Marital separation and family heroines

Marian Quartly examines the family repercussions of her great-grandmother’s troubled marriage and eventual separation, and how her views of this story have changed alongside the evolution of feminist perspectives.

My great-grandmother Caroline Andrews was an amazing woman. For years I have been celebrating the fact that in 1900 she won the first divorce in Western Australia under legislation offering equal rights to women. I was wrong on several counts.

Caroline Andrews won not a divorce, but a judicial separation. She did it under an ordinance passed in 1896, which provided that judicial separation and child maintenance were summarily available to a woman whose husband was convicted of assault against her. She took her husband, Edward Andrews, to court for assault on Monday 26 November 1900, won her case, and had him back in court the next Wednesday successfully suing for judicial separation and maintenance. A close reading of the court evidence suggests that she provoked him to strike her. She wanted to obtain a court order that would prevent him returning to England without making provision for the maintenance of their children, and she got one.

Editorial cartoon by William C. Morris, Spokesman Review, circa 1906-1908. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

When I began researching my family history in the 1990s, feminist interest in legal and political history focused mainly on legislative reform that addressed women’s inequalities vis-à-vis men. We were more interested in the pioneering divorce reforms that gradually made married women equal citizens with married men than in existing provisions for judicial separation. My work with Judy Smart on women’s role in the twentieth-century campaign for divorce reform has opened my eyes to the importance of separation – and the accompanying orders for maintenance – to many Australian women well into the 1970s.

My preliminary research on my great-grandmother was based on faded newspaper cuttings lent to me by my aunt. It was easy – inevitable – to see her as a heroine escaping her husband’s oppression. Now access to the Trove newspaper database and the huge resources of have complicated that story, as have the changing concerns of feminism.

When Caroline Thick married Edward Andrews in March 1865 she was seventeen years old and he was twenty-nine. They married in haste, by licence in London, but not because Caroline was pregnant; Edward was due to sail to Western Australia in May 1865 as warder on a convict ship. Caroline’s father John was present and signed as a witness. The couple may have met at John Thick’s hotel in Frimley on the coach-road between London and Southampton, where Caroline most likely worked behind the bar. Edward Andrews’ mother’s family were chapel people from in and around the wonderfully named Godshill on the Isle of Wight. His father worked as a post office messenger. Edward was the youngest of his parents’ children, and after his father’s death he continued to live with and support his mother Thirza. It was not until she died in 1864 that he went looking for a new life.

Details about Edward’s education and training are unclear. A son remembered that he trained in the Royal Navy as carpenter and shipwright, and these were skills that he practised in later life, but I cannot find him in the naval records. In the 1861 census he is listed as a police constable. In May 1865 he set sail from Portland as warder on the convict ship Racehorse. It was a responsible position for a man not yet thirty. The appointment put him in charge of 278 convicts and fifty pensioner guards, retired military men who were mostly a good ten years older than he was. The ship’s manifest also lists pensioners’ wives, children, and the seventeen-year-old Caroline Andrews, off on an adventure that would take her far from Frimley.

Albany with a view of the pier, Western Australia, circa 1880. Image via Trove.

After the Racehorse docked in Fremantle in August 1865, Edward Andrews was sent with a contingent of convicts to upgrade the track that ran from Perth to Albany. Caroline and the families of some of the pensioner guards were shipped to Albany on a small coastal vessel, which in family folklore took six weeks to arrive, having been blown about sixty kilometres past their destination. Undaunted by this journey, Caroline took herself by bullock cart to join her husband at his work camp about forty miles along the Perth Road.

When work was completed on the track Andrews took up a farm outside Albany, working it with convict labour, and Caroline’s first child was born here in 1868. Farming did not suit Edward Andrews; he preferred life in town. In the early years he did various building jobs, before settling in to a position as overseer at the P&O coaling station. When that operation closed in 1877, P&O paid for the family’s relocation to Adelaide, where Andrews went into business as a greengrocer and fruiterer. By 1886 the family was back in Perth, having prospered sufficiently to establish ‘a superior boarding house’. Caroline ran this boarding house, often in her husband’s absence. Edward tried a range of other ventures including a butcher’s shop, a bakery, and a general store, together with trading in local goods such as kangaroo skins. He was a constant applicant for council and government tenders, from small construction jobs to supplying bread for the military. He invested the profits in the purchase of small lots of land and cottages to rent. Meanwhile, Caroline was producing lots of babies – thirteen in twenty-five years. This would not have seemed extraordinary to Caroline; her mother had ten children in sixteen years. And large families were relatively common in mid-nineteenth-century Western Australia.

Middle Island, view north to Cape Arid, circa 1802. Image via Trove.

Caroline raised all of her thirteen children to healthy adulthood, except her two eldest sons. In February 1879 Albert aged eleven and Arthur aged nine drowned in the River Torrens in Adelaide while wagging it from school. Edward Andrews told the inquest that only the day before the accident his wife had forbidden the boys to bathe in the river. No blame was attached to him here, but Andrews treated his sons with a disregard for their safety that seems culpable to later generations. The reminiscences of his son Clarence Thomas Andrews, held in the Battye Library in Perth, describe how, at thirteen years old, he and his fourteen-year-old brother were left by their father on Middle Island, an uninhabited island off the south coast, to collect salt. It was five months before he came back. In his absence the well they dug for drinking water was slowly contaminated by salt, so slowly that the boys did not realise why they were falling sick. If Caroline had not asked a party of sealers to visit the boys and check on their welfare they might have died.

Cartoon of influenza epidemica, Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times, 1 May 1890. Image via State Library Victoria.

Care of her sons was the issue that moved Caroline Andrews to leave her husband. She told the magistrate that in 1897 he ‘turned out’ his three eldest sons and forbade his wife and daughters to see them. Late in 1899 one of the boys was lying ill with influenza in a boarding house. Her husband told her that ‘if she went to see the boy or gave him anything she would have to leave home’. Influenza was ‘an infectious disease, it might do his business harm’. Fear of an influenza pandemic was rife in Australia at this time, but Caroline feared neither germs nor husband. She visited her son and left her husband that same evening, taking the three youngest children with her.

She seems to have been planning the move for some time. In 1897 a legacy from her father allowed her to buy a large house and two cottages in her own name. Now she rented out the cottages, and opened a boarding house in competition with her husband. In 1900, she told the court with remarkable frankness that, ‘Her husband had told her during the 12 months that he did not want her back. He only wanted to visit her occasionally, and that she would not allow.’

For his part, Edward Andrews claimed that at first he tried to ‘heal the breach between them’, but when he realised ‘they could not make it up’ he ‘decided to sell his business and get out of her way.’ Edward claimed he ‘wanted to go away because he felt he could not trust himself in her presence.’

When he announced his intention to return to England and began selling up his land and businesses she asked him for £300 to raise the youngest children. It was probably after he refused her the money that she paid him the visit that ended with him assaulting her.

My grandmother, Adelaide Thirza Sophia Andrews, gave evidence against her father at the hearing – perhaps reluctantly. When her mother left home, seventeen-year-old Adelaide stayed with her father, looking after the shop and keeping the books. Edward Andrews refused at first to give any hard facts about his financial dealings to the court. Adelaide gave the court precise details, and under cross-examination her father admitted that she was right; ‘he would not contradict the evidence of his daughter’. Adelaide was named for Edward’s mother Thirza. Her father seems to have been fond of Addie, as he called her. When he sold his home and business and moved into a cheap boarding house, his daughter was reluctant to live in such quarters, and Edward arranged to pay Caroline 15s a week for Addie’s keep.

When I first read the accounts of the proceedings against Edward Andrews I was not much interested in the account of the assault, beyond reading it as evidence of Caroline Edward’s courage and intelligence. Feminism today is centrally concerned with violence against women and its effects on families, and I have found myself reassessing that account, especially as it involves Addie. It is a horrific account: he hit her in the face, knocked her head against the wall, struck her repeatedly and when she fell to the floor he kicked her. Addie and her younger sister intervened to rescue their mother. Physical violence was not habitual in the Andrews household; Caroline told the court that it had happened only once before. But the threat must have been there for many years.

In 1903, Adelaide Edwards married Henry Quartly, an accountant from South Australia with excellent prospects and a secret vice – binge drinking. The marriage was a disaster. Henry deserted the family several times, permanently in 1921. Addie was left in Adelaide without the support of her own family. She was forced to juggle her three children between orphanages and unwilling relatives while she made a living as a housekeeper in other people’s houses. A bequest from her mother in 1925 allowed her buy a house, take in lodgers and bring home her children, but it was always a struggle.

On 1 March 1954 the city of Adelaide suffered an earthquake registering 5.25 on the Richter scale. The tremors went on for six minutes. Many houses were damaged, including my grandmother’s. It was quickly repaired, but she refused to go back there. She sank into a kind of silent immobility; she would reply quietly to direct questions, but made no move without prompting. She spent the next fourteen years of her life in a succession of nursing homes, and died in 1968.

The judicial separation achieved by Caroline Andrews was a triumph for her and her family. They marked the event with a group portrait: Caroline with her eleven living children, plus several grandchildren. But the violence that occasioned the separation shadowed the emotional lives of that generation, and none more than my grandmother Addie.


screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-3-37-47-pmMarian Quartly is Professor Emerita of Australian history in the Monash School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies. Her long and distinguished research career has ranged across diverse topics in gender and Australian history, covering issues such as nationalism, the family, religion, and the construction of male and female sexualities. Her most recent book, Respectable Radicals: A History of the National Council of Women of Australia 1896-2006, was co-authored with Judith Smart. Marian was also a Chief Investigator on the ARC funded History of Adoption Project.

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