Muslin wedding dress

Contributed by: Bathurst District Historical Society

Wedding dress - back view Wedding Dress front view Wedding dress - detail Wedding dress - detail
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Bathurst District Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

    To be added in
  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham, England
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This is an extremely elegant muslin wedding gown that dates back to 1800. It is of great significance and a highly valued object within the Bathurst District Historical Society's collection because of the excellent condition it is in and its distinctive style.

It is a classic empire line gown but unusual in style as it does not have a front. There are not many dresses of that period that have been found similar to this. A delicate lace shawl or fichu would've been worn to cover the breasts. This would have possibly been pinned in place with a brooch. It has a quite tight empire line under the bust that would have held the gown in place. There is a hand embroidered organic pattern covering the entire dress. It is simple in design with a repetition of five silhouettes.

Worn for a wedding in Dudley, England in 1800, the wedding gown has travelled to many cities around England. A hundred years later it then came across to Australia with the original owner's great grandson. It also travelled around Australia with him and his family. For such a fragile fabric it is remarkable that the gown has managed to stay in such excellent condition. This shows that its many owners treasured it. They recognised the importance of ancestry, and passing precious possessions down through the family.

It was originally thought to have been worn at afternoon teas in "Mulgunnia", Rockley (just outside Bathurst). However, research shows that it arrived in Australia at a much later date.

Author: Karina Vahsawmy, 18/8/2012.


A very fine muslin wedding gown with long narrow sleeves, slight bustle and train. The waist is very high empire line. The front bodice is designed to be worn with a tucker or shawl that goes around the neck and tucks into the front high waistline. The sleeves are tied together around the front with fine tapes. The fine voile is hand embroidered overall with leaf sprigs and flowers. A fine cord allows the front neck and waistline to be adjusted. The gown is entirely handstitched and in excellent condition.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Mary TAYLOR, 20, married a jeweller, Benjamin BODEN in 1800 in the parish of St. Martin, Birmingham, England. They had four children and on 19th April 1831, their eldest daughter, Sarah BODEN (born 1810) married a Scotsman, William MINTY. He had moved down to Dudley, not far from Birmingham.

They lived in Dudley with their six children. Their eldest daughter, Sarah J MINTY (born 1834) married a Robert HOUGHTON from Cransley and they stayed in Dudley. Sarah J MINTY was Robert HOUGHTON's second wife as in the 1861 Census he has listed as his wife an Ellen HOUGHTON and had a son Wilm. There is no further evidence of either of them after that. It could be suggested that they both possibly died in the 1848 outbreak of Cholera in Dudley. There were two major outbreaks of cholera in Dudley; 1832 and 1848. Wilm Houghton was born in 1848. There is evidence of there being too many people dying too quickly that Church-yards became full. This may possibly have led to an inability to keep records of who had died at this time.

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

Dudley's population increased dramatically in the 18th and 19th Centuries as industry developed. Coal and limestone mining were the main ones, but iron, steel, engineering, metallurgy, glass cutting, textiles and leatherworking were also prospering. Dudley was known as the capital of Black Country because of its mining. As a result of this huge increase in a relatively short amount of time, living conditions were extremely poor and Dudley was pronounced to be the "most unhealthy place in the country" in an 1852 report to the General Board of Health. This is backed up by the outbreaks.

The Houghton's lived in Dudley right up until the 1870's when they moved to Bristol in the South West of England with their five children. Two more children were born in Bristol and it is their 6th child, George A D HOUGHTON (born in 1870) who bought this delicate dress to Australia.

He arrived in Victoria, Australia on 4th Dec 1901 on the Orizaba, aged 31. The very next year he married Ethel Vivian SMITH in Boorowa, NSW and they embarked on married life together in Bunbury, WA, having 2 children until his untimely death in 1911.

Perhaps the reason that they moved all the way across to the other side of Australia was for fear of the plague as there had been outbreaks in Sydney in 1900-1902. However, people at this time in Australia were quite transient and it was not surprising for families to move across the country and back again for work.

It was only when going through her mother's things after her death in 1952 that the donor came across this dress again and donated it to the Bathurst District Historical Society.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Even though we will never know why George Houghton carried this beautiful, delicate muslin wedding dress all the way across from England, it is significant to note that even when times were difficult for his ancestors, the idea of heritage and passing something meaningful down the family line was clearly important.

This dress has travelled widely from Birmingham, to Dudley and all the way down to Southern England to Bristol. From Bristol it went to Portsmouth to alight the Orizaba with George Houghton to Australia. It then travelled once again from Boorowa, NSW to Bunbury, WA and then to Bathurst. That it is still intact and in such good condition shows how carefully it was looked after.

Though probably never worn in Australia it is an important example of the preservation of family heritage.

Where did this information come from?

A letter from the donor states that the dress was brought over by her father from Bristol, England and that it was his great grandmother's wedding dress.With genealogical research it was established that this was correct.

Due to the fragile nature of the dress and the good condition that it is in, it is believed to be handed down through his maternal lineage.

This garment has been exhibited


  1. Place of origin:

    Birmingham, England

  2. Owned by:

    Mary Taylor and handed down through the family to George A D Houghton. He brought it to Australia in 1901.

  3. Worn by:

    Mary Taylor

  4. Occasion(s):

    Mary Taylor's wedding to Benjamin Boden in 1800

  5. Place:

    Parish of St. Martin, Birmingham

  6. Made for:

    Mary TAYLOR

Trimmings / Decoration


All over hand embroidery of leaf srpigs and flowers in white on white

Fibre / Weave

Very fine white Indian muslin or mull

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


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


Chest 600 mm
Hip 1447 mm
Hem circumference 3235 mm
Front waist to hem 1010 mm
Back neck to hem 1835 mm
Back waist to hem 175 mm
Sleeve length 670 mm
Neck to sleeve head 22 mm
Cross back 195 mm
Underarm to underarm 315 mm
Convert to inches

It is difficult to take measurements of the dress due to the style. However here are a few extra measurements:

Back skirt where gathered into band: 320

Front waist-line (apron): 800 (flattened out)

Depth of 'apron' placket: 259

Front Side bodice: 520

Back Neck to waistline: 120

Dress Themes

It is associated with one of the historical properties of the Bathurst region. It was believed to have been worn at afternoon teas at 'Mulgunnia', Rockley (just outside Bathurst) but ithe gown only arrived in Australia in 1901 so it is uhnlikely that this was the case.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

There is a possibility that George A D Houghton left England in 1900 to ensure he would not be enlisted to join the Second Boer War as the British armies; mainly infantry, had suffered a huge defeat in the First Boer War.

However at the turn of the 20th Century, Bristol's copper, glass and brass industries went into decline and as George's father was an ironmonger (1881 Census) there is the possibility that he could not afford to have another mouth to feed in his home and George decided to try his luck in Australia.

It is a strange time for someone to come to Australia as it is just post Depression time. There might not have been the guarantee of employment.

It is also odd that George had the wedding dress as he was not the eldest child, but the 6th of seven with an elder sister; Ada Florence Emily Houghton (born 1861). One might assume the dress would be passed down to her.

When the Houghton family had moved to Bristol in the 1870's the whole family moved and in the 1881 Census, Ada at 20 years of age is still in the Houghton household. It could be possible that she did not marry and have children through whom she could pass down the dress. If this was the case, there is once again the question of why it was given to George when he had elder siblings.

Note there is a Houghton Highway in Boorowa and also a Houghton estate winery in WA.



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