Ann Marsden's wedding dress

Contributed by: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

The top back of the gown Ann Marsden's Wedding Dress Miniature wedding portrait of Elizabeth Marsden (mother of Ann Marsden) c1793 Cotton habit shirt used and possibly made by Ann Marsden, 1815-1825 [PHM Object No. A7883] Muslin dress with petticoat worn by Ann Marsden at Government House Ball at Parramatta, 1822 [PHM Object No. A7882] Silk day dress worn by Ann Hassall (nee Marsden), 1830-1840 [PHM object no. A10017] Bonnet veil worn by Elizabeth Marsden (mother of Anne Marsden), 1800-1835 [PHM Object No. A7884] Dress thought to have been worn by Elizabeth Marsden (mother of Anne Marsden), c.1830 [PHM Object No. A7880]
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Object information

Significance statement

This is an important example of well provenanced early colonial Australian dress. Family history relates that the silk fabric of this dress was in 1793 made up into Elizabeth Marsden's wedding dress on her marriage to Samuel Marsden (1765 - 1838). Samuel went on to become an important figure in colonial New South Wales. The dress is believed to have been later remade (as it now appears) and worn by their daughter, Ann (1794 - 1885), on her marriage to Reverend Thomas Hassall (1794 - 1868) in 1822. The dress is part of a very important collection of colonial costume that belonged to the Marsden family and was donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1981 by the Royal Australian Historical Society.

The simple empire line dress is typical of the styling of this period when fine, almost translucent fabrics were popular in contrast to the richer, more elaborate silk brocades of the 18th century. This minimal, pastel coloured and often revealing neoclassical style was current from 1790 until the 1820s.

Author: Lindie Ward, 24th November 2009.


Pale green figured silk empire line dress has a low neck and long sleeves with draped shoulder trim. The high waisted skirt is tubular and extends to the ankles, the floral damask pattern enlarging towards the hem. The dress fastens with fine tape ties and pins and is hand stitched with french seams.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Elizabeth Fristen (d. 1835) married Samuel Marsden (1765-1838) in 1793.

Ann Marsden (1794-1885) married the Rev. Thomas Hassell (1794-1868) in 1822.

They had 3 sons and 5 daughters.

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

Elizabeth and Samuel married at Holy Trinity church in Hull, Yorkshire, on 21 April 1793. The newly married couple, expecting their first child, left London on 1 July 1793 on the ship 'William'. They arrived in Port Jackson in March 1794 with their daughter Ann, who was born during the eight month journey. Reverend Samuel Marsden was an important figure in colonial New South Wales. As the chaplain to New South Wales, Marsden endeavoured, with some success, to improve the standard of 'morals and manners'. Samuel soon became a leading figure in colonial life, combining, sometimes controversially, his job as the colony's clergyman with that of magistrate, missionary, wealthy landowner and farmer.

On 12 August 1822, Ann Marsden married Reverend Thomas Hassall (1794 - 1868) at St John's Church Parramatta, who had opened the first Sunday school in Australia in May 1813, and was ordained a deacon on 15 April 1821 and a priest in June the same year. The Hassall family had long been friends with the Marsdens and the match was deemed appropriate to the social standing of a chaplain's daughter. Ann and Thomas had three sons and five daughters, their eldest son, Reverend James Samuel, becoming a noted pioneer clergyman.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Life in the new colony proved extremely isolating. In 1796 Elizabeth Marsden wrote: 'We seem in our present situation to be almost totally cut off from all connexion with the world especially the virtuous part of it. Old England is no more than like a pleasing dream' (Marsden 1796).

Right from the beginning, the colonists of the remote penal settlement that became Sydney wanted to maintain a fashionable appearance. Conscious of fashion's role in signifying status and respectability, the colonial elite, including the family of Samuel Marsden, eagerly awaited the irregular shipments of goods from Europe, India and China. The Powerhouse Museum's collection of Marsden costumes appears restrained in style but of good quality fabric and finish, reflecting the family's social and financial position in society.

Where did this information come from?

Eliza Hassell (daughter of Thomas and Ann Hassall), through the Royal Australian Historical Society

This garment has been exhibited

'Inspired' Exhibition, Powerhouse Museum 2005

'The White Wedding Dress: Two Hundred Years of Wedding Fashions' Bendigo Art Gallery 2011

Read more:

  1. Place of origin:


  2. Owned by:

    According to the family provenance the fabric is thought to have initially been made into a wedding dress for Elizabeth Marsden in 1793 and subsequently restyled and worn by Ann Marsden in 1822. The Marsden family costumes were given to the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1919 by the executors of the estate of Eliza Hassall (2/11/1834 - 26/12/1917). They were then transferred to the Powerhouse Museum in 1981.

  3. Worn by:

    Ann Marsden

  4. Occasion(s):

    Ann Marsden's wedding to Thomas Hassall on 12th August 1822 at St John's Church, Parramatta.

  5. Place:

    Sydney, Australia

  6. Designed by:

    unknown, but the existing dress is thought to have been reworked from her mother's wedding dress possibly by a local dressmaker

  7. Made by:

    unknown maker 1822.

    The dress may have been made by Ann Marsden, a finely sewn habit shirt made by Ann Marsden is also part of the Marsden collection.

  8. Made for:

    Ann Marsden's wedding and thought to have been restyled from Elizabeth Marsden's wedding dress

Trimmings / Decoration


A fine cord is inserted in the front waist channel to strengthen the seam.


The silk has a woven floral pattern, not embroidery.

Fibre / Weave

The dress is made from a featherweight silk damask with woven floral pattern enlarging towards the hem. Possibly originating in India or China.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye



It is thought the expensive figured silk of this gown had been restyled 29 years after Elizabeth's wedding (1793) for her daughter, Ann's, wedding in 1822. (See image of Elizabeth Marsden in her wedding gown P3150)

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


The front bodice panel is cut on the bias. The skirt is cut on the straight.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


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


Neck 920 mm
Cuff 250 mm
Hem circumference 1860 mm
Front neck to hem 1120 mm
Back neck to hem 1100 mm
Sleeve length 520 mm
Neck to sleeve head 25 mm
Cross back 220 mm
Underarm to underarm 350 mm
Fabric width 620 mm
Convert to inches

This is a true empire line garment with VERY high waist

The chest is hard to measure

The under bust girth is 70mm

The front neck to under bust is a (very narrow) 90mm

The fabric hangs loosely from under bust to hem so waist and hip measurements are meaningless

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Other related objects

The Marsden collection consists of a bonnet veil c1800, a linen habit shirt c1820, 2 silk day dresses, 1825-35 & 1835, a muslin ball gown 1822, baby John Marsden's dress 1803

Link to collection online


Tiny holes in the bodice at the right side indicate the bodice may have been fastened with pins.

A fine cord threaded through a channel in the high waist seam may have broken, since it now only remains in the front bodice.

There are perspiration stains under the arms.

There are small areas of red/brown stains scattered over entire garment.

Seams under arms partially deteriorated, causing fabric to fray.

In 1972 the dress was described as 'blue' by a Mrs Windeyer who did some restoration work.

This would point to a chemical change in the silk, an unstable dye.

This does not appear to be caused by fading through exposure to light.

Yellowing of the silk through time could turn blue to green.

On inspection in 2012 the dress would be described as 'cream.'

The colour has disappeared though the fabric appears to be in reasonable condition.

Evidence of repairs

Several holes in the skirt have been conserved. Two holes (lower back and lower front) have been repaired with BEVA 371 impregnated stablitex. The bodice has been detached from the skirt at the back and resewn more recently with rough running stitches in white cotton thread.


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