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Wife For Sale


Unusual Event: Wife For Sale
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Fall 2001 and Revised 4 Nov 2009

John in Sydney, Australia, posted the following item on Lanark-L from "The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser", 14 September 1811:

    "A person of the name of Ralph Malkins, led his lawful wife into our streets [Windsor, about 12 miles from Sydney] on the 28th ultimo, with a rope round her neck, and publicly exposed her for sale; and, shameful to be told, another fellow, equally contemptible, called Thomas Quire, actually purchased and paid for her on the spot, 16 pounds in money, and some yards of cloth.

    "I am sorry to add, that the woman herself was so devoid of those feelings which are justly deemed the most valuable in her sex, agreed to the base traffic, and went off with the purchaser, significantly hinting, that she had no doubt her new possessor would make her a better husband than the wretch she then parted from.

    "This business was conducted in so public a manner, and so far outraged all laws human and divine, that a Bench of Magistrates, consisting of Mr Cox, the Rev. Mr Cartwright, and Mr Milcham, had it publicly investigated on Saturday last, and all the odious circumstances having been clearly proved, and even admitted by the base wretches themselves, the Bench sentenced this no-man to receive 50 lashes, and put to hard labour in irons in the gaol gang at Sydney for the space of three calendar months; and the woman to be transported to the Coal River for an indefinite time."

So how much was she worth? In editions of the paper in the same year, Jamaica rum was going for 27s per gallon, salt butter for 4s per lb, dried hogs' cheeks 1s 6d per lb, calico 2s 6d per yard, curing salt 20s per cwt (in approved currency or copper coin), and English frying pans from 5s.

In the same year, a house was built for the superintendent of the factory at Parramatta (a convict makework establishment) for 106 pounds 16 shillings and 8 pence. Governor MacQuarie approved salaries of 60 pounds per annum for each of the Chief Constable of Sydney, and the "Jailor of the Gaol".

Thus, she attracted a rate equivalent to about:

  • 12 gallons of rum, or
  • a little over half a cwt of butter, or
  • 213 dried hogs' cheeks, or
  • 128 yards of calico (plus the few extra yards our gallant rescuer was willing to throw in to close the deal that afternoon), or
  • three quarters of a ton of salt, or
  • 64 frying pans imported from the home country.

John of Sydney also offered the following observations:

  • Matched against the Aussie dream of owning his own home, the wife-buyer could have used his money for a deposit on a very nice property, putting down of 1/6th of the price.

  • It is unclear whether his income matched the jailor of the gaol's rate of pay, but given that the Bench of Magistrates deprived him of the enjoyment of his purchase by sending her to the coal mines, he could hardly blow another 3 months salary equivalent on a replacement should one be dragged to market following his release from the gaol gang.

To John's observations, I would add that there are also lessons to be learned here:

  1. Do not negotiate the sale in a public place.
  2. Do not place a rope around the neck; use hobbles beneath a long skirt.
  3. The seller should demand a price equal to at least 100 gallons of rum.
  4. The buyer should make a counter-offer of 100 gallons of run, and can probably get the rum at the cheapest price from a seller on E-Bay
  5. Do not pay the seller on the spot; arrange for later shipment of the rum.
  6. Insist that the wife sign a "non-disclosure" agreement about events taking place prior to the sale.

If you have any information about the folks mentioned in this article, please contact us at dewald@prenticenet.com and please include the title and date of this article.


 
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