Pelisse worn by James Somerville

Contributed by: The Cavalcade of History and Fashion Inc.

Boys Pelisse. James Somerville Full Back View Collar and centre front detail Sleeve cuff detail Back view of under skirt flounce Details of back bodice showing chevron
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    The Cavalcade of History and Fashion Inc.
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1880 - 1890
  • Place of origin:

    Dinder Estate, Somerset, England
  • Gender:

    Male, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

A Pelisse worn during Victorian times by a male child of about three years of age.

Boys of the 19th century wore dresses untill the age of four or five. This style is an outer garment worn outdoors and would have been worn with white hose for legs and feet, black shoes and a brimmed straw hat with black velvet ribbon headband.

This garment made in the early 1880's is in excellent condition and is a very good example of a garment worn by a male child of the period.

The garment was worn by a child who grew up to become one of the most able British Admirals of the Second World War and was commander of the Eastern Fleet March 1942 untill August 1944. It was said of him that he was "a great sailor and a great leader: shrewd, imaginative, determined and farseeing"

Author: Jeanette Moles, September 2010.


Boys pelisse, coat Dress with front button opening.

Fine lawn under dress (layer).

Long waisted with a fitted bodice and gathered skirt.

Plain stand collar band.

Seven buttons down the front ,four original self covered (linen fabric) and three mother of pearl replacements.

Centre front facing width 24mm.

No vertical underarm, bodice seam the seam is positioned at back armhole line another appears at the centre back.

Outer layer.

Brodier anglaise

Bodice and sleeve fabric is constructed from broderie insert panels (33mm) finished with a narrow tape (7mm) with daisy motifs (embroidered). Panels are placed on the bias on bodice and sleeves.

Broderie collar (72mm) with scalloped edge, the centre front. opening has been mitred to maintain scalloped edging.

Sleeves are long and have scalloped turn back cuffs (30mm) on a plain band, wrist has a tuck to achieve wrist measurement. Sleeve head is slightly gathered. Broderie panels arr joined so sleeve is on the (true)bias.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Sir James Somerville's distinguished lineage dates back to Sir Walter de Somerville, a follower of William the Conqueror to England in 1066. James himself was born at Dinder in Somerset, England on 17th July 1882. He was a son of Arthur Fownes Somerville and Ellen Somerville (nee Sharland Tasmania). Arthur had inherited the manor of Dinder, which was heavily in debt. He mortgaged Dinder and sailed to New Zealand, where he ran a sheep farm and in doing so managed to restore family fortune. Here he also found his bride Ellen Sharland (born 1855 died 1928)and they returned to Dinder. The marriage took place in July 1880 in Kiddiminster. Wyre Forrest, Wocestershire. Three children were born to the marriage James, Harrold and Marjorie.

James joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1897 and rose through the ranks to become Admiral of the Fleet in 1945. Despite a strict upbringing and an innate shyness, James became a loved and respected leader of the officers and men under his leadership. He was known for his quick mind and lively sense of humour, and was called "the best kind of fighting admiral".

In 1913 he married Mary Kerr Main(Molly) b. 1890, at Duxford, Hampshire. They had two children John b.1917 & Rachel b. 1919. James would write to Molly almost daily when he was away on active tours of duty.

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

James as a Lieutenant saw service in WWI and recieved the D.S.O. in 1916 for his actions at Gallipoli. He was promoted to Comander in 1915, 1921 he was promoted to Captain. He served as Director of the Admiralty's Signal Department from 1925 -27, then appointed Flag Captain to Vice Admiral Kelly.

Served as Naval Instructor at the Imperial Defence College from 1929-31. Following this he was Commanding Officer of the cruiser H.M.S. Norfolk. Promoted to Commodore in 1932 and in 1933 to Rear-Admiral. Became Vice-Admiral in 1937 and in the following year his assignment was as Commander in chief, East Indies. On the 31st July 1939 he was awarded the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) and placed on the retired list. However, after the Declaration of War in September 1939 he returned to active duty and in 1940 helped organise the Dunkirk evacuation. He commanded Force H in the Mediterranean from 1940-42. He recieved the K.C.B. in 1941 for his success with Force H.

In 1942 became Commander in Chief, Eastern Fleet, held this position until 1944, recieved the G.C.B in 1944 and went on to be the Head of the British Admiralty Delegation to Washington from 1944-45. He was made Admiral of the Fleet in 1945 and in 1946 recieved G.B.E.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

A Pelisse was a fur lined robe or gown. OR

A silk gown worn by women, often lined or trimmed with fur.

The pelisse here is an overgarment worn by Victorian children when outside.

Boys of the 19th century wore dresses untill the age of four or five.

A pelisse was originally a cloak made of fur or lined in fur, most notably a type of dolman. Hussar regiments wore pelisses overhanging their shoulders that had fur trim.

In early 19th - Century Europe, when military clothing was often used as inspiration for fashionable ladies garments, the term was applied to a womans' long, fitted coat with set-in sleeves and the then fashionable Empire waist. Although initially these Regency-Era pelisses copied the Hussars' fur and braid, they soon lost these initial associations, and in fact were often made entirely of silk and without fur at all. They did however, tend to retain traces of their military inspiration with frog fastenings and braid trim.

Pelisses lost even this superficial resemblance to their origins as skirts and sleeves widened in the 1830's and the increasingly enormous crinolines of the 1840's and 50's caused fashionable women to turn to loose mantles, cloakes and shawls instead.

Where did this information come from?

References used in research:

Fighting Admiral : The life of the Fleet Sir James Somerville by Captain Macintyre Who's Who Navy Lists.

History Of War Admiral James Somerville

Wikipedia James Somerville (Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Fownes Somerville GCB, GBE, DSO)

Wikipedia Dinder House "Images of England"

Sydney Morning Herald 26th January 1945

SMH 21st March 1949

Google Pelisse Childs dress.

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

James Ronald M. & Raymond Elizabeth. Comstock Women, The Making of a Mining Community chapter 6 Creating a Fashionable Society. University of Nevada Press Reno/Las Vegas 1998.

This garment has been exhibited

Cavalcade of History and Fashion the caretaker of this garment has used it in both display and in exhibition. The most recent being in 2010 for the Epping Heritage Group.

  1. Place of origin:

    Dinder Estate, Somerset, England

  2. Cost:


  3. Owned by:

    Mrs. Tait Donor of the garment to The Cavalcade and History of Fashion.

    How it came to be in Australia and into Mrs. Taits posession is unclear but will be subject to further research by Cavalcade.

  4. Worn by:

    James Somerville, when a young boy of no more than four years of age.

  5. Occasion(s):

    Every day wear.

  6. Place:

    Somerset England where James was born July 1882

  7. Designed by:


  8. Made by:


    Garment would most probably have been made prior to James' birth in 1882. As an exact date is not available it is best stated that the garment was made in the early 1880's.

    This style of garment was worn as outer wear, and therefore may have been produced by mass production methods. Womens' ready-to-wear garments were readily available in the 1880's but garment styles were restricted to capes and jackets. This being the case it is probable that the childs pelisse was also available. Most items of men's wear were available off the rack from 1860's. Comstock Women p.117.

  9. Made for:

    James who is the first son of Arthur Fownes Somerville of Dinder House Somerset England.

Trimmings / Decoration

Machine made broderie anglaise panels (33mm) and narrow tape (7mm) with daisy motif, make up the entire bodice and sleeve.

wider brodier angelaise (70mm) is used at the waist of the outer garment and at the hip (measures 150mm including the two tucks).










Two tucks on the secound frill of the outer garment.4mm wide each and separated by 10mm, first tuck is 15mm



Fibre / Weave

Outer garment of white, slightly discoloured.

Inner garment - fine lawn fabric, with a plain weave also white.

Outer garment is of broderie anglaise.

Garment has two distinct layers but has been attached at the centre front (chesterfield style opening in a complex construction) and the armholes to be actually one piece.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Machine stitching throughout the garment mainly with a lock stitch machine (consisting of upper and under threads) however a chain stitch machine has been used on the inner skirt hem and on the centre front opening to finish raw edges which have been turned back 4mm.

French seams used on most areas of the garments' inner layer. Sleeves have been set into the bodice.

Collar of broderie anglaise with scalloped edge has been mitred at the Centre front opening to maintain scallop edge all around. Collar is shirtmaker style and 72mm in width.

True bias neckline facing finishes the collar seam of the outer garment.

Hand stitching appears on the buttonholes of both layers of the garment as well as to apply buttons.

The button at the centre front neckline of the outer layer is fastened with a thread loop worked by hand stitching.

Brodier anglaise panels are joined with lock stitching (machine sewn) to form fabric for bodice and sleeves.





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


Under layer is cut entirely on the straight grain.

Outer Layer.

The skirt frill in brodier, straight grain.

Front bodice panels are angled on a bias grain, that is, off grain.

Centre front right hand side from neck to hem edge band is on straight grain.

Back bodice is on true bias, broderie panels are arranged in a chevron pattern joining at the centre back in an up ward point.

Sleeve brodier panels are on the true bias, cuffs are straight grain.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Buttons and buttonholes on the outer layer in a chesterfield front opening from neck to hem. Inner layer also buttoned from neck to hip frill with larger buttons.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

None used.


pelisse tunic
Neck 295 mm 282 mm
Chest 645 mm 625 mm
Waist 732 mm
Hip 743 mm
Cuff 187 mm 187 mm
Hem circumference 1482 mm 1495 mm
Front neck to hem 443 mm 495 mm
Front waist to hem 192 mm 210 mm
Back neck to hem 500 mm 521 mm
Back waist to hem 35 mm 222 mm
Sleeve length 265 mm 267 mm
Neck to sleeve head 92 mm 90 mm
Cross back 220 mm 223 mm
Underarm to underarm 310 mm 313 mm
Fabric width 1110 mm
Convert to inches

The inner layer has been measured on the inside (first set of measurements) and the outside (second set of measurements).

Front waist to hem (lower) is the length taken from gathered frill, estimated to be at hip level to the base of the under layers hem.

Back waist to hem (lower) is measured from the same gathered seam.

Front waist to hem (upper) is from the top of the short frill to the base of the second frills edge.

Back waist to hem is measured in the same manner as immediately above.

Dress Themes

An overgarment worn by Victorian children when outside.

Boys of the 19th century wore dresses untill the age of four or five. At this age boys began to wear breeches and as one American reference states, "untill their breeching" (Comstock Women p.116)

Other descriptions of the garment include the following:

An ankle length, figure fitting overcoat dress, worn over lighter dress and usually open in the front, for house or street.

A ladys' or childs' long outer garment, of silk or other fabric.

A type of floor lenth coat, cut like a dress.

Additional material

Other related objects

No other garment belonging to Admiral James Somerville.


James retired in May 1945, three months before Molly passed away, he was made Lord Lieutenant of Somerset in 1946 and continued to live at his Estate in Dinder where he died March 19, 1949. His funeral was held at Dinder and he was laid to rest beside his beloved wife Molly in Dinder Church yard. Memorial services were conducted at Wells Cathedral and also Westminster Abbey.

Evidence of repairs

None at all.

Insect damage

Two small holes in the under layer one at centre back skirt and one at centre back bodice. These may be due to button stitching being in contact with the fabric.

Mould damage

None at all


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Holes
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