking at Port Phillip was how young people were. At one level, this seems reasonable: the trip from the United Kingdom (which is where many immigrants came from) was formidable, although some older people did broach it. Sydney and Van Diemen’s land, as the older settlements, had seen the elapse of generations by the time of Port Phillip’s establishment in the 1830s, and many of these second and third generation settlers crossed the strait or came down from Sydney to a ‘new’ settlement that did not have tainted connotations and which offered a new frontier and opportunities.
In Port Phillip itself, people commented about the youth of the population at the time. E. M. Curr wrote:
Perhaps the first thing one noticed was the almost total absence of women from the streets, as well as the paucity of old men. In those days anyone over thirty was spoken of as old So-and-so ( E. M. Curr, Recollections of Squatting in Victoria)
The figures (flawed as they may be) of the 1841 Census for the Port Phillip District bear him out:
|2 and under 7||479||425|
|7 and under 14||395||395|
|14 and under 21||561||384|
|21 and under 45||6045||1824|
|45 and under 60||442||86|
There’s that huge imbalance of men between the ages of 21-45, many of whom arrived by themselves or with their brothers and they so quickly take their place in Port Phillip society. Redmond Barry was 26 when he arrived; the newspaper editor George Arden was about 21 when he confronted Judge Willis. Peter Snodgrass, another young man about town who also fell under Willis’ notice was 24.
Paul de Serville in his book Port Phillip Gentlemen likens polite society prior to the 1842 depression to
…an unreformed public school before the tone had been elevated by a middle-class Arnold. Visitors and new arrivals were at once struck by the youth of the colonists (p.37)
I haven’t, as yet, noticed the same phenomenon in Upper Canada where, so far at least, it seems that there is more emphasis on family migration. Something to bear in mind perhaps.