Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 4-270 (Raw)

4-270 (Raw)

Item metadata
author,male,Sydney Morning Herald,un addressee
Newspaper Article
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Public Written
Newspapers & Broadsides
Teale, 1982
Document metadata

4-270-raw.txt — 7 KB

File contents

Mr. Edward Maxted (the manager) read the following report on the desertion of wives and children: - 'I have the honour to again submit for your consideration certain matters bearing upon the ill-treatment and desertion of wives, as I find that this popular vice had become of such magnitude as to warrant special prominence and consideration with a view of inducing legislation for the relief of the unfortunate victims whose offspring, through destitution, are becoming expensive charges upon your institution and the State generally. [174] The matter was first brought under your notice in May, 1890, when, in response to a request from the institution, the Inspector-General of Police was good enough to cause special efforts to be made to capture deserters whose families were receiving relief, but unfortunately the results were unsatisfactory. The law as at present constituted affords but meagre relief - frequently none whatever - to the large number of women and children annually deserted by those who are legally and morally responsible for their support. The failure of parental responsibility is, of course, of serious moment, inasmuch as it is a great factor in the augmentation of the pauperism and misery of the community. It will be seen from statistics herein quoted, that our floating population of deserting husbands and fathers has now attained appalling dimensions; and unfortunately the legal remedies at hand are most inadequate to meet what is required in the matter of preventing pauperism as it is affected by these desertions. For instance, the deserter who cannot be traced by the police and the deserter who has been captured and imprisoned, are equally useless as bread winners for their families. Indeed, many wives, having this knowledge of the matter, refuse to prosecute their husbands for desertion, or, where they have prosecuted and the men have been captured, consent to live with them again and give them another trial - generally, however (so far as our knowledge of the matter goes), to endure a repetition of the brutality and neglect previously suffered for years, and subsequently ending in fresh desertion. The large number of cases dealt with by your asylum from time to time, has familiarised me with the drunkenness and cruelty of these men before the desertion of their helpless children, and I would, therefore, venture to suggest that the penalty for the crime is not sufficiently powerful to act as a deterrent. It may be said that the shortcomings of wives frequently influenced desertion by the husbands, and some of the women admit that trouble has been caused through their own unfortunate propensity for argument with the men at a time when the minds of the latter were unhinged through drink. Whatever allowances are to be made, however, there can be no possible excuse for men to permanently leave their children in want, or dependent on charity, as is done in hundreds of cases to which I am referring. . . The figures relating to the number of processes issued from the local police courts against men for maintenance are of considerable significance. Records show that not less than 623 warrants and summonses were issued against men who had failed to carry out the ordinary responsibilities of married life.
This is a serious matter, but I venture to say that the figures quoted convey but a limited idea of what actually takes place, as women are SO reluctant to seek aid through the police courts. But apart from the question of expense to the charitable institutions and the State caused by the delinquencies of deserting married men, the question of the previous ill-treatment of their wives might fairly be taken into account with a view of meting out to these men a fitting and special punishment when violent assaults have been resorted to before the desertion. The statements of hundreds of deserted and ill-treated women who appeal from time to time at the asylum, women who are found to be truthful, respectable, and good mothers, disclose that their married lives constitute a period of suffering and wretchedness which would lead one to infer that they had been living with savages rather than with civilised beings. [175] [176] And although these statements are ex parte, a large amount of credence must be given to women of undoubted respectability. On the other hand, it is surely reasonable to assume that men who would deliberately leave their children in want would be quite capable of the other atrocities attributed to them by their wives. Taking haphazard a few of these cases relieved by the institution (and they are typical of hundreds), we find that in one instance a wife had been maintaining three children for nine years. During this term her husband (who had deserted) sent her in all £40. He was last heard of in 1889, when, in reply to letters from his wife and children, he coolly writes complimenting her on the maner [sic] she is bringing them up; mentioning incidentally that the 'way he is placed at present is very expensive, as it costs him at least £5 a week to keep himself'. He has not since been heard of, though he has been sought for by the police. The next case relates to a young woman brought to the asylum for confinement. She had been married some eight months. The husband is of the larrikin type, and has frequently been in gaol. The police report that he would blacken his wife's eyes, exhibit her at his door, and triumphantly announce to the neighbours that she was 'black and blue all over alike'. Finally she endeavoured to end her sufferings by taking poison, but the police called in medical aid, removed her to the hospital, and she subsequently recovered. Before taking the poison she wrote to her husband, 'I was only going to live with you till my child was born, but you have tortured me to this. You said you would treat me like a dog, and so you have. Look after my poor old mother; tell her not to fret, I am better off'. - - The eighth case is of equal atrocity with the preceding. The wife has three children. While she was pregnant he kicked her downstairs, and also kicked her about the body with such violence that she became seriously ill for three months. Case No. 9 is that of a homeless wife received into the asylum for confinement .
The twelfth case is that of a deserted wife and six children. The husband is described as a drunken lazy man, the eight persons being kept by the woman through laundry work. When she had no money to give him for drink he would, in fits of temper, throw out into the street the little food that might be in the house, and if no money were forthcoming for tobacco, he would take the children's tea, put it in his pipe, and smoke it - . - With a view of dealing with deserters the recent conference on charity suggested to the Legislative bodies in each colony that maintenance orders made in any one colony against deserters be enforcable in any other colony on the original order. And with the object of identification the director of asylums suggests that people going from one colony to another, apart from their families, should be registered in some manner
The Chairman said that the best course would be to give the report as full publicity as possible, and to forward a copy of it to the Colonial Secretary so that the Government might be acquainted with the existing state of affairs and be in a position to take steps to bring it to an end. [177] He was quite satisfied that the statements contained in the report were within the bounds of truth. It seemed horrible that such things should exist...
The Chairman contended that the matter could easily be remedied by having an intercolonial act in all the colonies dealing with these people, and in the next place by the Government compelling them to do work to support their wives and families whether they liked it or not.
It was decided to forward the report to the Colonial Secretary.