Mashford Atkins was it seems, nothing if not resilient, and would turn her hand
to anything. By 1885, according to her tax returns, she is working as a
At the age of sixty-six, with her previous occupation as a servant, perhaps taking
in laundry is a less onerous way to earn some money. Although, according to the
reports of the times, laundering was arduous and required degrees of resilience
Water had to be hauled to a wood-fired copper, for which no doubt wood had to
be split. Large amounts of at least warm water would be required and more for
the rinsing. None of which was likely to be coming from a tap in any laundry.
Bedlinen, table-linen, clothes, all had to be washed by hand, on boards, wrung
by hand, which never gets out much water, leaving fabric heavier than we would
know it, and then hung on a line.
One reason why those who could send out their washing, did, was because it took
up so much time, space and effort.
we are used to a weekly wash, these days often daily, by the nineteenth-century it was
considered prestigious to own clothing enough to put off laundering for several
weeks, again because of the effort involved in getting things washed. In a “well-known chronicle
of English rural life” by Flora Thompson it is said of the town postmistress in
the 1890s that she:
kept to the old middle class custom of one
huge washing every six weeks. In her girlhood it would have been thought poor
looking to have had a weekly or fortnightly washday. The better off a family
was, the more changes of linen its members were supposed to possess, and the
less frequent the washday (24).
was a term often used for laundry work, but it was also something readily done
by anyone, since the skills were widespread and the basic equipment readily acquired.
The laundry mangle had been around since the late 18th century, but
whether they had made their way to rural South Australia by the late 19th
century is the question. Probably they had and Elizabeth did have access to
monies following the deaths of her older brother and her mother, so we can only
hope she had one to use, along with the help perhaps, of her now grown
Traditionally older women, widows, or divorcees, or married women short of
money, were the ones who took up laundering. Washing was something which could
be done from home and which allowed attention to be given to personal needs at
least, some of the time.
It was an ongoing, sloppy, messy process, but it allowed a degree of
flexibility which working outside the home did not. And it may well have been
something which Elizabeth and Mary did together, in order to support themselves
and Mary’s illegitimate son, since she was not to marry Charlie Ross until
Laundry work enabled women to remain at home to care for their children while
still earning an income.
laundress working at home would, in today’s vernacular, be an entrepreneur. As
such, she was typically not the delicate Victorian lady. The Royal Commission
on Labour reported the comment that laundresses were “the most independent people
on the face of the earth.” Running a business required more than knowing how to
iron a lace collar or having a back strong enough for heaving sodden linen
From the photos we have it is clear that Elizabeth was a solid woman and young
Mary, a slight little thing. No doubt between them they could handle the
demands of laundry work.
This description from Ronald Blythe’s, The View in Winter, of a servant’s life
is revealing, although, Elizabeth and Mary at least had the benefits of a more
benign Australian climate than British washerwomen had to endure:
She used to wash for the big house and all
this linen was brought to her cottage in a wheelbarrow. How she used to manage
all this washing in her cottage without the use of anything, I don’t know. She
had an old brick copper. She said she’d stand up till two in the morning
ironing with a box iron. Sixpence an hour she was paid. He husband was away in
the army and she washed. (34)
Photo: Adelaide, in 1839.
Fellow researcher, Luke
has been continuing to work on Edward/Edwin Atkins:
“The Police Gazette gave a description of Edward Atkins he was from
Cirencester, aged c19 years, 5-foot tall and 6 1/2 inches, an oval face, grey
eyes, brown hair, and Blacksmith.
This description matches the Gloucestershire Gaol record for Edwin Atkins. From Cirencester, a Blacksmith, aged c19
years, 5 foot tall 6 ½ inches, brown hair, this time he has blue eyes, but in a
dark prison room an easy mistake to make. Upon arrival in NSW the Convict
Indent record gives the same description of 5 foot 6 1/2 inches tall brown
hair, grey eyes, etc. it is all the same person.
I was in Adelaide, recently, I went to the Supreme Court. I was told, or I read
somewhere, that a person can go to the Supreme Court and they have an index
database of all Supreme Court trials from the 1800’s. I found out where to go
and I had a look at the database.
is a civil matrimonial case lodged by Elizabeth Atkins in 1873. This could well
be our Elizabeth Mashford because 1873 is very close to 1872 when she purchased
some land in Gladstone.
this is Elizabeth Mashford it may well be against Edward Atkins for some reason
and will let us known why the couple separated. I doubt it is a divorce matter
because their names do not appear in the divorce list from the State Archives
divorce index list from the 1800’s.
to read the court case is not straightforward and may take some time. First of
all I have to write to the Register of the Supreme Court and request permission
to access the court case as all Supreme Court cases from the 1800s are still
I get permission I then have to go to the State Archives and I can only do this
in the first Thursday of every month. Secondly I have to then show the letter
from the Register to a staff member and then they have to find the particular
court case, which in itself is no mean feat. Sometimes they just bring out a
big box and then you have to go through all the court cases to find the one you
want which can take some time
will write a letter to the Register and I will keep you informed about the
for Edward Atkins there is a newspaper report (Trove) of how he got into a
fight along the Para (Gawler) in 1839. The newspapers said he was allowed bail.
However just because a person is allowed bail that does not mean they can meet
their bail conditions and have to serve their time in Gaol.
I went to the State
Archives and due to the very bad sloppy paperwork which people kept it is not
clear how long he was in the old Adelaide Gaol. The newspapers say he was
released, but it also could mean with time served. He was in the old Adelaide
Gaol it is just a matter of how long. It may have been for a good three months
or just for a few days before the court case took place.
when I say the old Adelaide Gaol I do not mean the one next to the railways
line in Adelaide. In 1839-1840 that Gaol had not been built. The Gaol he was in
no longer exists and it use to be in between Government House and the military
parade grounds on King William Street.”
This would be about two years after Edward Atkins completed his seven year sentence in New South Wales, which gives him plenty of time to make his way to the fledgling new colony of South Australia, established in 1836.
If he headed West for a new start, it was not a very promising one at this point.
The Trove report:
Thomas Fielding, Joseph Best, and Edward
Atkins, were charged with assaulting Thomas
Wilson at Mr Reed's station on the Para, on
30th of last month. The Clerk of the Peace,
stated that this was so serious a case that
instructed to request his Worship to send
trial at the next general gaol delivery.
The prisoners were accordingly committed, but
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