04-05-1889: Is Marriage a Failure?

This is good for a laugh, but it’s highly likely that the opposing debaters named as Ferguson and Urie, were the sons of James Ferguson (James Ferguson Jnr b. 1861) and James Urie (William Urie b. 1864). The Australian Natives Association (ANA) was formed in 1871 as a friendly society and its membership was only open to Australian born males of which the sons of James Ferguson & James Urie were, and at the time of the debate both were single men. James Urie was a councillor (and Mayor) of Flemington & Kensington and would have been a significant influence in ensuring the young men took an active part in associations such as this.

The North Melbourne Advertiser, Saturday 4th May 1889, page 3


“An interesting debate on the above subject took place at the ordinary meeting of the Flemington and Kensington branch of the Australian Natives Association, on Friday evening. Mr Roberts, vice president, in the chair.

            Mr Rowe, who opened the debate, did not distinctly affirm that marriage was a failure, but assuming, for the sake of argument, that it was so, then it behoved them to trace some of the causes of the failure. In one case failure was due to the fact that the wife was not domesticated. The young lady, in the spinster stage of her existence, was too proud, too idle, or too indifferent to attend to household duties, and it was only natural that she should develop into ‘the ornamental wife’. Such a woman was unable to cook a chop or even a potato, and the dyspeptic husband was sometimes driven into the bar parlour in disgust. To his thinking, the best wives were the daughters of workmen, and such seldom turned out to be incapable or extravagant. Some women who complained that marriage was a failure, would do well to ask themselves whether they had tried to be as agreeable and as winning towards their husbands as they were in the days of courtship. Then there were instances in which the husband was to blame for marital infelicity. As a lover, a man may be a model of tenderness and devotion, but as soon as the prise is secured, neglect often takes the place of love, attendance at the club is resumed, or it may be, the demon drink steps in to make the home miserable. But if marriage is a failure, the question would naturally arise ‘Where are we to find a substitute?”

            Mr Urie spoke on the affirmative side of the question. He had known young men who were happy and as jolly as possible before marriage, but as soon as they were fairly engaged a change came over their dispositions, and they grew disagreeable and morose. After marriage matters became worse still. You could not get them out for half-an-hour because were required to stay at home to mind the baby – the only time they were allowed out was when the infant required an airing, and they were needed to drive ‘the barrow’. He had known young fellows who, while bachelors, always had a shilling in their pockets, but, after they became married, never seemed to have a penny of their own, and who went around ‘cadging’ tobacco of their single acquaintances. Surely marriage was a failure when it came to that. Of course he was speaking as a single man; he had never been through the mill himself, and he never meant to. Mr Phillips took the negative side of the question. Of course there were individual cases of failure, but the system as a whole was successful enough. When young couples went courting they should find out whether they could trust one another, and the young man should satisfy himself that the young woman was capable of keeping house. In some cases people rushed into matrimony in a hurry and were sorry for it afterwards. A man took a fancy to a woman and made up his mind he would marry her whether she was good or bad. Such a union was a failure as frequently as not. But if the parties were of ‘the right sort’, he knew of nothing happier than the married state. It was desirable that the wife should be domesticated, and, whatever her station in life she should try to ‘save up a little for a rainy day’, should try to put a little by week by week.

            A member – What Building Society do you represent?

Mr Phillips went on to say that a man was not much benefit to the colony if he had not the moral courage to marry. He often pitied the poor man who was not married.

            Mr Mahoney thought marriage was only a failure in the minority of cases, and 99 times out of a 100 the fault was on the side of the man. Sometimes former companions got hold of a married man and enticed him away from his home to the hotel. In the course of time, the wife, weary of being left by herself , went into society and mixed up with other men – and the marriage was a failure. As to getting on in life, a single man had not half the chance a married man had. Before he was married he spent all he earned, but after marriage he found that 5s went as far as £1 used to go. Besides, no one could sympathise with one, either in times of prosperity of adversity, the same as a wife could. He spoke after 15 years experience. Marriage was calculated to make a man happy and moral. Single men rarely we’re respectable. (Laughter.)

            Mr Ferguson doubted that Mr Rowe wanted to prove that marriage was a failure, and probably he could not if he tried, because he had no grounds to go on, being a single man he had no practical experience of the question. Want of means was one cause of the failure of marriage – poverty was a heart rendering thing in the house. Another prolific cause of infelicity was over-indulgence in drink. He would like to know the reason why men married. He considered it was either a question of passion or necessity.

            Mr Maloney – You look at it from a very low standpoint.

Mr Ferguson said – Home was a great English institution. Many persons married to secure a home. In China the woman was the slave of her husband. Amongst the American Indians the female worked while the male went out fishing or shooting. In Turkey, and amongst the Mormons, a man married as many wives as he could afford. In these latter cases marriage was not a failure so long as the husband had the means to keep his establishment going. In certain tribes in South Africa, the men had their wives in common. In the Border land between England and Scotland, in the olden time, men took their wives on trial, but history was silent as to what became of the children. In ancient Sparta, the State took charge of all children; if the child was weakly it was exposed to die, if strong, it was trained up by the State. Under our system of education, children were not fitted for the duties of after life. He was of the opinion that the State should take upon itself the care of all children. Amongst the causes of the failure of matrimony, the mother-in-law was a prominent factor, and should not be overlooked.

            The chairman was of the opinion that in the great majority of cases marriage was anything but a failure. He did not agree with Mr Rowe that the daughters of poor men made the best wives. An old proverb said that if you want a good bird you must go to a good nest. The girls of the better class were, to his mind, better educated and quite domesticated as their humbler sisters, and were therefore more companionable. Mr Urie’s argument re married men staying at home was certainly no proof of connubial infelicity. Nor was there much force in Mr Ferguson’s theory as to the want of means, because most people were agreed that the greatest happiness was to be found in the humble homes. The companionship of a good woman had a most beneficial influence on men. The quarrels of husbands and wives were often retailed in newspapers, but the Press was silent as to the happiness of thousands of married people. He had boarded out for three or four years, and it was the most miserable period of his existence. The mother-in-law difficulty was greatly exaggerated. If a husband put his foot firmly down at the outset, the wife’s mother soon shrank back into her proper position in the household.

            After some remarks, in reply, from Messrs Rowe and Urie, the debate closed.



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