State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 87 May 2011


Bev Roberts
Miss Newcomb's Teapot

IN September 1839 Anne Drysdale sailed from Scotland to Australia to become a sheep farmer. A 47 year old single woman of some means, she had previously leased and managed her own farm in Ayrshire. She arrived at Port Phillip in March 1840, and a month later moved to Geelong where she had acquired a 10 000-acre sheep run ('Boronggoop') and a flock of around 2000 sheep. While waiting for a house to be built on her property she stayed with Dr Alexander Thomson1 and his family at their home in Geelong, and it was there that she met Caroline Newcomb.
Little is known of Caroline's early life until in 1833, at the age of 21, she sailed alone from England to Van Diemen's Land. In April 1836 she travelled to Port Phillip with John Batman's family, as temporary governess to the Batmans' daughters. In 1837 she moved to Geelong to live with the Thomsons, with whom she'd become friends in Tasmania, and became governess to their daughter.
When her house was completed, Anne invited Caroline to join her as a partner in the new squatting venture. Caroline accepted and they took up residence at Boronggoop in August 1841. For the next decade, trading as Drysdale & Newcomb, the two women engaged in a successful pastoral and farming business. In the mid-1840s they acquired the freehold of 'Coriyule', a property on the Bellarine Peninsula, and built a large house to which they moved in 1849. Here they scaled down their pastoral business, concentrating on farming, growing vegetables and fruit, and raising Clydesdale horses. In 1852 Anne suffered a stroke from which she recovered but a second stroke the following year was more severe and she died in May 1853. She was buried at Coriyule.
Caroline inherited the property and continued to manage it for the next eight years. In late 1861, at the age of 49, she married a Methodist minister, Rev James Davy Dodgson, twelve years her junior. She leased out Coriyule and spent ten years in various parts of Victoria where her husband was posted. She died in Brunswick in 1874 and was buried at Coriyule beside Anne.2


The above summary shows that Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb were very interesting and unconventional women. Anne spent her last thirteen years in Australia, where she was chiefly notable as a unique 'gentlewoman farmer'. Caroline lived in this country for more than half of her life and was notable in several ways, from being one of the first women to arrive at the settlement of Melbourne to her later work as an activist in local religious, social and political affairs in the Geelong region. But their individuality has been eclipsed by the label 'the lady squatters' that has adhered to them over time. They are now an historical couple, defined by the thirteen years they lived and worked together rather than by their separate achievements or other periods of their lives.

Teapot awarded to Miss Caroline Newcomb, Geelong Agricultural Show, 1857. Museum Victoria, H8115.

In the Australian Dictionary of Biography,3 for example, they have a joint entry and this is prefaced by the description of them as 'women squatters [who] formed a partnership of exceptional interest'. It seems that an unintended ambiguity has been read into this comment in the four decades since it was published. The 'exceptional interest' has been seen less in the activities of the women as squatters, and more in their partnership, with that term given a modern meaning as a committed relationship outside traditional marriage.
Anne and Caroline did form a partnership (Drysdale & Newcomb) through which they ran their pastoral and farming business. And since they lived together as well as worked together, they were also partners in setting up and maintaining a household and a shared way of life. Whilst in 2011 this would certainly place them within Centrelink's definition of a same-sex couple, there would not have been such meaning given to partnership in a mid-19th century context.
When Anne wrote in her diary of 'Miss Newcomb, my partner, I hope, for life', it was in the context of her move to Boronggoop in mid-1841 and her gladness on finding a new life and a compatible new friend. A couple of years later, a visitor to Boronggoop referred to:
Miss Newcome [sic] another maiden lady, whom Miss Drysdale had some time before taken into partnership with herself partly, I presume, that she might have
some kindred spirit, which I am happy to say Miss N. unquestionably is, to whom she might be able to whisper that 'solitude was sweet'.4
The florid language gives the partnership a romantic air, but the fact that the writer was a well-known Presbyterian clergyman makes it highly unlikely that he was describing an intimate relationship. The same could be said of the words of another clergyman when he described Anne as Caroline's 'ever-dear partner'.5 Only a determinedly ahistorical interpretation could construe these comments as anything other than evidence of a strong and affectionate friendship.
Since the 1970s, feminist historical studies have produced an extensive literature on the phenomenon of female friendships in England and America, mainly focused on the 19th century. These studies have shown the 'incompatibility of our modern heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy with the sensibility of an earlier age'6 or with what another writer called 'the different type of emotional landscape [that] existed in the 19th century'.7 And that landscape is revealed as unfamiliar and exotic to modern eyes, with a culture of female friendship of an intensity and complexity that is difficult to understand in a post-Freudian age.
In view of the currency of this body of work, it is quite surprising to find that Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb have recently been categorised as homosexual, apparently on the basis of anachronistic interpretations of their partnership.

The queer teapot

In 2005-6 a pilot project was undertaken by Museum Victoria, in conjunction with the State Library of Victoria and the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives, to survey the collections of museums and other institutions to identify material relevant to the histories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) communities. The project was inevitably fraught with conceptual and methodological problems, particularly in identifying and defining the sexuality of people long dead.
These problems are exemplified in the case of two items identified in the survey as 'relevant' to GLBT history. The first, from the State Library of Victoria collection, is the diary of Anne Drysdale, described in the survey report as 'female squatter near Geelong, who lived with female partner for thirteen years'. The second, related to that 'female partner', is a silver teapot in the Museum Victoria collection. This might seem an unlikely inclusion but it is in fact a trophy, and bears the engraved inscription: Geelong & Western District| Agricultural & Horticultural Society 1856 & 7| Prizes to | Miss Newcomb| for | Potatoes, Cauliflowers, Asparagus & for Turkeys etc.'.
As the author of the survey report explained, it was 'a very interesting object, which did not meet what we might call a typical kind of object that could tell a story about queer sexualities in Australian history'. Nevertheless she went on to offer her interpretation of the interesting object:
This was a teapot that belonged to Caroline Newcombe [sic], lifelong partner of Anne Drysdale – the 'lady squatters' and entrepreneurs who established a farming
homestead on the Bellarine peninsula near Geelong. While the object itself does not seem to 'tell a queer story', it gives us an opportunity to tell a story about life in the western district around that time that incorporates a focus on social attitudes to sexuality, the development of personal identity including sexual expression, ideas of partnerships, gender and love. It allows the voices of these women to be heard in another way.8
The expectation that such a story could be told is unrealistic, to say the least, and not simply because of the dearth of documentary records about social life in the Geelong region in the 1840s. In the surviving records of the lives of Anne and Caroline there is nothing that gives any indication of 'social attitudes to sexuality, the development of personal identity [and] sexual expression'. This is not surprising given the rarity of historical evidence about sexual behaviour – especially in the case of middle-aged, middle-class spinsters. So, in the absence of any evidence, there can only be speculation about the sexuality of Miss Drysdale and Miss Newcomb, and this would be futile as well as pointless. (In response to an enquiry to Museum Victoria about the justification for the GLBT tag on the Newcomb teapot, an unnamed curator declared: 'As there is no evidence . . . that they did not have a sexual relationship [unless the enquirer has found some herself that she can supply us with] to the contrary, I think there is no reason to remove the GLBT reference'.)
The existing records do, however, make it possible to know something of the women, their shared way of life and their friendship, and allow their voices to be heard 'in another way': speaking as women rather than 'lady squatters'. Miss Newcomb's teapot might not tell a queer story, but it does tell a rare story of female friendship.

'Linked in the closest affection'

There are only two key sources of information about the women's lives in Australia, and these are supplemented by some fragmentary records – a few letters, contemporary diaries and journals, and newspapers. The most important source is the diary that Anne kept from her departure from Scotland until shortly before her death, and which Caroline maintained for a further year. Four of its five volumes have survived. Although it covers well over a decade (from 1839 to 1854), Anne's diary tells us surprisingly little about her. It began as a personal, shipboard journal, though she did not confide in it her thoughts and feelings, reflecting on the old life, anticipating the new. After the women moved to Boronggoop, the diary gradually became a relatively impersonal record of day to day working life, interspersed with accounts of domestic and social life. Written in the plural, it's a record of Caroline's life as well as Anne's – and in fact Caroline's activities probably take up more space.
One of the surprising absences from the diary is a record of the year Anne spent at Kardinia with the Thomsons and Caroline; there is no mention of Caroline until they arrived at Boronggoop. The mere handful of entries over this time may not mean Anne had nothing to say about her new life and friends, but rather that she was not an
inveterate diarist – and was naturally reticent. That could also explain the almost total absence of the personal throughout the whole diary: it was kept chiefly as the record of work and activity, not private matters.
The second, though less substantial, source is the extended obituary of Caroline that appeared in three parts in the Wesleyan Chronicle in 1875. This was published anonymously but internal evidence indicates that it was undoubtedly written by her husband, Rev. James Dodgson. His account is derived from Caroline's diary as well as from his life with her during the twelve years of their marriage. The relatively few extracts he selected from the diary show the depth of her religious convictions and her constant quest for spiritual perfection, but reveal little about other aspects of her life. Since Caroline's diaries, like the fourth volume of Anne's, have disappeared over time, there is no way of knowing what record of life at Boronggoop and Coriyule they may have contained.
The problems presented by the limitations of sources are evident when apparently simple questions are asked, such as the women's reasons for coming to Australia: a vital element of their stories. The only recorded evidence is based on hearsay, and is unconvincing to say the least.
Each woman made the momentous decision to emigrate at a different stage of her life: Anne was in her late forties – a most unusual age for a single female emigrant. Caroline left England when she was 21, not unusual at a time when hundreds of young unmarried women were sailing to the colonies. The decision to seek a new life in an unknown country may have been less difficult because neither of the women had a settled home or close family ties. For each there must have been some kind of discontent, if not unhappiness, creating the desire for such radical change.
From the little known about Caroline's early life she had an unusual childhood, having spent some time in Spain where her father was in the English consular service. When he died, she was brought up in England by her grandmother, and it was after her grandmother's death that she emigrated to Van Diemen's Land. Caroline's decision was attributed to her health. Dodgson wrote that she 'had been delicate from childhood' and continued to suffer 'a distressing cough' every winter until 'a gentleman from Van Diemen's Land . . . hearing her cough, recommended to her the genial climate of this southern hemisphere . . . After weighing the matter over, she resolved to embark'.9 Embarkation on such a journey was surely a drastic remedy for a cough, no matter how distressing.
Caroline came to Australia in the early 1830s, when emigration was being seen as a solution for the dual problems of surplus women at home and a shortage of women in the colonies. Many young women came out hoping or expecting to be married, and most of them eventually were. But Caroline remained unmarried until late in her life, and was either not looking for a husband or did not find the husband she was looking for. Perhaps a clue to her reasons for leaving home might be found in the comment made

North elevation and ground floor plan of 'Coriyule', the house built near Drysdale on the Bellarine Peninsula for 'Mesdames Drysdale & Newcomb', December 1848-February 1849. Manuscripts Collection, MS 6294, MS6208, H15215.

about another young female emigrant: 'the activity and independence she sought could only be found outside England'.10
It is likely that, as a respectable, educated woman, she earned a living as a governess in Van Diemen's Land. When she came to Port Phillip she may have run a school in Melbourne for several months before moving to Geelong to live with the Thomsons. There, according to Dodgson, she 'remained as guest, making herself useful to the family', notably acting as governess for Jane Thomson. Caroline was in many ways a typical governess, socially and economically marginalised, dependent on others, and with ambivalent status within the family that employed her. The Thomsons might well have been her best friends, and happy to have her living with them. But if that arrangement came to an end, what then? Another governess position? Open a school? Live alone?
Meeting Anne Drysdale brought the first prospect of change for Caroline. The partnership Anne offered would liberate her from restrictions and dependencies, and had the potential for a new and more fulfilling way of life. It would enable her to achieve independence, find stability, and share the making of a home. And it would also bring her the bond of affection and love.
Presumably Caroline had little money, so her financial situation would have been more assured, though there is no way of knowing what arrangements were made between the two women: perhaps, crudely put, Anne provided the capital and Caroline the labour. There is more than a hint of this in a letter from a Victorian squatter to John Drysdale after Anne's death, when Caroline became sole beneficiary of her estate:
while we admit that your sister was under great obligation to Miss N for her activity in the management of the concern; everyone seems to think that the obligations to each other were in some degree mutual; and it would not have excited any wonder had Miss Newcomb been left with a life rent of the property; reverting to your sister's relations after her death.11
Anne's reasons for emigrating were also unconvincingly attributed to health. The Rev. John Dunmore Lang12 reported after his first meeting with her at Boronggoop: 'being a martyr, as she told me, to the coughs and colds, and other ills that flesh is heir to in our hyperborean Scottish climate, she resolved to emigrate to a milder region, to indulge in her favourite pursuits'. And he went on to say that since emigrating, 'She has uniformly enjoyed excellent health'.13 It's possible that indulgence in 'favourite pursuits', specifically farming, may well have been of more influence than coughs and colds in her resolve to emigrate.
Anne was an only daughter with four older brothers, and the death of her mother meant that from an early age she was 'the woman of the house'. It was not a happy family, and after her father's death there were bitter and protracted disputes over his will. Anne spent much time on her brother John's property, then moved from Fife and set up on her own farm in Ayrshire. 'In those years', she recorded in her diary, 'I certainly experienced more of unmixed happiness than any others of my life.' We do not know why or when those happy years came to an end, or why she then decided to go to Australia and 'tho a lone woman . . . do there as she has long done here – farm for herself!'14
In Geelong Anne was forced to contemplate the reality of squatting life for 'a lone woman' and must have discovered her need for a companion, a partner in the enterprise. After living for a year with the Thomsons at Kardinia, she and Caroline had become close friends. Despite the twenty-year disparity in age they had much in common, and it must have been almost a foregone conclusion that Anne would invite her friend to join her at Boronggoop.
The age difference may well have defined the friendship, with the older woman – more experienced, socially assured, with money and connections – being generously supportive of the younger. And there was a more pragmatic aspect of their ages. Caroline was a kindred spirit but she also had qualities and attributes that would help Anne realise
her ambitions as a squatter: energy, strength, practical skills and a longer experience of life in the colonies.
James Dodgson, in his wife's obituary, gave a rather surprising description of the women's relationship: 'though diverse in temperament, they beautifully dovetailed into each other. What one lacked the other supplied; they were linked in the closest affection'.15 As he had arrived at Coriyule about six years after Anne's death, his somewhat fulsome description was based on what he had learned from Caroline. The women did indeed have differences in temperament, but the 'beautiful dovetailing' is probably a flight of clerical rhetoric.
On the evidence of the extracts from her diary quoted by Dodgson in his obituary, Caroline was quick-tempered, vowing, for example, 'to watch over my temper and heart, and never harbour an angry thought, nor utter an angry word'.16 Her husband knew her as 'high-spirited, strong-willed and impetuous', and with a temperament that was 'the cause of many tears, and much grief of soul . . . she had no small task to perform in keeping her fiery despotism in proper check'.17 She also had a restless energy and was extraordinarily active. Anne's diary is an exhaustive – and exhausting – record of Caroline's busy life: trips on horseback or driving a cart several miles to and from Geelong; work on the property, in the house and in the garden; involvement in her church and on various local committees.
Over time, the disparity in their ages would have made their temperamental, and physical, differences more obvious. As Caroline's activity intensified, Anne (who was described as 'very stout')18 became less active. In her earlier years in Scotland she had been intrepid, and a hard-working farm manager. But once the operation of Boronggoop was established, she gradually sat back and left it to the more energetic Caroline to supervise and assist the work of the property. While Anne was the dominant partner in the business because of her experience, capital and canniness, it was Caroline who determined the way they lived. Both women were strong, but Caroline's strength was reinforced by her extreme religiosity – and this was the greatest difference between them.
Anne was a Presbyterian, whose forebears included two clergymen, one of whom was Royal Chaplain and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Her diary suggests that her piety was of a conventional kind; her reports of services and sermons were rather perfunctory and she could sometimes be deterred from attending church on the slightest excuse: a minor illness, a predicted change in the weather, or a blister on her foot.
Caroline had been brought up in the Church of England but in Geelong in 1839 she became a convert to Methodism. Her conversion to the Wesleyan Methodism of the time might be seen as surprising as it was still a predominantly working class religion, and Caroline was, in her husband's words, 'a person of education and good breeding'. But part of the church's mission was 'to bring together different ranks of society' and in Australia, as in England and America, more people from the middle ranks were becoming Methodists.
It is probable that one of the reasons for Caroline's conversion was that Methodism had more to offer her than other more formal, less personal religions. To a single woman, attached to but not part of a family household, and a restless, driven woman with no outlet for her energies and feelings, there would have been an emotional as well as spiritual appeal. Methodists, in the words of its founder John Wesley, ' . . . unite themselves in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love'.19 Their church, which called itself a 'society', offered membership in a family rather than an organisation, personalised by intense involvement in group activities like the weekly class meetings that were an essential part of the framework of Methodism.
The church also gave women opportunities to participate in forms of worship; although they were no longer accepted as preachers as they had been in early Methodism, women could hold positions such as leaders of class meetings, acting as lay assistants to the ministers. Caroline fairly quickly became a class leader in Geelong, and the meetings were extremely important to her, 'from her entrance into the Methodist Society to the close of her life. She ever avowed that [they] met a want in her experience which nothing else appeared to supply . . . '.20 Dodgson's account shows that Caroline liked to vocalise her religion, not just in class meetings but by praying aloud when alone and with others, and reading sermons on Sunday evenings at home. It is easier to see her as a frustrated Methodist preacher than as a preacher's wife!
From the time of her conversion, Caroline believed her life to be ordered by God. When she moved to Boronggoop, for example, she wrote in her diary: 'I left Dr Thomson's house for one I am to call my own. This change in my temporal affairs is, I humbly trust, under the guidance of my heavenly Father . . .'21 As Dodgson put it, 'Though entering upon this new sphere, and called upon to discharge new and difficult duties, [Caroline] still kept the attainment of holiness more or less prominently before the mind'. But she found that was not always easy:
Our house is very small, and the partitions slight, so that what is said in one room can be heard in another, which has always prevented me from praying aloud when in private. And I find that, when engaged in mental prayer, my mind is apt to fly off to temporal concerns, which the sound of my voice tends to prevent. 22
Anne was obviously accepting of Caroline's religiosity, perhaps slightly awed and impressed by her friend who presided over family prayers '& prays extempore very beautifully' and who believed she was 'called to a high state of holiness . . . I feel a clear conviction that the Lord has prepared great things for me'.23
Under Caroline's influence, their home became an active centre of Methodism in Geelong. Boronggoop was included on the preaching circuit and for some time the local minister held a weekly evening service at the house, attended by family, staff and visitors. Church-related meetings were occasionally held there, and visiting clergymen were given hospitality. However, while participating with Caroline in Methodist activities, Anne remained a member of the Presbyterian church, and until they moved to Coriyule, they attended separate churches on most Sundays. 'Their home was . . . a happy Christian
home, where God was ever loved and served' said Dodgson, perhaps reflecting the view of Lang who found the women 'exhibited the goodly and influential example of a highly respectable family, living in the fear of God and in the zealous observance of all the ordinances of religion'. 24
In the Boronggoop years their home was usually filled with people: a constant stream of callers and guests who stayed overnight or longer. The latter included people from the 'home' on the other side of the world: 'The report of their establishment having reached home, many persons on coming out brought letters of introduction from some of the ladies' relations or friends, who found a home there until an opening presented itself '.25
There were often younger people in the house, either Caroline's pupils or girls 'taken in' for charitable reasons. Two of these were part-Aboriginal sisters brought from King Island to Melbourne for fostering after the death of their father. Some of the daughters of John and Eliza Batman were both short- and long-term residents, and a great responsibility, as Anne wrote to a relative in 1846: 'The two girls Batman who lived with us for four years have gone to live with their mother. This was her own wish & it is a great relief to us, as their education took up a great deal of Miss Newcomb's time & we could not leave home even for a few hours without being anxious about them'.26
Among the guests frequently mentioned in Anne's diary were three or four single women, who obviously found Boronggoop a congenial place. Two in particular, Miss McLeod and Miss Morris, seem to have also enjoyed the opportunity for vigorous outdoor activity on their visits, riding around the paddocks with Caroline and helping with her work on the property and in the garden. Other single women were occasional visitors, including one of whom Anne wrote rather cryptically, 'We think her an upright tho' an excentric [sic] woman'.

'A wise substitution'

From the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, women's friendships 'of greater intensity than we are used to in our modern world'27 were common among the Anglo-European middle classes, and were not considered anything other than normal. These relationships were known as 'romantic friendships'.
One of the most renowned romantic friendships was that between Miss Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as 'the Ladies of Llangollen', whose elopement in the late 1770s was the subject of much gossip but was not considered scandalous. Prevailing social attitudes are evident in a family member's comment on the women's conduct which, 'though it has an appearance of imprudence is I am sure void of serious impropriety. There were no gentlemen concerned, nor does it appear to be anything more than a scheme of Romantic Friendship'.28
By the mid-19th century, social changes were reflected in attitudes that seemed more pragmatic, dismissive of the old concept of romantic friendship and beginning to
perceive impropriety in its excesses. As Dinah Mulock Craik, a popular English writer of moralistic novels, believed:
For two women, past early girlhood, to be completely absorbed in one another, and make public demonstration of the fact, by caresses or quarrels, is so repugnant to commonsense, that where it ceases to be silly it becomes actually wrong. But to see two women, whom Providence has denied nearer ties, by a wise substitution making the best of fate, loving, sustaining and comforting one another, with a tenderness often closer than that of sisters, because it has all the novelty of election which belongs to the conjugal tie itself – this, I say, is an honourable and lovely sight.29
The relationship between Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb was not by any definition a romantic friendship: the prudent Scot and the fervent Methodist were the antithesis of passionate, sentimental friends such as the ladies of Llangollen. This is evident just in a comparison of diaries. Anne's, with its formal references to 'Miss N' and later 'Caroline,' is in stark contrast with Eleanor Butler's, who describes Sarah as 'my better half', 'my beloved', 'my sweet love' and other terms of endearment. Caroline was also formal, referring to 'Miss D' and 'Miss Drysdale', though in her personal diary there are two or three mentions of 'my dear Anne'. After Anne's death, there were references such as 'my beloved Anne', but these are embedded within the strangely passionate language of Methodism.
If not romantic, their friendship might best be described as companionate. There is a sense of Caroline's idea of companionate female friendship in this rather curious – and curiously extended – report by Dodgson (which also provides an excellent example of the pitfalls of reading 19th century words with 21st century eyes):
As time wore on, and new and trying circumstances presented themselves, [Caroline] felt more keenly the great loss she had sustained in the death of Miss Drysdale . . . The void thus created inspired the desire to have some one of the same sex with her again to whom she could become attached, and with whom she could, as heretofore, hold unreserved intercourse. This feeling, however, was scanned with a jealous eye. 'I have been greatly harassed for the last two or three weeks for an earthly friend such as my beloved Anne was, and a predilection for one took possession of my heart. I discouraged the feeling, lest it should be a desire of Satan to draw my heart from my adorable Saviour'. The desire, however, for a time gained ground, and in hope of deciding the question, she invited lady friends to pay her a lengthened visit without informing them of her object. This course, however, was unsuccessful . . . .30
This strange but sad anecdote gives a clear expression of the kind of loneliness and deep need for 'attachment' that first brought Anne and Caroline together at Boronggoop.

Closer than sisters

Miss Newcomb's teapot has prompted the telling of a story of two close friends who made what Mrs Craik termed a 'wise substitution making the best of fate'. They were single women 'denied nearer ties', combining and sharing their assets and talents to
make a home for themselves, creating a family household. Their circumstances were very different from those of other spinsters in Geelong who would have lived with parents or family members – and perhaps still held out hopes of marriage.
Anne seems to have had no inclination to marry and was probably regarded as beyond marriageable age when she arrived in Port Phillip. Caroline married several years after Anne's death, and then only at God's direction: as she said, 'I have not taken this step to please anybody, not even my friends, but to please God.'31 They were both women who saw themselves as independent of men, and equal if not superior to them. Caroline is said to have declared 'Tell me what a man can do that I cannot!' while Anne declared in a letter to her brother that Caroline 'has a head equal to 10 men at least'.
In colonial Victoria where men greatly outnumbered women, two apparently determined spinsters setting up house together might have been cause for comment at a time when, as one historian has suggested, 'single women were labelled "deviant" not because of their friendships, but because of their refusal to marry . . . women's friendships were a threat simply because they were an alternative to marriage'.32
Regardless of whether the friendship of Anne and Caroline was perceived as a threat, it was obviously the subject of discussion and rumour among their contemporaries. According to the writer of a memoir of life on the Bellarine Peninsula: 'It is said that, on becoming partners, the ladies made a pact not to marry'.33 But the more commonly-held view was expressed in this succinct telling of the women's story in a Geelong newspaper's account of Caroline's funeral in 1871:
on Miss Drysdale taking up her residence on the coast near the township that now bears her name, Mrs. Dodgson then Miss Newcombe [sic] went to reside with her as lady's companion. A firm and lasting friendship became established, and the two ladies lived like sisters till the death of Miss Drysdale, when the management of the property was undertaken by Miss Newcombe.34
The innocuous-sounding 'living like sisters' is an interesting term. In the first half of the 20th century it was a euphemistic way of referring to female couples, but in 19th century Geelong it was probably the only term that people could find to describe the friendship of 'the two ladies'. And it was a term that had connotations of a closeness not found in other descriptions of them such as 'two excellent maiden ladies'.
There was undeniably a strong bond between Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb, and their partnership was predominantly a close, thirteen-year friendship rather than simply a business arrangement. But those who may want to categorise their relationship will ultimately find it impossible to place it on the continuum 'At one end of [which] lies committed heterosexuality, at the other uncompromising homosexuality; between, a wide latitude of emotions and sexual feelings.'35
On the basis of the little evidence available, the most apposite characterisation of the relationship is in the words of Mrs Craik: 'loving, sustaining and comforting one another, with a tenderness often closer than that of sisters'.


Alexander Thomson (1800-1866). Medical practioner and pastoralist. See


Both their remains were later moved to the East Cemetery in Geelong.



John Dunmore Lang, Phillipsland: visit to Geelong and the Western District of Victoria in 1846, with an introduction and notes by Ian McLaren, Parkville, Vic: University of Melbourne Library, 1987.


From the first installment (Jan. 1875) of an anonymous (but clearly by James Dodgson) three-part-obituary ('Mrs Dodgson') of Caroline Newcomb/Dodgson published in the Wesleyan Chronicle, Melbourne, 20 Jan., 20 March, and 20 April 1875. (I am greatly indebted to Alison Head for this reference.)


Leila J Rupp, '"Imagine my Surprise": women's relationships in historical perspective', Frontiers: a Journal of Women Studies, Autumn 1980, pp. 61-70.


Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, 'The Female World of Love and Ritual: relations between women in nineteenth-century America', Signs, 1, 1975, pp. 1-29.


Kate Davison, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Material Survey Report, Melbourne: Museum Victoria, 2006. The survey is discussed in Kate Davison's article in this issue.


Wesleyan Chronicle, Jan. 1875.


Bridget Hill, Women Alone: spinsters in England 1660-1850, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.


George Russell to John Drysdale, 1854: typescript, P. L. Brown Papers, Geelong Heritage Centre.


John Dunmore Lang, (1799-1878). Categorized in his entry n the Australian Dictionary of Biography as 'Presbyterian clergyman, politician, educationist, immigration organizer, historian, anthropologist, journalist, gaol-bird'. See


Lang, Phillipsland, p. 6.


Mrs Jane Williams (Edinburgh), 1841, quoted in P. L. Brown, Clyde Company Papers, London, Oxford University Press, 1941-71, vol. 2, p. 228.


Wesleyan Chronicle, March 1875.


Wesleyan Chronicle, Jan 1875.




Janet Richardson, guest at Boronggoop 1848, quoted in Brown, Clyde Company Papers, vol, 5, p. 617.


Elizabeth Sophia Fletcher, The Methodist Class-Meeting: an essay on Christian fellowship, London: Elliot Stock, 1878.


Wesleyan Chronicle, Jan. 1875.




Wesleyan Chronicle, March 1875.


Wesleyan Chronicle, Jan. 1875.


Lang, Phillipsland, p. 6.


Wesleyan Chronicle, March 1875.


Letter to Mrs Drysdale, quoted in Anne Hoban, 'Anne Drysdale: a sense of place', BA Hons thesis, La Trobe University, 1987.


Ruth Perry (1986), quoted in Hill, Women Alone, p. 167.


Elizabeth Mavor, The Ladies of Llangollen, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1973.


Craik, A Woman's Thoughts About Women (1858) quoted in Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: work and community for single women, 1850-1920, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.


Wesleyan Chronicle, March 1875.


Wesleyan Chronicle, April 1875.


Vicinus, Independent Women, p. 36.


Eunice McLeod, 'Life on the Bellarine Peninsula', typescript, 1962. Geelong Heritage Centre.


Geelong Advertiser, 8 Oct. 1874.


Smith-Rosenberg, 'The female world', p. 29.