Blue silk wedding dress

Contributed by: Sydney Living Museums

Wedding dress, Meroogal collection. Photo: © Alex Kershaw Wedding dress, back view. Photo: © Alex Kershaw Margaret Steel 1938, Photo by Alma Studio June's blue lace bridesmaid's dress c1940. Photo: © Alex Kershaw
  • Australian dress register ID:

    194
  • Owner:

    Sydney Living Museums
  • Owner registration number:

    M86/1401
  • Date range:

    1840 - 1843
  • Place of origin:

    Scotland
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This charming hand stitched wedding gown is a unique and fine example of a provenanced Australian dress. It was worn by Margaret Drummond Gentle for her wedding to the Rev. William Grant in Perthshire, Scotland in June 1845 and then passed to Margaret Ross Steel by Miss Barbara Grant, a daughter of the original owner. A full length seated photograph by Alma Studio of Margaret Steel wearing the dress in about 1938 is in the Meroogal collection. The silk is lustrous and unfaded and judging by the careful piecing in its original production, it must have been a precious fabric. The style is typical of the 1840s before sleeves widened and when bodices featured radiating vertical pleats. The full skirt would have been supported by several petticoats and reached the ground.

The recollections of June Wallace (the last private owner of Meroogal) when she wore the dress for her 1944 wedding in Turramurra greatly enhance its provenance. 'My husband rang me on Wednesday night from Orange and said 'do you think we could be married on Monday?' I said 'Oh' and he said 'you don't sound very enthusiastic.' I said 'Oh I am, I am!' June took the Grant dress from Robert Taylor Thorburn's travelling chest in the hall, found a matching lace dress for her bridesmaid, Charles' sister, and borrowed a veil. They were married at 2.30pm in the church at Turramurra by the Principal of St Andrews. In those days everyone took the train as there was no petrol. One of the guests, walking towards the church from the station, recalled a man running past them in great haste. Once in the church, they realised he was the groom, Charles' Wallace, a champion sprinter, who appeared completely composed at the altar. (Taken from June Wallace's conversation with Barbara Konkolowicz, Meroogal curator, 6 Feb 2009)

Author: Lindie Ward, 13th November 2009.

Description

Full length blue silk satin dress has a V-shaped waistline and full pleated skirt.

The high necked bodice has a very long narrow waist, with three vertical pleats radiating from the shoulder down towards the bust. The front neck opens but a later lace collar has been sewn over this opening. The bodice fastens at the back with 13 hook and eyes. The sleeves widen towards the wrist and have gathering at the elbow and fine cream tassel decoration inserted in a seam at the wrist. The deep front skirt pleats fall to the sides and at the back a section is cartridge pleated tightly for extra fullness. The style is typical of the early 1840s before sleeves widened and when bodices featured radiating vertical pleats and skirts were very full. The skirt would have been supported with several petticoats and reached the ground. The bodice is lined with linen and the skirt with cotton gauze and a band of linen at the hem.

The fabric has been pieced with triangular inserts at underarms and shoulders.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Inhabitants of Meroogal:

Robert Taylor Thorburn (1847-1934) married Jessie Billis in 1886 who died in 1888.

He built and moved to Meroogal and married Euphemia Leslie (Aunt Effie) in 1888. She died in 1945.

Robert Taylor's mother, Jessie Thorburn, moved to Meroogal with her unmarried daughters Annabella Jane known as Miss Belle (1852-1930), Georgina Isabella known as Miss Georgie (1854-1927) and Jessie Catherine known as Miss Kate (1857-1945) in 1885.

In 1894 Jessie bought the house from Robert Taylor Thorburn with proceeds from the sale of the family farm at Barr Hill.

Kennina Fanny McKenzie known as Miss Tot (1865-1956) lived at Meroogal from 1896 until 1945 when Miss Kate died.

Kate and Tot owned the property after Robert Taylor's death in 1934.

June Mary Wallace (1917-2010) lived on and off at Meroogal with her great aunts after her mother's marriage to Reverend James Barnet Steel ended in 1921.

When Miss Tot died in 1956 she left the house to her nieces Helen, Margaret, and Elgin Macgregor. Elgin then left the house to June who had grown up there.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

June Steel wore this beautiful silk gown for her wartime 1944 wedding in Turramurra to Charles Ronald Wallace. The principal of St Andrews married them. 'My husband rang me on Wednesday night from Orange and said 'Do you think we can be married on Monday'. June said 'Oh' and Charles said 'you don't sound very enthusiastic.' 'Oh I am, I am.'

In wartime, weddings were often impromptu events while soldiers were on leave and Charles did not want to have his whole and numerous family present.

The restrictions on luxury goods meant that wedding attire was often makeshift. Robert Taylor Thorburn's traveling trunk in the hall yielded garments to wear for this special event. June wore this splendid blue silk gown and borrowed a veil.

Charles' sister, June's bridesmaid, wore a blue cotton lace dress with puffed sleeves c1939 which was not made for the occasion but suited the colour of the wedding gown. 'The frocks both fitted as if they had been made for us' said June. Neither, of course, had been made for the event as it was such short notice.

Guests walking to the church heard someone running up behind them from the station and it was Charles the groom, a champion sprinter, on his way to the altar. Being very fit, he was completely composed to give his vows.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This garment, by nature of its exquisite quality, has been treasured through several generations and having been carefully stored, remains in excellent condition. June Wallace's recall of events and family discussions and her recognition of the importance of documenting personal histories has greatly enhanced the intrinsic value of this garment to the community.

Many Scots settled in the Illawarra and ties to Scotland were sustained with visits to and from the country. Several Scottish traditional agate brooches in the Meroogal and the Rouse Hill House collections shine as symbols of a proud Scottish heritage in the late 19th century.

This garment is only one of a large collection of dress and associated material that has remained in the Meroogal collection, managed by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW since 1985.

Meroogal, built in 1886, remained largely a household of women who left ample documentation about their lives and preoccupations while living in the house. June Wallace was the last owner and she had carefully watched and listened to her maiden aunts as they organised the household and interacted with locals and visitors.

Where did this information come from?

June Wallace

  1. Place of origin:

    Scotland

  2. Cost:

    unknown but fabric would have been very expensive

  3. Owned by:

    Mrs Margaret Drummond Grant gave it to her daughter Miss Barbara Grant

    who in 1936-37 gave it to her friend Margaret Ross Steel (1888-1971).

    Margaret passed it to her daughter June Steel (1917-2010) who wore it for her wedding.

  4. Worn by:

    1. Margaret Drummond Grant 2. Margaret Ross Steel 3. June Mary Wallace

  5. Occasion(s):

    1. & 3. Weddings 2. Photograph

  6. Place:

    Meroogal, Nowra

  7. Designed by:

    unknown

  8. Made by:

    unknown

  9. Made for:

    Margaret Drummond Grant (nee Gentle) ( - 1885)

Trimmings / Decoration

Braiding

Tassel decoration in wrist seam

Lace

Lace has been added to neck and cuff at some later date

Fibre / Weave

The blue silk satin is lustrous and unfaded and judging by the careful piecing of fabric made in its original production, it must have been considered a very expensive fabric.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The dress is entirely hand sewn with cotton lining.

Label

no label

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

Cut

The garment is cut on the straight grain with a very wide skirt.

To use every centimetre of fabric the silk has been pieced at the underarm and shoulder.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Of 13 hook and eyes at the back, 6 are brass and 7 newer steel eyes.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Linen lining in bodice.

Gauze lining to skirt.

Linen hem band.

Dress Themes

It has also been used for dressing up on several occasions

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Ramsay, Janet, 'The Women of Meroogal'

Historic Houses Trust of NSW, 'Meroogal, Nowra: A History and a Guide'

Other related objects

There is a large collection of material at the house at Meroogal. It is not easy to determine who owned and wore some of the garments but careful measurement may assist with this research. June Wallace has provided detailed information about the lives of her aunts at Meroogal.

Condition

Evidence of repairs

When the dress was borrowed for a parade in the 1950s a drink was spilt on the skirt. The stain is still visible.

State

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

Damage

  1. Stained

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