Monday, 14 March 2011


Another negative review of fancy-work in the media this week.

Reading this article gave me good insight into the lot of emigrating women. Many of them could not have possibly been prepared for what they were about to face. The lower their class, the better they must have been able to cope, and for those women the new country was probably an improvement in situation.

But for the poor girls who were only taught to crochet, play piano, speak French and paint wooden screens in the hopes of improving their stations, the new country must have come as quite a shock. However, how middle class girls could have assumed a servant's role in preparation, as this article suggests so practically, is just as much of a mystery.

(Again, I have added paragraphs but the italics are true to the original.)

A lady who has lately emigrated to Sydney writes: --

"I think, as far as I can make out, that Sydney itself simply has no opening for governesses or helps; the Colonial girls themselves are taking very much to going in for teaching, and they won't leave the towns; but if Englishwomen make up their minds to go up country they will find lots of situations.

"Teaching, however, is not of the first importance; they must have a thorough knowledge of housework, must be able to do it before they come out. Pray impress that strongly on their minds; tell them to take a servant's place for a few months before they leave England, or do anything they can to thoroughly learn the work of a house in all its branches, even to washing and ironing clothes, which I know is often required of girls if the servants leave at a moment's notice, which is a favourite trick of theirs out here.

"Of course, to be able to teach well is of great importance, particularly music, of which all colonial people are passionately fond; but still everything comes second to the thorough knowledge of housework, and ladies out here do not care to take girls as 'helps' who are merely willing to work but require to be taught. The heat of the summer out here is so great, and people get languid, and irritable, and indisposed to take the trouble to teach a girl what they themselves have been brought up to do from childhood. 

"It is a pity our English girls are not more sensibly trained; if they didn't fritter away so much time in fancy-work and those sorts of things they would be better housekeepers, and more likely to get on here in this country. I have been told of five ladies up country who all want 'helps' and can't get them -- ladies who will teach the children and help with the housework; one or two English girls from home have taken the situation, but have been found to be utterly incapable of doing more than teach, which, as I say, comes second in importance."

Work and Leisure, An Englishwoman's Advertiser, Reporter and Gazette, November 1883


  1. Love this blog Kris! Well done. I can only imagine what it was like to have your work constantly critiqued. Reminds me a bit of growing up with the quilting ladies at church. You could join and quilt with them; they would show you how and help you along, and then rip your stitches out when you left. It took a long time, and lots of practice before your work was deemed good enough to leave alone.

  2. Ah, the classes clash--and as in this case, the lower classes win the round as many emigrant women found that scut-work skills earned by hard work and with calloused hands were much more valuable than the more privileged who developed fancy-work skills.