Australian dress register ID:386
Owner:Port Macquarie Historical Society
Owner registration number:PMHM 34/85
Date range:1830 - 1836
Place of origin:England
This regimental dress jacket is significant for its association with the NSW penal colony and with the Sydney convict hospital, also known as the ‘Rum’ hospital in particular. The jacket belonged to Dr John Vaughan Thompson of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a medical doctor and zoologist who migrated to New South Wales in 1836 to serve as the first Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals at the Sydney penal settlement following a reorganisation of medical services.
Convict hospitals were established at all penal settlements in the colony including one at Port Macquarie. It is unlikely that Thompson visited Port Macquarie as the penal settlement was winding down by the time of his appointment however many sick, frail and infirm convicts were housed at the Port Macquarie Asylum during the time of Thompson’s appointment.
Thompson’s daughter Ellen married Thomas George Wilson in 1845 and the couple later moved to ‘Willesbro’ at Rollands Plains, near Port Macquarie in 1867 to begin several generations of Wilson family occupation of that property. The jacket was stored for many years and possibly generations in an old lead lined timber trunk on the house verandah at ‘Willesbro’. It is understood that Ellen was very close to her father and perhaps this was one of few possessions passed down to her.
The jacket is a fine example of a Royal Army Medical Corps officer’s dress uniform of 1830 worn in Australia and evidences the rich fabric, the skilled tailoring and the highly ornate decorations used to clothe an officer including the gilt buttons and gold bullion and silver filigree epaulettes. This jacket would have only been worn on special occasions and not as everyday uniform, contributing to its good condition. The jacket is also a fine example of the British red coat worn by Royal Army officers during the 1830s both in Britain and throughout the colonies.
The jacket is a reminder of our links to England, the use of the British army for the penal colony’s law, justice and health systems, our association and ties to the British military and migration to NSW not only of convicts but also of free settlers and those working for the British government.
No doubt many such uniforms were brought to and worn in the NSW penal colony however few have survived today and in such good condition. Author: Debbie Sommers, 30 June 2013.
Red woollen tailored double breasted Royal Army Medical Corps officer’s jacket with stand up collar, waist length at front and split tails at back, with long sleeves slightly gathered at shoulders. The collar has decorative cord detail and buttons. The sleeves have curved seams for elbow movement and decorative cord and gilt impressed buttons at cuffs. The split tails have decorative cord detail, buttons and silver filigree oak leaf appliqués. The jacket is fully lined and hand stitched. Gold bullion and silver filigree epaulettes are attached at each shoulder. The jacket is believed to have been worn by Dr John Vaughan Thompson [1779-1847], appointed as a Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals in 1830 and served as Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals in NSW from 1836 to 1844.
History and Provenance
This jacket was donated to the Port Macquarie Historical Society by sisters Ena Maude Wilson [1909-1985] and Marjorie Wilson [1919-2003] in 1985. The donor's were descendants of Thomas George Wilson [1819-1883] and Ellen Vaughan Wilson (nee Thompson) [1819-1887] who married in Sydney in 1845 and after a time in Sydney and then Walcha, settled at 'Willesbro' Rollands Plains, near Port Macquarie in 1867. Ellen was the daughter of Dr John Vaughan Thompson [1779-1847] and Martha Thompson (nee Solomon) [1800-1832].
It is believed that the jacket was handed down through the family together with the family property 'Willesbro' to T G Wilson's eldest son George John Wilson [1846-1919], and then to his son Roger Williamson Wilson [1880-1948] and then to his daughters, the donors Ena Maude and Marjorie Wilson.
The donors' nephew Roger Wilson has recollections of the jacket being stored in a lead lined trunk on the back verandah at 'Willesbro' and was told that it belonged to the 'old fellow' who the family had originally though was Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, however it has become clear that the jacket could only have belonged to John Vaughan Thompson. Roger Wilson also recalls that it was often said that Ellen Wilson, Thompson's daughter was very close to her father.
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
This jacket is mentioned in a number of correspondences between the Port Macquarie Historical Society and R H Montague, who confirmed that the jacket was worn as part of an officer's uniform of the Royal Army Medical Corp and specifically as a Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals. According to Montague, Deputy Inspector of Hospitals was a similar rank to Colonel and the length of the gold bullion on the epaulettes indicates this. The jacket would have been worn only on full dress occasions and for everyday duty Thompson would have worn a more practical dark blue single breasted frock coat which bore minimum decoration.
A hand-tinted calotype photograph portrait of Jonathon Croft [1785-1862] wearing a similar dress jacket and epaulettes is held in the Powerhouse Museum collection. Croft was appointed to the role of Deputy Purveyor of Hospitals at the Sydney (Rum) Hospital in 1836 and worked alongside John Vaughan Thompson. Croft's role was to ensure and control medical supplies, Thompson's role was to manage medical services and staff.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
John Vaughan Thompson migrated to NSW in 1836 as the first Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals in the NSW colony. He was in charge of convict medical services and hospitals. His appointment was the result of a reorganisation of the Colonial Medical Service in 1836 to military rule. Thompson's responsibilites and lines of communication with his army superiors were precisely defined and the medical services also had certain civilian responsibilites. Early on this responsibility was a source of friction between Thompson and the Colonial Secretary as Thompson was allowed direct and personal contact with the Governor. Likewise Thompson's appointment was not popular with the Colonial Surgeons who saw a loss of position and location from the reorganisation, nor did they like Thompson's autocratic attitude. Thompson held the position for several years until his retirement in 1844.
The first military medical officers to arrive in Australia came with the first fleet in 1788. They wore the uniform of the Corps to which they belonged as had been the custom since 1660. From September 1797 it was laid down that the full dress for surgeons was to be a scarlet coat with the distinctive buttons of their regiment but without epaulettes or lapels, a plain red collar and cuffs with white waistcoat and breeches. In 1804 further regulations were introduced to define the dress worn by senior staff such as deputy inspector generals of hospitals. This was to consist of a scarlet coat with black velvet collar and cuffs with gilt buttons bearing the words 'Hospital Staff' around a crown in the centre. In 1822 the traditional scarlet jacket was changed to blue and in 1830 changed to scarlet again. King William IV reigned from 26 June 1830 to 20 June 1837 and was responsible for many changes to British Army dress between 1830 and 1834 and apparently felt strongly that all his soldiers should wear red coats.
Where did this information come from?
The Andrews of Coleraine and the Wilsons of Willesbro, Roger Williamson Wilson, 2006, self published
Dictionary of National Biography Volume 56 John Vaughan Thompson, Frederick William Gamble
A History of Medical Administration in NSW, C J Cummins, 2003
Sydney Gazette, Saturday 18 June 1836, p4
Dress and insignia of the British Army in Australia and New Zealand, 1770-1870, R H Montague, 1981
Port Macquarie Historical Society archives and collection records
This garment has been exhibited
Exhibited at the Port Macqurie Historical Musuem in the Wilson family display from the late 1980s to 2012.
Place of origin:
Dr John Vaughan Thompson [1779-1847], appointed as a Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in England in 1830 and then as Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in NSW from 1836 to 1844. Thompson is best known for his work as a zoologist but was also a Doctor of medicine. He learnt medicine at Berwick-on-Tweed and at the age of 20 joined the Prince of Wales fencibles (special forces), he was appointed to the Royal Army Medical Staff in 1812. Together with other notables Thompson was also appointed to the Committee superincedence of the Australian Museum and Botannical Garden in 1836.
Dr John Vaughan Thompson, Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals in NSW from 1836-1844.
Sydney (Rum) Hospital
Dr John Vaughan Thompson [1779-1847]
Trimmings / Decoration
Decorative cord and gilt buttons used on collar and cuffs. Decorative cord detail, gilt buttons and silver filigree oak leaf appliques on split tails. Detachable gold bullion and silver filligree epaulettes decorate each shoulder.
Decorative cord at collar and cuffs
Fibre / Weave
Jacket is made from red wool flannel with red velvet trim, gilt impressed buttons, silk, cotton and wool linings and has detachable gold bullion and silver filigree epaulettes with leather ties.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
Gilt buttons feature as decoration on the collar, cuffs and tails and also as fastenings at the jacket front. All buttons feature the words Medical Staff and the Royal cypher of King William IV.
- Hook and eye
Stiffening / Lining / Padding
The jacket front and underarms are padded with what appears to be wool wadding.
|Front neck to hem||415 mm|
|Back neck to hem||935 mm|
|Back waist to hem||505 mm|
|Sleeve length||690 mm|
|Neck to sleeve head||120 mm|
|Cross back||320 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||460 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Collar height - 70mm
A couple of small holes and fabric damage appear to be caused by insects.