Marriage options for immigrant women in colonial Australia in the 1830s

Elizabeth Rushen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In the five years between 1832 and 1837, just over 3,000 free women migrated to the Australian colonies on sixteen ships chartered specifically for female emigration. They were encouraged to emigrate by promotional literature that presented the colonies as places of enhanced employment possibilities and viable marriage opportunities. Emigration was to be a matrimonial expedition for the female participants. The importation of marriageable women was also intended to assist in building social stability in the colonies where large numbers of single men dominated the population. It has been estimated that in 1833, 73 of the population of New South Wales (NSW) was male (71 in the southern colony of Van Diemen s Land), and that in some remote districts males outnumbered females 20:1. In light of concerns that the imbalance was generating a laxity in morals, as expressed in low-marriage and high-illegitimacy rates, the emphasis was on attracting young, healthy women who would make ideal workers and potential wives. The encouragement of marriage was intended to create a more decorous and virtuous moral atmosphere in the colonies. This article considers the colonial marriage options available to these immigrant women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111 - 126
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Australian Colonial History
Issue number2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Cite this