Australian History, WA History

A View to Matrimony

Matrimonial advertising was used by many people who wanted to marry. As Europeans immigrated to Western Australia, they found themselves living in a remote location with a limited social circle. Placing an ad in the newspaper was the answer to a difficult situation. It offered hope that they would find a partner to share their life. While it was frowned upon by some classes of society, ultimately, the possible benefit far outweighed the risks.

The first matrimonial advertisement printed in a Western Australian newspaper was placed by ‘C.B.’ in 1833. The author was a young man aged 24 on an annual income of £120. He wished to be introduced to a lady aged about 19 or 20, who was agreeable and capable of looking after domestic affairs.

Four years passed. The next advertisement was placed by two men, L.S. and E.S. Addressing “spinsters and the fair sex generally” they believed themselves to be good looking, but were shy and unable to express their feelings to the women they admired. They turned to the newspaper hoping that those particular women (or any others – they weren’t fussy) would read their notice, take pity and write a letter. To reassure correspondents, they stressed that “The strictest secrecy may be relied upon.

Secrecy was an incredibly important part of matrimonial advertisements. Communication was conducted through the post office, newspapers or a trusted third party. The majority of people who placed them used initials or aliases to protect their identity. Unfortunately, hidden identities also meant there was a risk people were conducting scams.

Again four years passed, indicating that matrimonial advertisements may have been deemed too risky in such a small colony. Nevertheless, the first ad placed by a female occurred in 1841. Attractive and excitable, she wanted to make an alliance with a respectable man who was “willing to change the state of single-blessedness for the hazardous chains of wedlock life!

Pseudonyms were a common characteristic, however, a rare advertisement placed in 1850 boldly announced that 22 year old Simon Martin was “desirous of contracting matrimony“. Letters were to be sent care of Alexander Warren of the Gum Tree Tavern in Toodyay.

The secrecy associated with most matrimonial advertisements means that we have no idea as to whether the advertisers were successful. Simon’s ad is an exception. We don’t know how many letters he received but a search on the Western Australia Births, Deaths and Marriages index shows that he did not marry in the same year it was placed. Four years passed before he married Emily Doust in Toodyay. It is unknown whether their initial acquaintance began because of the advertisement.

A positive of matrimonial advertisements was that people could write down what they desired in a spouse. Their only limit was the amount of money they had to spend. In 1858 ‘A.H.’ hoped to meet a young lady who was 22 or 23, good looking, musical, talented and (very specifically) possessed “a few hundred head of Cattle, duly registered and branded according to law.

As photography came upon the scene, advertisers began to request that potential suitors send photos of themselves. In 1878, writing care of the Albany Post Office, ‘Baalzephon’ wanted to correspond with an accomplished young lady and requested they send a carte de visite with their letter. Not everyone had the means for photographs, and those who did may have considered them too precious to send to a stranger. It is likely that ‘Baalzephon’ was hoping to meet a lady who could afford to have her photograph taken and was not concerned about losing them.

While the use of initials or an alias protected the writer from embarrassment, their identity was still at risk of being revealed. That risk intensified in a small town.

In 1879 ‘Mayflower’ advertised in the Victorian Express (Geraldton) that she wished to correspond with a good-looking gentleman who would “support her in the style to which she has been accustomed.

She received a response from a Northampton man referred to as ‘Little Sheepshead’. Sometime later, when they were both in Geraldton, a friend pointed her out to him. Shocked at how tall she was, he called her a “long-legged giraffe” and considered himself to have escaped. Although she probably wasn’t privy to the conversation, it would have been no less mortifying to read about it in the ‘Under the Verandah’ section of the newspaper.

The first instance of a response to an advertisement carried out through the newspapers occurred in the early 1890s. On 16 June 1892, a tall young man advertised in The West Australian that he wished to correspond with a young lady with a view to matrimony. The only specification was that he objected to redheads. Regardless, on the following day, a response from a tall young lady was printed in The Daily News.

Whether or not they went ahead with the meeting is not known. It is possible, considering the woman’s ad was placed in a different newspaper, that the man missed it entirely. There was also the chance that the proprietor of the hotel placed the ad in an attempt to draw the public. Such ad placements were not uncommon as businesses vied for attention.

Matrimonial newspaper advertising increased as people poured into Western Australia to take advantage of the goldrush. Many people lived in areas where there was a larger population of males compared to females. Perhaps they thought their best chance to find a spouse was through advertising in the newspapers. In 1893 two young men did exactly that. They did not mention looks; they requested ladies who could read and write and could operate a store on the goldfields.

On the other hand, two recent arrivals, Leo and Percy, were direct. They hoped to correspond with two ladies of good appearance who were able to render financial assistance.

An increased population resulted in a greater variety of matrimonial advertisements. Whereas in previous decades, ads were placed predominantly by men, the 1890s saw an increase in ads placed by women. Some had simple requests.

If money was tight, advertisers pooled their funds and shared the costs. In 1894, two widows and a spinster requested correspondence with three gentlemen with a view to matrimony. They had no objection to living in the country.

As matrimonial advertising increased, it was given its own section in the newspapers. People continued to use them throughout the 20th century. While I listed some of the unusual ones, there is a large trove of advertisements placed with little stipulation besides a desire for love and companionship. These ads may not be as amusing, but they are evidence of people longing to make connections. Ultimately, that’s why these ads existed. People wanted to connect, and for those who struggled, newspapers offered them the best possible means to do so.



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