Guides for etiquette

19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

Some of the smallest volumes in the collection are etiquette manuals.

These pocket sized volumes cover topics from letter-writing to ballroom dancing and finding a suitable spouse. Conduct books provided the aspirational with a means to understand the practices of ‘respectable’ society and they now offer insights into shifting aesthetics and social and economic changes through the century.

Most manuals were written as serious instructional handbooks, but some took the form of satirical exposés of high society. Authorship could be by ‘one of the “exclusives”’ or ‘A Lady’.

The Cabinet Secretary

John Steuart, The cabinet secretary, comprehending familiar letters on various subjects, 2nd ed., Calcutta: A.G. Balfour, Government Gazette press, 1820.

The cabinet secretary was possibly produced in a relatively short print run. This rare work was translated from French, possibly Le secrétaire du cabinet by Jean Puget de la Serre (c. 1593–1665), and if so, demonstrates the long tradition of letter writing and continued importance of old sources. The manual was aimed at literate men and women from the middling classes and offers instruction on the conventions of written communication. It provides assistance to writers in areas such as grammar and etiquette via a range of example letters for use as templates. These cover a range of familiar, formal and business situations.

This well-worn copy of The cabinet secretary comes from the historic house collection of Throsby Park, a colonial homestead and farming estate in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Throsby Park was transferred to Sydney Living Museums from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2010.

English born surgeon Dr Charles Throsby (1771-1828), emigrated to New South Wales in 1802 aboard the Coromandel, accompanied by wife Jane, nee Romaine (17?-1838). A slab hut was built on the original 1,000 acres (400ha) of land granted to Throsby and by the 1820s, a weatherboard cottage had been erected. This was later extended with additions. Charles and Jane had no children and on Throsby’s death in 1828, his nephew Charles Throsby Jnr. (1799-1854) inherited his uncle’s estates. Throsby Jnr had arrived in New South Wales aboard The Mangles in 1820 and in 1824 married Elizabeth Broughton (1799-1838). Of their seventeen children, sixteen survived. By 1837 Throsby Park House was described as a ‘large and comfort-able residence’.

For writing letters on all subjects with ease and elegance ..... with rules calculated to facilitate the attainment of the happy art of Letter-Writing

While we don’t know how this volume was acquired, there were close links between NSW and Calcutta at this time. For example, Throsby’s cousin Charles Throsby-Smith (1799 – 1876) visited Throsby Park in 1816, before taking the brig Lynx to Calcutta - to join his sister and older brother. Finding his brother had died, Smith remained to settle his brother's affairs and returned to Sydney aboard the ship Bombay in 1819. By 1825 Charles Throsby-Smith had established Bustle Farm on a land grant of 300 acres (120ha) at the settlement of Red Point, the area now known as Wollongong.

British-controlled Calcutta was a major centre of commercial and government printing in the early 19th century. Primarily designed to meet the needs of the Anglo-Indian community, the book trade included the operations of printers, binders, subscription publishing and libraries. During the 1820s, A.G. Balfour and the Government Gazette Press published government reports as well as maps, grammars and lexicons, and treatises on medicine and law.

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Lord Chesterfield's Advice

Lord Chesterfield’s advice to his son, on men and manners; the principles of politeness, and the art of acquiring a knowledge of the world, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, Tweeddale-House, 1823.

This manual is aimed at young men and generally presents opinion on how ‘not-to-be’ – that is, the author delivers advice on correct conduct via critical analyses of those who do not measure-up to expectations. The work includes chapters titled ‘Absence of mind’, ‘Awkwardness of different kinds’, ‘Rules for conversation’, and ‘Good breeding’.

When I see a man absent in mind, I choose to be absent in body … as I cannot stand inattention and awkwardness. I would rather be in company with a dead man than with an absent one; for, if the dead man affords me no pleasure, at least he shows me no contempt …

Although authorship is not stated, the Lord Chesterfield referred to in this title is British diplomat Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773), 4th Earl of Chesterfield. A devotee of French culture and manners, Chesterfield was best known for his letters to son Philip Stanhope (1732-1768) in the 1730s. The letters were later published in the form of etiquette manuals titled Letters to his son (1774) and Letters to his Godson—guides to manners, the art of pleasing, and the art of worldly success (1774). Although well-regarded at the time, the books were later criticised for their brutally cynical approach, especially as the emergence of late 18th century Romanticism brought a shift towards the use of satire – as a gentler mockery of the upper classes. Chesterfield was also caricatured by British novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in his 1841 narrative of Barnaby Rudge: a tale of the Riots of Eighty, wherein the villain, Sir John Chester, models himself on Lord Chesterfield.

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Edinburgh publisher Oliver & Boyd was founded by Thomas Oliver (1776-1853) and George Boyd (d. 1843) around 1807. The firm was based in the Tweeddale Court location from the 1820s to the 1970s. By the 1830s printing and bookbinding had been incorporated into operations. The firm became known for educational, science and medical textbooks - all widely available throughout the British colonies. These include Australia Felix historical and Darwinian account of Port Philip &c.,(1848).

The Book of Fashion

One of the “exclusives”, The book of fashion: being the axioms of the celebrated Joseph Brummell, Esq. and intended for the use by all ladies and gentlemen throughout the United Kingdom, London: W. Kidd, 1835.

The book of fashion is a satirical look at early 19th century London high society and fashion. Through an exposé of folly and vice, the reader is advised on how to deal with the various ‘types’ of aristocrats found in fashionable circles. It also provides definitions to terms such as ‘ton’ (from the French referring to ‘manners’ or ‘style’), used in Britain’s 1830s ‘Beau Monde’ set. The book follows a format of British satirical literature made fashionable by titles such as Scourge; or monthly expositor, of imposture and folly, published 1811 to 1816 and The New bon ton magazine; or telescope of the times, published 1818 to 1821. Both offered a mix of reformist political satire and humorous miscellany.

Fashion influencer George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) was a leading exponent of men’s dress design during the Regency period (1811-1820). He became known as the consummate ‘dandy’ and a genre of literature based on his manner emerged. Brummell became an object of ridicule on his later demise and came to symbolise the ridiculous.

Publisher, author and naturalist William Kidd (1803–1867) was apprenticed to London booksellers Baldwin, Craddock, & Joy. In his own business, Kidd published his own short essays in a monthly natural history periodical called Kidd's Own Journal and contributed to Essays and sketches on various subjects. In the late1830s, he was operating from premises in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden and dealt in a wide variety of ephemeral novels, pocket-sized travel and guide-books, and illustrated miscellanies. By the 1850s Kidd had also delivered many lectures on religious and social subjects including Genial gossip and fashion and its victims.

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The Young Lady's Friend

A Lady, The young lady’s friend; a manual of practical advice and instruction to young females on their entering upon the duties of life after quitting school, third edition, London: W. Parker, West Strand, c1840.

The young lady’s friend was first released in the United States of America in 1836 with widespread circulation and continued to be reprinted until 1880. This third edition was printed in London for a British audience – with changes to the language used and advice given. The manual is directed at middle-class girls who have finished school. It cautions against the belief that intellectual life ends on leaving school, with chapters such as ‘On the improvement of time’ and ‘Mental culture’. It also lists recommended reading and dispenses specifics on correct behaviour.

American author Eliza Ware Farrer, nee Rotch (1791-1870) wrote the first edition. Farrar was the daughter of Nantucket Quakers who emigrated to France to establish a tax-free whaling port. When her father lost his fortune in 1819, Eliza moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts to live with her Quaker grandparents and became a Unitarian. Most of her works were published in Boston, Massachusetts between 1830 and 1837, her last book, Recollections of seventy years, was released in 1865.

London publisher and printer John William Parker (1792 – 1870) established The Cambridge Repository in 1832. He circulated academic works as well as religious journals, bibles, testaments and prayer books. In the 1850s eldest son John William Parker (1820–1860) joined him in partnership with Thomas Richard Harrison, forming Harrison & Co. The business was later sold to Longman in 1863.

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Instructions for Etiquette

John Butcher, Instructions in etiquette, for the use of all; five letters on important subjects, exclusively for ladies; and conversational hints to whom concerned, third edition, London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co., 1847.

Instructions in etiquette is aimed at young boys and girls. The work is presented in a format similar to Catechisms, in which questions and answers are used to guide correct behaviour in different social situations. The section presented in the form of letters is specifically for young ladies. Headings are ‘On female employments’, ’On books’, ‘On conversation’, ‘On doing good’ and ‘On self-government’.

Author John Butcher taught etiquette in schools and held private classes. Priced at one shilling, Instructions in etiquette was probably intended as a related pedagogical text. This third edition comes in a hardcover sleeve, with printed self-promotional information pasted front and back.

It is dedicated:

To the nobility, gentry, parents, guardians, teachers and all who are axioms for the welfare of the present and rising generation.’

[cover sleeve]

London publisher Simpkin and Marshall was formed by William Simpkin and Richard Marshall in 1814. In the 1860s the firm were the London agents for Butters reading and spelling books and the French magazine Le Follet. By the 1840s they were trading as Simpkin, Marshall and Company, then as Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co. Ltd. in 1890. The company continued until eventual bankruptcy in 1955.

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The Hymeneal Instructor

'Quiz' [Edward Caswell], Young ladies’ & gentleman’s hymeneal instructor: or, the philosophy of love, courtship and marriage; with an appendix of model letters, rules of politeness, and the language of the finger ring, Boston: published at 66 Cornhill, 1847.

This satirical mid-century manual is ‘… respectfully dedicated to all the young ladies and gentlemen, old bachelors, married men and women in Christendom …’ [p.4].

The tiny volume includes chapters on ‘showing the time to marry’, ‘the requisites of a good wife’, ‘manner of courting’, ‘popping the question’, ‘the wedding night’, ‘conjugal duties’, ‘rules of politeness’ and ‘language of the finger-ring’.

Despite its title, the work is primarily aimed at young men and cautions the reader to

"… exercise the proper consideration in choosing a wife … all moral and mental excellencies lost sight of in the magical charms of a pretty face." 


‘Quiz’ was a pseudonym of English clergyman and hymn writer Edward Caswell (1814-78). His first satirical work, The art of pluck, was published in 1835 under the pseudonym Scriblerus Redivivus. In 1837 he published the widely circulated Sketches of young ladies, in which he used societal comedy to caricature 24 contemporary female ‘types’ such as 'The Literary Young Lady', 'The Abstemious Young Lady' and 'The Clever Young Lady'. The work was illustrated by English artist Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882), known as 'Phiz'.

John B. Hall of 66 Cornhill, Boston, Massachusetts published histories, Court Acts & Resolves, pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals such as The Boston Weekly Magazine (1840-41). The firm of Edward Chapman and William Hall had begun in the early 1830s as a bookselling establishment and gradually took on the additional business of publishing. Cornhill [Street], named in 1829, became the preeminent location for Boston publishers and booksellers. The locale attracted known religious, social, and political thinkers of the day and in the 1840s and 50s was the centre of the Boston Ante-Bellum movement (1820-1860).

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The Ballroom Manual

J Seaton & Professor Bland, The ballroom manual, and etiquette of dancing, Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1855.

First published in 1851 by Mr J Seaton, The ballroom manual catered to a growing demand for small, easy to follow instructions to fashionable mid-century dances. This 1855 edition was ‘continued’ by Professor Bland. It describes all the well-known quadrilles and couple dances of the day and includes figures and series of figures - known as changes, to be performed. It also describes the Queen’s Quadrilles (Royal Victoria), Hibernians (Royal Irish), Spanish Quadrilles, Original Mazourka Quadrilles, Galopede Quadrilles, Original Polka Quadrilles, along with many others.

Ballroom guides not only provided figures and sets, they catered to middle-class desires for self-improvement and social advancement. Writers such as Seaton and Bland prepared readers for the ballroom setting - the polite behaviour necessary for ladies and gentlemen - decorum, deportment, appropriate dress and conversation.

The English publishing, bookbinding and printing firm of Milner and Sowerby was established in the 1830s by William Milner (1803-1850). After his death, the business was taken over by stepsons Frances Robert Sowerby (1820-1885) and John Edwin Sowerby (1822-1898). In 1883 the firm became a limited company, trading as Milner & Company.

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Etiquette For Ladies

Madame Constantine, Etiquette for ladies: containing hints on introduction and acquaintance, morning calls, conversation, dress, letters, notes, etc, London: J. Dicks, 1866.

This pocket size manual is the first volume in the Bow Bells Handy Books series. The series comprised five ‘Little Books’ titled Etiquette for ladies, Etiquette for men,Language of flowers,Guide to the ballroom,Etiquette on courtship and marriage.

The inexpensive series was produced for a lower middle-class audience and was released through the London publishing house of John Thomas Dicks (1818-1881). Dicks started in the printing trade around 1832 and in 1863, entered into partnership with Chartist, fiction writer and journalist G. W. M. Reynolds (1814-1879).

Releases include the Bow Bells Illustrated Magazine (1862-1897), a highly successful ‘penny weekly’ which comprised continuous novels, complete stories and sketches. The magazine was promoted as a family magazine and relied heavily on women writers of Victorian popular fiction. It was aimed principally at a female readership from the ‘respectable’ working and lower middle-classes. After Reynolds’ death, Dicks continued business predominantly in the reprint trade and, after his death, his sons developed Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works - a periodical comprising solely of the serial re-issue of well-known novels.

The name Bow Bells originates from the bells of the church of St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, London. The church was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren and, according to tradition, to be 'born within the sound of Bow Bells' is the definition of a Cockney.

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Mixing in Society

The Right Hon. the Countess of …, Mixing in society, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1870.

Mixing in society is aimed at middle-class readers who aspire to be seen as respectable. Like many etiquette books of the period, the manual re-enforces the authority of its content with authorship by someone from the upper-classes or aristocracy, such as ‘a Countess’.

A standard work on manners must necessarily proceed from the pen of one who moves in the best circles … Many books professing to treat of these subjects have from time to time been written, published, circulated; but these books have abounded in errors, indicated an inferior standard of taste, and been written by incompetent persons.


London publisher George Routledge (1812-1888) started in the late 1830s, publishing inexpensive guidebooks and fiction for rail travellers. The firm then developed a reprint trade of popular novels, some appearing in their Railway Library series. In 1868, the firm became George Routledge & Sons and is now a well-known publisher of academic texts.

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19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

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Illustration of two women dancing in large dresses at a ball

Eat, pray, decorate

Advice manuals – the self-help books of the 19th century – provide a rich source of information about domestic and social life in the era

Detail frontispiece Female Instructor

Guides for domestic economy

In the fields of domestic economy, readership comprised chiefly young married women

Drawing room Orrinsmith room retail

Guides for home furnishing

Advice on home decorating had traditionally been written by men for men

Frontispiece Frugal housewife Mrs Child

Guides for masters and mistresses

Advice manuals in this category may on the surface appear paradoxical. The works provide ready reference on the varied duties of male and female domestic service roles