Australian dress register ID:378
Owner:Camden Historical Society
Owner registration number:2011.7
Date range:1908 - 1915
Place of origin:Camden, New South Wales, Australia
The West family christening robe has historic significance as it was first worn in 1908 and has an accompanying photo taken at that time of Mrs. Adeline West holding baby Kathleen. She had a double christening with her sister, Mrs. Ethel Bowen-Thomas, and her daughter, Elwyn Bowen-Thomas, at Ashfield in 1908. The christening gown is a good example of early twentieth century christening gowns.
The robe has aesthetic significance as it is a very attractive and delicate christening robe with lovely decorative lace. The robe is part of a collection of christening robes at Camden Museum and has potential for interpretation of clothing and customs of the past.
The christening robe has social significance because it was donated by the granddaughter of the original owners of the garment, and the original owners were a prominent family in the history of a small country town. The doctor and his family lived in an iconic building which remains part of the historic precinct of that town.
The garment is a reminder of the significant contribution of Dr Francis and Mrs. Adeline West to the town of Camden and its community. Author: Julie Wrigley, 27 February 2012.
Fine white cotton voile christening robe with a long flowing skirt falling from a short bodice, a boat-neck, and very short sleeves of gathered lace.
There is a full length panel at the front with layers of machine-embroidered net in a daisy pattern alternating with rows of pin tucking. Larger daisies have seen sewn down by hand along the robings on either side of the central panel. Two fine white cotton drawstrings tie at the back.
The gown's delicate effect comes from the daisy-like flowers in the machine lace on the fine net background in the bodice and central panel. The garment has been machine made, but the feather-stitching on the bodice front and the central panel was sewn by hand.
History and Provenance
Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information
The West family was a prominent family in Camden's history. Dr Francis William West, and also his father, Dr Francis James West (1843-1912) are buried at St John's Church Cemetery, in Camden. Mrs. Adeline West died in 1954 and is also buried at St John's with her husband.
On display in the Camden Museum are photos of the funeral of Dr Francis West, showing how deeply the town felt his loss.
The Sydney Morning Herald on 24/10/1932 stated:
"More than 1000 people attended the funeral of Dr Francis William West in Camden yesterday. As a mark of respect, all sporting fixtures in the town were cancelled. Fifty children from the Mater Dei Orphanage, of which Dr West had been honorary medical officer for a number of years, led the cortege. A guard of honour was formed by members of the Camden Troop of Light Horse."
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
Mrs. Adeline West and her sister, Mrs. Ethel Bowen-Thomas, had a double christening for their daughters, Kathleen West and Elwyn Bowen-Thomas, at Ashfield in 1908.
Dr West and Mrs. Adeline West had a large family gathering in Camden for the christenings at St John's Church, of Richard West in 1914 and Lydia West in 1915.
Dr West lived in one of Camden's historic buildings, 'Macaria', at 37 John Street, Camden, and operated his medical practice there. He was a very popular doctor in Camden from the time of his marriage in 1901 to his sudden death in 1932. He died of a heart attack, aged 58, and was mourned by the whole town.
Both the West girls had full and active lives, both serving in the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). Later in their lives they lived at Killara but remained good friends with Miss Llewella Davies OAM of Camden. Kathleen West lived to be 96, before dying in 2004; and Lydia West lived to be 87, before dying in 2002.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
Queen Victoria set the fashion with the royal christening gown she commissioned in 1840 made of white silk and lace. This style of christening robe was worn by each of Queen Victoria's nine children and then by many of her grandchildren. The fashion was to have a long gown using lace for the special occasion.
Small changes in the type of neck and sleeve and the use of machine stitching can be used to date whether christening robes came from the late nineteenth century or early twentieth centuries. It is interesting that mothers in a small country town like Camden, in Australia, were obviously conscious of fashions in christening robes in England. A costly fashionable robe was a sign of status.
This garment is a good example of a fashionable early twentieth century christening gown.
Where did this information come from?
The granddaughter of Dr Francis and Mrs. Adeline West, Ms Virginia West, self-published a book "Our West Family Connections" in 2011. The book includes a photo taken in 1908 of the christening of Kathleen wearing the robe, and a photo taken in 1915 of the christening of Lydia, as well as photos of Dr West, his wife Adeline, and their children.
Virginia West donated the christening dress and the book to the Camden Museum.
This garment has been exhibited
In February 2012 Camden Historical Society opened an exhibition of twelve christening robes at the Camden Museum at 40 John Street, Camden. The exhibition ran until November 2012.
The oldest garment in the exhibition is a dress for a 3 year old girl. It was hand-made in the 1850s using eyelet work on the bodice and skirt. Most of the christening robes date from the 1870s to the 1890s.
The West garment is one of the most recently-worn christening robes in the exhibition, with photos of it being worn in 1908 and 1915. It is the only garment in the display to have a photo of the christening with the original baby wearing the robe.
The exhibition at the museum includes family photos and memorabilia from childhood reflecting the different values and christening customs from Camdens past.
Place of origin:
Camden, New South Wales, Australia
Dr Francis West and his wife, Mrs. Adeline West, nee Jones. The robe was used for the christening of their three children, Kathleen in 1908, Richard in 1914, and Lydia in 1915.
The gown passed to Dr West's daughters and then his granddaughter, Ms Virginia West, who donated it to the Camden Historical Society in 2011.
Kathleen Hope West, Richard Francis Kirby West, and Lydia Patricia West.
The robe was worn for the christenings of Dr West's children.
St John's Church, Camden, New South Wales, Australia.
Trimmings / Decoration
Machine lace in a daisy pattern, with smaller daisies on the bodice, and leaves on the hem of the skirt.
Rows of 4 or 5 pintucks in the central panel and 5 pintucks near the hem of the skirt.
Feather-stitch embroidery under the bodice.
Fibre / Weave
1. White voile on the bodice and skirt.
2. White machine lace of embroidered daisies on a fine net background on the central panel of the bodice and skirt, and larger daisies on the two robings on either side of the central panel.
3. Narrow machine lace around the neck.
4. A different pattern of white machine lace on the sleeves.
5. White machine lace using a pattern of leaves at the hem of the central panel.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
Most of the garment is machine sewn. There is a small amount of hand sewn stitches for fastening the edges of the lace; for sewing the bodice and skirt together; and for the feather-stitching under the bodice.
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
There are two narrow cotton-tape drawstrings at the neck and under the bodice. Both tie at the back.
- Hook and eye
|Hem circumference||2070 mm|
|Front neck to hem||970 mm|
|Front waist to hem||870 mm|
|Back neck to hem||990 mm|
|Back waist to hem||865 mm|
|Sleeve length||40 mm|
|Neck to sleeve head||350 mm|
|Cross back||230 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||340 mm|
|Fabric width||1320 mm|
|Convert to inches|
The bodice and sleeves of the robe are quite small. The robe would fit a newborn baby.
The neck is 470mm when the drawstring is loosened.
The chest is 560mm, but the back of the garment has more gathering than the front.
The high waist is 510mm when the drawstring is loosened, measured where the gathered skirt joins the bodice.
The sleeve is 40mm, measured from the top of the shoulder.
The wide of the voile is 1320mm from selvedge to selvedge of the skirt.
There is one seam in the skirt, at the back but off-set from the centre.
The front central panel of lace is 620mm wide at the hem, and the two lace robings are 56mm wide each.
Christening robes were garments for a special occasion. The robes from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often handmade with lace, pin tucks and white-on-white embroidery. Great care and time were spent in making them. Some mothers used the same kind of fine material used in their wedding gowns for the christening gowns. They were worn by both boys and girls in the family. An ornate christening robe would be made for the first born child and then worn by each baby a mother bore, often handed down through generations becoming a family heirloom.
Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions
A history article in a Camden newspaper, "The District Reporter", on 30/3/2009, gives an idea of the lives of Frank and Adeline West living in a small country town in the 1920s:
'Macaria' was always an 'open house' There were numerous house parties and dances, many of them fancy dress, when Adeline's artistic ideas and imagination came well to the fore in thinking up original costumes, decorating the halls and supper tables, and helping with the catering. She had a good voice and sang in the St John's Choir. The first Tuesday in the month was her "Day at Home", when all the ladies of the district 'called' and were entertained with a large tea-party in the Drawing Room. Every Tuesday Frank's friends came to afternoon tea in the Smoke Room, at 4 o'clock, strictly a 'Men Only' affair.
Frank's favourite holiday was a camping, fishing and shooting one, with a few men friends and during his absence Adeline loved to spring-clean and re-decorate the home. Adeline was good at caring for her three children. Her elder daughter, Kathleen, went to Pymble Ladies College (PLC), Pymble as a boarder in her teens but was so homesick she came home. Her son, Richard, attended Cranbrook and went on to study medicine at Sydney University, graduating with Honours. The youngest child, Lydia, suffered from asthma and was taught at home by a governess."
There are some tiny holes in the lace at the neck and the edge of the sleeves. These are not obvious and can be seen only on close inspection of the garment. There is some discolouration, mainly, at the hem.