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The immigration of domestic servants to Western Australia in the 1850s and 1890s

Chambers, Emily (2017) The immigration of domestic servants to Western Australia in the 1850s and 1890s. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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The demand for domestic servants in nineteenth-century Western Australia was largely supplied by the government-assisted immigration of parties of single British women to the colony. The two greatest times of servant immigration were, roughly, the 1850s (1849-63) and the 1890s (1889-1901). This thesis compares these decades, showing that, despite changes over time in the women who immigrated to Western Australia, their experience of restrictions in both the journey and domestic service remained consistent. The government in charge of servant immigration changed from the 1850s to 1890s, thus shifting the motives for assisting female immigrants. But this had little effect on the type of women who immigrated, as their decision on whether to immigrate was determined by the position and appeal of the colony at the time. There were also continuities between the decades, with the women consistently finding themselves restricted by rules and lacking in agency. During the voyage, shipboard protective controls served to limit their actions while controls in the hiring process favoured colonial employers at the expense of the servants. Rather than gradually developing over time, these controls had existed from the start of servant immigration. The restrictions on the women continued through to their time in domestic service, where variations in conditions and their live-in work made them dependent on their employers. They were also socially distanced from and made subordinate to their mistresses, a position which was supported by colonial laws and press. Opportunities to resist the limitations of service increased from the 1850s to 1890s, but always included moving on, either to a different position or to marry.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Sturma, Michael
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