Auctioning a wife

Newspaper headlines are used to attract the attention of the reader. While one of our History Society members was doing some research, the headline above did its job very effectively.   

The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter of 1 March 1817 reported that “A Hibernian whose finances were rather low brought his wife to the hammer this morning, and although no way prepossessing in appearance, to the amazement of all present, she was sold and delivered to a settler for one gallon of rum and 20 ewes. From the variety of bidders, had there been any more in the market, the sale would have been very brisk!

One wonders whether our researcher thought that such a sale could not have occurred unless the wife was happy to go and leave the Hibernian behind.  Perhaps it was the case of anything had to be better!

Further research into this story yielded nothing other than the fact that the headline used in 1817 was good enough to raise attention when the story was cited once again in 1890 (Launceston Examiner 10 May 1890) in an article about the writings of Mr James Bonwick, F.R.G.S. who, the story states, had provided another important contribution to Australian literature through his paper on “Early Struggles of the Australian Press.”

The headline continued to grab attention when the Hobart publication, World on 12 Mar 1921 published a response to a speech by the then Governor who referred to Governor Arthur as “my distinguished predecessor”.  The article was all about the immoral and crooked acts of some of the then Governor’s distinguished predecessors and in particular, ”mad Colonel Davey, the second Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania.”

This man, the article states concealed his departure from England from his family, and it was only at the last moment that they accidentally discovered he was sailing for Tasmania.  Apparently it gave him a most disagreeable surprise when they also came “tumbling on board.”

Davey sent his luggage by another vessel that happened to be intercepted by American pirates.  He sought compensation from the Government for the loss of luggage and was rewarded and “by the tallest lying succeeded in obtaining the biggest grant of land ever conferred in Tasmania, 3000 acres.” 

He is said to have also “imported 200 women by the brig Kangaroo, which he obtained from Macquarie, who had “an inexhaustible penal store”.  Apparently it was “a case of first come, first served, and the whole 200 vanished into settlers’ homes in one day”.  One of these women was the unfortunate woman sold by the Hibernian and this very episode was used as a claim of what life was like under Davey.

The article goes on: “Blessed be Davey—he laid the foundation stone of St. David’s Cathedral, and proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.  Incidentally, he ordered a pint of rum to be given to every soldier and constable.  He was known as Davey the Drunk.  He made a curfew law, and lashed everybody, bond or free, who left their house at night.  He was, however, quite jovial at Government House.  There was a nightly orgy and rum, and in the early hours Government House would empty its contents into the streets, and they would wend their way home with wild, drunken yells.

He, Governor Davey, ordered 200 lashes to a man who broke into another man’s house; he also ordered iron collars for women.  However, he was a most estimable parson.  He fined a man £1 for “breaking the Sabbath Day by driving a cart and bullocks loaded with sawn timber through the streets of Hobart.  Likewise he prohibited bakers from making bread on Sunday, because doing so was a profanation of the Lord’s Day, vulgarly and improperly called Sabbath breaking.

At that time, out of ten of Davey’s officers, not one was living with his wife, but all had concubines, who were very much under orders.

All persons ‘neglecting to send their men to church, if near enough, will be deprived of assigned servants,’ proclaimed Governor Davey.

It is quite clear that it is an excellent idea to call one of our chief streets ”Davey Street.”

This information about Davey would not have been revealed to the researcher if not for the eye-catching headline!