The Australian Public Intellectual Network
  Home    Network Books    Australian Common Reader    ACH    Conferences    Network Reviews    Virtual Library    Altitude    From the Editor   
Media Law Handbook

This fifth edition of Joseph Fernandez's popular and accessible study considers the laws that impact on freedom of speech in Australia. It is an indispensable guide for journalism and publishing students and professionals. This text incorporates discussion of recent amendments including the law pertaining to journalists' confidential sources. (ISBN 978-1-920-84545-2, paperback, 260 pp). To order, please contact Network Books at 08 9266 3717 with your order details. ...
Thursday, 21st August 2014
  News      Calendar      NRB Current Issue      

API Review of Books

Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.


Colonial Consorts: The Wives of Victoria's Governors 1839-1900

By Marguerite Hancock, Miegunya Press/Melbourne University Press: 2001, , 324 pages, Illustrated, hardback, $59.95. Reviewed by Barbara Bush in the November 2001 issue.

Help more readers find out about this article
Slashdot Slashdot   Digg Digg   StumbleUpon StumbleUpon

between literary history and literary criticism (Literary Criticism and Literary Colonial Consorts is a series of biographies of the eleven wives of the Governors of Victoria from 1839-1900 and a companion volume to Davis McGaughy's Victorian Colonial Governors (Miegunya Press, 1993). Two questions provoked the study: who were the Governors' wives and what did they do? On the basis of these questions Hancock constructs a well-crafted narrative of their lives in a lavishly illustrated and attractively presented volume. Based on the author's MA thesis, the study incorporates an impressive range of primary sources and provides a comprehensive bibliography which should prove useful for students and researchers into the social and political history of nineteenth century Victoria. During this period, Victoria developed from a backwoods post under La Trobe's Governorship to an established colony centred on Melbourne. After 1860 assertions of an independent settler identity were reflected in a growing suffrage and working class movement and a thriving bourgeois cultural life in Melbourne. These developments dramatically changed the relationship between the Governor and the people. As the author points out, when Lord Hopetoun (1889-1895) arrived, Australian governors had limited power and served in a ceremonial capacity as Queen Victoria's 'ornamental governors'. (p 187) Hopetoun, unlike the other Governors had no experience of colonial administration and his 'ornamental' capacity was further enhanced when he became Governor General of Australia in 1901. The author could have addressed more directly the changes to the imperial relationship between Victoria and the Colonial Office and the impact these had on the roles of Governors' wives.

Hancock' s study is rich in detail but tends to be anecdotal rather than discursive and a firmer conceptual and analytical framework, as established in the introduction, would have strengthened the analysis of the primary source material that informs the women's biographies. The weakness of a discursive structure is reflected in the lack of conclusion. As no really meaty questions relating to class, gender or imperialism are addressed in depth at any point in the book, there is thus little to conclude except the obvious. The women differed in class backgrounds, age and temperament, which influenced their relationship to the role of Governor's wife and also how they were perceived in the public eye.

Where women's roles are analysed little new is added to existing studies of middle and upper class women. Hancock provides a predictable vision of governors' wives who reflect the Ruskinite values of womanliness in their role as representatives of Queen Victoria and the values she embraced. Thus their main functions are entertaining and engaging in prominent charitable work. The quality of their reception by the residents of the colony was largely dependent on how well their husbands were thought of and their personalities and physical fitness. As Hancock observes, women's roles did change over the century and this affected their position as Governors' wives. However, a common thread was support for their husbands and 'the brief assumption of royalty'. In this the wives of the Governors of Victoria were not unique. In many ways there are common threads linking the lives of wives 'married' to the Colonial Service to paraphrase Mary Procida's, Married to the Empire (forthcoming, 2002). Furthermore, in common with colonial wives in other parts of the empire, the women who are the focus of this study basked in their privileged and superior status in relation to the local population. In Victoria this was expressed in terms of class, rather than race superiority (Hancock provides no insights into how the women viewed the aboriginal population). Other common factors included the development of an expatriate rather than settler consciousness, enhanced by separation from older children who were sent back for education in the UK. The transient, expatriate nature of the women's lives was reinforced through the circulation of colonial governors (and other lesser colonial officials) around the empire. Henry Barkly (1856-7), for instance, was governor of British Guiana and Jamaica before moving to Victoria (a prestigious and highly paid posting). Governor Darling (1863-60) had spent 14 years in the West Indies before becoming Governor of Jamaica and Newfoundland. Governor Loch moved on from Victoria in 1889 to Governorship of the Cape. This created important interconnections in the imperial mission and the 'gentlemanly diaspora' referred to by Peter Cain and Anthony Hopkins in British Imperialism: Crisis and Deconstruction 1914-1990 (1993). Sons followed their fathers into this diaspora (and daughters too, through marriage into the Service). Elizabeth, Lady Loch, (1884- 9) who was allegedly 'idolised throughout the colony as no Governor's wife was before or since' was a sister to Lady Lytton, vicereine of India in the 1870s. (p 153) Hopetoun's son became viceroy of India in 1936. The articulation of imperial gender identities was fundamental to this self-sustaining culture of imperialism. The biographies of the women selected by Hancock would have benefited from deeper contextualisation.

The author could have addressed more incisively the key questions arising out of social developments that affected gender identities, because this resulted in important differences between the earlier and later wives. The latter's more liberated lives reflect the transformation in women's roles in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Hancock provides ample evidence reflecting these changes. For instance, the young Countess of Hopetoun was a keen photographer, liked shooting, which was still regarded as 'unfeminine', was a 'crack shot' and broke her nose in a riding accident. Her successor, Sybil, Lady Brassy (1895-1900) remained an 'active philanthropist' but also showed signs of the 'new womanliness' associated with the first wave feminism of the 1890s. More active in the public sphere than her predecessors were able to be, she spoke in public 'without losing her femininity', supported women becoming doctors at Melbourne university, rode a bicycle and campaigned for women's suffrage on return to Britain. (pp 226-7)

The lives of these later wives seem very different in a number of important ways to that of the Swiss-born Sophie La Trobe (1839-53) with her neuralgic headaches and delicate constitution. Sophie had 'no interest in accompanying her husband in public, and attempted to recreate a little Switzerland in their house, Jolimont. However, she allegedly set an example of 'a good Christian wife and mother' in the community and a standard for future governor's wives which may not have been entirely welcomed by her successors. Lady Hotham (1854-6), for instance, preferred to set herself up as an aristocratic model of good taste for the vulgar new rich of Melbourne to emulate and was a woman of exacting standards who, like her husband, was 'very difficult to please'. (p 34)

Although the author focuses on how women conformed to nineteenth century constructs of womanliness, she could have looked at this construct a bit more critically in terms of what the women actually did after the saintly Sophie. She claims the women did not want the 'job'; it was thrust on them. Yet they benefited personally from the status it brought, bringing numerous servants with them from the UK, living luxuriously and becoming the centre of bourgeois female social life. Some women enjoyed this more than others but surely they all had a vested interest in their husband's career. Perhaps this could have been brought out more. Certainly, some works on gender and empire in the twentieth century have indicated that women were ferociously ambitious for their husbands. R E Wraith in his book Guggisberg (1967), suggests Decima Guggisberg, the wife of Governor Guggisberg (Gold Coast, 1920s) virtually wanted to be the Governor herself. Clearly changes in time and social context need to be accounted for here but I am sure nineteenth century wives who had to live even more vicariously through their husbands, could be equally ambitious.

As an imperial historian who has focused primarily on Africa and the Caribbean, I found the backdrop to the biographies, the development of Victoria and 'marvellous Melbourne', one of the most fascinating aspects of this book. There was also some very interesting anecdotal material about the individual women, their husbands and, incidentally, the political and social life in the colony of Victoria.

The author is perhaps a bit too close to her sources and therefore rather uncritical of her biographical subjects or, indeed, imperial policy in Victoria. This is understandable given the fact that Hancock was a secretary to three wives of Governors of Victoria. The study would have been strengthened by a more incisive analysis of the governors' wives in the context of recent research into the complex relationship between gender and imperialism. To be fair on the author, this was not what she set out to do. Yet, perhaps an opportunity was missed here as to date there has been very little written on the culture of empire in the white settler colonies (the centrality in the social calendar of Birthday Balls for Queen Victoria is interesting here). Perhaps the main strength of the book is that it extends our understanding of colonial relationships and contexts that are only beginning to be explored.


  • Barbara Bush. 'Review: Colonial Consorts: The Wives of Victoria's Governors 1839-1900 by Marguerite Hancock' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), November 2001. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 21 August 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • Carrying out the duties of a governor's wife was the pinnacle of public service for women in colonial Australia. Victoria had ten British governors during the nineteenth century, and all were married men. (One of them, Sir Henry Barkly, was married twice.) Their wives accompanied them to Melbourne as a matter of course, forced to leave behind their homes, their extended families and sometimes their school-age children.

    Some of the women were the wives of career administrators and had previously spent most of their married lives in different parts of the British Empire; others had no experience of viceregal life. All were subjected to the intense scrutiny of curious and sometimes critical colonists as they fulfilled the duties of premier hostess: holding receptions, dinner-parties, musical evenings, garden parties and balls. A governor's wife was also expected to be a leader in the charitable work of the women of the community and to support the cultural and sporting life of the colony.

    While researching Colonial Consorts, Marguerite Hancock made extensive use of letters, diaries and family papers in libraries and archives in Switzerland, Scotland and Australia. These reveal the private feelings of eleven very different women: some longed constantly to go home; others found unexpected pleasures in their viceregal duties, and recorded detailed and sometimes humorous reflections on colonial life.

    Although this book makes a natural companion to Davis McCaughey's Victoria's Colonial Governors (Miegunyah 1993), it stands alone as a contribution to the social history of colonial Victoria.

Have You Also Read?

  • Finding Theodore and Brina

    imageTerri-Ann White, Fremantle Press: 2001, , 240 Pages, Paperback, $19.95
    Reviewed by Glenda Guest in the November 2001 issue.

    Let me declare my interest right now: I read Terri-Ann White's book, Finding Theodore and Brina because I grew up in Western Australia and I am, rather lazily, delving into family history, where I find that lore passed down through the generations is not necessarily the actuality, but more like a game of Chinese Whispers played in the gaps and spaces of accepted truths. I wanted to see how White managed the difficult terrain of family geography, but little did I expect to be so strongly drawn into the physical and psychic landscape of my growing. This is a book that evokes, and in the evoking White leads the reader into a maze of truths, accepted truths, half-truths and hidden truths, which ... read more.

Network Review of Books

NRB November 2001

Need to Contact Us?

  • API Network
    c/- Richard Nile
    Professor Australian Studies
    Director Institute for Media, Creative Arts and Information Technologies
    Murdoch University
    Australia 6152
    Tel +61 8 93602170


Site Meter