Category Archives: Colonial History

Women in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

This month, Women’s History Month, I have been looking into what resources are available if you want to find out more about Australian history from a women’s history point of view.

One resource to remember is People Australia. This contains stand-alone biographies. It also searches (and will show results for) all of the National Centre of Biography’s biographical websites Australian Dictionary of Biography, Obituaries Australia, Women Australia, Indigenous Australia and Labour Australia.

The National Centre of Biography recommends that you start your search with People Australia as it will search all the biographical websites. If you search on one of the other biographical websites, for example the Australian Dictionary of Biography, it will only search within its own database.

History, this time its personal! explained how you can use the faceted browse in these biographical websites to unearth some different Australian history perspectives. This function is also useful to survey particular groups, such as women, included in the biographical websites.

As covered in History, where are the women? gender imbalance is an issue with these biographical websites. The National Centre of Biography is planning to address this by expanding the Australian Dictionary of Biography with 1,500 entries covering women of Colonial Australia. The first step for this work is compiling a list of possible candidates for inclusion. If you have a nomination for this list you can provide it to the National Centre of Biography advisory group for consideration. Read here if this is of interest.

Do you have a nomination for the Australian Dictionary of Biography? Do you know of a woman who lived in colonial Australia who should be documented in the Australian Dictionary of Biography? It would be great if you had a nomination in Women’s History Month.


Three sisters, 1896




A world that never has existed

Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the centre of the human enterprise and women are at the margin ‘helping’ them. Such a world does not exist — never has.
— Gerda Lerner

Agree or disagree?

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Women assaulting a non-unionist at the re-opening of the Broken Hill mine, 1892




Australian history collections of love

During February, the month of love, I have been enjoying looking for Australian history items associated with love. Here are a few that you might like to explore.

Sydney Living Museums have put together a beautiful digital collection Close to the heart, which highlights keepsakes and jewellery from their collection that were given and worn as symbols of love.

The National Museum of Australia holds the largest collection of convict love tokens in the world. This whole collection can be studied via the collection interactive Convict love tokens.

The oldest wedding dress in Australia (1822) is currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney as part of the exhibition Love Is… Australian Wedding Fashion, running until 20 May 2018. You can also search the museum’s collection to see the wedding dresses they hold.

Melbourne Museum’s exhibition WW1: Love & Sorrow is based on the experiences of eight people who lived through the war. It includes over 300 objects and photographs, which tell stories of love and sorrow. Accompanying the exhibition is an impressive website Love and Sorrow.

Do you know of other Australian history collections of love?

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Australian Airmen and bride in Devon village, 1943






Dance and music in colonial Australia

As explained in Valentine’s Day in colonial Australia early Australian newspapers show that the traditions of Valentine’s Day were celebrated by Australian colonists, at least, as early as 1825 — about forty years after the British arrived in Australia to start a settlement of convicts and guards.

This celebrating of St Valentine’s Day seems to fit neatly with research done by Heather Blasdale Clarke, a dance teacher, and historian who has been studying the role dance played in early colonial society. According to Heather:

Popular culture was quickly established in the colony and this included music and dance for the common people. Visitors to the colony in 1820s reported on the large number of public houses where dancing took place and a French visitor remarked on the “excessive” amount of leisure time the convicts enjoyed.

Heather makes the point that this runs counter to earlier, influential, accounts of convict life in colonial Australia, which emphasised the brutality of transportation such as Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life.

If you want to know more about Heather’s research you can read about it, in this article, she wrote for the ABC, Australian convict life made more bearable by colonial dance and music. Heather has also established a really appealing website Australian Colonial Dance, where you can find lots of information about the history of music and dance in colonial Australia.


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Valentine’s Day in colonial Australia

Valentine’s Day on 14 February has had me thinking about Australian history items that tell of love (or at the least are associated with love).

Valentine’s Day has a long history, which you can read about here. This history made me curious about when Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in colonial Australia. Looking at Troves Digitised Newspapers the earliest reference I found was a poem, A Valentine, published in the Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser on Friday 18 February 1825. See below if you would like to read the poem.

The early Australian newspapers suggest that the traditions of Valentine’s Day, imported from England, were very much celebrated by Australian colonists. For example the article Valentine Day published in The True Colonist Van Diemen’s Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial on Wednesday 11 February 1835 started with the words:

Valentine intro ready

My favourite references and those that surprised me the most in the early colonial newspapers are the advertisements for Valentine’s Day cards. These were placed in newspapers as early as 1830. See below for examples of these.




A valentine poem

What do you think of the advertisements for Valentine’s Day cards? Do you know if Australian colonists were celebrating Valentine’s Day prior to 1825?

January 2018, Roundup


Ralph Abernathy, Fiona Baverstock, Vera Brittain, Edmund Burke, Robin G. Collingwood, Elsie Dalyell, John Devoy, Peter Englund, Miles Franklin, Vida Goldstein, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Reid, Ettie Rout, Marion Leane Smith, G. M. Trevelyan, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, James Wilson, Virginia Woolf


Fremantle, Royaumont, Malta, Trinidad, Salonika, Istanbul, Egypt, England, Canada, New Zealand, Melbourne, United States, Russia, Belarus, Italy, Iraq, France, Macedonia, Malta and Salonika


1868: The last convicts arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia.
1874: James Wilson, one of the last convicts, writes to Fenian leader John Devoy.
1876: The Catalpa rescue — the liberation of six Fenian convicts from Fremantle gaol.
1915: New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood set up by Ettie Rout is in Egypt.
1917: Ettie Rout’s prophylactic kit is sold at New Zealand Soldiers’ Clubs in England.
1918: First World War Armistice.
1919: Dr Elsie Dalyell awarded the OBE.
Also see military anniversaries in History, war and remembering in 2018


Australian War Memorial


Troves Digitised Newspapers
Women of Empire 1914-1918
Dressing Australia Museum of Costume
Women of Empire Stories


The Beauty and the Sorrow
Sinners, Saints & Settlers


Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods. —Edmund Burke

But though kind Time may many joys renew, There is one greatest joy I shall not know Again, because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago. — Vera Brittain

Well-behaved women seldom make history. ― Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

If one could make alive again for other people some cobwebbed skein of old dead intrigues and breathe breath and character into dead names and stiff portraits. That is history to me! — G. M. Trevelyan

We are not makers of history. We are made by history. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every new generation must rewrite history in its own way. — Robin G. Collingwood

Now, dear friend, remember this is a voice from the tomb…we have been nearly nine years in this living tomb…it is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain…one or the other must give away. — James Wilson

Gold Star

Fiona Baverstock and her husband Keith for their exhibition Women of Empire 1914-1918.