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    South Australia - Social Matters

    Domestic Servants

    Also see Adelaide - Domestic Matters and SA - Women - Domestic Science

    The Domestic Servant in Colonial South Australia


    As I write in 1902 no single class of persons that can be named is so much in demand as are general servants, and scarcely anything is harder to find than one of these who thoroughly understands her business. In any other line of work such facts would be held quite sufficient to justify a special training.

    Disinclination to go into service as a means of obtaining a livelihood does not rest on satisfactory grounds. Domestic service is both physically and morally healthier than a number of other occupations that might be mentioned; efficiency in it is well remunerated and a young woman who possesses that qualification has the further advantage of being adapted to manage a home of her own.

    The chief drawback is a foolish idea that to 'be in service' is to be in a lower caste and that shop-girls and dressmakers' apprentices occupy a better social position. It is quite the time for this notion to be done away with and nothing will tend more certainly in that direction than making training in domestic duties a feature of girl's education.

    During the first few decades of settlement in South Australia one of the pleas urged for early return to the old country was the difficulty of obtaining suitable domestic servants. This was seen as an inseparable bar to the comfort and enjoyment of colonial life. However, obstructions were presented to good servants seeking passage to our shores and, in particular, to young women, or experienced women of middle age, who by a faithful discharge of their duty had earned good characters, as well as by prudence and economy, acquired a little money, and who were competent for every post, from the kitchen to the boudoir.

    This type of immigrant was refused a free passage because they had the truthfulness to state that they had a few pounds of savings and, as such, were not eligible for emigration orders. They sometimes came at their own cost, but it would have been money cheaply laid out to procure a hundred such by giving them a premium equal to their passage money.

    It was not only a gross injustice to applicants of this class to refuse them passages, but a fraud on the colony to reject such persons. The effect of such refusals was, obviously, to deter suitable persons in the prime of life from applying, who would have gladly exchanged the hopeless service in which they were spending their lives for the more cheering prospects presented to them in the colonies.

    Immigration and the Irish Domestic Servants
    However desirable it may be that we should introduce immigrants into Australia, it by no means follows that the whole, or even a very large majority, should hail from one particular portion of Her Majesty's dominions. English, Irish and Scotch are all excellent colonists, but the province is no doubt benefited to a larger extent by a judicious admixture of these races than it would be by a population composed of either one of them.

    The plodding Englishman, the mercurial Irishman and the canny Scot form a capital combination and when they work together for the advancement of their adopted home they exercise a wholesome check, the one upon the other, which cannot fail to be of great advantage in forwarding the interests of the colony generally, and in hastening us towards the time when we shall occupy that prominent position in the eyes of the world, which we are surely destined to attain to, let detractors and croakers say what they may. It is no trifling advantage that we have a large proportion of Germans amongst us, for they are admirable colonists, frugal, industrious and temperate; yet we should not wish to see an undue preponderance of this element in our population. It is far better that the nationalities should be, as I have said, judiciously balanced.

    However, in 1855, due to a certain degree of bungling by the 'home authorities', an 'injudicious' social problem was thrust upon us when, at the Female Immigrants' Depot on North Terrace, there could be found 'between 300 and 400 strong, healthy girls, mainly from Ireland, all with vigorous appetites and living idly at public expense.' They had been sent to South Australia at an expense of nearly 20 per head by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners and, by a fiction in which those Commissioners were fond of indulging, they were called 'domestic servants'. But they were not 'domestic servants' and never had been.

    It was useless to complain either of, or to, the Emigration Commissioners. That had been done ad nauseum; they were callous to all appeals and cared nothing, either for the injury they inflicted on the colonists, or the cruelty of which they were guilty to the girls they sent out.

    The Catholic clergy in the colony offered their assistance in getting the girls located in the country and proposed to use their influence to billet them on their own country people and so gradually disperse them over the colony where they would, in the course of time, find an occupation, if the government would pay the expense of their transit into the country and furnish a fortnight's rations.

    I do not intend to cover the sorry story of the fate of these girls except to say that country depots were established to house them - for example, at Willunga a newly completed court house was taken over by 40 Irish girls in June 1855, when they were allowed to accept any terms of hire they wished, but were not permitted to refuse any offer from persons whose 'respectability there was no reasons to doubt.' By October 1855 the depot was in a state of turmoil. The Matron, Mrs Lewis, and the overseer, Mr Kell, had fallen out, and even the Aborigines, who sawed wood for the girls, were to complain, 'Plurry white feller, plenty growl'. In an indignant letter to the Colonial Secretary, Mr Kell said:

    Following further trouble the depot was closed early in 1856.

    A Story From the 1855 Irish Immigration
    What follows is a true story and was by no means an isolated instance in the early days of settlement in South Australia; such a barefaced personation was a blot on our immigration system and, at the time, demands were made to put paid to such nefarious practices.

    In 1855 an Irish servant girl arrived as an immigrant, having left behind the old country and all that were near and dear to her. She left the home of her fathers with her mind made up to work hard - to battle through all difficulties, and to save as much money as would enable her younger sisters and relatives to follow her.

    Having arrived in this colony, though friendless and without money, she soon obtained suitable service at Clare, where she gathered and hoarded up her wages with a saving hand, till at length she found herself in possession of a sum sufficiently large to pay the passages from Ireland of two sisters and a brother.

    Accordingly, the money was sent home and high were her hopes. At length the vessel arrived and we can well imagine her joyfulness on learning that the names of her beloved and expected relatives were on a list of emigrants by the ship Confiance.

    The newly-arrived friends immediately sent word up the country of their safe arrival and obtained by return post from the poor hard-working girl who had sent for them, a letter of instructions, together with a sum of money to pay necessary expenses until they could travel to Clare. I now come to the sad and sorry aftermath.

    On 15 December 1859 the mail cart from Gawler to Clare contained eight passengers, one of whom was an Irishwoman newly arrived and about 30 years; another, a stripling boy of about 17; a third, a fat freckle-faced, sly looking girl of about 13 years; the boy and girl were evidently brother and sister.

    During the journey it came out in conversation that all three had just arrived in the Confiance from County Cavan. The elder of the three on being questioned, however, by a passenger in the cart, knew little or nothing of the county named; but the other two were well acquainted with the locality. The woman held herself slyly aloof from observation and avoided conversation as much as possible, but at a roadside public house the little girl being thirsty, and it being a very oppressive day, a gentleman called for some ginger beer for her to drink and desired the stripling to jump down and attend to his friends.

    The woman was then questioned. 'Was he (the stripling) her brother?' 'Perhaps he was.' Was he her husband?' 'Yes, and shure he was.' 'No, he's too young; are you his mother?' 'Then maybe I am. 'Are ye all three brothers and sisters?' 'Faith an I d'unna.' The ginger beer had evaporated and the cart proceeded on, leaving the rest of the passengers to draw their own conclusions.

    The cart at last arrived at Clare, where resided the faithful, hard-working and affectionate sister. The cart stopped. The sister ran out when, to her horror and dismay, instead of having to receive and welcome her own two sisters and brother, one sister only stood before her and acknowledged that with the money, which had been sent home, she had paid her own passage and also that of the big boy whom she had decoyed away from his home and married, and of his young sister, leaving her own sister and brother behind, in utter ignorance of the transaction.

    On the next morning, the trickster sister, her husband and his little sister, had to find 3/6/- for the driver of the mail cart and this was paid reluctantly by the poor girl who had sent for her family. She then mustered courage and acted as became her, turned them adrift to shift for themselves and resigned herself to her own resolves and meditations.

    An Overflow of Irish Servant Girls
    I am indebted to my good friend James Angas Foulds for his boyhood recollections: '[In 1855] this fair land of South Australia had more servant girls on hand than places could be found for. There had been a real scarcity of girls, but the Emigration Agent in England had overdone the thing and sent out shipload after shipload until there were hundreds of young women who could get no employment.

    'But the government made a good attempt to grapple with the difficulty and depots were opened in every important township, where the girls were gradually absorbed into the general population. The poor things complained bitterly of what they considered to be deceit. The agent who boomed the affair promised them that they would get one pound a week and a choice of three mistresses and, instead, they had to take 2/6d, and even less.

    'On the farm where I worked the first that was hired was Mary Connor. She was young and rather good-looking. She did not know much about work - washed the dishes in cold water and was afraid that the cow would bite her, when told to milk it - but there was good stuff in Mary.

    'A little patience, a little gentle overlooking and she would have done well enough; but the mistress was overbearing and unsympathetic and Mary had to go. I helped to carry her things. She was always kind and good to me, and out of her little bit of money she tipped me. Five years later such money would have burned my hand, but to a boy of 13 or 14 a tip is a tip.

    'We had nearly got into the township when we met a man driving a bullock dray. He stopped and shook hands with Mary - they had met and exchanged a word or two when Mary was out after the cows. He told me to walk on as he had something to say to "this young lady". I had to wait longer than I liked, but at last Mary came along. "Jim", she said, "what sort of man is that." "Why, jolly ugly, can't you see for yourself." "No, but what sort of character has he?" "Pretty bad, he's a mean, stingy old cove. He saw me and some fellows taking some of his melons and he ran after us with a bullock whip." "You little spalpeen; it's yourself has the bad character; but is he a decent man?"

    '"He's anything but that. Larry Maloney says he's the most indecent man in the vicinity. Larry says he has got a bottle of brandy locked up in a box, and you can visit him as often as you like, but he'll never bring it out, not even if your head is splitting. Larry says there is no decency in him at all." "Do you think now, if he had a wife he would treat her well?" "I'm jolly well sure he wouldn't. She would have to be up early and get his meals regularly and he'd keep the purse and there would be no sprees or dances." Mary asked no more questions, but shortly after she withdrew herself from the labour market and, in spite of my disapproval, married the man who had "no decency in him."

    'The next girl we got was Bridget McShane. She was an excellent farm girl and she could reap - the price for reaping in 1855 was one pound an acre. Working long hours Biddy could reap half an acre a day, but house and dairy work spoiled her average. Anyway she did work worth two pounds a week, but all she got was a beggarly half-crown. 'I can't crack up thes

    e old pioneer people the way some do. All that I knew seem to me to have been very short of ordinary gumption; the people I was with were. Having such a capital bargain as Biddy they took no pains to keep it, but domineered over her outrageously and, being spirited, she at last broke out into mutiny and shook her fist in the mistress's face. The master hadn't the sense to get another girl for the housework and keep Biddy for reaping and winnowing, for she would have been dirt cheap at one pound a week, but packed her off.

    'Better men than he have put their dignity in their pockets for the sake of keeping a good servant. Biddy's fists got her into trouble on board the ship she came out in. She had a rough brogue and an English girl took upon herself to set Biddy right in her pronunciation. Biddy had said that the matron's watch did not keep "roight toime". "Can't you say 'right time'. Why don't you try to pronounce your i's correctly?"

    'Biddy's fist flew up and took her instructress fair under her left eyebrow. "Is that 'eoye' pronounced correctly now? Will you tell me that now? And not another dd word out of you or I'll pronounce the other 'eoye' for you. Now, do you persave my maning now?" The victim must have been more than ordinarily dull if she didn't, but Biddy had to submit to punishment for breaking the peace and good order of the ship.

    'A good number of these girls soon found husbands, for times were good for men. One of them married a widower who lived near a friend's house where I visited. She was a great gossip and did a lot of blowing. To hear her talk, her father must have been a gentleman farmer... Now, there was living in the house a runaway sailor. He had been first mate of a vessel but had quarrelled with the captain.

    'He was very quiet, in general, but on occasion he could be very sarcastic. He seemed to be listening respectfully to Norah's blowing - "The kitchen was like here... and upstairs there were seven bedrooms, and upstairs again from that was the servants' bedrooms, for my father's house was a three-storeyed house and" - "Oh, as for that", said the sailor, "all Irish people live in three-storeyed houses, with the fowls roosting in the rafters and the pigs under the bed."

    'Norah said afterwards that only she was not in her own house she would have given him a kettle of boiling water. She never said anything more about three-storeyed houses when blowing and, indeed, her romancing from that time was considerably moderated. 'Although it was a great mistake to send out so many girls at once, the ultimate gain to the colony was great, for they left many descendants.'

    A Catholic Point of View - A Word for Irish Servant Girls

    The unfortunate, and may I suggest totally unnecessary, antipathy between the Catholic and Protestant churches, that has existed for centuries, is exemplified in the following editorial from The Harp and Southern Cross which I quote in its entirety, leaving the reader to make his or her own judgement upon its underlying message:

    The Servants' Home
    In August 1856 Mr Edward Dewhirst suggested that 'every Christian heart [would] be truly gratified at the prospect of an institution arising amongst us for the reclamation of fallen females.' He went on to plead the cause of domestic servants who:

    His words were unheeded until 1862 when a committee of twelve ladies established 'The Servants Home'. Initially, the home was not intended to deal with immigrants, but was inaugurated for the purpose of providing a home for servants out of situations and was carried on by voluntary contributions supplemented by the government.

    A connection with immigration began when the committee received a letter from Dr Duncan seeking them to take charge of single women from each immigrant ship as it arrived. The immigration that had been going on for seven years past had not been carried out without many difficulties and one of the most delicate matters to deal with was the introduction of single women.

    On 5 November of that year thirteen immigrants, at the request of the government, were received from the Sir John Lawrence into a home in King William Street. Here, under the supervision of Mrs Stapley, they were treated with care and kindness. Before leaving the home they were talked to by one or more ladies of the committee, who advised the girls to look to the institution as their home in a land where they were strangers.

    There were several removals prior to 1874, when premises were leased at the corner of Freeman and Flinders Streets. The government afterwards purchased this property, as well as the adjoining house, and made alterations which much improved and increased the accommodation. These premises were rent free, the committee undertaking to manage the reception of female immigrants. By 1878 the home consisted of the two houses thrown into one, had well-ventilated rooms and the accommodation was regarded, generally, as excellent.

    The office was at the corner and here persons desiring to hire servants were received, while beyond was a room used exclusively for the hiring of those who arrived from the old country. Amongst the lower apartments the committee had a boardroom, while a bedroom was set apart for the matron of the ship whose immigrants happened to be in the institution.

    The immigrants' dining room was a large airy apartment capable of seating sixty and there was a smaller dining room used by inmates. Two kitchens were provided and four bathrooms opened off the yard, a lumber room and a place where all baggage and bedding was stored.

    Of the sleeping places there is a room looking into Freeman Street which accommodates 24 inmates. This is generally used by the servants who return to the home to await re-engagement. An apartment looking into Flinders Street accommodates 18, while overlooking the yard a larger room, can accept up to 32. In round numbers, accommodation for 84 immigrants is available.

    A registry book is kept in which are entered the name of each new-comer, the ship she came by, the date of her arrival, the number of days during which she has been maintained by the government, when she left the home and the address of her employer. This last entry is most important, as all letters for single female immigrants first come to the home.

    On the first evening after arrival they are visited by a minister, who gives them advice as to their future course in the colony and concludes his visit with devotional exercises. On Sunday morning, if there are new arrivals in the home, they are drafted off to the various churches and, in the evening, a member of the committee holds a kind of service. The Roman Catholics are allowed to attend their own church.

    The matron's experience with the immigrants show that she has had, occasionally, a good deal of trouble with them. Many have not been desirable colonists and have sought more freedom than could safely be allowed them. She has found persons of bad repute visiting the home on the arrival of ships in order, if possible, to lure some of the new-comers into an improper course of life, but she has dealt firmly with such cases and refused admission to the persons in question.

    The committee only receive back girls who have a recommendation from their last employer as to character and they pay 10 shillings a week for their board, or 1/6d. a day. When a ship arrives on a Saturday there is most trouble and confusion, as the sailors, being off duty and friends also at leisure, make their appearance to see the immigrants and, frequently, not in the most presentable state. In its first sixteen years of operation 5,690 persons were received from 92 ships and 4,023 returning servants accommodated and re-engaged.

    What Are We To Do For Domestic Servants?

    By the early 1870s the occupation of a domestic servant was, for reasons clearly discernible from my previous utterances, not increasing in favour among the available female labour force. Further, native industries such as factories and shops gave employment to a large number of single women. This, of course, absorbed many who would, normally, have sought to be employed in domestic service.

    A great deal was said about these factory hands with which I could not sympathise. They were, as a class, respectable young women. Many lived in their own homes under the protection of their parents. Many more were in lodging houses where they had sought and secured the protection of married people. Surely, we should not have regretted the multiplication of industries by which young women earned honest livelihoods and saw their way to future advancement.

    The following letter from a 'Domestic Servant' is worthy of attention on this and ancillary matters relative to female employment in the 19th century:

    In 1874, if I had put in print the various enquiries and condolences of people wanting cooks, housemaids, general servants, etc., it would have been as amusing as reading Punch. The middle and upper classes had to do not merely with the vagaries of servant-gal-ism, over which the humorist of Fleet Street had so much mirth - the case is much worse - for it could only exist where there were servant girls and amongst us this threatened to become, speedily, an extinct institution.

    Hospitality was arrested in its course. Knives, forks, and silver assumed a dingy appearance. Beds were still made and rooms swept and boots blacked - after a fashion; but frequently the result betrayed too clearly the apprentice hand of some extemporised and unskilled assistant.

    Door bells were answered with singular deliberation or delay, and when the door, at length, was opened the trim housemaid was too often represented by some gaunt charwoman or diminutive representative of female humanity. The household routine fast became a 'Comedy of Errors'.

    Awkwardness, untidiness, ignorance, bad temper, had all to be meekly endured, lest even the sorry attendance afforded by some inefficient 'help' should be exchanged, speedily, for none. The embattled classes of our society made the best of a bad business and smiled, grimly, at one another as they recounted their several discomforts. The labour offices and agencies appealed in vain - the poor agents were sorry enough for themselves, for, as far as female servants were concerned, their occupation was well nigh gone and they missed the pleasant chink of expected half-crowns. In answer to plaintive enquiries they shook their heads, ruefully, at would-be employers, as much to say - 'No Go!'

    And yet, in an unreasonable state of mind, feeling as they did the comic light in which their situation presented itself - that is, to other people - as they turned away dejected from their door, they found themselves fancying that they were being laughed at.

    When a mistress of a house was fairly at her wit's end, the sight of the placid countenance of her spouse made her rub her pretty nose with sudden irritation. It might have been a fly or a temper. I suspect it was the latter, but would it not have tried the temper of an angel to see him sitting there taking it so very coolly?

    He was swept speedily into the whirlwind of the general discomfort. 'Can he do something?' Look at the poor children! What is the good of hearing the energy of men dinned into our ear if they can't do something to help a poor wife at such a time as this?' At this unexpected assault what was the poor man to do? The chances were ten to one that, with characteristic masculine imbecility, he scratched his head for an idea, invoked benediction on his soul, mused deeply and ended with the happy thought - 'Advertise.' 11 On a more personal note a correspondent gave her appraisal of the situation:

    Of course, there were others in the community with harsher opinions of the domestic servant - one employer expressed her misgivings as follows:

    Not to be outdone the resident poet at the office of the Register expressed his thoughts in the following satirical verse:

    Political Interference in the Domestic Servant Problem
    In 1877 Mr Bray moved in the House of Assembly 'That he have leave to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Masters and Servants Act, 1863.' This announcement in the daily press met with a satirical response:

    The dearth of domestic servants continued into the 1880s and, in 1888, the Honourable Samuel Tomkinson asked the Legislative Council to carry a motion in favour of the resumption of assisted immigration for the purpose of introducing 'a considerable number of female domestic servants forthwith'; he was left in a minority of one. The next year he submitted a similar motion and was beaten by a majority on nine. It was evident he was making no progress, yet his appeals were absolutely pathetic.

    It might have been that if women's suffrage had been introduced at this time 'servantgalism' could have been raised to the dignity of a national question. However, it was merely a matter of domestic importance; but, as such, it exercised the minds of mistresses all over the world and everywhere from them the same complaint was heard. And everywhere domestic servants, or their advocates, were ready with the same replies. I readily understood the attitude of Mr Tomkinson. He belonged to the leisured classes; colonial developments were distasteful to him. He did not believe in the liberalism which tended to exalt the position of the working people. He was impressed with the mischievous tendency of popular education to make humble folk dissatisfied with the social position in which they were born, and incited them to try and rise above it.

    He held in horror progressive legislation of the character that usually secured the support of working people. And he blamed such legislation for causing the social difficulty which he was anxious to solve by invoking the interference of the State.

    'For many years past', said Mr Tomkinson, 'legislation has been directed to improve the condition of one particular class by shortening the hours of labour and raising rates of wages. The consequence was that many of that class came into competition with those who usually required the assistance of domestics.' This, then, was a substantial grievance. 'The girls who, in an ideal social state should have been available for domestic service, got married advantageously and had an ambition to become mistresses themselves. Accordingly, the demand exceeded the supply. Mistresses were doing all they could to humour the prejudices of domestic help, but some of these young persons were really 'too exacting.'

    Mr Tomkinson actually knew of cases 'where notice had been given owing to the work being too hard.' A colony, where the independence of servants ran to this objectionable extreme, could have done better than spend thousands of pounds in importing a 'few cargoes of girls'. What if the immigrants imported at that expense had left for other colonies? Mr Tomkinson admitted this danger, for he said, 'they come and go capriciously - sometimes for mere change', but such was the need of servants he contended it was better to import some and 'take our chance.'

    The Legislative Council could not be induced to carry a motion for the introduction at the State's expense of labour designed not to increase production but to minister to the luxury of the well-to-do classes of the community. Several members of the council declared that if mistresses treated their servants well they need never want of suitable help. The fault, they said, was that of the mistresses, not the girls.

    To some extent this was true, but everywhere the same causes were at work in producing the complaint that female domestic servants could not be obtained as they were required and these causes were of a varied and complex character. One of them was the preference for work in shops and factories within limited hours of service, to service in a family where the hours were longer and the position of inferiority was thought to be marked more distinctly.

    The servant girl question was, and is today, a very wide one, but it must be left to solve itself. Much as the colony needs population, it does not want population that has to be assisted here, especially if the immigrants are to be introduced to disturb the labour market for the benefit of one particular class, and without any idea of increasing the productions of the country.

    A considered response from a working man to Mr Tomkinson's demands appeared towards the closure of the debate in the chamber:

    Mr Tomkinson persisted with his efforts to 'import' domestic servants and, in August 1891, he was rebuked by that active feminist, Mary Lee:

    Confessions of a Domestic Servant cum Mistress
    A friend of mine in Norwood was kind enough to tell me an intriguing story in which, during her lifetime, she acted in the capacity of both a domestic servant and a mistress: 'When I was a child my mother kept four, and sometimes five servants, but after I left the dear home I had ups and downs and for a time was a servant myself. Today, as a married woman, I keep a servant ant thus I think I may speak a word for the domestic servant.

    'I had one place on a station as nurse and needlewoman. There were only two children - a boy about three years and a girl of six months - I had to call them "Master" and "Miss" so-and-so. I was never allowed to speak to the other servants- only going down to the servant's hall for my dinner.

    'When the children went to bed at six o'clock I had to sit down and sew their clothes, never seeing a soul. At 9 or 10 I could go to bed. When I took the children out for a walk in the morning and afternoon, weather allowing, I was told not to go beyond the grounds and not to speak to any men. I never had the chance as I only saw cows and horses.

    'Next I was informed that all servants had to take a bath on Friday night. I am as fond of the bath as any one can be, but a servant does not like to be told to take one at such a time. There were four servant women and sometimes it would be near 12 o'clock at night before the last one of us got a bath. I took one bath for a trial and then I told my mistress that I preferred my bath in the morning, but she would not allow that.

    'The squire happened to go away and to stay overnight and I was told to sleep on a couch at the foot of the mistress's bed, the children sleeping with her for the night. Well, if that good lady called me up once, she called me seven times from 10 until 1 o'clock. "Nurse, put out the light.' 'Nurse, put some wood on the fire.' And so on till the seventh time I said - "Please do it yourself" and went into the children's room and to bed and to sleep.

    'Next morning I told her to get another girl, as the place did not suit me, and she was surprised when I told her that although I had with her only a couple of weeks I had gone hungry to bed, as tea and bread and butter at 5 o'clock and nothing till morning at 8 o'clock was not enough to keep a woman alive. This was many years ago, but it is true, and if there are many such places and mistresses I do not wonder that the girls grumble.

    'Now I will explain how I treat my girl. She has been with me for three years. I do not suppose she would have stayed that long but for her parents being sensible people, telling her she does not know when she is well off. I tell my girl what she has to do - one room every day to clean thoroughly, except washing day, when I do everything myself, while the girl washes; and I tell her to get up early - say at 6 o'clock - and finish work as early as she likes, so long as everything is clean, and when she has done there is the paper or books to read, or she can sew for herself, to go for a walk whenever she likes, but must be home in good time.

    'The girl finishes her work easily at 2.30 pm and she cleans herself and goes for a walk or to see her friends, and comes back for tea, and if there is a concert, or something like that, I always let her go when I possibly can. If I were to say to my girl, "When you have finished your work here is some mending to do", she most likely would keep messing the work about until teatime and, having had a servant's experience, I should not altogether blame her.

    'When you get up early, dusting, sweeping, scrubbing and cooking you really want a bit of fresh air and a little pleasure; and if the mistresses would try and give opportunities for these, and help the girls and let them out for an hour or two every day, they would be more contented and stay longer in their places.'

    The Working Day of a Domestic Servant in the 1880s
    A servant signing herself as 'Emma' had this to say in July 1884: 'I was engaged by a registry office keeper as a cook and was informed that it was a nice easy place, with only four in the family and nothing to do but cooking. This is what I had to do. 'Get up at half-past 5 in the morning, sweep the verandah, scrub the passage and bathroom, clean and black lead the scraper. beat the door mats, feed the fowls, milk a cow, clean four pairs of boots and above all things for a cook to do, scrub the water closet. Then I had to cook breakfast for seven in the family. 'After breakfast, which was always cold when I got it, I had to wash up all the things and help the girl, called the housemaid, to make the beds and clean the house. Then I had to cook the lunch, which had to be on the table at 1 o'clock sharp, or else look out for a row. 'After lunch I was required to wash up and get the dinner ready, which was on the table by 7 o'clock and was as follows - Two joints, soup or fish, three sorts of vegetables and puddings and pies; sometimes both. At 10 o'clock coffee had to be made and by the time the cups and saucers were washed up it was 11 o'clock.

    'Then we got to bed - often so tired we could not sleep. This was my daily work... I had also to do all the ironing, which was no small job... On Sunday there was double the usual amount of cooking as the family always brought a lot of company from church. All this I had to do for 12 shillings a week and I continued to do it until my health got bad and when I left the mistress would not give me a reference...

    'I was at that place for four months and only got one afternoon in the week off during the whole time and two Sunday evenings. I forgot to mention that after tea was cleared away I had to chop the wood. This is what the registry office calls a nice easy place and a nice lady to work for... I am now out of a place and have no money, for what with paying my board and the doctor - who said I must have a rest - all I have saved has been spent...

    Domestic Service and Sweating

    As I conclude this essay on domestic service a debate is in progress between a church and the Trades and Labour Council in South Australia and, in March 1904, Mr F.S. Wallis of the latter body had this to say:

    At about the same time, E. Siemer, Secretary of the Working Women's Trades Union wrote:

    The ancient enquiry - 'Is life worth living?' must be answered in the old-fashioned way - 'It depends upon the liver.' Upon the condition of the barometric organ of man has hung the destiny of empires, the fate of trembling prisoners at the bar, and all that is involved in the turning of the scale from failure to success. The liver is connected with digestion, good digestion with good cooking and good cooking with the domestic servant question.

    When the home machinery works smoothly the politician pitches his addresses in the sweet key of conciliation, the judge takes a lenient view of the criminal's case and the office boy puts his heart, as well as elbow-grease, into the task of polishing the handle of the front door. When that machinery frets and creaks, strains and breaks down in the house of the Minister for Foreign Affairs that potentate is apt, in sheer irritability, to plunge the nation into war.

    The literary man is liable to dip his pen in gall and to cause politicians to dance like jumping-jacks, and the small boy to subject the domestic cat to violent assaults. In many homes the 'governor' of the machine revolves in servants' hall or kitchen. Though frequently thought and foolishly called 'the slavey', the maid of the house is sometimes the 'master' of it and always an important personage. What a faithful confidential clerk is in the counting-house, the servant may be, and should be, in the home.

    'The mistresses are too exacting and inconsiderate and factory service is easier than housework.' 'The servants we have are indolent and arrogant, and there are not enough girls available for the positions which are offering.' These declarations represent, from opposite points of view, the pith of current feelings within the respective parties.

    The unpopularity of domestic service amongst young women, who are dependent on their own energies for the means of livelihood, is apparent and increasing. Nor is it very surprising. The ever-widening sphere open to female enterprise has given the choice of numerous occupations which, in remuneration as well as in attractiveness, easily compete with household duties.

    Liberty has its enchantment, and unemployment restricted to clearly defined hours, leaving the employee free to occupy her leisure as she pleases, is generally looked upon as less irksome than work which is spread over practically all the day, and leaves scarcely any recognised hours for recreation beyond the occasional afternoon or evening 'out'.

    Eight hours in a factory may be more exacting, so far as the actual demands made on physical energy are concerned, than a longer period of arduous toil with intermittent rest, but the average human being prefers to have some portion of the day free from all the control which may be devoted to pleasure or more serious occupations at the dictates of the passing mood.

    Factory or shop work, too, is usually of a specific kind, and the employee knows just what is required and how much is fair remuneration for her labour. In the household much time is absorbed in small and often unnoticed items of work, and the daily routine becomes dull and monotonous, while an additional element of unpleasantness is sometimes imported by a consciousness that the services rendered are not giving satisfaction. For all these things the lady of the house is usually as much to blame as her assistant.

    Domestic service may be made pleasant, or it may be drudgery, according to the temper and reasonableness of the mistress, just as much as the disposition of the maid. Thoughtless and inconsiderate employers make unwilling and slovenly servants in all occupations, and there is no doubt that in many homes too much is expected from the domestic assistant.

    How is the standard of efficiency in the maid-of-all-work to be improved? The question is certainly a difficult one, and the difficulty is enhanced by the impossibility in houses, where only one or two girls are employed, of specialising the work. The field to be covered is a very wide one. In almost any other form of industry the same number of items would be divided into several distinct branches, and a comparatively small amount of practice would give a fair degree of proficiency.

    In household work the maid in some families is expected to help with the cooking, wait at the table and attend on members of the family, in addition to washing, cleaning, dusting, and other innumerable other odds and ends which often do not count. This would be a sufficiently varied programme even if there were special preparation for the work. But as a rule no apprenticeship is served; and, of course, in the absence of training no marked success can be reasonably expected.

    The same thing is true of all callings and occupations. Even the most menial work will be better performed by a trained hand than by a novice. Some branches of domestic service are distinctly entitled to be placed in the category of skilled labour, and this should be remembered both by mistress and maid. The physical powers of endurance ought also to have consideration, especially in an enervating climate like ours.

    The necessity for training girls for work of this nature has long been admitted in some places, and homes and institutions with this object have been established. It is not unreasonable to suppose that mothers can, in all cases, give the required instructions to their daughters. Many of them are not expert themselves, and the homes from which domestic servants are drawn do not usually possess the essentials for such instruction. It is fortunately true that there may often be found, even amongst the poorest classes, as much native refinement or character as exists in the more imposing residences of the well-to-do. There are 'sons of God and kings of men' in every stratum of society; but this does not mean that girls from such homes are necessarily qualified to discharge the duties required of them in domestic service.

    To take a girl directly from her parental cottage and place her in a residence, the appointments of which are unlike anything she has ever seen, and then to expect from her services which will meet with the approval of the mistress, is to make an impossible demand.

    In such a case she has no knowledge of the habits of the people, and she has never seen many of the utensils she will have to use. To wait at table, to prepare delicate dishes, to handle costly ornaments for the purpose of dusting them, are tasks for which some experience is needed, and this experience cannot be acquired in the lowly cottage, however respectable it may be.

    In New South Wales a home where orphans and other girls are trained for such occupations has recently attracted some attention in the public press, and the excellence of the work has been recognised. Such homes in England are helping to meet an acknowledged need. In this State something is being done in a small way at the Young Christian Association Home at Semaphore, where girls of fifteen years of age or over are taken for periods of not less than six months and trained by a competent matron to discharge, in competent fashion, the duties of the table, to wait on boarders, to prepare and dish up food and to engage inn household tasks in a noiseless and efficient a manner as possible.

    That there is a need for such an institution is evident, and it may be confidently expected that those girls who have had the benefit of systematic training will secure the best appointments and command the highest remuneration. Domestic economy is, however, a science that merits the attention of mistresses and maids. The servant girl problem would be less acute and the average home much happier, if it received the study it deserves.

    Finally, a word or two to the mistresses. Do remember you are dealing with flesh and blood, being of the same nature and feeling as yourself, not possible endowed with the same amount of delicacy of feeling or love of order and taste for the beautiful, who lack the educational advantages that you enjoy, but yet possess warm, sympathetic womanly hearts, and willing feet to obey with alacrity the behests of those they respect and love.

    And, ladies, it is never below your dignity to seek to make yourselves beloved by those who are in your employ. You will lose nothing and gain much - how much none but those who have tried it know. Make your home a home to your assistants, study their welfare and they will, in the majority of instances, study yours; but treat them with scorn and contempt and the measures you mete out will be measured out to you again and to the end of the chapter you will be in difficulties with your domestics and have to bemoan your sad lot with your friends. Then, again, pay them well and treat them with confidence. A close, stingy mistress will never have a good girl stop with her - they would be foolish to do so.

    In conclusion, a word or two to the girls. Remember, if you want considerate treatment you must give due respect to your employer. A true lady could never put up with impudence when she points out a defect, and she has an undoubted right to mention things that do not please her. Your place is to quietly strive to do better in the future.

    General Notes

    "Hired Servants" is in the Observer,
    13 January 1849, page 4e.

    The subject of domestic servants is aired in the Register on
    27 December 1853, page 3e,
    21 January 1854, page 3d,
    2 March 1855, page 2h.
    The subject is discussed under the heading "Social Evils" in the Observer,
    19 June 1858, page 6f.

    A correspondent's suggestion for a "Servants' Home" is in the Observer,
    2 August 1856, page 2d (supp.).
    A Servants' Home is discussed in the Observer,
    27 September 1862, page 6c,
    7 and 10 March 1863, pages 2e-3a and 2f,
    21 October 1865, page 2h,
    3 and 5 December 1868, pages 2g and 3d,
    13 January 1869, page 2f,
    24 December 1869,
    28 October 1865, page 1g (supp.),
    16 January 1869, page 4b,
    19 June 1869, page 4d,
    31 July 1869, page 3d,
    27 December 1869, page 2e, page 2e.

    Also see Register,
    11 February 1858, page 3e,
    10 June 1858, page 2c,
    14 January 1860, page 2h,
    11 April 1860, page 2g,
    5 July 1861, page 2h,
    26 August 1862, page 3c,
    11 and 23 September 1862, pages 2f and 2f,
    28 February 1863, page 3a,
    12 September 1868, page 2f.

    A cartoon and a poem are in The Adelaide Punch,
    19 December 1868, page 15,
    6 June 1878, page 10.

    "An Overflow of Servant Girls [in earlier days]" is in the Register,
    1 June 1904, page 9g.

    Cooking classes at the Servants' Home are discussed in the Express,
    11 December 1877, page 2f.
    "Benefit Society for Female Servants" is in the Register,
    27 March 1869, page 3a.
    Also see Adelaide - Domestic Matters

    "Mistresses and Maids" is in the Chronicle,
    8 May 1869, page 12c,
    "Mistresses and Their Domestics" in the Register,
    5 March 1874, page 7c.

    Also see Observer,
    9 September 1871, page 8b under "Female Immigration",
    11 November 1871, page 7f,
    13 February 1873, page 2c,
    19 May 1873, page 3b,
    28 November 1874, page 2e,
    3 February 1874, page 6d and
    5 March 1874, page 7c,
    30 March 1876, page 4e.

    "Female Servants From Home", a letter from Caroline A. Gawler, is in the Register,
    27 August 1872, page 6d.

    "A Word for Irish Servant Girls" is in The Irish Harp,
    6 March 1874, page 3a.
    Also see Immigration

    "The Scarcity of Domestic Servants" is in the Observer,
    19 December 1874, page 13b; also see
    5 December 1874, page 11e.

    "Our Servants" is in the Chronicle,
    8 and 22 April 1876, pages 5d and 5e,
    8 December 1877, page 13d.

    A poem is in the Register,
    9 May 1876, page 5e.

    "A Model Servant", an obituary of Agnes Peebles, is in the Register,
    31 December 1883, page 5b.

    A sketch entitled "The Servant Girl" is in the Pictorial Australian in June 1884, page 90.

    "A Voice From the Kitchen" is in The Lantern,
    8 September 1877, page 5.

    A history of the servants' home is in the Register,
    22 October 1878, page 6b,
    26 October 1878, page 19f.

    "The Servants' Home" is described in the Observer,
    14 October 1876, page 8a,
    24 February 1877, page 10d.
    A sketch is in Frearson's Weekly,
    22 March 1879, page 41.

    Also see Observer,
    7 February 1880, page 230a,
    4 June 1881, page 2a (supp.),
    11 January 1882, page 3d,
    14 January 1882, page 5c,
    24 June 1882, page 5a,
    1 and 7 July 1882, pages 1g (supp.) and 6e,
    sketches of various phases of "servant-gal-ism" are in Frearson's Weekly,
    23 December 1882, page 682.

    Also see Advertiser,
    16 January 1883, page 4d,
    27 January 1883, page 16e,
    4 and 7 April 1883, pages 2b (supp.) and 7b,
    14 and 21 April 1883, pages 39e and 41e,
    Advertiser, 1, 15 and 26 July 1884, pages 6c, 6g and 7c,
    2 and 7 August 1884, pages 2d (supp.) and 7f,
    25 June 1884, page 6g,
    1, 15, 19 and 23 July 1884, pages 3c, 4a, 2e and 5f,
    13 August 1884, page 6c,
    12 January 1888, page 2c,
    31 December 1887, page 7f,
    24 May 1888, page 3g,
    17 and 24 August 1889, pages 7g and 3h.

    "Domestic versus Factory Service" is in the Express,
    22 September 1886, page 6f.
    Also see Women - Industrial Relations

    A poem is in The Lantern,
    10 July 1880, page 12, 4 June 1887, page 19.

    "The Servant Girl Difficulty" is in the Express,
    27 February 1889, page 6b,
    2 March 1889, page 8f,
    "A Word for the Servant" on
    24 May 1890, page 16f.

    "Mr Tomkinson and Domestic Servants" is in the Express,
    16 August 1889, page 2c.

    A meeting of the Domestic Servants Union is reported in the Observer,
    1 November 1890, page 29c.

    A letter from Mary Lee is in the Observer,
    1 August 1891, page 8d.

    Also see Advertiser,
    20 January 1890, page 7b,
    1 and 6 February 1890, pages 7d and 7c,
    12 March 1890, page 6g,
    16 June 1890, page 3g,
    7 February 1890, page 4c,
    7, 16, 21, 24 and 28 June 1890, pages 3g, 6c-7e, 7h, 4g and 6g,
    19 July 1890, page 7b,
    29 May 1891, page 3h,
    6 June 1891, page 3h,
    25 July 1891, page 7b,
    1 August 1891, page 4g,
    16 November 1891, page 7c:

    Also see Register,
    22 March 1898, page 4d,
    22 and 23 February 1900, pages 4e-6c and 7h,
    9 April 1900, page 4d,
    14 July 1900, page 11g,
    10 August 1900, page 3d,
    6 and 19 October 1900, pages 8f and 6f.

    "Servants v Governesses" is in the Weekly Herald,
    11 February 1899, page 6d,
    11 March 1899, page 9a,
    9 September 1899, page 6a.

    "Domestic Servants and Their Hours" is in the Register,
    18 November 1899, page 6g.

    "The Servant Question" is in the Advertiser,
    1 December 1900, page 8f; also see
    19 and 21 January 1901, pages 6e and 6f,
    "The Servant Girl Problem" appears on
    22 July 1902, page 6c,
    "Domestic Service" on
    17 August 1903, page 4c,
    "Domestic Training" on
    14 November 1903, page 6d.

    "Domestic Service Worry" is in the Register,
    22 and 23 February 1900, pages 4e and 7h.

    "Status of the Domestic Servant" is in the Register,
    19 and 28 January 1901, pages 6d and 6g,
    26 January 1901, page 33b.

    Also see Register,
    16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 28 January 1901, pages 9f, 6f, 4d, 7h, 6i, 6e and 6e,
    1, 4 and 11 February 1901, pages 3h and 3e,
    8 June 1901, page 4g,
    13 September 1906, page 6h.

    "Domestic Servants and Sweating" is in the Register,
    5, 8 and 10 March 1904, pages 8e, 6g and 3h.
    Also see Women - Industrial Relations

    "Scarcity of Domestic Servants" is in the Advertiser,
    2 February 1906, page 4h,
    4 April 1906, page 11d.

    "Dearth of Domestics - Solution Wanted" is in the Register,
    20, 21 and 26 February 1907, pages 7c, 7h and 8b,
    "The Servant Girl Problem" in the
    21 March 1907, page 4e; also see
    The Herald,
    16 March 1907, page 8a,
    28 December 1907, page 3c,
    8 October 1907, page 9c,
    3 March 1908, page 4i.

    "Servants from England" is in the Advertiser,
    4 February 1908, page 6h.

    Information on wages is in the Advertiser,
    7 April 1908, page 11f; also see
    16 April 1908, page 6c:

    Also see Register,
    8 October 1907, page 9c,
    4 February 1908, page 5a,
    7 December 1908, page 9e,
    16 January 1909, page 9a,
    16 and 23 December 1909, pages 4g and 8c,
    26 and 30 November 1909, pages 7d and 11d,
    5 April 1910, page 8c,
    25 May 1910, page 6c,
    15 December 1910, page 12g,
    8 September 1910, page 1h.

    "A Maidless Christmas - Dearth of Domestic Help" is in the Register
    on 23 and 25 December 1909, pages 8c and 5b,
    17 and 22 November 1910, pages 11b and 4e,
    6, 12 and 15 December 1910, pages 3g, 9e and 5e-10f.
    Also see Christmas in South Australia

    "Domestic Service" is in the Register,
    5 December 1910, page 6e.
    "Domestic Servants From England" is in the Register,
    18 October 1911, page 9a.

    Also see Register,
    5, 7, 19, and 24 January 1911, pages 6g, 12h and 6d,
    6, 8, 20, 21, 22, 24 and 27 February 1911, pages 8h, 6b, 6f, 10h, 5g, 9e and 11c,
    7, 13, 15 and 18 March 1911, pages 9f, 10b, 8g and 5g,
    6 May 1911, pages 12e-15a.

    Also see Register,
    29 July 1911, page 16a,
    12 August 1911, page 11e,
    15, 20 and 27 September 1911, pages 13c, 13e and 12g,
    18 October 1911, page 9a,
    13 November 1911, page 8e,
    23 February 1912, page 6d,
    31 January 1912, page 3g,
    10 February 1912, page 15a,
    15 June 1912, page 13b,
    18 June 1912, page 8f.

    "Orphan Girls from India" is in the Observer,
    2 March 1912, page 53b,
    20 April 1912, page 43e,
    "Misleading Emigrants" in the Observer,
    4 May 1912, page 35c,
    "Home for Domestic Helpers" is in the Advertiser,
    20 August 1912, page 8g,
    4 November 1912, page 9c.

    Also see Register,
    13, 14, 22, 25 and 27 February 1913, pages 6g, 10d, 14f, 6e and 10a,
    1, 5, 8 and 18 March 1913, pages 7g, 10d, 14g and 9e,
    5 and 18 March 1913, pages 10d and 9e,
    17 September 1913, page 12e, 9 June 1914, page 6d,
    7 July 1914, page 8e,
    14 June 1913, page 34e,
    9 and 13 June 1914, pages 8e and 18c,
    5, 8, 10, 11, 15 and 19 December 1914, pages 4g, 6e, 3g, 4d-9e, 7a and 9a.

    "Domestic Help - The Effects of the War" is in the Advertiser,
    4 December 1914, page 5d,
    "Immigration and the Domestic Problem" on
    5 December 1914, page 5d.

    "Domestic Service - And Armageddon" is in the Register,
    5 December 1914, page 4g; also see
    8, 10 and 11 December 1914, pages 6e, 3g and 4d,
    2 January 1915, page 5b.

    Also see Register,
    2 January 1915, page 5b,
    9 January 1915, page 45a,
    25 May 1917, page 6e,
    19 February 1918, page 4e,
    30 January 1918, page 8e,
    2 February 1918, page 5b,
    4 February 1920, page 6e.

    "Domestic Service Problem" is in the Register,
    29 January 1920, page 6e.

    "Domestic Training for Girls" is in the Advertiser,
    30 June 1920, pages 6d-8e; also see
    6 May 1921, page 10c,
    28 June 1921, page 4g.

    The Register, of 8 May 1922, page 6b says:

    Also see Observer,
    28 January 1922, page 7e,
    4 November 1922, page 8c,
    8 February 1923, page 8e,
    6 March 1923, page 7a,
    21 April 1923, page 8e,
    9 and 23 May 1923, pages 13h and 8g,
    20 June 1923, page 8e,
    25 and 28 July 1923, pages 15a and 14d.

    "The Lady Domestic - Limitations and Training" is in the Register,
    11 May 1923, page 10c.

    "Hints for Mistresses" is in the Register,
    20 June 1923, page 11f:

    Also see Register,
    17 July 1923, page 7c,
    25, 26 and 28 July 1923, pages 11c, 6c and 8e.

    "Domestic Help Problem" is in The News,
    1 September 1923, page 8b.

    "Girl Immigrants - Helpers in Homes" is in the Advertiser,
    23 November 1923, page 14b,
    1 December 1923, page 17a.

    Also see Register,
    8 January 1924, page 5c,
    23 February 1924, page 13c,
    21 May 1925, page 9a,
    The News,
    25 April 1925, page 7c,
    13 October 1925, page 6d,
    16 January 1926, page 8e.

    "Mistress and Maid" is in the Advertiser,
    8 February 1926, page 8e; also see
    22 February 1926, page 9g,
    27 November 1926, page 18e-g,
    22 June 1929, page 10b.

    A photograph of immigrant servants is in the Chronicle,
    21 January 1928, page 18.

    "Fewer Maids - Motor Cars Instead" is in the Register,
    19 January 1928, page 9c.
    Also see Transport - Motor Cars

    "Drudgery of Housework" is in The News,
    23 July 1930, page 14d.

    "Too Old at 30 - Problem of Domestic Servants" is in the Advertiser,
    24 June 1931, page 8h.

    "Domestic Service as Skilled Occupation" is in the Advertiser,
    14 October 1931, page 7d,
    20 November 1931, page 4e.

    "Domestic Service Problem" is in the Advertiser,
    22 November 1933, page 18f,
    "When Servants Were Scarce" on
    23 March 1934, page 22g:

    "Why Domestic Work is Shunned by Girls" is in The Mail,
    18 January 1936, page 9a; also see
    22 and 26 February 1936, pages 22d and 20d,
    18 March 1936, page 24c.

    A proposal for a Servants' Association is in The News,
    25 February 1936, page 4d,
    4 and 28 March 1936, pages 3f and 7h; also see
    12 August 1936, page 7h,
    24 September 1936, page 10c.

    Information on domestic servants is in The News,
    9 June 1937, page 9b,
    20 July 1937, page 6c,
    24 and 25 August 1937, pages 7b and 4d.

    "Move to Raise Level of Domestic Service" is in the Advertiser,
    23 October 1937, page 21d.

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