Wholesale desertion of Wives

This is the title of an article from Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 1 January 1848, which is pretty amazing:

“On Friday the parochial authorities of St Luke’s and St Leonard’s, Shoreditch issued descriptions and rewards for the apprehension of 54 men charged with desertion of their wives and families, leaving no fewer than 217 individuals a burthen to those parishes. they are described as god mechanics, able to earn from 25s to 30s per week”

Abandoning your family was a big deal back then, and if caught every one of these men faced prison, a punishment that was debated as it meant that the families were kept for even longer on poor rates whilst the cost of keeping the men in jail instead of working added even more to the public costs.

These were high end earners, so their jobs would have been in high demand pretty much wherever they went, and this desertion must have been well organised. Did they tell their wives or just do a big flit?

And where did they go, as they all had to go a long way to escape the longer of the law.

The date is important, as is the fact that this article was reprinted in Scientific American on 26 February following, which is pretty fast. It also suggest where they were headed. This was the year of the first Californian Gold Rush, an event that would have been a good place for such men to head for, as their skills would have been very much in need there, and they probably believed they could escape justice there.

Maybe they had planned it with their wives, hoping to make their fortunes and get their families to follow them, or at least to send some money home to them.

and this opens up another story. I always assumed the men on the gold fields were mostly single. This suggests an entirely different story: that of the New World being awash with runaway husbands, and Europe awash with abandoned wives and children that the brutal poor law system had to deal with.


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