Family Names

Monday, 10 April 2017

A to Z Challenge - H is for Help Required

Snippets from the life of Martha Sarah Ellis.

The keeping of a tidy and clean house was an arduous task in the Victorian Era; the work was strenuous, tedious and repetitive.  The need for domestic help was acute in the new colonies of Australia, as well as back in the homeland of England.  Often unwed girls who were no longer at school would begin working as domestic servants either in a paid capacity for an employer or at home in an unpaid capacity. 

Martha was most likely a domestic servant before she left England. She worked as a domestic in Western Australia after arrival.

Below is an example of the type of article that appeared in the local newspapers heralding the new immigration program to encourage new servants creating much anticipation among the locals.

1889 'NEWS OF THE DAY.', The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), 16 March, p. 3. , viewed 09 Apr 2017,

To read more about Martha’s experience on arrival click here   and  here 

Years later after Martha had moved to Victoria from Western Australia she advertised for a domestic of her own in the local newspaper,

1899 'Advertising', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 28 October, p. 5. , viewed 09 Apr 2017,

The advertisement read “GIRL. Useful, for house work, clean. Back way, 580 Chapel-st., S. Yarra.”  
Entering through the “back way” was not a connotation of a "class" division but based on more practical considerations.  The family lived on top and behind the family business that had its frontage on Chapel St, Martha’s husband owned and ran “TODMAN Cycles”.  The family home entrance would have been at the rear of the properly via the back lane.

1898 'Advertising', Jewish Herald (Vic. : 1879 - 1920), 21 January, p. 16. , viewed 09 Apr 2017,

I wonder what her style of staff management was like?  Did her previous experience as a domestic worker make her a more considerate employer?  Or was she more concerned with maintaining her newly found superior social standing?

Martha knew, from personal experience, what a servant might get up to (based on her own shenanigans) so she may have been a stern taskmaster?  One can only wonder.

I have written about the drudgery of washing day before click here to learn more.

To Read more about Martha's life for articles previously posted for the A to Z Challenges click the Letters below:-

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


  1. It's always interesting to read about early years of white settlement in Australia. One of my ancestors was sent to Australia for stealing a library book!
    Ros from Fangirl Stitches

  2. I think I would prefer, as a domestic, to enter paid work, rather than provide free work at home.

    That said, there would be no guarantee that the service I entered would be in a house free of abuse and other bad conditions.

    Her Grace from Romance Spinners (where I am NOT blogging about Romance in AtoZ).

    1. Thanks for dropping by really enjoyed reading your blog

      FYI your link goes to a blank page on your blog that reads "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist."

  3. No Roslyn! I'm covering my ears!! Stealing a library book. You won't get transported for that now thank goodness. Great post Sandra. I think I wouldn't have fared very well as a domestic and thank my lucky stars I was born in the 20th century.

    1. I don't think anyone fared really well as a domestic. If you stayed a domestic you probably couldn't have got married either although I suppose some did. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Wonderful post here. It is always fascinating to know about history. And that's great theme you have put up.

    1. Thanks Dipanwita, thanks for the compliment,glad you could stop by.

  5. Housework is still tedious and repetitious--I know because I do a lot of ours. But I'm sure it's easier now than back then. I'd consider letting somebody live with us and share our food in exchange for doing most of the housework, but we couldn't afford to pay somebody unless it was really cheap.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Sharing my space with others would be hard in an already crowded world. I can remember my grandmother telling me when I was young that she felt sorry for the younger generation. They had to own so much and spent all their time looking after it.
      Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Enjoying the historical perspective. We can learn so much!

    Harmony is present.
    Affirmations for a Good Life

  7. How wonderful that you found these news clips -- particularly the advertisements. They add so much to the ancestral story.

  8. Very cool finds! I'm sure Martha's experience as a domestic influenced her management style, but as you pointed out, that could have gone more than one way.

  9. I hope she wasn't too stern a taskmaster. Perhaps looking back on her own experience, she realized things she could do to steer her new worker in the right direction.

    Finding Eliza

  10. Hah! I always suspected that my mother must have had a wild youth cause she always thought my sister and I were up to something. We weren't.


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