Gold & Cream Silk Cuirass Wedding Dress & Shoes Worn By Priscilla Batham Buchan, 1881

Contributed by: National Institute of Dramatic Art

Themes

Silk cuirass wedding dress with train Front view of dress, highlighting details in the bodice and skirt. Note damage and splits in the silk taffeta. Close up of bodice, note splits in silk Side view of skirt showing bustle and decorative cornet pocket. Back of dress, showing off bustle, train, and a spray of wax and fabric orange blossoms Inside bodice construction. Small amount of waist tape left at centre back. Pleating and trim detail on skirt/train hem. Inside of back skirt/bustle. Two cotton ties help hold the fullness in place Cream silk satin shoes with bow and orange blossom Portrait of Priscilla McLellan, date unknown, possibly mid-late 1880s Spliting at right shoulder where cotton padding can be seen underneath Underside of dress train where wear and insect damage is evident on the woollen brush hem. One of the 3 pins that still remain hidden in the dress Original waist tape with eye. Was found in the cornet pocket. Poorly attempted darning on the heal of a shoe to support the remaining threads of fabric. Note newly applied bind on the top edge Sole of cream satin shoes showing faint marks of a Mayers Paris Stamp and medallions. Clear branding was seen under a magnifying glass Cream silk satin slipper. Considerably smaller than the pair of shoes. Possibly a good luck charm Photo of 4 generations: Flora Kennedy-Smith with her son Peter, Pricilla McLellan, Joy Edwards holding her daughter Margaret Jackson Birth Certificate of Flora McLellan, detailing birth and marriage details of Priscilla and Thomas McLellan Paperwork showing the dates of death for Priscilla, Thomas, and Ronald McLellan
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Object information

Significance statement

This gold and cream silk curiass wedding dress with train and shoes was worn by Priscilla Batham Buchan when she married Thomas Ronald McLellan at Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Pyrmont, Sydney, on the 21st December, 1881.

Pricilla Batham Buchan was born to English parents in Sydney. Her husband Thomas Ronald McLellan was born in Scotland. Pricilla and Thomas both came from wealthy families, which is reflected in the style and quality of the dress. 

Thomas McLellan made a good life for himself in Sydney where he was a sea captain, a Lay Reader in the Anglican Church, a member of the Masons, and on the committee for the building of the Pyrmont Bridge. He owned up to 11 domestic and industrial properties, residing with Priscilla at 467 Oxford Street, Paddington.

The dress was donated to the NIDA collection before 2008 by Margaret Jackson, the great granddaughter of Priscilla McLellan. Priscilla McLellan’s great great granddaughter, Helen Jackson provided provenance information for this entry, making this one of the few items in the NIDA collection with known provenance. This ensemble is the oldest wedding dress in the NIDA Costume Research Collection. 

This wedding dress with long train is an excellent example of the cuirass style that was only fashionable for a short period in the late 1870s/early 1880s. As the cuirass style was so short-lived, many women continued to wear bustle dresses from the mid 1870s into the next bustle period in the early/mid 1880s. Pricilla’s wealth is reflected in her choice of cut, as usually only wealthy members of society were able to keep up with the latest trends.

Even though white/cream had been made popular for weddings by Queen Victoria in 1840, during the 1870s and 1880s, coloured dresses or mourning colours were often worn. Coloured bridal dresses were common as it meant that the dress could be worn for occasions after the wedding. The wear or disintegration of the net at the neck/sleeve cuff, the woollen brush hem, and the missing waist tape are all signs that this dress was possibly worn after the wedding. The shoes show much wear and could have been worn with other outfits.

Author: Kathleen A Szabo, 15/08/2017.

Description

Silk, cuirass style wedding dress with train in gold taffeta and cream satin with matching satin shoes. Worn by Priscilla McLellan for her marriage to Thomas Ronald McLellan on the 21st December 1881.

Dress has a fitted cuirass bodice that extends to below the hip, round high neckline, small stand collar and dropped shoulder. 13 buttons fasten the bodice, finishing at the hip. The bodice is made up from 6 panels and 8 darts. Each side of the front bodice has 4 baleen (whale) bones. Two are used on the inside of the darts under the bust. The other two are in the underarm and side seam.

Under the button fastenings, the bodice fabric continues over the cream satin skirt to create a drape. It is draped around the side and set into the back which extends into a long train and is covered by the bustle that extends from the back of the bodice.  

The long two-piece sleeves are set into the armholes with cream satin piping and are trimmed with 2 wide strips of ruched satin at the top of the sleeve and at the cuff.  

The front panel of the skirt is made from a ruched silk cream satin. The front skirt continues around to the back where it is sewn into the train and covered by the bustle. The bustle fabric continues to the floor where it finishes with two bows. A gold silk taffeta bow sitting on top a silk cream satin bow. The whole skirt hem is trimmed with self-gold silk taffeta pleats with two rows on the train. The skirt is then finished with a pleated organdie and lace trim.

On the right hip sits a triangular shaped ‘cornet’ pocket, attached by a gold ribbon.

Sprays of orange blossom are at the right neck, at the base of the bodice, at the top of the bustle, and on the toes of each of the shoes.

The dress is both machine and hand sewn.

Cream silk satin low-heeled shoes, self-made ruched bow at toe with small spray of orange blossom. Square toe and throat, cream satin upper with forward-slanting side folded side seams. Edges bound with a white satin ribbon that is not original. Cream leather insole and quarter lining, cream linen vamp lining, brown leather sole stamped and inscribed with the Julien Mayer PARIS crown logo and medallions.

History and Provenance

Priscilla Batham Buchan was Priscilla's family name. Pricilla's parents John Buchan and Jane Batham were both first generation Australian, having both been born in England. They married in Sydney, Australia on 20 June, 1845.

Thomas Ronald McLellan was Scottish and moved with his family to Australia sometime before his marriage. Thomas's occupation, as listed on Flora's birth certificate, was a Mariner. According to his great great grand daughter Helen Jackson, he was a harbour master, ship captain and a preacher. 

The wedding dress and shoes were donated by Margaret Jackson to NIDA sometime before 2008. Priscilla passed on the wedding dress to her grand daughter, Evelyn Kennedy-Smith. Evelyn was Margaret's great aunt, and the dress was eventually passed onto Margaret Jackson. 

While there is no photo of Priscilla from her wedding day, there is a portrait photograph of a young Priscilla. As she is wearing a dress with a distinct bustle, this photo may be either from the mid 1870s or mid 1880s. 

There is another photograph of Priscilla McLellan with her grand daughter Evelyn Kennedy-Smith, from the 1920s. 

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Priscilla was the youngest of four siblings from the marriage of Jane Batham to John Buchan in 1845. (Edward Jeremiah born 1846, Richard Shepherd born 1849, Henrietta Elizabeth born 1851, and Priscilla Batham born in 1857.)

John Buchan passed away in 1859 and Jane Batham married Alexander Downie. They had 3 children: Mary J born 1861, Ada born 1863 and Jessie born 1867.

Priscilla Batham Buchan (maiden name) was born in 1857 and died 13 July, 1935.

Thomas Ronald McLellan (husband) was born in Islay, off Scotland in 1849 and died 22 September, 1938.

Priscilla Batham Buchan and Thomas Ronald McLellan married 21st December, 1881 at Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Pyrmont, New South Wales, Australia. 

Jane Batham (mother) was born in 1828 in Woodchurch, Kent, England.

John Buchan (father) was born 16 January, 1814, in Staffordshire, England.

Priscilla's parents John Buchan and Jane Batham married on 20 June, 1845 in Sydney, New South Wales.

Ronald McLellan, Thomas' father died on 10 Febuary, 1886. 

Priscilla and Thomas had two children: Ronald McLellan (1883 - 1886) and Flora McLellan (1887 - 12 August 1977). Flora died in Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia. 

A letter from The Council of the Municipality of Waverly details the death dates of Priscilla, Thomas and Ronald. All graves are located at the Waverly Cemetery. 

 

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

Thomas was a sea captain, apparently sailing the England to China tea and opium route. He apparently was licensed to enter any Harbour without needing a harbour pilot.  He himself became a Harbour Master at Coopernook, NSW. Thomas lived/owned 467 Oxford Rd, Paddington when he returned to Sydney.  Thomas owned up to 11 properties, both residential and industrial, including 20 Macquarie Street South, 85 Johnston St, Annandale and 214 Flood St, Leichhardt. 

He was commissioned as a Lay Reader in the Anglican Church. He also was a member of the Masons. 

He was on the committee for the building of the Pyrmont Bridge, and it is also rumoured that he was one of the founding members of the charity The Smith Family. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Priscilla and Thomas McLellan are a good example of wealthy first generation Australian familes who came over from the UK in the later part of the 1800s. Proceeding generations of the McLellan family have continued to live in the Sydney area, which make this garment and the provenance particluarly interesting as these are local stories. 

Where did this information come from?

Family history information and documentation has been provided by Helen Jackson. Helen is the great great grand daughter of Priscilla McLellan. 

Ancestry.com has assited with some dates, as well as the building of a clear family tree. 

  1. Place of origin:

    Pyrmont, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Priscilla Batham Buchan

  3. Worn by:

    Priscilla Batham Buchan

  4. Occasion(s):

    Priscilla Batham Buchan wedding to Thomas Ronald McLellan.

  5. Place:

    Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

  6. Made by:

    It is unknown who made the dress for Priscilla, but it is likely it was a professional dressmaker. The dress presents good use of cut and fit to achieve the popular cuirass shape that was popular for only a few years in this period. It is made to a good standard and uses a combination of machine and hand sewing. 

  7. Made for:

    Priscilla Batham Buchan

Trimmings / Decoration

Cream gathered net has been applied on the outside of stand collar and the inside edge of the sleeve cuffs as decoration.

Self-gold silk taffeta box pleats trim the bottom of the skirt. A continuous row of pleating sits under the silk cream satin ruched skirt at the front and the outside edge of the train. A second row of pleating sits above the first on the train and starts at the side seam of the skirt. Trim depth is 105mm, and has been finished with a 5mm rolled hem. There is a long running stitch on the underside of the pleats that helps keep them in place. 

The edges of the bustle are faced with natural coloured stiffened open weave cotton, 50mm wide, folded to 25mm secured with a running stitch.

The skirt and train hem is finished with 50mm wide stiffened machine pleated organdie with a 20mm lace edge that is hand sewn to the underside of the skirt.

Two sets of cotton tape ties are used on the inside of the back skirt to control the fullness of the bustle.  

Ribbon

Gold ribbon at right skirt back holds the cornet pocket in place on the hip, and is used for a decorative bow with long tails at the base of the pocket.

Piping

Cream satin silk piping set in armholes and edge the cornet pocket.

Lace

Net lace with a floral motif, knots and criss-cross edging used at the base of the stand collar, the edge of the skirt drape, top of the cornet pocket, and the ends of the cream satin bow on the skirt train. Motifs appear to have been made by hand.

Fibre / Weave

The cuirass bodice, bustle and train are all made from a plain weave gold silk taffeta.

The skirt front is made from a cream silk satin. This satin is also used as a ruched trim on the sleeve head, sleeve cuffs, the cornet pocket and decorative bows on the train.

The bodice and sleeves are mounted on tightly woven medium weight cotton in cream.

The skirt is lined in sateen weave cream cotton that has a soft lustre.  

The interior of the train, the decorative bows on the exterior of the train and the cornet pocket are lined with a stiff silk organza in a natural colour

There is a plain weave cream wool used as a brush hem along the inside edge of the train. This same fabric is used as a binding on the inside of the skirt where an additional width of pleated fabric has been added at the centre back mid-way down between the two cotton ties.   

It is unknown whether the gold colour of the silk taffeta would have been achieved using a natural or synthetic dye. Either is possible.  

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The main components of the dress are sewn by machine with a 3 ply Z twist thread natural coloured cotton thread. Trims are attached by hand.

The bodice is made up of 6 panels. The front bodice is cut as one piece using 3 long darts to create the shaping from the bust over the hip. Two darts under the bust extend until the 12th button, the third is at the underarm and extends to the hip.The back is made up from 2 panel pieces each side. The side back panel features a dart shaped like a princess line. This panel continues into the drape as a full width of fabric and finishes under the bustle. The panels either side of centre back are cut from the same length of fabric that continues as the bustle. They are sewn down centre back until mid-hip where the full width of the fabric comes from an inverted box pleat covered by orange blossom.

The bodice has 8 baleen bones. Boning in the two front bust darts has been inserted into the darts by way of a cut and closed with a hand stitch. The boning on the underarm dart and side seam has been inserted into a self-made casing using the mounting fabric. The inside waist seam at the back has the remains of a waist tape.  The 13 buttonholes along the centre front are finish by hand using a 3 ply S twist cotton thread.

The skirt is lined in cream cotton with a satin weave. The train is mounted onto stiff silk organza. A wool brush hem has been sewn on like a facing. 

The pleated organdie hem with lace trim is secured to an organza bind with a chain stitch. Long whip stitch is used to secure trim to underside of skirt. 

On the back right hip sits a cornet pocket made from the cream silk satin held in position by a gold ribbon. The edges are piped in the same fabric. The top edge is trimmed with lace. 

Cream satin low-heeled shoes feature a self-made ruched bow at the toe with orange blossom. Square toe and throat, cream satin upper with forward-slanting side folded side seams; edges bound in new white satin ribbon over the top of the original. Cream leather insole and quarter lining, cream linen vamp lining, brown leather sole. 

Label

Sole of shoes stamped and inscribed with the Julien Mayer PARIS crown logo and medallions

Alterations

One side of the original waist tape with the hook was found in the cornet pocket and measures 27mm by 265mm.

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

Cut

Bodice is cut in a clever way to disguise darts as princess panel lines. The front bodice is cut as one, with two extended bust darts that finish at the 12th button and a dart at the underarm which extends to the hips and looks like a panel line. The side back panel makes use of another extended dart that mimics a princess line. The two centre back pieces are a part of the same width of fabric that continues into the bustle by way of pleats under the spray of orange blossom, 100mm below the waist.

The mounting on the left bodice opening folds back 60mm and acts as a facing/button support. The edge is folded under again and finished with a whip stich. The right bodice opening is finished with a 40mm fold, turned under again and finished with a whip stitch.

Shaped sleeves are cut in two pieces into a dropped armhole. Shoulder seam sits approximately 30mm back from the natural shoulder seam.

The train of the skirt is made up of 3 widths of the gold silk taffeta fabric, which is 21” wide. Two additional widths of fabric are added 540mm below the waist using pleats. This is covered by the bustle. The train has two gores, one either side of the centre panel to achieve enough width across the circular train. These gores measure 410mm at the centre edge, 230mm along the hem, and 310mm on the outside edge.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

There are 13 cream doubled rimmed buttons with dorset style shank along centre front. They are 16mm wide and 13mm high. A hook and hand sewn eye are used on the inside of the stand collar to close the front opening at neck. There is a hook on the end of the remaining waist tape. 

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

There are 8 pieces of baleen (whale) boning in the bodice, 4 in each front piece. 2 bones are inserted into the bust darts and extend below the waist to help achieve a flat front. Bones taper as the bone reaches the tip of the dart. Bones finishing at the waist are inserted into a casing at the underarm dart and the side seam. Bones at approximately 6mm at their widest.

Cotton wadding is used to smooth out the hollow of the chest and the bust. It is sewn into the shoulder seam and finishes 230mm down from the shoulder line.      

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 365 mm
Chest 830 mm
Waist 540 mm
Hip 101 mm
Cuff 195 mm
Hem circumference 4190 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 131 mm
Front waist to hem 102 mm
Back neck to hem 2260 mm
Back waist to hem 1900 mm
Sleeve length 465 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 120 mm
Cross back 280 mm
Underarm to underarm 400 mm
Fabric width 530 mm
Convert to inches

Dress

Shoulder seam width – 140mm

Armscye (armhole) – 388mm

Base of cuirass bodice to front hem – 770mm

Back neck to end of bustle – 2130mm

Train length – 860mm

Train at widest point – 1220mm

Wool brush hem – 120mm

Cornet pocket dimensions – 150 by 185mm

Shoes

Shoe length – 205mm

Shoe at widest point – 57mm

Shoe width & depth – 310mm

Heel height - 444mm

Dress Themes

Silk cuirass wedding dress with train in gold taffeta and cream satin with matching satin shoes. Worn by Priscilla McLellan for her marriage to Thomas Ronald McLellan on the 20th December 1881.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Copy of deceased estate for Pricilla McLellan's home in Paddington and family tree can be found at the link for ancestry.com

Link to collection online

Condition

The major damage to this dress is in the form of tears in the gold silk taffeta in the bodice, sleeves, drape, bustle and train. It is most evident in the bodice and drape. 

Flat storage seems to be the obvious cause of these tears in the drape and sleeves. 

The bodice has splits along the shoulders and bust, and the fabric around the front buttonholes fabric is worn away. These are the areas of the bodice that recieve the most strain.

The cream silk satin and all the linings are in considerably better condition than the gold silk taffeta. It is possible that the gold silk taffeta has degraded due to the use of weighting agents often used in the late 19th century.

'Weighting agents usually were applied to silk during the dyeing operation. Because fabrics were often sold by weight, some dyers and finishers would overweight silks for greater profits, even though this practice severely weakened the fiber. The process of weighting and the agents used may weaken the silk fiber, shorten its wear life, and make it more susceptible to degradation by acid, alkalies, high temperature, and light. As a result, many antique silks exhibit lengthwise splits and cracks at folds and creases and are so weak that they must be supported to be handled or displayed.' - http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1179/019713689806046192

Insect damage

There is insect damage on the gold silk taffeta skirt drape and bustle in the form of small holes. This is also evident in the wool brush hem on the underside of the train. 

State

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

Damage

  1. Brittle
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
  4. Torn

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