A Wife for Sale

Now there’s a title that I bet got your attention. I know it got mine when I was browsing through the old newspapers on Trove and saw the headline “A WIFE FOR SALE”.

On further searching, I found that there are actually quite a heap of articles titled “A Wife for Sale”. But today I’m going to share two with you.

In our modern day, western world society, the whole concept of “selling a wife” is horrifying, but these two articles might just give you a different view of it …

They both come from Queensland newspapers, but are reporting news from overseas.


ARTICLE 1 comes from the Brisbane Telegraph, Wednesday 31 July 1912, page 4 (click for a link to the original article) and is a mutally agreed sale between the husband and wife.


It was long a popular belief among the ignorant in England (says the “New York “Herald”) that if a man sold his wife at public auction such a sale had all the legality of a regular divorce. The latest case of the kind occurred in 1832.

John Thompson, a farmer, had been married for three years, and he and his wife agreed to separate. Thompson brought his wife into the town of Carlisle, and by the bellman announced he was about to sell her. At 12 o’clock Thompson placed his wife on a large oak chair with a rope or halter of straw about her neck. He then made (his announcement “Gentlemen, “I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Anne Thompson, otherwise Williams, whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. It is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a born serpent I took her for my comfort, the good of my home, but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil. I speak truth from my heart when I say— May God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicksome women! Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature.

WOMANLY QUALITIES. Now I have shown you the dark side of my wife, and told of her faults and failings, I will introduce the bright and sunny side of her, and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels and milk cows, she can laugh and weep with the same ease that you could take a glass of ale when thirsty. Indeed, gentlemen, she reminds me of what the poet says of women in general — Heaven gave to women the peculiar grace, To laugh, to weep, to cheat the human — race. “She can make butter and scold the maid; she can sing Moor’s melodies and plait her folds and caps; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky, but she is a good judge of the quality of each from long experience in tasting them. I therefore offer her, with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of fifty shillings.”

The woman was finally sold to one Henry Mears for the sum of twenty shillings and a Newfoundland dog. Man and wife parted in perfect good temper, Mears and the woman going one way, Thompson and the dog another.

So all ended happy, in an odd way. And that would certainly make for an interesting tid-bit on someone’s family tree.


ARTICLE 2 was recorded in the Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 20 November 1906, page 4  (click for a link to the original article). This is an interesting one with a lady offering herself up for sale.

A Wife for Sale.

A New York cable message to the London “Morning Leader” of October 2 says that a Chicago lady had broken loose from the social powers that be, and in the local newspapers advertised herself for sale to the highest bidder. The cable runs:- “It is a remarkable “agony” advertisement, and breathes a bitter spirit of rebellion against the modern conditions which often make her sex the slave of commercial greed. The frank and daring document reads as follows:- ‘For sale to the highest bidder, a young woman American slave, refined, honest, poetical, big-souled; splendid teeth, not beautiful, but ardent and artistic; sometime bubbling over witih merriment, sometimes sedate and studious, oppressed by the wrongs of her fellow-creatures. Can appreciate a good story and can tell a better; is deeply religious, but not pious; has a vivid imagination; possesses psychic powers; cannot sew a little bit, but can plan a dashing costume; doesn’t know plank steak from a porter-house, but can

get up a swell dinner; can’t make a loaf of bread, but can give character impersona-tions that can’t be beat; doesn’t go to church, but obeys every divine law. She’s a lovely typewriter, but typewriting is hell; has Axminster tastes, but ragcarpet opportunities. With versatile talents she longs for silk cîatihing, and buys cotton, while shallow-pated women laden with diamonds air themselves and lap-dogs in 5000 dollar automobiles; her brain is burn-ing with projects to benefit mankind, but her body is bound with galling iron chains, to the rack of mechanical toil. Instead of offering herself for sale privately she prefers a public auction; is not very old, but wasn’t born yesterday.’ Arrayed in a baby blue tea gown and diamond brooch, she received the Chicago journalists. ‘I’m offering my intellect and genius,’ she explained. ‘I don’t suppose I shall be respected by the conventional world, but I am through with drudgery and toil. The man who buys me will get a poor cook, but a good entertainer.'”

I would love to know what happened to her. Did she find a good husband and a happy home? Either way you have to admire her guts for wanting to change her life, and get out of slavery, not to mention her honesty in the description!

Just out of interest I did find numerous articles for “Husband for Sale” too, but I’ll save that for another time.


3 Responses to “A Wife for Sale”

  1. You may be interested in my blogpost about a wife for sale in 1811 https://www.lonetester.com/2019/10/a-wife-for-sale/

  2. Lyndal Breen says:

    Reminds me of Thomas Hardy’s book “The Mayor of Casterbridge”

  3. crissouli says:

    Thank you, Chris

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