Dress made by Finney Isles & Co. Limited

Contributed by: Port Macquarie Historical Society

Black silk dress by Finney Isles, c1890 Black silk dress, back view Black silk dress, side view Front bodice detail Back bodie detail Ribbon, braid and button detail on skirt Repair and further tear in skirt Pin tucks used to create bust-line on bodice Finney Isles & Co. Ltd. dress label Finney Isles & Co. Brisbane, c1879 (State Library Qld) Advertisement
The Queeslander, 1883 Advertisement
The Queenslander, 1888
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Port Macquarie Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

    PMHM 83/89
  • Date range:

    1905 - 1915
  • Place of origin:

    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This elegant dress with its elaborately decorated bodice and stylish skirt trim was made by Queensland department store, Finney Isles & Co Limited. The store became a limited company in February 1905 which helps to date this garment by its maker's label. The dress was worn by Martha Alice Gilmore (nee Stephen) [d1934]. Martha's husband Thomas Ferdinand Gilmore [1862-1913] was the Manager of Finney Isles Murwillumbah store from its opening in 1904 until his death by self administered poison in 1913. Their daughter Maud Mary [1886-1967] also worked at the store until her marriage to Edward Uptin in 1911. The Murwillumbah store was burnt down during a large fire in the town in 1907 but rebuilt and reopened in 1908. Perhaps this dress was worn at a celebratory function or ball to mark the town's rebuilding.

The dress has many features of late Victorian dress, including its corseting and complex hook and eye fastenings to the bodice. The bodice is beautifully decorated with a combination of lace, net, braid, ribbon, tassels and embroidered buttons. These trims are used again on the skirt. The dress has been expertly sewn. All seams are cleanly finished, all linings intact and nothing out of place. This is consistent with a newspaper article describing the Finney Isles women's work room in 1882; "...where numerous girls were sitting at their sewing machines, working swiftly, deftly and noiselessly, except for the click of the needles as the fabrics sped beneath them...". The silk satin fabric used is starting to show signs of wear but is still in good condition evidencing the quality of the fabric which was something the company advertised.

This dress belonged to the grandmother of one of Port Macquarie's most notable and influential citizens of the 20th century, Port Macquarie newspaper owner and editor, Charles Uptin [1913-1996] who moved to Port Macquarie in 1932. As Charles Uptin said in his memoirs; "I had no idea Port Macquarie would become 'my town', and mean so much to me". His association with the Port Macquarie Historical Society was also strong and no doubt influenced the donation of this dress to the society by his sister.

This dress is a beautifully constructed example of department store manufactured women's wear from the early 1900s and evidences the design and costuming standards of Queensland department store Finney Isles & Co Ltd. [1864-1955].

Author: Debbie Sommers, 10th August 2010.


Two piece black silk satin dress comprising a high necked, long sleeve bodice and high-waisted long skirt forming a train at back. The bodice has a decorative 'v' panel in the front and back made of braided netting and further decorated with embroidered buttons, velvet buttons and tassels, guipure lace inserts and velvet ribbon. A series of fine pin tucks have been used to create the bust-line. The sleeves feature a number of horizontal tucks and are decorated with embroidered buttons and finished with a lace cuff.

The skirt consists of 10 gores plus a centre panel. There is decorative stitching down the front panel and the button, ribbon and braid decorations are repeated on the centre panel and around the lower skirt. The waistband has horizontal decorative tucks and embroidered love knots. It is finished with a velvet covered buckle at centre back. A velvet twisted cord is sewn to the centre back skirt, 400mm above the hemline.

The dress was made by Finney Isles and Co. Limited Brisbane, a Queensland department store.

Worn by Martha Alice Gilmore (nee Stephen) [d. 1934]. Martha's husband Thomas Ferdinand Gilmore [1862-1913] was an employee of Finney Isles and managed their Murwillumbah, NSW store from 1904 to 1913.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Martha Alice Stephen married Thomas Ferdinand Gilmore in 1883 in Queensland. The couple had five children - Valentine Edward b.1884, Maud Mary b.1886, Gertrude Florabel b.1888, Claudine M b.1891 and Ileen M b.1893.

Maud Mary Gilmore married Edwin Charles Uptin at Murwillumbah in 1911. Their daughter Juanita (Nita) Mary Uptin [d.1990] married Roy Neilson at Byron Bay in 1931 and the couple moved to Port Macquarie.

Maud's eldest son Charles Thomas Anthony Uptin [1913-1996] moved to Port Macquarie in 1934 and in 1937 married Lorna Marie Wrigley. Charles Uptin went on to have an association with The Port Macquarie News of over 50 years including being owner/editor for 37 years from 1945-1982. Charles served his apprenticeship in printing and journalism at Mullumbimby before moving to Port Macquarie. Not only did Charles Uptin have first hand knowledge of Port Macquarie's physical, social and economic development, he played a significant role in its shaping and therefore its history. He also led the public appeal for donations when the Port Macquarie Historical Museum was first established in the late 1950s.

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

An article in the Brisbane Courier on Saturday 1 April 1882 describes the Finney Isles store:

"...From this room branch off five fitting rooms for ladies and to each of these is attached a cutter, who has simply to attend to her own department and customers. By this arrangement, ladies dealing at the establishment secure the regular services of the dressmaker whose taste they most prefer, and the privacy secured in trying on dresses is of the most complete nature. Passing from the shop rooms we were next introduced to one for the work-rooms where numerous girls were sitting at their sewing machines, working swiftly, deftly and noiselessly, except for the click of the needles as the fabrics sped beneath them....The ventilation of the rooms throughout is excellent and even the closeness of the afternoon on which we paid the visit failed to introduce into the room any suspicion of foul air or unhealthy crowding. A contrast indeed to the crowded over-heated foul, and dingy dens which even now exist in the East end of London..."

Charles Uptin mentions his grandmother Martha Alice Gilmore briefly in his book, Port Macquarie Growing Up as Grandma Gilmore and that she lived with them when he was a boy at Mullumbimby.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Worn by the grandmother of Charles Thomas Anthony Uptin [1913-1996], proprietor and editor of the Port Macquarie News from 1945-1982 and one of Port Macquarie's most influential citizens of the 20th century.

Owned and worn by Alice Martha Gilmore, wife of a Finney Isles employee, Thomas Ferdinand Gilmore. Thomas Gilmore managed Finney Isles Murwillumbah Store from 1904-1913. Their daughter Maud Mary also worked at the store until her marriage to Edward Uptin in 1911.

The dress evidences Finney Isles & Co's women's dress department and the standard of its tailoring. It is from an era when Department stores across the country were establishing themselves and developing from made to order to ready made clothing. The dress also evidences expert tailoring and dressmaking skills and access to fine materials, decorations and trims such as the company advertised.

Where did this information come from?

Archives and collection records of the Port Macquarie Historical Society Inc.

Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition

Finney, Thomas (1837-1903)

Ryerson Index - www.ryersonindex.net

Births Deaths and Marriages


www. justice.qld.gov.au

Newspaper including The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander

"Finneys" 90 Years Progress

Slaughter L E, Finney Isles & Co. Ltd, Brisbane 1854

Port Macquarie Growing Up

Uptin Charles, Uptin Print, Port Macquarie 1996

This garment has been exhibited

This garment is currently on display in a permanent exhibition of women's crafts and textiles at the Port Macquarie Historical Museum. It has recently been taken off a mannequin and is now displayed in a protective drawer.

  1. Place of origin:

    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Martha Alice Gilmore (nee Stephen) [ d.1934] of Brisbane, Murwillumbah and Mullumbimby. Martha's husband Thomas Ferdinand Gilmore was the Manager of Finney Isles Murwillumbah store from 1904 until his death by self administered poison in 1913. The dress was handed down to Martha's daughter, Maud Mary Uptin (nee Gilmore) [1886 -1967] and then to Juanita (Nita) Neilson (nee Uptin) [d.1990] who donated it to the Port Macquarie Historical Society in 1989.

  3. Worn by:

    Martha Alice Gilmore

  4. Occasion(s):

    Probably a ball dress or evening wear

  5. Made by:

    Finney Isles Department Store started out when Thomas Finney [1837-1903] and James Isles [d. 1888] purchased a drapery business in Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane in 1864 and called it the Valley Exchange. By 1869, the business had branches in Rockhampton and Gympie and in 1870 they opened a second Brisbane Store, the City Exchange. The firm bought the premises in 1873 and expanded into tailoring, furniture, furnishing and hardware, creating an early version of the modern department store.

    In 1877, Finney Isles and Co was awarded a medal by the National Agricultural & Industrial Association of Queensland - "For Costumes & c."

    In August 1904, Finney Isles & Co. opened what was described in The Brisbane Courier as "large and commodious premises in Murwillumbah". Thomas Gilmore, Martha Alice Gilmore's husband was the Manager of the new store. In September 1907 the Murwillumbah store burnt down when a fire started in a nearby baker's shop and burnt out one side of the main street. Finney Isles rebuild and the new store opened in September 1908.

    Trading was consolidated in 1909 when the company built new premises extending over a whole frontage between Queen and Adelaide Streets, Brisbane. Finney Isles became a limited company in February 1905, trading as Finney Isles and Co. Limited.

    In 1955 David Jones Limited purchased the ordinary capital of the company and it was de-listed from the Australian Stock Exchange.

  6. Made for:

    Martha Alice Gilmour (nee Stephen) [d. 1934]

Trimmings / Decoration

The trimmings and decoration on this dress are best described as elaborate. In addition to the above, pin tucks have been used to shape the bust at 10mm intervals from shoulder to armhole and bust-line. Decorative stitching is used on the skirt panels. Silk covered buttons with embroidered decoration are sewn to the bodice front, back and sleeves and to the skirt. There are also velvet covered buttons with tassels attached on the bodice front.


Velvet and silk ribbon used on bodice and skirt


2mm narrow decorative braiding on bodice, possibly russia braid, sewn on spotted netting


Guipure lace inserts on bodice front, back and lower sleeves,


Tucks have been used extensively on the bodice front, sleeves and skirt waistband.


Love knots on the neckline, bodice front, sleeves and waistband. Embroidered netting inserts on collar and bodice

Fibre / Weave

Black silk satin on bodice, sleeves and skirt, spotted netting on bodice 'v' inserts and collar.

Black polished cotton has been used for the bodice corset and black silk satin for the remainder of the bodice and sleeve linings. Black organza and black velvet are used in the skirt lining.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Seams are machine sewn and finishing is hand sewn. Seams on the bodice have been finished with a hand over-stitch. All seams look very well sewn, the whalebones are held in place with pink hand stitches. This is a professionally finished garment with high quality work and finish throughout.


Finney Isles and Co Limited Queensland label is sewn to lower back bodice


No evidence of alterations

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Bodice fastens in layers; corseted lining with a separate centre front closure of hooks and eyes, the right front fastens to left lining at shoulder and front and finally the left front to the right front with hooks and loops. Skirt fastens at centre back with 10 hooks and eyes.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The bodice is lined with black polished cotton for the corset which has 13 whalebone inserts. The remainder of the bodice and sleeve lining is black silk .

The skirt waistband has been stiffened with black buckram and has 7 whalebone inserts. The skirt is lined with black silk organza and has a 350mm velvet lining to the hemline. The skirt lining is sewn into the skirt seams. Reinforcing tape 5mm wide is stitched into the back skirt seam.


bodice skirt
Chest 1040 mm
Waist 680 mm 740 mm
Hem circumference 4060 mm
Front neck to hem 385 mm
Front waist to hem 1160 mm
Back neck to hem 410 mm
Back waist to hem 1350 mm
Sleeve length 600 mm
Neck to sleeve head 140 mm
Cross back 350 mm
Underarm to underarm 460 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

Given the elaborate decoration on this dress, it is most likely a ball dress and certainly evening wear. Black was the appropriate colour choice for evening wear for married women evidenced by reading newspaper reports of local balls and dances.


Evidence of repairs

Some stabilisation work has been done on the delicate braided netting inserts in the bodice and to some small tears in the skirt. A larger tear in the skirt has been repaired by covering it with velvet ribbon similar to that used in the decorative skirt border. Several other tears in the skirt are evident and there is fraying to the hem.


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


  1. Frayed
  2. Holes
  3. Torn
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