Miss Matilda Clarke's wedding gown

Contributed by: Hills Historical Society

Front of wedding dress Side view of dress Back of wedding dress Waistband Insect damage. Fabric shows bands of colour. Splits in silk fabric Insect attack on lining. Wear and tear to hem  band. Underarm perspiration stains.
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Hills Historical Society
  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Cooks River, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This dress gives us an insight into the social history of the mid 19th century. It is a rare survival from the 1850s. It also has a good provenance that links it to a family who remained based in NSW since the 1840s. This dress was probably only worn for a brief period in Matilda's life (possibly only two and a half years) and was most likely put away as a precious object after she became pregnant with her first child. The dress is made of beautiful silk fabric and may indicate some family wealth as well as the importance attached to weddings and marriage in that era.

Author: , 22nd April 2010.


This wedding gown is made of purple shot taffeta and originally had a a black taffeta petticoat and was later given a crepe-de-chine and lace underslip. It is entirely hand stitched.

Bodice - It has ten brass hooks (four missing) and eyelet holes. There is no boning on the bodice opening. It may have had a lace collar originally. There is boning inserted in a bust dart which is probably whalebone. There is a strong cotton lining. It is a simple bodice fastening down the front.

Sleeves - The sleeves are one piece. They have been made on the bias with an angled seam. The sleeves are full, but are gathered into a cuff at three quarter length.

Skirt - The skirt is attached and gathered. It has a linen lining that has been cartridge pleated. The skirt also opens at the front with a placket. It has a pocket on the right hand side. The skirt looks like it has been altered - possibly a decoration was removed or added at some stage. There is very fine piping around the waist. The hem is protected by a woollen braid (known as sweep). The edge of this wool is quite worn and has come away in some sections.

The dress would have been worn with four or five petticoats and possibly a crinoline to hold out the skirt.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Matilda Clarke was married to John Denison at St Peter's (Church of England) at Cook's River in what was then the St George region on the 7th of September 1858.

Matilda Clarke was born in Trent St, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England on 22 Feb 1840. She was Christened at St Martin's, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England on 13 Aug 1840. She was one of six children. Her family moved to Australia when she was very young (her brother was born in Petersham in Sydney in 1844). She died on 30 Jan 1927 at "Mountain View", Leumeah, NSW, Australia and was buried at Rookwood.

John Denison was born in Yeadon, Yorkshire, England on 17 Jul 1834. He was Christened at St Oswalds, Guiseley, Yorkshire, England on 17 Aug 1834. He died on 29 May 1897 at 20 Blucher St, North Botany, NSW, Australia and was buried at Rookwood.

They had nine children: William Henry (born 25 Jul 1861), Ann Elizabeth Maria (born 9 Oct 1863), Sydney Alfred (born 23 Sep 1865), John Joseph (born 5 Jan 1868), Amelia Jane Matilda (born 3 Nov 1869), Alice Maud (born 17 Jan 1872), Edith May (born 26 Apr 1874), James Arthur (born 2 May 1877) and Frederick Ernest (born 13 Apr 1880).

This garment has been exhibited

In The Hills District Historical Society's museum in the 1980s and 1990s.

  1. Place of origin:

    Cooks River, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Matilda Clarke

  3. Worn by:

    Matilda Clarke

  4. Occasion(s):

    First worn at her wedding to John Denison in 1858, most likely worn on special occaisions after that.

  5. Place:

    St Peter's Church in the St George region.

  6. Made for:

    Matilda Clarke

Trimmings / Decoration

Sweep - the hemline is protected with a woollen braid.


There is very fine piping around the waistline.


Cartridge pleating around the waistline - practical and decorative

Fibre / Weave

  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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The bodice has been stiffened with a cotton lining.

The skirt has been stiffened with a linen lining that has possibly been starched.


Neck 370 mm
Chest 715 mm
Waist 519 mm
Hem circumference 2970 mm
Front neck to hem 365 mm
Front waist to hem 1000 mm
Back waist to hem 1050 mm
Sleeve length 510 mm
Neck to sleeve head 114 mm
Underarm to underarm 355 mm
Convert to inches

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

The dress is accompanied by an old description card. Some of the details on the card are inaccurate.


This dress was stored in a basement which had a high humidity level. It has also been displayed for over 20 years in a low lit exhibition.

- The fabric has discoloured particularly at the top of the back of the bodice.

- There are large perspiration stains under the arms that have shifted the colour of the fabric to green.

- Roughly darned hole attaching silk to lining under proper left armhole with white cotton. Splits in seams in both sleeves reveal the selvedge edges of the fabric.

- Top of the skirt has come undone at the waist opening (10cm).

- the 'sweep' has frayed and is broken (parts missing).

- Large split in proper right hand side of skirt.

- There are some holes and stains on the skirt.

Evidence of repairs

There is stitching at hip level on the right hand side of the skirt that may indicate the addition or removal of decoration. It might also indicate that the skirt was made from an older skirt.

Insect damage

The linen lining on the skirt has been very damaged by insect attack. Insects have been attracted to the starch in the fabric.


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
  3. Holes
  4. Stained
  5. Worn
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