Royal Highlanders Black Watch Uniform Jacket

Contributed by: National Institute of Dramatic Art

Front View Back View Side View Center front opening and lining Lining and sided seam tear Leather tab for closure support Triple knot epaulette with military insignia Insect and age damage to skirt Insect damage detail on sleeve and body Front view of button with St. Andrews cross A sentry at ease
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Object information

Significance statement

This coat belonged to George Russell Leigh Drysdale, known as Leigh, born in Sydney on 23 January 1889. He attended school and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, then served a commission with the Second Battalion of The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) in India. The regiment went to India in 1902 (dates and rank of Drysdale’s service not yet known). He married Isobel Gates on 18 October 1911. Their first child, the future painter Sir George Russell Drysdale was born on 7 February 1912 in Bognor Regis. The family moved back to Australia in 1919 to farm a sugar farm connected to Pioneer Sugar Mills, a company owned by the Drysdale family in Queensland. In the 1920s the family moved to Boxwood Park in the Riverina between Albury and Corowa, and later to Sydney. Once having accepted that his son would be a painter, Leigh Drysdale decided to support him. He regarded this support as the equivalent of paying university fees. In the 1960s, Drysdale passed on his Black Watch coat to his grand-daughter, before he died in Bowral on 10 June 1969.


The coat then had a second life as part of artistic bohemian Sydney. The grand-daughter recalls ‘It was amazingly small. I could fit into it and so could two friends who loved wearing it to parties.’ The group of painters and artists around Russell Drysdale’s circle drank at the Windsor Castle pub in Paddington and there was always a party to go to after closing on Saturday nights. Peter Brown, known as Charlie to all his friends, often wore the red coat to these parties, as did the painter John Bell, who taught Russell Drysdale. Charlie became art master at Cranbrook school. The coat became ‘very bedraggled over the years. It was a wild time with partying and dancing until dawn. Everyone drank and smoked’ and took a great delight in the coat, which apparently Drysdale would have wished. The coat passed from the relative to another owner, who donated it to the NIDA collection in the 1990s.


A strong aspect of the value of this garment is its worn condition. There has been a general turn in the last decade of scholarly and public interest in garment construction and making processes, with viewer wanting to more of  the insides, back and other details usually hidden by museum presentation or left unphotographed.

Author: NIDA BFA Costume students under the guidance of Hilary Davidson, 20/01/20.


Men's single breasted wool military jacket with black stand collar and cuffs. Triple twist shoulder cord and regiment rank star, with four double flapped petal skirts known as Inverness skirts. Trimmed with gold, flat braid (lace) on the collar and cuffs with thistle pattern. Gold Russia braid on collar cuffs and skirt. Brass insignia buttons on collar cuffs, skirt, centre front and back waist. Gold tan twill silk bodice lining, white fulled double twill skirt lining, silk black twill lining in collar. Extensive insect damage all over garment.

History and Provenance

George Russell Leigh Drysdale's son is Russell Drysdale, renowned Australian painter.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

 George Russell Leigh Drysdale, known as Leigh, was born in Sydney on 23 January 1889. He married Isobel Gates on 18 October 1911. George died in Bowral on 10 June 1969.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

An earlier iteration of the Black Watch, the 73rd Regiment of Foot regiment (First Battalion), sailed for Sydney in 1809 under its Commanding Officer Lachlan Macquarie, governor of NSW between 1810-21. The main body of the battalion left NSW in 1814.

Where did this information come from?

Lynne Clarke, Grandaughter

  1. Place of origin:

    Sandhurst, England

  2. Cost:

    Unknown, however the quality of the wool suggest a more affordable tailor. Assumed based on the surface dyed wool as opposed to the more expensive thread dyed options.

  3. Owned by:

    Originally made for George Russell Leigh Drysdale, and then passed down to his grandaughter in the 60's and eventually donated to NIDA in the 1990's.

  4. Worn by:

    George Russell Leigh Drysdale

  5. Occasion(s):

    Military Service

  6. Place:

    Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK. Regiment went to India in 1902 (dates and rank of Drysdale’s service not known)

  7. Made for:

    George Russell Leigh Drysdale (assumed)

Trimmings / Decoration

Eight center front buttons, seven of which are missing, three buttons on each cuff, three buttons on each of the four top skirt panels. Side seam belt hooks. Single shoulder cord fastened with cotton (attachment missing)


5/8 inch gold flat braid on collar and cuffs with thistle pattern (lace) woven with gilt. Russian braid at 1/4 inch on cuffs, collar and skirt.

Fibre / Weave

Main fabric - red wool. Cuff and collar - fulled nap plain weave wool. Skirt lining - two/two twill ground napped finish white wool. Sleeve lining and pocket lining - plain weave white cotton. Bodice lining - twilled sateen silk, originally gold. Inside garment layers - two weight tailoring and two weight cotton canvas with wool padding. Inside collar - black twilled satieen silk lining, and buckram. Red Morocco leather tab at center front bottom of waist on left. We are unable to determine if elements of this garment are natural or synthetically dyed.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Constructional stitching machine sewn, tailoring and fixtures hand stiched. Binding machine stiched and hand finished. Trimmings applied by machine, insertion and finishings by hand.


No manufacturing label but buttons say 'S.GARDNER & C: LONDON' 'ROYAL HIGHLANDERS BLACK WATCH' 


Repairs at front underarms - trapezoid shaped; larger on proper right, and smaller on proper left

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


Main front body cut in one piece each. Single kite shaped back (no centre back seam), curved side seams with side pieces that meet the front slightly to the back. Two piece sleeve. Four sets of large, shaped tabs, the bottom larger. And two small straight narrow tabs as a vent at the centre back. Button side of the front has an extention panel just past the centre front. Pockets: slashed pockets in the lower petals on the front. Proper left in-seam pocket in the lining of the breast.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The collar has two hook and eyes made of brass. Shoulder cord with brass holder, tape and eyelet. The centre front has 7/8 inch shank buttons that are domed, brass gilt. They are embelished with the circle of Saint Andrew's cross and a rayed and faceted star, printed with 'THE ROYAL HIGHLANDERS BLACK WATCH' on the front and 'S. GARDNER & CO LONDON' on the back. Brass belt holders at the side seam of flat, bent brass.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Tailors horse hair canvas (light and heavy weight) and double layer of buckram at collar. Sleeve roll and shoulder pad that extends down the back cotton wadding. Lining - silk on the collar and bodice, cotton lining in sleeves, with white wool lining on peplum. 


Neck 465 mm
Chest 900 mm
Waist 810 mm
Cuff 324 mm
Front neck to hem 623 mm
Front waist to hem 203 mm
Back neck to hem 610 mm
Back waist to hem 183 mm
Sleeve length 630 mm
Neck to sleeve head 145 mm
Cross back 380 mm
Underarm to underarm 450 mm
Convert to inches

Cuff length: outside @170mm, inside @103mm

Petals: front top @18mm, front bottom @195mm, back bottom @195mm, back top @183mm

Collar width: CF 55mm

Button extension: 45mm

Epaulette: length @152mm, width at widest point @55mm

Dress Themes


Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

The full dress coat or ‘tunic’ would have been worn with a kilt of the dark green and navy Black Watch tartan and white sporran, a furred black busby or tam o’shanter with a distinctive red hackle, black and red Argyle kilt hose, white gaiters over black boots, valise equipment braces and straps in buff white leather. The kilt was made first of the Lorne tartan, out of compliment to Lord Lorne, then Governor-General, but was afterwards changed to The Black Watch tartan, and the Royal Stewart tartan.

Photo: Payne, Harry, "A sentry at ease, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)" (1892). Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.


Apart from the pest damage, good structural integrity.

Although extensively pest damaged, this damage allows viewers to identify and examine the textiles in a more accurate way, as well as examine the constructional tailor details such as pad stitching technique, the quality of canvasses used, hand finishing, stitching details, and use of wadding. This is of particular value to student of costume and fashion, to re-enactors, to vintage clothing professionals, and other people who seek a technical understanding of nineteenth century uniforms in addition to their stylistic and martial features.


The quality of the materials revealed through damage show a compromise in cloth choices suggesting corners being cut or economic measures taken in the making. It speaks to the socio-economic background of men in the Regiment, which researchers may be able to incorporate into future studies of Black Watch personnel.

Evidence of repairs


Insect damage

Moth holes through out, especially on the right cuff and on white binding on skirt of the center front (button side). Extensive surface damage through larval tracking in addition to structural.


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
  3. Dirt
  4. Dust
  5. Holes
  6. Parts missing
  7. Stained
  8. Worn
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