LLS Staff Seminar #2: Love and Law in the Colonial Archive: Reflections on Australian Breach of Promise of Marriage Cases

In the second La Trobe Law School Staff Seminar for 2016, Dr Alecia Simmonds, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Law at UTS will analyse Breach of Promise cases from the nineteenth century to examine the relationship between marriage and masculinity in colonial Australia.


This paper will analyse a series of nineteenth century Breach of Promise cases to reflect upon the interaction between marriage, masculinity and the state in the Australasian colonies. Through examining cases involving women with illegitimate children who successfully sued under the action this paper will focus on both the significance of the suit for single mothers and the production of sentimental masculinities, defined through men’s capacity to keep their promises of marriage. I will tease out the tensions between a male breadwinner ideal crucial to ideas of ‘traditional marriage’ and the reality of poverty, the  discrepancy between legal definitions of fatherhood as patriarchal right and the legal practice of fatherhood as financial obligation and the hilarity that ensued when men, whose rights to the public sphere were founded upon their reason and self-mastery, were exposed as irrational, giddy, feckless and nervous in the realm of marriage. From a Bachelors Club formed in 1854 to support men in breach of promise of marriage cases, to advertisements for invisible ink designed to prevent male love letters from being used in breach of promise actions, the suit functioned as both a horrifying spectre and a site of debate where changing models of ‘marital masculinity’ were defended, rewarded and punished.


Dr Alecia Simmonds is the Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Law at UTS, a lecturer in Pacific World History at NYU-Sydney and the Book Review editor of Law and History. She is an inter-disciplinary scholar whose work on Australian cultural history and the relationship between emotion, imperialism and law in the Pacific has been published in a range of international and domestic journals. She is the author of the book Wild Man: the story of a police shooting, mental illness and the law,  published by Affirm Press in 2015. Her current research project, entitled Hatching, Matching and Despatching uses breach of promise cases to examine the legal regulation of intimacy in Australia from 1788-1975.


Date: Thursday 14 April 2016

Time: 12.45pm to 2pm

Venue: Martin Building, Level 3, Room 362A, La Trobe University, Bundoora

Cost: Free

RVSP: Please register via Eventbrite by Tuesday 12 April 2016.

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