Waistcoat worn by James Butler

Contributed by: Port Macquarie Historical Society

Waistcoat front Waistcoat back Back lacing detail Butler's name is signed in ink on inside left front Pocket and buttonhole detail Fraying and wear to neck Manufacturers mark on lacing tab James Butler, n.d. St Andrews Presbyterian Manse and Church, c1890 (P10547)
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Port Macquarie Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

    PMHM 2349 - 4
  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This waistcoat is a rare provenanced item of men's costume in the Port Macquarie Historical Society collection. It was worn by James Butler [1828-1910], a New Zealand immigrant, at his marriage to Ellen Blair [1833-1901] on 13 December 1853 at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Port Macquarie.

The waistcoat is a good example of men's costume. With its silk damask fabric, corded edging, decorative pockets and fine stitching it makes a fashion statement and contradicts commonly held views that men's garments from this period were only functional and made from dark durable fabrics. This appears to be a very special garment made for James Butler's wedding. Interestingly the name 'Butler' is signed on the inside lining of the garment.

The waistcoat is completely hand worked and the fine stitching is impressive. It was sewn by a very competent person. The extant original elastic and commercially produced lacing tabs are noteworthy and add to the garment's significance.

James Butler, a cabinet maker by trade, established himself at Port Macquarie and became a prosperous businessman. In 1887 he was elected to Port Macquarie's first Municipal Council and held the office of Mayor in 1893. The waistcoat perhaps is reflective of James Butler's ambitions rising from a trade of cabinet maker and undertaker at the time of his marriage to that of successful businessman later in life. The sandstone brick home Butler built for his family in 1860, "Coolenberg" remains standing today.

It appears the waistcoat was very special to James Butler and his family as it has survived and been handed down over the generations. It is a rare male wedding costume keepsake.

The waistcoat is an important object in the Port Macquarie Historical Society collection, it evidences local men's wedding fashion of the period, the skills and expertise of its maker, and interprets and references men's fashion generally, marriage and rights of passage, and Port Macquarie's social history during the mid to late 1800s.

Author: Debbie Sommers, 3rd August 2010.


Men's single breasted 'v' neck waistcoat made from cream silk damask and fine linen. The damask pattern has small roses with large leaves. The front of the waistcoat is damask and features 10 damask covered buttons, with 5 button holes and 5 false button holes. There is an insert sewn at the neckline to create a stand up collar at back and for shaping. There is stitching to the front armholes for reinforcement. Two curved pockets are located towards the waist and are top stitched 5mm from the edge all around. Satin stitching in a leaf pattern has been used to reinforce pocket openings at each end. A fine silk cord is over-stitched in a dark thread to all the front edges including pocket edges.

The waistcoat back is made from a cream fine linen and the same material has been used as lining for front and back and for pockets. Two commercial lacing fittings with 5 brass eyelets each side have been stitched to centre back. What appears to be the original 3 stranded elastic is still inserted and stitched in place at the lower right hand side eyelet.

James Butler's name is written in black ink on the lower left lining.

Worn by James Butler [1828-1910] at his marriage to Ellen Blair [1833-1901] at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Port Macquarie on 13 December 1853.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

James Butler [1828-1910] married Ellen Blair [1833-1901] at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Port Macquarie on 13 December 1853. Their children are: Alexander Blair b.1854, John Young b.1856, Maria Louise b.1858, Ada Ellen b.1861, Leslie Macquarie b. 1863, Nina Constance b. 1865, Ellen Mabel b. 1870 and Ilet Florence b. 1876.

James and Ellen Butler are buried in Port Macquarie Cemetery.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This garment is the oldest item of men's wear in the Port Macquarie Historical Society's collection and has local provenance. New Zealand born, James Butler, a cabinet maker by trade, arrived in Port Macquarie during the 1840s some ten years after Port Macquarie had become a free settlement. He is known to have installed the cedar ceiling in the historic convict built St Thomas' Church. James Butler became the town's undertaker and was the only accredited mortician in the district and over the years became a prosperous businessman as an auctioneer, also establishing a successful vineyard in Port Macquarie. In 1860 he built his home "Coolenberg" a sandstone structure with cedar joinery which remains standing today. James Butler was elected as an Alderman to Port Macquarie's first Municipal Council in 1887 and held the office of Mayor in 1893.

Of particular historical note is the use of elastic in this garment. Whilst elastic was invented in 1820 it is unusual to see it still present in a garment of this age. It appears this garment was not worn a great deal contributing to its survival.

Waistcoats date back to the end of the 17th century and evolved into the sleeveless version such as this one during the 18th century. Waistcoats were often the main feature of men's dress using rich or colourful fabrics and elaborate decorations.

Where did this information come from?

Information has been sourced from James Butler's obituary, files held in the archives of the Port Macquarie Historical Society and Port Macquarie Hastings Council, and newspapers such as the Port Macquarie News, Maitland Mercury and Sydney Morning Herald.

This garment has been exhibited

Yes, however its previous exhibition history has not been recorded. In September 2010 it will feature in a temporary exhibition at the Port Macquarie Historical Museum, 'Faces in the Street' celebrating NSW History Week 2010.

  1. Place of origin:

    Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Cost:


  3. Owned by:

    Mr James Butler, handed down through the family to Beryl Jane Flett and donated by her to the Port Macquarie Historical Society Inc in 1971.

  4. Worn by:

    James Butler

  5. Occasion(s):

    At his wedding

  6. Place:

    St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Port Macquarie

  7. Designed by:


  8. Made by:


  9. Made for:

    James Butler

Trimmings / Decoration

Cream fine silk cord has been over-stitched in a dark thread to all edges, including the pocket openings.


Small satin stitching in a leaf pattern at pocket opening ends for reinforcement

Fibre / Weave

Cream damask silk on waistcoat front and part pocket lining

Cream fine linen on waistcoat back, front and back linings and part pocket lining

Cream cotton has been used in the lacing tabs.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The waistcoat is completely hand sewn. The lacing tabs are commercially made and stamped on each side in a round pattern with writing in green ink. The writing is faded, it reads "[? ] double patented".


No alterations are apparent

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Commercially made lacing is located in the centre back. The lace is elastic secured by stitching at one of the eyelets. There are 10 buttons on the waistcoat front however only 5 have button holes and are used as fastenings, the other five are decorative with false button holes.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Cream fine linen has been used to line the front and back and is the same as the waistcoat back.


Chest 900 mm
Waist 290 mm
Front neck to hem 510 mm
Back neck to hem 450 mm
Neck to sleeve head 100 mm
Underarm to underarm 480 mm
Convert to inches


Evidence of repairs

There is no evidence of repairs. There is discolouration to the linen lining and back and fraying at the collar. There is wear to the fabric covered buttons and to the back and neck corded edge. There are some isolated holes to the silk damask and also in the lining. The brass eyelets in the lacing fitting are tarnished. The elastic lacing is very stretched and has lost its elasticity showing pieces of black rubber.

Insect damage

Possibly, as there are some isolated holes in the silk.


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


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