Women were in a vulnerable position years ago as there was not the Government support we have today - Child endowment was introduced in 1941, the Widows pension (which did not cover single mothers or divorced mothers) in 1943 and the supporting mothers pension in 1973. So, unless the woman could get maintenance or find a job (not an easy thing when there was no child care) or get support from her parents, many women had no choice but to stay with a philandering or violent husband. It wasn’t until 1975 that ‘no fault’ divorce came in and one partner just had to show the marriage had an irreconcilable breakdown. Here are some interesting local divorces reported in the papers years ago.
In November 1896, there were columns devoted to the case of James Macfarlane Lake of Koo Wee Rup who sought a divorce from his wife, Mary Ann Lake, on the grounds of her adultery with Clement Short of Balaclava. He also asked to be awarded £3000 in damages from Short. The couple had married in 1880 and had ‘several children’ aged between 15 and 2 and James would not acknowledge the youngest child as his. It appears that James had no concerns about his marriage until his sister-in-law fell out with Mary Ann and she then told James that Mary Ann had been having an affair with Clement. Mary Ann admitted to the Court to having ‘misconduct’ with Short on a number of occasions having been ‘led away by his false promises’ but Clement denied ‘misconduct’ with her. Misconduct is a euphemism for sexual relations. Short gave evidence that he had lent Lake £5 to start a greengrocery business at Bunyip and he refused to pay the money back.
After much evidence the Judge directed the jury to decide whether a poor honest struggling man had his home ruined and his wife’s affection alienated from him by a scoundrel who had added to the calamities by perjury and corruption or, on the other hand, Clement was the victim of attempt to take money from his pocket i.e. he was being blackmailed by Lake. In the end the jury found against James and for Clement so the judge denied James his divorce and his damages. It would be interesting to know what happened to the trio after this.
In November 1904, Edward Hunt from Yannathan was granted a divorce from his wife, Mabel Jessie Hunt. They had three children and had married in 1896. Evidence was given that Mabel ‘was living an abandoned life’ which I presume is a euphemism for an alcoholic or a woman who was indulging in ‘misconduct’ with other men.
The Argus November 24, 1904
In August 1909, William Martin, a 66 year old farmer from Garfield, petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of desertion. He had married his wife, Annie aged 57, at the Registrar’s Office in Collingwood in January 1895. They had one child together who was now 11 and Annie, a widow, also had two children from a previous marriage. William lived at Garfield and Annie and the children lived in North Melbourne. ‘A difference arose between them over the children of the former marriage’ and Annie ‘suddenly left her husband and took the children with her’. Dr William Maloney gave evidence that he knew both parties and tried to persuade Annie to return to the marriage but she refused. Dr Maloney also said that William ‘a man of some property had made a will providing for her and her child’ but he did not know of her whereabouts. A decree nisi was granted.
Another 1909 divorce was between Joseph Lyons (the petitioner) and Mary Teresa Lyons (the respondent). Mary was accused of ‘misconduct’ with Maurice Bloustein and Richard Butler (the men were listed as the co-respondents). Misconduct is a euphemism for sexual relations. At the time of the divorce hearing, Joseph was a teacher at Monument Creek, out of Lancefield, but had previously been the licensee of the Iona Hotel at Garfield. It was in Garfield that the misconduct between Mary and the co-respondent had taken place - the date of this ‘activity’ was given as May 2, 1908 - a very specific date but the report doesn’t say which of the co-respondents were involved. The couple were granted a decree nisi and the co-respondents had to pay the costs. As you can see, in the days of ‘at fault’ divorce the papers were more than happy to name the person with whom the ‘misconduct’ took place.
In May 1912, Elizabeth Rohl, of Iona, was granted a divorce from her husband, Oscar, on the grounds of desertion. They had married in 1904 and had one child. They lived together for two weeks then Oscar went to Queensland and he sent his wife money until November 1905 when he wrote that he was coming back to Melbourne, but she had not seen him since.
In November 1912, 66 year old William Glenister and 51 year old Margaret Glenister, both of Bunyip were granted a divorce on the grounds of her desertion. They married in 1886, had four children, the youngest being 20. In 1900, the marriage had clearly run its course as Margaret said that ‘one of them must leave the house’ so William got a job at Lake Tyers. ‘She subsequently declined to share the same room as him and later refused to have anything more to do with him at all.’ In September 1909 Margaret became the proprietor of a coffee palace in Bunyip and ‘they had not lived together since that month’. The couple petitioned for divorce in 1910 but the proceedings were adjourned as they didn’t have enough money to proceed.
In September 1914, Margaret McKay, 43 years old, from Yannathan was granted a divorce from her husband William. The couple had married in January 1908 and William had left in June 1908 and had not been seen since. There was one child of the marriage. This was the case that the Bunyip Free Press had said was ‘A divorce case of interest to residents of Yannathan and Heath Hill’
Bunyip Free Press September 3, 1914
The Argus newspaper headed a report from the Divorce Court in July 1919 as ‘Soldiers’ Divorce suits’ and started the article as ‘Another crop of cases in which soldiers sought divorce from wives who had been unfaithful during their absence on active service.’ Amongst the cases was this one. Alexander Robb, a returned soldier, petitioned for a divorce from his wife, Susan, on the grounds of her misconduct with Charles Beasley of Koo Wee Rup. The couple had five children and before he went away to War in October 1916, they lived in the same house as Charles. When Alexander returned from the war in January 1919 his wife had a new baby and she admitted Charles was the father. It was believed that Beasley was a married man with a family living at Koo Wee Rup. The divorce was granted.
In April 1920, Violet Nichols of Elsternwick petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s misconduct. Violet and William had married in 1908 and in July 1917 William bought a farm in Garfield and it was arranged that Violet and the two children would live there until he sold his asphalting business. He visited her once a month and when she queried him about the delay in selling the business he said there were debts that needed to be settled. This went on for two years until June 1919 when Violet received a letter from a ‘Char woman of Brighton’ saying that ‘misconduct had occurred between William and a young woman named Doris Edwards who had given birth to a child’. William admitted that he had been ‘carrying on’ for 12 months with Doris before Violet moved to Garfield. For the sake of her children, Violet had forgiven him until one day he came home late and he got violent towards her, so that was the end. She was granted custody of and maintenance for the children. No mention was made of what happened to Doris.
In March 1921, Richard Thomas Taylor, who worked for the Railways, asked for the dissolution of his marriage to Annie Isabel Taylor on the grounds of her desertion. He alleged Annie sold their house, kept the proceeds and went to live with her daughter at Yannathan. Mrs Taylor gave evidence that the house was in her name and that it was her husband’s wish that she should leave him. So, in spite of the fact that Richard wanted a divorce and Annie was happy to leave him, the Judge dismissed his petition for a divorce.
In February 1922, 42 year old Mary Hulse of Bunyip was granted a divorce from her 45 year old husband, Arthur, a farmer of Bunyip. He was accused of desertion and ‘repeated acts of misconduct with Wilhelmina Ford of Bunyip’. Arthur had to pay the costs and 15 shillings per week alimony.
In September 1923, William Rogers, formerly a police constable but now a farmer of Nar Nar Goon, petitioned for a divorce from his wife, Alice on the grounds of desertion. Mrs Rogers defended the suit claiming that she had just cause to leave her husband owing to his cruelty. The judge found that she had deserted him and thus was saying that she was the one ‘at fault’ but granted the divorce and awarded all the costs to William Rogers, so clearly didn’t think he was blameless.
In December 1925, Albert Taplin a 48 year old farmer from Catani sought to divorce his wife, Annie, 52 years old of Yarragon on the grounds that she had deserted him. The couple had married in Wales in 1907 and came to Australia in 1911. He served in the War from 1915 to 1919 and when he returned he lived at Catani but she refused to leave her farm at Yarragon. Annie claimed that she had to leave him on ‘account of his cruelty.’ Evidence was given that he had visited her in Yarragon and that ‘co-habitation’ had taken place on several occasions. In the end the judge decided that Albert could not prove that Annie had deserted him so he would not grant the divorce and Albert had to pay the Court costs.
Our last case comes from July 1950 when Archie Lee Glover, of Koo Wee Rup, was awarded £450.00 in damages against William Mortensen, also of Koo Wee Rup. Glover was suing for a divorce from his wife, Joyce Lilian Glover, on the grounds of her adultery with William. Archie had originally sought £1000 pounds in damages from William and the custody of the three children. The judge granted him the divorce, the reduced damages and reserved his decision about the custody.