Widowhood and remarriage in colonial Australia

Susan Hart

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Widowhood and remarriage affected a majority of people in colonial Australia, yet historians have given them scant attention. Today, widowhood primarily concerns the elderly, but in the mid-nineteenth century a considerable proportion of deaths were amongst young adults. Thus many widows and widowers had children to care for, who were also affected by the loss of a parent and the possible remarriage of their surviving parent. Extended families might be called on for support, while communities, at the local and government level, were confronted with the need to provide welfare for the widowed and orphaned, including the older widowed. This thesis considers how widowhood impacted on men and women at all levels of society in the nineteenth-century Australian colonies, especially Western Australia and Victoria, taking into account the effects of age, class and numbers of children of the widowed. When men were the chief family earners and women were dependent child bearers the effects of widowhood could be disastrous, and widows had to employ a range of strategies to support themselves and their families. Men too were affected by widowhood, for the loss of a wife’s housekeeping skills could cause serious financial consequences. One response to widowhood was remarriage, and the thesis discusses the advantages and disadvantages of remarriage for men and women. Historians have regarded remarriage as the best option for the widowed, especially for women. Research into remarriage, especially in Britain and Europe, has focussed on demography. Assuming that all widowed wished to remarry, demographers have compared remarriage rates for men and women, within the context of the relative numbers of marriageable men and women in a given community.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009


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