Dress probably worn by Julia Johnston

Contributed by: Individual

 Dress, womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840  Dress, womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840  Dress, womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840  Dress, womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840 Dress (sleeve detail), womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840 Dress (sleeve detail), womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840 Dress (skirt detail), womens, cotton, probably made in Australia and worn by Julia Johnston, Horsley, New South Wales, Australia, 1836-1840
  • Australian dress register ID:

    133
  • Owner:

    Individual
  • Owner registration number:

    2015/21/1
  • Date range:

    1836 - 1840
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This dress is an extremely rare and significant example of provenanced early colonial Australian dress. Dating from around 1838, it is believed to have been worn by Julia Johnston, the daughter of Lieutenant George Johnston.

This dress is an excellent example of late 1830s fashion with its fitted bodice, dropped leg-o-mutton full sleeve and full skirt. The dress appears to have been professionally made with details of piping and precise embroidery worked on the skirt.

Julia was born at Annandale farm to Lieutenant George Johnston and Esther Abrahams in 1796. Lieutenant Johnston was an officer of Marines who came to Sydney Cove aboard the Lady Penrhyn in 1788 with the first fleet of convicts. In 1804, he became Commander of the New South Wales Corps and was an influential player in the Rum Rebellion of 1808, which saw the arrest and imprisonment of Governor William Bligh. The Johnston's were major landholders of Annandale in Sydney's inner suburbs and in the Illawarra district and were influential in the social life of the early Colony.

This dress is one of only a few provenanced surviving examples of early colonial Australian dress. Such examples provide researchers with a rare opportunity to examine the construction, materials and techniques used in early 19th century dress and to examine the role fashion played in defining the wealth and moral superiority of Australia's colonial elite.

Author: Rebecca Evans, Assistant Curator, November, 2014.

Description

Handmade white cotton ankle length dress with long sleeves and full skirt decorated with cutwork and embroidery. Bodice of dress has gentle v-shaped neckline and slight gathering above waistband at centre front. Skirt is gathered and falls from waistband, which sits slightly above the natural waistline, forming a bell-shaped skirt. Sleeves are long and puffed at elbows, tapering towards the wrists.

Dress is decorated with white work edging around neckline and cuffs. Shoulders are decorated with ruching and white work on both front and back. Upper section of sleeves feature fine tucks with decorative padded stitching. Below tucks are two frills, with those on wearers' right sleeve edged with white work and drawn work, while the frills on the wearers' upper left arm remain undecorated. Below the frills sleeves are puffed over the elbows, tapering in at mid forearm to a slim wrist-fitting cuff. The sleeve is finished with a white work trim at cuff. Skirt is decorated with cutwork and embroidery depicting floral and leaf shaped motifs, finishing with a zig-zag row of cutwork eyelet holes at top of hem. Skirt hem is double weight and self-hemmed.

Dress fastens at centre back opening with drawstring at neckline, five dorset buttons down centre back and two metal hooks and thread eyes at waistband. The back opening continues down skirt, which is edged with piping. A length of thin boning is evident in proper right side seam of bodice.

History and Provenance

Julia Johnston (1796-1879) was the first daughter of Lieutenant George Johnston and Esther Johnston. She was born at Annandale farm, the Johnston's property in Sydney in 1796.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Julia Johnston 1796-1879

Father - Lieutenant George Johnston 1764-1823

Mother - Esther Johnston (nee Abrahams) 1767-1846

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Julia's father, Lieutenant George Johnston, was an officer of Marines who came to Sydney Cove in 1788 with the first fleet of convicts. In 1804, he became Commander of the New South Wales Corps and was an influential player in the Rum Rebellion of 1808, which saw the arrest and imprisonment of Governor William Bligh. The Johnston's were major landholders of Annandale in Sydney's inner suburbs and the Illawarra district. The family was influential in the social life of the early Colony. In 1833, Julia and Blanche (her younger sister) inherited their Father's estate 'Horsley' which Blanche's husband, George Edward Nicholas Weston, named after his birthplace in England. Julia lived at 'Horsley', until her death in 1879.

This garment has been exhibited

The dress was displayed in the exhibition '200 years of Fashion' at the Illawarra Historical Society, Wollongong from December 2008 to March 2009.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    This dress was probably owned by Julia Johnston.

  3. Worn by:

    Julia Johnston

  4. Occasion(s):

    Day dress

Trimmings / Decoration

Dress is decorated with white work edging around neckline and cuffs. Shoulders are decorated with ruching and white work on both front and back. Upper section of sleeves feature fine tucks with decorative padded stitching. Below tucks are two frills, with those on wearers' right sleeve edged with white work and drawn work, while the frills on the wearers' upper left arm remain undecorated. The sleeves are finished with a white work trim at cuff. Skirt is decorated with cutwork and embroidery depicting floral and leaf shaped motifs, finishing with a zig-zag row of cutwork eyelet holes at top of hem. 

Piping

Down lower back opening

Tucking

On upper sleeves

Embroidery

On bodice, sleeves and skirt

Fibre / Weave

The fabric used in this dress is white cotton cambric. The fabric is made using a plain weave and is machine spun and woven. 

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Dress made of cotton cambric, a lightweight, closely woven cotton fabric that derives its name from Cambrai, a city in the north of France and which was originally a fine linen fabric. The construction and embroidery of the dress was completed by hand.

Dress was probably made in Australia.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Dress fastens at centre back opening with drawstring at neckline, five dorset buttons down centre back and two metal hooks and thread eyes at waistband. A dorset button secures each cuff.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

 A length of thin boning is evident in proper right side seam of bodice.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Waist 900 mm
Hem circumference 1130 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 1170 mm
Back waist to hem 850 mm
Sleeve length 600 mm
Horizontal
Fabric width 910 mm
Convert to inches

Shoulder to waist 320mm (slightly high-waisted)

Dress Themes

Day dress

Additional material

Other related objects

Shoes worn by Julia Johnston in the Powerhouse Museum collection - 85/434 Boots, pair, women's, leather / silk / cotton, possibly Australia, c. 1860

Link to collection online

Condition

The skirt has small ember burns spots in a small area , probably sparks from a fire.

One sleeves has frills missing from the shoulder.

The dress is purported to have removable sleeves but there is no evidence of this.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
  3. Holes
  4. Parts missing
  5. Torn
  6. Worn

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