Tartan cutaway jacket

Contributed by: Maclean District Historical Society

Coat Back of coat detail showing moth hole detail - linen lining of pockets detail - linen lining detail - coat lapel detail - buttons Coat
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Maclean District Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1750 - 1850
  • Place of origin:

    Isle of Syke, Scotland
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

Norman McSween, the Scottish owner of the coat, came as a widower with his family from the Isle of Skye on the “Ontario” in 1852. The Ship’s indent says that they were “a very poor and destitute family”, so perhaps the coat was their one treasure and a reminder of their native land. Norman died aged 46, on the voyage to Australia, so the significance of the coat would have increased, especially to his 6 children aged from 10 to 21. It was then given to John McSwan, grandson of Norman (John’s mother was a McSween). It has remained in the McSwan family ever since.

Maclean has a large population with Scottish heritage, and this is still celebrated - a Highland Gathering now in its second century of celebration as well as a Tartan Day and a strong Pipe Band. In the past, the town had a flourishing Caledonian Society.

Author: Carolyn Cameron, 22 August 2013.


The tartan jacket was hand stitched from cloth woven by a Scottish weaver. The maker also created the dyes and hand crafted the buttons from timber grown on the Isle of Skye.  The jacket is lined with a blue/green/black striped linen fabric, pockets are lined with cream hand woven linen fabric.  The coat is cutaway at the front with notched lapels.  The back is pleated from the waist to the hem and trimmed with covered buttons, the covering being the same hand woven woollen tartan fabric as the coat .

The tartan pattern is not known. 

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

   There are two stories about the origin of the coat, but they do meld together.

1.       In “The Scottish Australian” 5/11/1919: The coat “was made by the grand-uncle of the lady who treasured it” This would have been Norman McSween and Margaret McKinnon-nee McSwan respectively.

“The coat was brought out to the owner’s father” John McSwan, whose mother was a McSween, the sister of Norman.

“Mrs McKinnon later fell on hard times and the coat was offered for sale.”

2.     In “The McSwans in Australia” by E.H McSwan,it states: “An article written by Rev. H W Ramsay 8/8/1928 says  "The coat was brought out on the ‘Ontario’ in 1853 and was made by the grandfather of William McSwan of the Quarry. This would have been Norman McSween, who died on the voyage…It was in the possession of John’s daughter, Margaret for many years.”

The coat later came down through Angus McSwan’s line - Angus being Margaret’s older brother. Whether he bought the coat when she fell on hard times and offered the coat for sale, we do not know.

It passed to Angus’s son, Neil, and then to his son, Colin. When Colin died, his wife, Eleanor H. McSwan donated the coat to Maclean District Historical Society Inc. for safe keeping.



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

 A large contingent of Scottish immigrants (starting in the 1830’s) made their way to the Clarence River. They settled on the Hunter, on their arrival in the colony.

Floods on the Hunter and the opening of land by the Robertson Land Act brought many Scottish people to the Clarence and mainly to the Lower Clarence and the area around Maclean, NSW.

Bringing the coat to the Clarence meant an important family memento came with them. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Tartan pattern is not known but perhaps as these extracts show at the time of weaving there was no specific family tartan.

“Tracking the Tartan”says:“Originally the only recording activity would be similar to those in other cultural activities such as musicians and storytellers. Patterns would spread by diffusion according to interest and popularity. Recording would be through memory, cloth samples and possibly threads tied to sticks (used warp beams). Types of tartan would not exist, and the local wool and dyes available would limit the ambition of a weaver and wearer to certain colours.” http://www.tartans.scotland.net/tracking_tartan/index.cfm.htm

Wikipedia states “ Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the highland tartans were only associated with either regions or districts, rather than any specific clan. This was because like other materials tartan designs were produced by local weavers for local tastes and would usually only use the natural dyes available in that area, as chemical dye production was non-existent and transportation of other dye materials across long distances was prohibitively expensive.The patterns were simply different regional checked-cloth patterns, chosen by the wearer's preference – in the same way as people nowadays choose what colours and patterns they like in their clothing, without particular reference to propriety.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartan 

Where did this information come from?

McSwan, EH. OAM B.A. (Hons) Dip.Ed (Syd.Uni), Dip.Local and Applied History. (UNE) Maclean, the Scottish Connection (Publ. by Maclean District Historical Society Inc. Second Edition 2009- ISBN 978-0-909323-20-2)

Ramsay, Reverend HW, article dated 8.8.1928 quoted in McSwan, EH. McSwans of Maclean (Privately published Family History.)

Magazine article, The Scottish Australian, 5 November 1919

McSwan E.H The McSwans in Australia, published by Clarence Press 1987 ISBN 0 186252 996 5

This garment has been exhibited

Yes, several times, but because of its fragility, it has spent limited times on display and much longer in storage.

  1. Place of origin:

    Isle of Syke, Scotland

  2. Owned by:

    Based on several extracts from newspaper articles and published family histories the owners have included Norman McSween (cited as the maker),  John McSwan, Mrs Margaret Wallace /Mrs Margaret McKinnon (both nee McSwan) and Neil McSwan of Maclean.  The last known owner was Mrs Eleanor McSwan, wife of Colin McSwan of Woodford Leigh, who donated the jacket to the Maclean and District Historical Society Incorporated ‘… for safe keeping and proper conservation. ’These were all residents of Maclean which is called "the Scottish Town In Australia".

  3. Worn by:

    Originally by Norman McSween, maker, possibly was worn in Australia by his grandsons and their descendants.

  4. Place:

    Maclean- known today as the “Scottish Town in Australia”

  5. Designed by:

    Norman McSween

  6. Made by:

    We can conclude that Norman McSween was probably the maker of the coat, also the grand (great) grand uncle of John jnr. James, Malcolm, Angus and Margaret. He was also the grandfather of William of the Quarry (now Ilarwill), son of James, and nephew of Margaret, John jnr. Malcolm and Angus. William's mother, Euphemia was the daughter of Norman McSween aged 12 when Norman died on the voyage out on the "Ontario". Norman brought the coat as a gift to his nephew John, who became the guardian of Norman's children when he died on the voyage.

  7. Made for:

    Norman McSween

Fibre / Weave

Red/Blue/Black/Green Tartan Pattern. Tartan unknown Made from a Woolen Twill Weave. The lining of the coat is sewn from blue, green and black striped linen. The lining of the pockets though is cream/ivory linen. Garment precedes invention of chemical dyes.                                      

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The entire garment is hand-stitched. (as it precedes the invention of the sewing machine).


The woollen tartan cloth and the linen lining of the cutaway jacket have been darned and mended by hand.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight



Three front fastening covered buttons

Two covered buttons on right side close to collar

Two covered buttons on back of jacket – one missing.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Garment is fully lined with hand woven linen, body of garment is lined with dark (blue/green/black striped) linen, while pockets are lined with cream hand woven linen fabric.


Neck 325 mm
Chest 940 mm
Waist 880 mm
Hip 960 mm
Cuff 520 mm
Hem circumference 550 mm
Front neck to hem 665 mm
Front waist to hem 420 mm
Back neck to hem 805 mm
Back waist to hem 400 mm
Sleeve length 710 mm
Neck to sleeve head 100 mm
Cross back 310 mm
Underarm to underarm 410 mm
Convert to inches


Evidence of repairs

Several holes showing insect damage, and minor rips have been darned over time.

Insect damage

Small holes suggest pest infestation in the past. Unknown if garment has been treated in the past.  Currently Garment is regularly monitored.

Mould damage



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


  1. Frayed
  2. Holes
  3. Parts missing
  4. Worn
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