Christening gown made by Jane Kaltenbacher

Contributed by: Port Macquarie Historical Society

Dorothy Kalthenbach wearing the christening gown, 1938 Dorothy Kaltenbach wearing the christening gown, 1938- bodice and front detail Dorothy Kaltenbach wearing the christening gown, 1938 - front skirt and hem detail Ronald Kaltenbacher with his mother Freda, nee Catts, 1907 Acme Studios,  Enmore Ronald Kaltenbacher with his mother Freda, nee Catts, 1907 Acme Studios, Enmore Jane Kaltenbacher, nee Rance [1852-1938] made this christening gown for her first born son Christian
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Port Macquarie Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

    PMHM 2012/43
  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Putney, England
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This christening gown has been used by three generations of the Kaltenbach(er) family from 1882 to 1938. The Kaltenbach family migrated to Australia from England in 1886. It is understood the gown was made by Jane Kaltenbach(er) in 1882 for the christening of her first child Christian and was worn by each of her subsequent children including her second child Ferdinand. The gown was then worn by Ferdinand's son Ronald in 1907 and by Ronald's daughter Dorothy in 1938.

The gown itself is like many of the late Victorian period. It is made of a fine white cotton with tucks and embroidered lace panels and decoration. What is unusual is that the christening gown features in family photographs taken in 1907 and then again in 1938. The photographs of Ronald wearing this christening gown in his mother's arms and lap are studio shots but quite poignant. They capture a mother's love of her first born child. The ability to have studio christening photographs taken suggests that the family were quite wealthy.

The christening gown was worn again in 1938 for the christening of Ronald's first born child Dorothy. The photographs are more typical of portraiture photography of that era and are excellent records of the gown and its wearer.

Dorothy Kaltenbach nor her siblings married or had children. This effectively marked the end of the christening gown's life as a family heirloom. As women are increasingly choosing not to marry or have children family traditions such as the passing down of family heirlooms including wedding and christening gowns are slowly being lost.

This christening gown is a reminder of a migrant family's arrival in Australia, of their taking roots here for a time and of the family's ultimate demise.

Author: Margaret Blight and Debbie Sommers, 6 January 2013.


Cotton christening gown with broderie anglaise capped sleeves and broderie anglaise insertions in a front centre panel and around the hemline. The front centre panel is made from ten sections of cotton batiste with horizontal tucks, separated by rows of broderie anglaise inserted between every four tucks. Three pieces of broderie anglais are also inserted vertically in the bodice which has a delicate lace trim above a narrow silk ribbon drawstring at the neck edge. There is also a silk ribbon encased at the waistline to enable the gown to be adjusted to fit. Feather stitch is hand embroidered around the neckline, waist, and on the bodice, as well as along the vertical edges of the front panel.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Christian Frederick Kaltenbacher was born in 1852 in Germany died in 1921 in Sydney NSW. He married Jane Rance who was born in 1851 in England and died in 1938 in Sydney NSW. Their children were Christian 1882-1970, Ferdinand 1885-1966, Greta 1890-1953, Otto 1892-1970, Valdena 1896-1968.

Ferdinand married Freda Catts in 1907 - their only child Ronald was born in 1907 in Sydney NSW.

Ronald married Constance Scanlon in Sydney in 1935 and died at Wauchope, NSW in 1969. Ronald and Constance had three children, Dorothy 1938-2010, Ronald 1941-1942 and Robyn 1944-.

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

There are photographs of Ronald Kaltenbacher wearing the gown in 1907 and of Dorothy Kaltenbacher wearing the gown in 1938. It may have been worn by all of Jane and Christian's five children, but the donor does not believe that it was worn by any of their descendants, except by those descended from Jane and Christian's second eldest son Ferdinand. Ferdinand's son Ronald, born in 1907, was Jane and Christian's first grandchild.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Kaltenbacher [later changed to Kaltenbach] family migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom in 1886. Christian Wilhelm Kaltenbacher was a tailor and both his son Ferdinand and grandson Ronald followed in his footsteps. This christening gown and some tailoring items are amongst a number of family possessions that were packed up and brought to Australia with the family. Like many migrant families, they left behind other family members and possessions and created their own traditions, history and heirlooms in their new country.

The Kaltenbach famiily used this christening gown for three generations however with both of Ronald's daughters never marrying and never having children they were faced with the dilemma of what to do with their family heirloom, this christening gown. Whilst women not marrying or bearing children is not new, families are becoming smaller, more women are choosing for whatever reason not to marry or bear children and therefore there are fewer family members to carry on family traditions, family names and to hand down family heirlooms to. Ironically this family heirloom associated with birth and the rite or ritual of passage of baptism will no longer be a family heirloom because there are no more family members to pass it on to.

Where did this information come from?

Information and photographs provided by Robyn Kaltenbach, 2012 History of Christening Gowns - Christening Fashions in the Victoria Era - Collection database - Rite of Passage and Spinster

This garment has been exhibited

This garment has not yet been exhibited.

  1. Place of origin:

    Putney, England

  2. Owned by:

    Made by Jane Kaltenbacher and passed to her son Ferdinand Kaltenbacher, then to Ferdinand's son Ronald Kaltenbacher, then to Ronald's daughters, Dorothy and Robyn and then donated to the Port Macquarie Historical Society in 2012.

  3. Worn by:

    Christian and Ferdinand Kaltenbacher in England, Ronald and Dorothy Kaltenbacher in Australia

  4. Occasion(s):


  5. Place:

    Worn in England.

    Worn in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

  6. Made by:

    Jane Kaltenbacher nee Rance (1852-1938) in Putney England prior to emigrating to Australia with her husband and two children on 20 September 1886.

  7. Made for:

    The christening of Christian and Jane Kaltenbacher's child Christian and used subsequently for other family members and generations.

Trimmings / Decoration

Broderie anglaise strips 30mm wide are inserted in the front panel below every five tucks. The front panel fans out from 120mm at the waist to 520mm at the hem. The gown has capped sleeves made from a single piece of broderie anglais fabric, and there are three 30mm wide broderie anglais insertions placed vertically in the bodice and flounces of broderie anglais stitched from the waist, over the shoulders and fastened at the back neck edges. A single flounce of broderie anglaise finishes the gown at the hemline.


Narrow silk ribbon is encased within the batiste gown at the neck and waist to fasten the gown


A fine narrow lace, 10mm wide is used as a trim at the neck above the encased ribbon drawstring


Forty nine tucks, each 5mm wide in the front panel; three tucks at the lower edge of skirt


Feather stitch at neckline, along vertical edges of front panel and on the bodice

Fibre / Weave

The gown is made from fine white cotton batiste with white cotton broderie anglais used to embellish the front bodice, front centre panel, sleeves and hemline.

Very narrow,2mm silk ribbons are encased as drawstrings at the waist and neck.

A fine lace frill, 10mm wide is used as a trim at the neck edge.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


All the tucks and seams are hand stitched with very fine cotton thread. Feather stitch embroidery is hand sewn in a fine embroidery cotton.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The gown is fastened by narrow silk ribbons drawn through encasements at the neck and waist.

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


Christening Gown
Neck 500 mm
Chest 630 mm
Waist 500 mm
Cuff 180 mm
Hem circumference 1680 mm
Front neck to hem 1030 mm
Front waist to hem 925 mm
Back neck to hem 970 mm
Back waist to hem 850 mm
Sleeve length 50 mm
Neck to sleeve head 10 mm
Cross back 340 mm
Underarm to underarm 410 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

Whilst pregnancy and birth were quiet private occasions for the Victorians, the whole family looked forward to the christening as an event of public celebration. The Church insisted that babies were christened in a white garment as a symbol of purity and innocence.

Christening robes of the 18th century were made of embroidered and trimmed silk or satin and by the 19th century white embroidery on fine cotton lawns, or fine linens was the fashionable garment of choice.

Expectant mothers usually made one beautiful christening gown whilst they had the time awaiting the birth of their first child. Although many women had access to sewing machines by this time, most preferred to hand sew their christening gowns. Perhaps because it was such a small garment it could be comfortably moved from room to room in a needlework bag similar to other small embroidery work.

Once used and admired along with the new baby, the christening gown would be packed away and carefully stored for the next occasion, usually used for every baby a mother bore. Well-made christening gowns were also handed down through the generations, becoming a family heirloom.

In the mid to late Victorian era the christening gown skirts were lavishly decorated with pin tucks and lace insertions. The bodices of this era were often decorated with white embroidery.

Additional material

Other related objects

Ronald and Constance Kaltenbacher and their children Dorothy and Robyn moved to Wauchope NSW in 1952 where Ronald purchased a tailoring business. The Port Macquarie Historical Society holds a number of items associated with Ron Kaltenbach's tailoring business which was located in Cameron Street and later in High Street, Wauchope from 1952 until Ron's death in 1969.


Evidence of repairs

Darn in right bodice at back

Insect damage

Some evidence of fabric damage by insects


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
  4. Torn
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