'Your vocation is marriage': Systematic colonisation, the marriage plot and finding home in Catherine Helen Spence's Clara Morison (1854)

Sarah Sharp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Scottish-born author Catherine Helen Spence’s 1854 novel Clara Morison is a landmark in Australian literary history and has often been identified as the first work of fiction about Australia written by a woman. Eschewing the now more prominent iconography of the Australian bush, the novel focuses almost exclusively on domestic spaces and women’s experiences. This article considers Spence’s preoccupation with the domestic in relation to Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s ideas of ‘Systematic Colonisation’. In his writings Wakefield identified a crucial role for women in the development of the British settler colonies as wives and mothers. This article argues that Spence engages with this context by drawing upon the nationally figurative role of the marriage plot in contemporary writing to explore and complicate the gender roles which underwrote the development of Australia’s first and only Wakefieldian colony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-45
Number of pages19
JournalScottish Literary Review
Issue number1
Early online date8 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019



  • Nineteenth century
  • Scotland
  • Australia
  • Catherine Helen Spence
  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield
  • marriage
  • women
  • colonialism

Cite this