Macquarie University
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To the beat of her own drum: feminine agency in colonial New South Wales 1873-1881

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posted on 2022-03-28, 11:12 authored by Marian J. Lorrison
This thesis analyses the ways that some colonial women achieved a measure of personal autonomy by engaging in an adulterous affair. It argues that despite entrenched structural inequalities, the adulterous woman was able to exercise agency in the context of her infidelity. Through an analysis of four cases tried by jury in which a husband sued for divorce on the ground of his wife's adultery, I explore how social class influenced women's capacity for agency. Using documentary evidence taken from the Supreme Court archives and the colonial press of 1873-1881, I suggest that even the powerless and disempowered can at times act with intentionality and autonomy, and that infidelity provided some women with a space in which to resist and challenge their oppression. However, exploring the interaction of social class with gender reveals that this resistance took very different forms according to the individuals material circumstances and position in society. Each of the four women here did indeed march to the beat of her own drum, but whilst facing an economic, political and legal disempowerment that severely hampered her efforts.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- A narrative of victimhood : perceptions of colonial women The long arm of the law : the matrimonial causes act of 1873 and the colonial divorce court -- Chapter 2. Martha Anderson : the seamstress and the commercial traveller -- Chapter 3. Fanny Teas : on the highway to ruin -- Chapter 4. Annette Miller : of idle and vagrant habits -- Chapter 5. Jane Dibbs : reduced to the lowest pitch of want and starvation -- Chapter 6. Conclusion : the iron cage of gender constraints -- Bibliography.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: 117-127

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award



Copyright Marian J. Lorrison 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (127 pages)

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