Category Archives: Women in Port Phillip

Anne Drysdale’s Christmas 1841

There shall be more about Anne Drysdale anon, as I have bought Bev Robert’s recent book Miss D & Miss N: an extraordinary partnership.  Enough for now to say that, emigrating at 47 from Scotland and taking up land near Geelong in partnership with another woman (Caroline Newcomb) ,  Anne Drysdale is an inspiration to  ladies of a certain age like myself.

So, picking up on my timeworn (well, last year’s) theme of Christmas in Port Phillip, how did Anne Drysdale spend her Christmas in 1841?

On Friday last Dr & Mrs Thomson came down to tea & insisted on our going with them as the next day was Christmas, so we drove up with them, had roast goose & plumb pudding. Mr Tuckfield and Capt Pollock dined, the latter was with us on Thursday night.  As the next day was Sunday we remained & went to church.  On Monday morning Caroline rode down early.  Jane & I walked down after breakfast.  Dr & Mrs Thomson have given Caroline as a Xmas box the present of a mare called Fanny which she had been riding for some time.  It had a filly foal some days since.  She is to return the foal when it is weaned.  Fanny is a handsome black mare, a very pleasant ladies horse to ride & has been tried in harness & is perfectly quiet, so if we ever get a pony chair she will do nicely.  On Monday we expected Mr & Mrs Fisher to dinner to bring down Charlotte.  After dinner Mr F &  she arrived on horseback.  They had all got into a gig with in the intention of coming to dinner but the horse wouldnot go.  Mr F remained to tea & left Charlotte.

… Mr & Mrs Love & 2 children came to tea.  Capt Pollock was here Monday night. This morning before breakfast a party from Corio arrived on their way to the lakes for a pic nic. The 2nd carriage or cart had not come up, so the contents of the 1st 8 in number, breakfasted with us.  They have had a very hot day for their pic nic.

So-  a traditional hot Christmas dinner on a hot Australian day and people popping in on the way to a pic nic.  Sounds familiar really.  But this is the only Christmas day described in any detail in the diary, which becomes more business-like each year with sheep, sheep, sheep.

No sheep for me- Happy Christmas everyone

And I’ve now read Bev Roberts’ book Miss D & Miss N and you can read my review here.

‘Sex and Suffering’ by Janet McCalman


1998, 368p

I’d already worked out what I was going to say in reviewing this book.

I am not keen on institutional histories.  I dislike their celebratory nature and the way that their authors obviously feel compelled to doff their hats and gush over the institutional big-wigs and stalwarts.  You can often sense the shadowy presence of the steering committee in the back-ground and that a publicist and risk-management expert are hovering in the wings.

However, I was drawn to read this history of the Royal Women’s Hospital after hearing a Radio National Hindsight program on it, available for download hereJanet McCalman, from the University of Melbourne ( I see that she, at least still works there, given the University’s decimation of its Arts faculty) wrote Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965 – a history of the working-class suburb of Richmond,  and Journeyings: The Biography of a Middle Class Generation 1920-1990, which followed the No 69 tram through the middle-class suburbs of Melbourne.  She’s obviously drawn to writing larger social histories by focussing her lens on a small patch of inquiry.

And so Sex and Suffering: Women’s Health and a Women’s Hospital carries on an approach that she obviously feels comfortable with.  As the title might suggest, this is not just a history of an institution: instead it deals with sex and the experience of being woman, health and institutions.

The experience of childbirth is intimately woven into the hidden parts of private lives and soon overlaid by the other experiences and achievements of a growing person.   It is common to us all, and for a short period of time is overwhelming in its effect on the mother at her exposed, most basic core and on the people closest to her.   So it was fascinating to consider the act childbirth- that most intimate and personal of events- as part of a social phenomenon that can be handled at the structural level in so many ways.

The book itself follows a chronological approach, with seven sections covering roughly 20-30 year periods.  The emphasis varies in the sections, from the clinical (particularly in the sections discussing sepsis and antisepsis) to the social and structural (where the judgments of upper-middleclass doctors and the Board of Management were trained onto the predomiantly working-class and migrant clientele).   Throughout most of the book, she draws on the case notes of individual women- helpfully supplemented with a glossary of medical terms in the margin- to make real her discussion of anaesthesia and surgery and its effect on horrendous labour situations, the horror of clostridium welchii which could kill a woman in hours, and the changes in attitudes towards labouring women and their partners.  Ye Gods- some women had enormous babies- particularly in the post-Gold Rush period when women who had suffered malformations of the pelvis through malnutrition themselves as children, especially in Ireland,  gave birth to large babies when their own diets had become carbohydrate-heavy in a new country.  There’s something stark in reading the case notes reproduced at the end of the book that chart the death over a number of days of a woman, knowing that there are mothers and fathers, husbands and other children who have been left bereft.

I know that when I was in labour with my children, I was very conscious that I was part of a chain of labouring women in my family and thought -even then!- about how absolutely dreadful it would be to die in childbirth. Hormonally, physically and from an evolutionary sense, every sinew of your being is focussed on giving birth to that child then and there, even if it is your twelfth or illegitimate.  I felt as if I was surrounded by generations of women who had given birth before, and that I was stripped down to my essential female-ness.  In reading this book I was made conscious of the effects of bad births- those fistulas you now only know of in Third World countries,  the lifelong invalidism that followed some births, and the amount of pain that lingered on year after year.  It made the knowledge of my maternal grandmother’s seven births and several miscarriages, and my paternal grandfather’s first wife’s death in childbirth, more meaningful.

There are wonderful photographs and diagrams in this book.  The photographs of Melbourne in the early chapters from both the La Trobe Picture collection and the Royal Women’s Hospital Archives are clear and showed perspectives of my city that I hadn’t seen before.  The internal photographs of the hospital, again from the hospital archives,  while deliberately posed, speak volumes about hospital discipline and nurses’ roles.

A second thread that runs through the book is a commentary on class and gender in Melbourne. The more feminist, women-centred  Queen Victoria hospital stands as a counter-point to the more traditional, male-dominated Royal Women’s Hospital, and the class perspectives of the charity-oriented upper-middle class female board members run through the attitudes towards sexually-transmitted disease, abortion and adoption that the hospital had to deal with.

Well, this is what I was going to say until I got to the last part of the book.  The last section, unfortunately, descended into that boosterism and oily fulsomeness of the standard institutional history.  Probably for privacy reasons, the case histories dropped out of the narrative.  Although they were replaced by oral history reminiscenes of experiences in the Women’s, they lacked the immediacy and contingency of those earlier case notes.   Judgments about individuals who are alive and likely to read this book need to be tempered, and as a still-operating (though re-located) hospital , there is the equivalent, I guess, of the doctor’s  “do no harm” in writing about the institutional culture.  The management-speak of the final pages reflects the funding and political milieu in which institutions now exist, but I also suspect that it has been carefully vetted by the current hospital administration as well.

So, if you read this book- and I exhort you so to do- you might want to stop after Section VI in 1970.  To that point, it’s fascinating.

‘Family Fortunes’ by Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall


Some time ago, I read Michael Roe’s ‘Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia’.  Roe argued that the tenor of Australian society appeared to be set on a paternalistic, conservative path dominated by a landed elite who had been dealt with generously in the carve up of land and authority in the former  penal colony.  By the 1820s, however, a diversion from this path occurred with the influx of mainly British settlers who were shaped by what Roe called  ‘moral enlightenment’,  a philosophy drawing on 18th century thought, combining Romantic, utilitarian, Protestant and liberal values.  He did not claim that this was an intrinsically Australian characteristic- instead it was a ‘transplanted species’, drawn from similar currents in Britain at the time.

As I wrote in my post on Roe’s book, I was nudged into reading it by a friend’s dissatisfaction with the sterility and abstraction of his argument, which was largely a roll-call of local colonial male-dominated politics, with no ‘real’ people.  This didn’t trouble me so much, but I found myself wanting to dig back even further into the mental baggage of new settlers- where did this ‘moral enlightenment’ come from?  This led to me onto reading Davidoff and Hall’s ‘Family Fortunes’- a book that seems to have been cited everywhere!- a sure sign of the ‘landmark’ and ‘seminal’ text!

The full title of the book is ‘Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850’.  Its time-frame is important for considering early Australian society because it encapsulates the settler phase of Australia so closely, and even though this book is set entirely in Britain, I found resonances in Australian history as well.  Every white settler carried with them the sensibilities of their home society, not necessarily replicated in the new society, but present nonetheless.    The authors argue that the middle class mentality of the early 19th century (later overwhelmed by the dominance of later Victorian bombast) was centred in the religious revivals of the late 18th century, manifested through the non-conformist and  evangelical Anglican middle class families that prospered in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.  They based their argument on the study of four locations: Birmingham and its satellite suburb Edgbaston; the market town of Colchester, and the villages of Witham in Essex, and Suffolk.  Their book is studded with people, met again and again, who exemplify the embeddedness of religion in family, business and public life: here are the fleshed-out personalities so absent in Roe’s book.

They draw an interesting distinction between adult converts in the religious evangelical fervour of the 1780s and 90s, and their own children, born as natives into evangelical Christian families.  Many of my Port Phillip pioneers are here among this group: particularly those public men who expressed their respectability and masculinity through the Debating Society, the balls, the subscriptions and churches in the new town of Melbourne.

The full title of the book emphasizes family and the role of both men and women in the economic milieu of middle-class English society.  They argue that during the first half of the 19th century, middle-class women were removed from the ‘establishment’ that supported the family- in terms of both role and location.  They moved to less visible, ‘back of house’ roles within the family business and the enterprise itself became town-based, while the family shifted to outlying satellite housing suburbs.  Male and female roles became increasingly separated into public and private spheres, that varied during the life cycle, with women’s contribution to the family capital and success increasingly sidelined.

I find myself thinking of Port Phillip’s development, starting with a blank slate as it were.  In the earliest days, housing and enterprises were intermingled- Georgiana McCrae and her family started off in Argyle Cottage in Little Lonsdale Street West, and many public men lived ‘in town’ as well as having other properties further out.  As part of the 1840s land boom, suburbs like East Melbourne, Fitzroy and Brighton were being subdivided and sold as residential property. Yet among the ‘public’ families, however, in a social and economic sense the  separate spheres seems to have been established almost from the start- although this would no doubt be less true amongst smaller trading and shop-keeping enterprises.  I’m also very much aware of the phenomenon of brothers emigrating together and business partners becoming -in laws: that web of family connections that was elastic enough to stretch across the globe, and yet was still stitched closely together where it caught at the extremities.

‘Family Fortunes’ is exhaustive (and exhausting!) in the sheer weight of evidence drawn from a variety of sources including diaries, letters, hymns, memoirs, family and local histories, minutes, business documents, wills and tracts- this is a BIG, important history drawn from small, domestic, often ephemeral, lived-in documentation.

Happy (un)Birthday, Your Maj


Yes, Ma’am, another un-birthday- although given that your birthday is celebrated on multiple days in multiple countries, and you have your ‘real’ birthday and your ‘official’ birthday, you must be about 428 years old by now.  We’re celebrating it today in Australia- although not all of Australia mind you- Western Australia celebrates it on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October. This is because Western Australia celebrates its Foundation Day on the first Monday in June, and we can’t use up all our Public Holidays at once, can we ma’am?

Her Maj’s birthday is actually on 21 April, but after George V died they decided to keep the ‘official’ birthday on or around 3rd June, which was his birthday.  England celebrates the Trooping of the Colours on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Saturday in June, but this actually commemorates the anniversary of Elizabeth’s coronation on 2 June 1952.  And it doesn’t really count because it’s a Saturday.  Anything worth celebrating is worth a day off, I reckon.

Up until 1936 the Monarch’s  birthday was celebrated on the actual day.  So up until 1820 that would have been 4 June for George III; between 1820-1830 it was 12 August for George IV; between 1830-1837 King William IV’s birthday was celebrated on 21 August, then 24th May for Victoria’s birthday between 1837-1901.  You’ll note that these are all in summerish months in England.  Edward VII’s birthday on 9 November was celebrated between 1901-10 and both he and his people came to appreciate the idea of birthday celebrations in summer rather than winter.  George V’s birthday was honoured on 3 June between 1910-1936- a more favourable date for Northern Hemisphere climes than November.  It’s been 3rd of June or thereabouts ever since.

New South Wales celebrated King’s Birthday right from the start.  David Collins described the first celebration of King’s Birthday in 1788

His Majesty’s birthday was kept with every attention that it was possible to distinguish it by in this country; the morning was ushered in by the discharge of twenty-one guns from the Sirius and Supply; on shore the colours were hoisted at the flag-staff, and at noon the detachment of marines fired three volleys; after which the officers of the civil and military establishment waited upon the governor, and paid their respects to his excellency in honor of the day. At one o’clock the ships of war again fired twenty-one guns each; and the transports in the cove made up the same number between them, according to their irregular method on those occasions. The officers of the navy and settlement were entertained by the governor at dinner, and, among other toasts, named and fixed the boundaries of the first county in his Majesty’s territory of New South Wales. This was called Cumberland County, in honor of his Majesty’s second brother; and the limits of it to the northward were fixed by the northernmost point of Broken Bay, to the southward by the southernmost point of Broken [sic] Bay, and to the westward by Lansdown and Carmarthen Hills (the name given to the range of mountains seen by the governor in an excursion to the northward). At sunset the ships of war paid their last compliment to his Majesty by a third time firing twenty-one guns each. At night several bonfires were lighted; and, by an allowance of spirits given on this particular occasion, every person in the colony was enabled to drink his Majesty’s health.

Some of the worst among the convicts availed themselves of the opportunity that was given them in the evening, by the absence of several of the officers and people from their tents and huts, to commit depredations. One officer on going to his tent found a man in it, whom with some difficulty he secured, after wounding him with his sword. The tent of another was broken into, and several articles of wearing apparel stolen out of it; and many smaller thefts of provisions and clothing were committed among the convicts. Several people were taken into custody, and two were afterwards tried and executed.

The following year was slightly more decorous:

The anniversary of his Majesty’s birthday, the second time of commemorating it in this country, was observed with every distinction in our power; for the first time, the ordnance belonging to the colony were discharged; the detachment of marines fired three volleys, which were followed by twenty-one guns from each of the ships of war in the cove; the governor received the compliments due to the day in his new house, of which he had lately taken possession as the government-house of the colony, where his excellency afterwards entertained the officers at dinner, and in the evening some of the convicts were permitted to perform Farquhar’s comedy of the Recruiting Officer, in a hut fitted up for the occasion. They professed no higher aim than ‘humbly to excite a smile,’ and their efforts to please were not unattended with applause.

Thomas Keneally drew on this for his novel The PlaymakerWatkin Tench has a description of it too:

The anniversary of his majesty’s birth-day was celebrated, as heretofore, at the government-house, with loyal festivity. In the evening, the play of ‘The Recruiting Officer’ was performed by a party of convicts, and honoured by the presence of his excellency, and the officers of the garrison. That every opportunity of escape from the dreariness and dejection of our situation should be eagerly embraced, will not be wondered at. The exhilarating effect of a splendid theatre is well known: and I am not ashamed to confess, that the proper distribution of three or four yards of stained paper, and a dozen farthing candles stuck around the mud walls of a convict-hut, failed not to diffuse general complacency on the countenances of sixty persons, of various descriptions, who were assembled to applaud the representation. Some of the actors acquitted themselves with great spirit, and received the praises of the audience: a prologue and an epilogue, written by one of the performers, were also spoken on the occasion; which, although not worth inserting here, contained some tolerable allusions to the situation of the parties, and the novelty of a stage-representation in New South Wales.

By the time our Judge Willis arrived in Port Phillip, it was Queen Victoria’s birthday that was being celebrated on 24th May, as it was to be for sixty-five years.  From the 1820s onwards, Sydney society had celebrated the Birth Day of the monarch with  a levee and ball at Government House, and by 1841 a similar practice was proposed for Melbourne.  However arrangements broke down in acrimony in 1841 over whether the ball should be a public or a private event.

The private ball (sneering described as the ‘Dignity Ball’ by its critics) was defended by the Port Phillip Herald as a private occasion that had been postponed from the race-week earlier in the year, and that it just happened to occur on the Birth Day.  The Herald argued

When the Government give a ball, which is generally on the birth day of the sovereign, cards of invitation are issued to the public and to different classes of society and this is as it should be for a simple and substantial reason- the expenses are defrayed out of the public purse. (PPH 7 May 1841)

However, this was a private occasion, overseen by stewards prominent in Port Phillip Society at the time: Simpson, Powlett, Meek, James McArthur, J. Lyon Campbell, Verner and Major St John.

The Port Phillip Gazette and Port Phillip Patriot, affronted at these “upstart exclusives” and “ill-bred puppies” proposed a truly public ball to be held at Yarra Yarra House in Flinders Street on 24th May, with admission tickets for a gentleman and a lady priced at 2 guineas.  Messrs Abrahams, Langhorne, Kerr and Sullivan were stewards, with Connolly and Urquhart’s disputed involvement.

So who won the Battle of the Balls? The private ball was postponed until 4 June, then later until 8th June to accommodate Presbyterian families who would not have been able to attend on the 4th because that week had been set aside for religious observances.  The Public Ball went ahead on 24th as planned, but it rained.  The Private Ball took place on 8th June, attended by 44 ladies and 67 gentlemen; the stewards provided a most magnificent supper, which was done ample justice, and festivities continued until 5.00 a.m.  In a coup for the  more exclusive Private Ball,  Superintendent La Trobe and his wife attended: they had not attended the Public Ball.

The next year only one private ball was held.  I find myself wondering why the fuss of the preceding year was not repeated: perhaps it had been just newspaper hot-air. The Port Phillip Herald of 27th May devotes half a column to it:

THE BALL. The most splendid entertainment that has ever yet taken place in the province was held in the long room of the Royal Exchange on Wednesday evening, in honor of the Queen’s birth-day.  The ball, although got up by private subscription, and as one of the regular “private assemblies”, was attended by nearly all the rank and fashion of our rising town.  Notwithstanding the very unfavourable  state of the weather, and the almost impassable state of the roads, the ball room was crowded at an early hour.  Several of the gentlemen appeared in rich fancy disguise, and some of the dresses were very much and deservedly admired.  The gentleman who appeared as an Italian Brigand was perhaps the most successful in attracting the fair notice of the visitors, although there were other parties very elegantly attired.  The enlivening colour of the different fancy dresses added much to the brilliancy of the entertainment, which was considerably increased by the fascinating beauty of several of the ladies, who, believing that “beauty unadorned is adorned the most,” trusted to their usual tastes in not appearing in fancy costume.  His Honor Mr La Trobe and Lady honoured the Ball with their presence, and dancing was kept up with the greatest spirit throughout the whole evening; the arrangements altogether were excellent.  The music gave evident satisfaction, and was only eclipsed by the management of the supper, which met with deserved encouragement, and reflected great credit upon the caterers of this very necessary appendage to a dance.  Nearly three hundred persons, it is calculated, graced the scene, and all departed to their homes highly delignted with the evening’s amusement.

Georgiana McCrae attended the 1843 Queens Birthday Ball and describes it as follows:

Dr Thomas drove out in his gig and took me to town.  At 10 p.m. we went en masse to the Mechanic’s Institute.  All the elite of the colony assembled, and in full swing, including Mr and Mrs La Trobe; the Mayor, Mr Condell and his niece, dressed in Mantis green, not unlike the insect itself in the waltz attitude. Mr C. H. Ebden’s movements somewhat eccentric, now and then cannoning among his neighbours…Dancing was kept up briskly till after 1.a.m.

Well, ma’am no dancing any more.  In fact, it’s a dead loss as a celebration of anything except perhaps the opening of the ski season and a few football matches.  And a very merry un-birthday to you ma’am.


Paul de Serville Port Phillip Gentlemen

Hugh McCrae (ed) Georgiana’s Journal

Ken Inglis Australian Colonists Ch.4

On the road from Heidelberg

From the Port Phillip Herald 6 Dec 1842

BLACK OUTRAGE. As a woman was coming to town the other day from Heidelberg, carrying a bundle in her hand, she was met by two black lubras, who attempting to take the bundle from her, the woman screamed out for assistance, whereupon she received a severe blow over the temples with a waddy, and the two blacks made off.  She complained of the assault at the police office, but no redress could be afforded, as she declared she could not identify the offenders.

Heidelberg was about seven miles out from the centre of Melbourne, but generally viewed as being ‘in the country’.   There was a road out to Heidelberg by this time built from donations and public subscription lists by the Heidelberg Road Trust , representing the interests of  the gentlemen who lived there (Judge Willis himself, Verner, the Boldens, Wills, Porter etc).  Heidelberg Since 1836 describes the route as:

…an extension of the great Heidelberg Road, which commenced in present day Smith Street Collingwood, winding through the Edinburgh Gardens and then crossing a ford in the Merri Creek.  The track to the village was approximately along the present Heidelberg Road, along Upper Heidelberg Road, and then branched off down to the village from the top of the hill at Heidelberg.  The road continued on along the ridge of the hill, down to the Lower Plenty and then on to the Upper Yarra.  (p. 12)


By 1842, over 500 pounds of local money had been spent on the road, and log bridges were built at the Darebin Creek and the Plenty River.  Late in 1842 the Government paid the wages of unemployed labourers to clear stones and stumps from the road.  From 1845, as a result of the deterioration of the road, a levy was placed on landowners and a toll was established.

Not that our “woman” (note- not a lady) would necessarily be using the road.  I’m astounded by the distances that even ladies would walk- Georgiana McCrae seemed to think nothing of walking across the paddocks into the city from her house ‘Mayfield’ near the corner of present-day Church and Victoria Streets Abbotsford.  Abbotsford is of course much closer to the city than Heidelberg, but even a lady of one of the most prominent families in Melbourne would be prepared to hoof it through the bush.

This is also a reminder that the “blacks” were not only up-country but relatively close to Melbourne .  In fact, there are fleeting mentions of aboriginal people still visible on the streets of Melbourne itself.  I’m not sure what the significance is- if any- of these two women accosting another woman. Would they, I wonder, have approached a man, who was more likely to defend himself?


C. Cummins Heidelberg Since 1836: A Pictorial History.

Good on you, Mrs Mac

From the Port Phillip Gazette 1/1/42

BIRTH EXTRAORDINAIRE! On Thursday Mrs McDonald, the wife of a respectable settler, presented her husband at Mr Mortimer’s Crown Hotel, with a Christmas box consisting of two girls and a boy, whom with the mother, are doing well. Advance Australia Felix.  The girls were christened Victoria and Adelaide, the boy Albert.

My, what regal names!  The Port Phillip Herald of 4/1/42 adds the alarming detail that Mrs John McDonald of River Plenty had presented her husband with twins about 12 months earlier!! Five under about eighteen months……

I wonder whether she came into the Crown Hotel specially for the birth or whether she just happened to be there.  Ironic, really, that maternity hospitals today shove their new mothers off into hotel suites to clear the hospital beds.

There were only occasional birth notices in the Port Phillip newspapers of the 1840s, and generally only for the wives of “highly respectable” professional men, rather than the wives of  humble “respectable settlers” like Mrs McDonald.   I noticed that the Insolvency Commissioner’s wife Mrs Verner had a baby, then about two weeks later there was an advertisement for a wet nurse with the instruction to apply at the Insolvency Court- surely not the first place one would think to make such a contract. [I feel a bad joke about milking people dry coming on…..]

Well, I wonder what happened to Mr and Mrs McDonald and their little ones?

The Drunken Nurse


The Port Phillip papers are certainly full of drunkards.  Judge Willis himself has plenty to say about the perils of alcohol, and the Police Court is dominated by brawls and crimes connected with alcohol.  But I was particularly taken with this  Sairey Gamp character from the Port Phillip Herald 1 July 1842.

AN AFFECTIONATE WIFE.  For several months past, a man of the name of Henry Hayward a much valued servant of the firm of Campbell & Woolley, had been seriously ill, so much so that it was thought advisable by his medical attendant, Dr Campbell, to send for his wife to take charge of him, who, at the time, was following her occupation of monthly nurse in the family of his Honor Mr La Trobe.  This woman had hitherto been engaged as a nurse in some of the most respectable families- Captain Lonsdale’s, and many others.  The poor sufferer, whom we personally knew as an excellent and faithful servant, was at this time in a most precarious state, being attacked with that frightful disease, dysentry, and although a strong robust man, was evidently sinking fast: the attention of his wife, of course, became necessary, and his Honor the Superintendent being apprised of the circumstance, forthwith sent her to her husband, and himself kindly called to see how the sufferer was doing.  At this stage of the disease the doctor was sanguine of success; but to his extreme mortification he found on each visit that the wife, who had hitherto been supported by the first people in the colony in her vocation as nurse, was a confirmed drunkard; and that she was in the habit of not only getting beastly intoxicated and lying on the bed of her suffering husband, but made it a practice to drink the port wine and brandy, which the medical attendant had ordered for his patient, and thus leave the poor sufferer without succour.  Enraged at this atrocious conduct, Dr Campbell, at his own expense, engaged a respectable woman as nurse, to see that his orders were attended to, and that the wretched wife should not ill use her husband, which he had been informed she was in the habit of doing.  The nurse was unremitting in her attentions, but was frequently obliged to flee the house in consequence of the violent and drunken conduct of the dying man’s wife.  Often has Dr Campbell called upon his patient and seen the wife in a state of intoxication, lying almost senseless beside her husband! and often has he endeavoured, by every means in his power, to prevent such heartless conduct; but his exertions were all in vain; the poor man still lingered on, and the depraved wife pursued her unnatural conduct till the sufferer died! and this took place but a few days ago.  We have been particular in mentioning these circumstances to prevent ladies being imposed upon by such a wretch as the wife of Henry Hayward- a woman who has hitherto gained her living in the first circles as  “a monthly nurse” but who ought, in our opinion to be publicly and soundly whipped through the town for her fiendish conduct to her departed, and as far as she is concerned, her murdered husband.  We have the authority of the doctor for stating that had the wife performed her duty properly the deceased would in all probability have recovered!

There’s not many references in the papers of the time to women working- although how much work Mrs Hayward would gain after this exposure is doubtful! I was intrigued to find out what a “monthly nurse” was,  wondering if it was a nurse engaged for “that time of the month” but instead, it seems that a monthly nurse was a kind of mothercraft nurse who would move in after the baby’s delivery to care for the mother and baby for a month after confinement.  There’s a fascinating article called “The Remembrances of a Monthly Nurse”  in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (1836)that manages to combine celebrity gossip with a quite affecting account of the birth of a baby with cleft lip and palate, all from the perspective of the monthly nurse.

I had seen advertisements placed in the Port Phillip Herald by doctors calling for wet nurses, but this was the first mention of a monthly nurse that I had seen.  It appears that she gained her work largely through word of mouth between the “first families” of the colony.  The reference to His Honor Mr La Trobe, the superintendent of Port Phillip, relates to the birth of his daughter Eleanor Sophia La Trobe born 30 March 1842.  It seems, therefore, that Mrs Hayward was still with the La Trobes longer than the usual month, but as Georgiana McCrae noted, her friend Mrs La Trobe was often in poor health, and the La Trobes would have been first among first families!

I wonder how this marriage between the employee of Campbell and Woolley, a prominent mercantile firm in Port Phillip at the time, and a monthly nurse would play out.  No doubt she would be absent from home for extended periods of time. There’s no mention of other family.

It’s hard to tell what the actual outrage is here.  Was it her drunkenness- taking the port wine and brandy meant for her husband, leading no less to her “murdering” him by not doing her “duty” for him?  Was it her slatternly behaviour, lolling around the bed drunk with the dying man?  Was it her violence to the respectable nurse paid for out of Dr Campbell’s own pocket? Or was it, perhaps, the scandal and trickery by which this drunkard had worked her way into the  domestic households of respectable families, placing them all unknowingly in peril?  Whatever- publicly and soundly whip the woman around the streets- that’ll teach her!


Dianne Reilly La Trobe: The Making of a Governor