1880 Ada Petherbridge (nee Bonarius) wedding dress

Contributed by: Grossmann House - National Trust of NSW

Front view of wedding dress Back view of dress Closer front view of dress Closer front view of dress Close up of orange blossom ornamentaion Inside view of dress Wedding dress as exhibited in Love, Desire and Riches exhibition (photograph courtesy of Lynn Morris) Ada Petherbidge on her wedding day Ada Petherbridge's marriage notice
  • Australian dress register ID:

    582
  • Owner:

    Grossmann House - National Trust of NSW
  • Owner registration number:

    84-590
  • Date range:

    1880
  • Place of origin:

    Maitland, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

The Ada Petherbridge (nee Bonarius) wedding dress, a commendably provenanced cream taffeta dress, trimmed with blonde lace pleated trim and wax orange blossoms, worn on the 19th of October 1880, is a historically and aesthetically significant item of clothing of local Maitland derivation.

Historically it is an archetypal example of the white wedding dress, popularised by Queen Victoria. Both Queen Victoria and Ada had orange blossoms, a symbol of fertility, trimming their dresses (Queen Victoria had blossoms trimming her wreath, in place of a tiara, too).  

Aesthetically the wedding dress is a beautiful, well-proportioned example of 1880s fashion. The skirt is looped, draped and tied up as per the polonaise revival style (based on the 1780s fashion of a fitted cutaway overdress caught up and draped over an underskirt). The dress’ bodice is also tight and the torso long, as per prevailing fashions.

Information on the Bonarius lineage, from ancestry trees and the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser marriage notice to several photographs and oral histories, evidence Ada to have been woman of wealth and standing, involved with the expansion of business and investment in Maitland (Ada’s home as of 1890, for example, lay claim to a number of bedrooms, a ballroom and even a fernery). As such, Ada Petherbridge’s wedding dress is not only representative of an affluent woman’s dress, but also indicative of Maitland’s prominence as an administrative and mercantile centre, and a prestigious community. 

Author: Eloise Maree Crossman, 01.06.2015.

Description

The Ada Petherbridge (nee Bonarius) wedding dress is a cream taffeta dress, trimmed with blonde lace (a continuous bobbin lace, made of silk) round the neck and front, as well as pleated trim. The overskirt is looped up and finished with bows and wax orange blossoms (there are also blossoms on the neck and sleeves).    

The train is kilted, with cotton lace trim.  

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

The Ada Petherbridge (nee Bonarius) wedding dress was worn by Ada Adeline Bonarius who married wine and spirit merchant Thomas Samuel Petherbridge on the 19th of October, 1880 at Fairview House High Street, East Maitland.  

Ada was born in Nundle NSW, in 1860. She was one of six children in the family to survive to adulthood of seventeen who were born. Her parents, Margaret and John Charles Bonarius, moved there from Newcastle. John and Margaret moved the family to Fairview House in High Street in 1877. It was here that Ada married Thomas. A notice appeared in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Saturday the 13th of November, 1880. 

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Initially Ada and Thomas lived above Thomas’ shop in Melbourne Street, East Maitland (just south of the rail underpass, opposite the Hunter River hotel). Around 1889 they moved to Torquay at 50 King Street (“neat in style and admirably ventilated” according to the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser in 1886). This seven room residence was built by Thomas’ father William, who died in 1889. It is assumed that upon William’s death Thomas took possession of the house and undertook renovations resulting in the home which stands today, complete with a tennis court, fowl yards, a four bay garage and a profusion of flowers, paths, trellises and a large ornamental urn.  

Ada gave birth to eleven children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. It was the youngest and last surviving daughter, Gertrude, who donated her mother’s wedding gown to Grossmann House in the 1970s (in conjunction with her granddaughter Marcia ‘Chick’ Gordon, a descendant of Ernest Petherbridge (who continued the family business) who married Myra Marion Graham and bore Chick).  

Chick Gordon remembers Ada being a quiet lady with a great love for her fernery, tatting and crochet. “She was a presence," Chick reminisces, "always there, quietly observing." 

Ada died in 1946. 

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

Thomas was a wine and spirit (and cigar and tea) merchant, who bought F. & T. Petherbridge Bros. off his father upon his father’s illness in 1877 (a public noticed “beg[ged] to acquaint Mr Petherbridge’s numerous customers that there will be NO CHANGE nor ALTERATION in conducting business; and [that] they trust that by attention to the orders of their customers, and selling at the lowest figures, they will receive a continuance of that patronage so liberally bestowed for so many years to their predecessor”). It was the success of F. & T. Petherbridge Bros. in both Maitland and Newcastle that ensured Ada and Thomas’ prosperous lifestyle. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Queen Victoria popularised white wedding dresses, of which Ada’s dress is an example. Interestingly, both Ada and Queen Victoria also had orange blossom flowers, a symbol of fertility, trimming their dresses (Queen Victoria had blossoms trimming her wreath, in place of a tiara, too).  

Where did this information come from?

Marriage notice, reading “Marriage – Petherbridge – Bonarius- On the 19th October, at Fair View House, the residence of the bridge’s parents, by the Rev. William Bain, of Newcastle, Thomas Samuel Petherbridge, Wine and Spirits Merchant, East Maitland, to Adeline, eldest daughter of John Charles Bonarius”, and other notices,

Marcia ‘Chick’ Gordon oral history,  

Grossmann House object record 

This garment has been exhibited

Love, Desire and Riches, The Fashion of Weddings at Old Government House 10th July- 1st November, 2015 

  1. Place of origin:

    Maitland, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Ada Petherbridge (nee Bonarius) 

    (Now owned by Grossmann House, by way of Gertrude Petherbridge, Ada’s last surviving daughter)  

  3. Worn by:

    Ada Petherbridge 

  4. Occasion(s):

    Wedding

  5. Place:

    Fairview House High Street, Maitland, New South Wales, Australia 

  6. Made by:

    Unknown, though perhaps a local dress maker or department store (though no department store label is visible)  

  7. Made for:

    Ada Petherbridge 

Trimmings / Decoration

Trimmed with blonde lace (a continuous bobbin lace, made of silk) round the neck and front, as well as pleated trim. The overskirt is finished with bows and wax orange blossoms (there are also blossoms on the neck and sleeves).    

The train is kilted, with cotton lace trim. 

Fibre / Weave

Taffeta, a fine, lustrous silk with a crisp texture

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Both hand and machine sewn  

Label

No label 

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

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

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

Condition

Fair, fragile condition. Darkening and discolouration of blonde lace, shattering of silk taffeta especially at the underarms and age spots throughout. 

Possible insect damage, especially around the bow at the front. 

State

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

Damage

  1. Crease
  2. Discolouration
  3. Holes
  4. Torn
  5. Worn

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