My research into wife selling continues to turn up bizarre incidents. This is one of my favourites, from the Dundee evening Telegraph of 28 November 1903, claims to relate to Manchester at the end of the 18th century:
“A woman, named Price, led her husband into the market place, and publicly proclaimed that she would dispose of him to the highest bidder.
The man, who seems to have regarded the matter as as huge joke, then stated his accomplishments, which ranged from bootmaking to flute-playing, and the bidding commenced. Several offers were made, and he ultimately exchanged hands for a guinea, a par of fowls, and a new dress. ”
In Leeds the town crier was requisitioned to announce publicly the sale of her husband by Mrs Joanna Cruttley. He was described by the official as a good carpenter and a most devoted husband.
He was duly put up by auction in a public house, despite the publicity of the sale and his domestic virtues, only fetched 5s and a gallon of gin.
Seven years previously 2 women and a man, the husband of one, waited upon a Bristol Magistrate with the request that he would attest the legality of a transaction which consisted of the husband and 10 guineas exchanging owners.
The magistrate naturally pointed out that such a barter was invalid, and the parties left much dissatisfied to carry out their intention under he auspices of a neighbouring Boniface, whose house benefitted greatly by the crowd that attended the sale. ”
This suggests a lot of the information on wife selling was dubious – here the women had financial and legal power, the men co-operated, and in the first instance it does seem like they had a lot of fun, and their lives may well have been a lot better off for the change of partners. Or they might have gone on sale again.
Apparently J S Mill was a great advocate of divorce, because he felt that a new relationship was always bound to get stale, and changing partners would only repeat the cycle rather than bring any change. But he had a strange life, and ultimately everyone is different, and we should all be free to make our own choices. And mistakes occasionally.