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Ahead of our upcoming workshop, ‘Voices from the past: Uncovering local and personal stories’, as part of the Orange Readers and Writers Festival 2017, one of our speakers shares one of her favourite stories uncovered in the archives. Marian Lorrison, a current PhD student at Macquarie University, explored the experiences of four adulterous women whose husbands sued for divorce in NSW during the 1870s.

“I’m attached to all four of the women I researched, but I have a definite soft spot for Martha Anderson. She was a ‘penniless seamstress’, who met her future husband Frederick walking to and from work at a ‘clothing manufactory’ in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Martha would flirt with Fred when she walked by, until they started talking, ‘walking out’ and finally, had ‘illicit intimacy’. As so often happens, poor Martha eventually found herself in the family way, and practically had to beg Fred to make her ‘respectable’.


Fred was off in New Zealand buying merchandise for Hoffnung and Co (kind of a colonial David Jones), and they weren’t even married yet when Martha began seeing another married man on the side. This fellow was an absolute ‘blackguard,’ as the divorce court judge called him, and used to see Martha at her house in Strawberry Hills (where Surry Hills and Redfern are now). On her honeymoon night, Fred took Martha out to the South Head (where working class couples went for a sexual rendezvous if they couldn’t afford a room) and of course she was so disappointed. She’d fantasised about them setting up a little household together, but instead Martha stayed in Strawberry Hills and Fred just came over and visited her. He was a bit of a cheapskate!


I don’t want to give too much else away about Martha, but I think she was incredibly courageous, taking the stand to defend herself when everyone around her already determined her guilt. She may have been poor and uneducated, but she arrived at that courtroom full of men and held her head high. Her story sort of has a happy ending, but like I said, I’m not going to give it all away.”

If you want to hear more from Marian, and learn more about uncovering stories of people largely absent from historical records, then don’t miss our all-day workshop on 21 July 2017, held in partnership with Central West Libraries. Marian has also published a great piece at the Australian Women’s History Network.

When: Friday 21 July 2017, 10am-3:30pm
(arrive at 9:45am for registrations)
Where: Media Room, Hotel Canobolas
248 Summer Street, Orange NSW 2800
Cost: $35 ($10 discounted student tickets available,
contact us at
Morning tea will be provided as well as
tea and coffee refreshments in the afternoon.

Download the event program and schedule (pdf 194kb)

Come to this workshop if you are…
An aspiring or established historian, researcher and/or writer;
Part of an organisation wanting to document local and/or individual histories;
Just generally passionate about history and storytelling!