Historical information

This nightgown is believed to have belonged to Mrs Thomas Anne Ward Cole, an early Brighton resident and wife of George Ward Cole. The item appears to have been made or altered to accommodate a pregnant belly, however purpose made maternity clothing was not common at this time. Mrs Ward-Cole’s six pregnancies took place in 1843, 1844, 1845, 1847, 1849 and 1851. The style of this garment in particular the shape of the sleeves would indicate that it is most likely to have been constructed in circa 1860, so whilst it appears to be a maternity item, and historically has been referred to as thus, this purpose cannot be confirmed. George Ward Cole was an early member of the Victorian Parliament and the family featured prominently in Melbourne Society in their time. They established a substantial home known as “St Ninians” at 10 Miller Street in 1841. The family reportedly entertained Melbourne’s first Royal visitor The Duke Of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, at St Ninians in 1867. In later years St Ninians was subsequently subdivided and later demolished

Physical description

A hand sewn ivory cotton muslin nightgown, c. 1842–1850. The bodice is made of delicately embroidered muslin in a floral design. The open flat collar features a scalloped lace frill underneath. The bodice fastens with thirteen mother of pearl buttons down the centre front. After the fourth button, the remaining buttons are concealed beneath a full gathered modesty skirt, which falls from just below the bust line. The modesty panel is secured horizontally across the bodice by six mother of pearl buttons. The sleeves finish over the back and palm of the hand in two flattened peaks. The front of the gown consisting of the modesty front is full length. The modesty gown at both sides joins two panels that are an integrated part of the bodice. At the centre back there is a very full gathered panel with lace trim that falls to create a train. It is semi-attached to the bodice with a top section secured with mother of pearl buttons and small ties. The purpose of this design feature is unknown.