t1 Language Paper 2 – Selling a Wife by Auction, 1879

In Victorian times, divorce was an option only open to wealthy married men, with married women treated as second-class citizens. The following newspaper article from The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, published on 29th July 1879, reports on a man who decided to sell his wife instead.

contemporary_wife_selling_print_georgian_scrapbook_1949It is only a few months since that a paragraph went the round of the papers relating how a certain stonemason at Rawtenstall, in Rossendale, sold his wife to another man for the sum of £10; but it would seem from certain proceedings which took place last week at Stacksteads, a Rossendale village, that the money value of wives has sadly declined since that event.

A navvy, living at Tunstead Mill, Stacksteads, determined to get rid of the ‘partner of his joys and sorrows’ by offering her for sale by auction, the highest bidder as usual to take ‘the lot.’

On Tuesday last the sale took place at the husband’s house, but, despite Solomon’s Rowlandson,Thomas-Selling a Wife-1812-14-wtestimony as to a woman being more precious than rubies, and notwithstanding that the spectators were numerous, the highest offer was only 4d, at which low figure the wife was eventually ‘knocked down’ to another navvy, who, by-the-by, lived next door.

The seller wanted to ‘throw in’ three children, but the buyer objected, and the bairns were left on hand. The wife, however, went joyfully to the home of her new owner, and seemed to be quite as glad to get away from her late liege lord as he was to part with her.

The occurrence has caused quite a stir in the locality, and has been commented upon by the local press.