Historical information

The donor and family of this gown were long-term Brighton residents, and the gowns were held by them as family heirlooms prior to donation to Brighton Historical Society. Originally owned by Elizabeth Emma Adams and Cecilia Elizabeth Adams, it is believed that the dress was brought to Australia by either a half brother, James Smith Adams, or a younger sister, Sophia Charlotte Louisa Adams (later known as Mother Rose Columba Adams).

Elizabeth and Cecilia were the daughters of James Smith Adams (a squire, 1780-1860) and Elizabeth Emma McTaggart (1793-1843) of Tower House, Woodchester in Gloucester, a property which Elizabeth later inherited. Originally a monastery, Tower House had been converted into a stately home after the Reformation.

According to information originally provided by the donor, both this dress and the dress T0004.3 were made for Elizabeth and Cecilia, to be worn at the young Queen Victoria’s first 'drawing room ball' following the end of court mourning in 1838 for her uncle William IV who died in 1837. In 1838 Cecilia would have been twelve years old and Elizabeth would have been ten years old. It is possible that the dress T0004.3 was worn by one of the girls to this event as it is of appropriate dimensions for a child of that age, although its design is very formal and adult. However, it is unlikely that either of the girls wore this dress at the ball due to the size and styling of the dress. It is likely that the dress belonged to one of the girls, but was worn at a later date.

Elizabeth was born on 30 June 1828 at Tower House and died on 1 May 1909. She created a scandal when she eloped with her first husband, Thomas Charles Gardiner at the age of 18. The validity of the marriage was later formally investigate and, while it was confirmed as valid, a second church wedding was subsequently held. Thomas died in 1878. Elizabeth subsequently remarried Reverend R. E. Blackwell, but was widowed again by 1889.

Cecilia was born on 17 December 1826 and died in 1902 a spinster recluse in England. At the inquest into Cecelia's death in 1904 it was revealed that she had clearly come from a family of means as her home was filled to the brim with highly valuable goods, many in boxes. She was buried in the family vault at Woodchester.

Elizabeth and Cecilia's sister Sophia converted to Roman Catholicism in 1851 and became a nun, taking the religious name 'Rose Columba'. In 1883 Mother Rose Columba led a group of eight to Australia, answering a call for Dominican sisters to nurse the sick in Adelaide. Upon arrival, she founded St. Dominic's Priory and the Church of Perpetual Adoration in North Adelaide, using her inheritance to build the chapel.

Elizabeth's second son, George Henry Somerset, who inherited the Adams family estate dropped the 'i' in Gardiner and added the maiden name of his grandmother. Therefore, the family name has now become Gardner McTaggart.

These Adams family entries have been updated with information provided by Dr Herbert Gardner McTaggart, great-grandson of George Henry Somerset in April 2016. Mr McTaggart contacted the society after finding our entries online.

Physical description

A hand sewn white purple, pink, green, blue and yellow floral silk chiffon dress from circa 1870. The dress consists of two pieces worn together as a dress.

This dress has received a great deal of mending and alteration and so it is difficult to be sure of what constitutes its original state. The following description is of its current state.

The bodice has a high neck with a simple shallow band collar, an olive braid and a press stud closure. The bodice fastens down the centre front with ten hook and eyes closures and two sets of ribbon ties . The bodice has three darts providing shaping into the waistline. The bodice finishes at the waist and gently tapers towards the front creating a 'V' line. Down the centre front from the neck to the waist concealing the bodice opening is a pressed pleated ruffle of the dress fabric and a line of olive braid. The dress features pagoda sleeves finished at the hem with pressed pleated ruffle of the dress fabric, a line of olive braid and a silk fringe of 4 cm pale pink and white.

The skirt part of the bodice section attaches to the front of the dress with two hooks and eyes on the left hand side of the waist. The fabric drops down to approximately the knees at the front, curving up and splitting on either side over the hip. The edge of this piece is also trimmed with a pressed pleated ruffle of the dress fabric and a line of olive braid. Just below the hip on either side is a large bow of pink, cream, purple and green taffeta.

The bodice at the back is shaped with four panels into the waistline. Where it joins the bodice skirt the skirt is pleated, creating fullness.

The skirt of the dress ensemble secures at the waist on the left hand side. At the front it has two pleats (that may have been repositioned during repair), and is fully gathered at the back. At the front the dress falls to the floor whilst at the back it is longer to accommodate the bustle and possibly a small train.