Age in the colonies

Just tootling around the ‘net, as one does, I found a review of a book that sounds fascinating- Aging by the Book: The Emergence of Mid-Life in Victorian Britain by Kay Heath.  The review is  well worth reading, and you’ll find it at the Rorotoko site.

2009, 262 p.

Here’s the blurb for the book from the publisher’s website, which also includes a download of the first chapter:

Aging by the Book offers an innovative look at the ways in which middle age, which for centuries had been considered the prime of life, was transformed during the Victorian era into a period of decline. Single women were nearing middle age at thirty, and mothers in their forties were expected to become sexless; meanwhile, fortyish men anguished over whether their “time for love had gone by.” Looking at well-known novels of the period, as well as advertisements, cartoons, and medical and advice manuals, Kay Heath uncovers how this ideology of decline permeated a changing culture. Aging by the Book unmasks and confronts midlife anxiety by examining its origins, demonstrating that our current negative attitude toward midlife springs from Victorian roots, and arguing that only when we understand the culturally constructed nature of age can we expose its ubiquitous and stealthy influence.

One of the things that struck me when looking at Port Phillip was how young people were.  At one level, this seems reasonable: the trip from the United Kingdom (which is where many immigrants came from) was formidable, although some older people did broach it.   Sydney and Van Diemen’s land, as the older settlements,  had seen the elapse of generations by the time of Port Phillip’s establishment in the 1830s, and many of these second and third generation settlers crossed the strait or came down from Sydney to a ‘new’ settlement that did not have  tainted connotations and which offered a new frontier and opportunities.

In Port Phillip itself, people commented about the youth of the population at the time.  E. M. Curr wrote:

Perhaps the first thing one noticed was the almost total absence of women from the streets, as well as the paucity of old men.  In those days anyone over thirty was spoken of as old So-and-so ( E. M. Curr, Recollections of Squatting in Victoria)

The figures (flawed as they may be) of the 1841 Census for the Port Phillip District bear him out:

AGE MALE FEMALE
Under 2 305 340
2 and under 7 479 425
7 and under 14 395 395
14 and under 21 561 384
21 and under 45 6045 1824
45 and under 60 442 86
Over 60 47 6

Source:  HCCDA Historical Census and Colonial Data Archive

There’s that huge imbalance of men between the ages of 21-45, many of whom arrived by themselves or with their brothers and they so quickly take their place in Port Phillip society.  Redmond Barry was 26 when he arrived; the newspaper editor George Arden was about 21 when he confronted Judge Willis.  Peter Snodgrass, another young man about town who also fell under Willis’ notice was 24.

Paul de Serville in his book Port Phillip Gentlemen  likens polite society prior to the 1842 depression to

…an unreformed public school before the tone had been elevated by a middle-class Arnold.  Visitors and new arrivals were at once struck by the youth of the colonists (p.37)

I haven’t, as yet, noticed the same phenomenon in Upper Canada where, so far at least, it seems that there is more emphasis on family migration.  Something to bear in mind perhaps.

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2 responses to “Age in the colonies

  1. Even if your figures did not include convicts (largely male) or any other person INvoluntarily migrating to the New World, they certainly reflect the “pioneering experience” – relatively few women and even fewer older people. Parents aren’t prepared to allow their daughters to risk life and limb in an uncertain country, far away from home. And older people don’t want to, thanks very much 🙂

    It reminds me when hundreds of thousands of Jewish pioneers were flooding out of Poland and Russia in the 1890s and early 1900s. The average age of new migrants was between 18-22, and the males FAR outnumbered the females.

    Somehow there were enough women to have children and create normal family life. Does the 1841 census for the Port Phillip District give the breakdown of married people Vs not married?

    • residentjudge

      Yes, it’s hard to tease out the effect of transportation from later population figures. Even though Port Phillip prided itself on being ostensibly ‘free’, there was still the migration from NSW and VDL which were penal colonies. The census figures do show married/single, but not an age breakdown. That census site I linked too is fascinating- it’s- good to have them all there in one place.
      I guess that we only have to look at the refugee boat arrivals today to see the preponderance of young males, for a variety of reasons.

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