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Headwear - Green Cotton & Yellow Silk Ribbon Smoker's or Lounge Cap, circa 1860

From the Collection of Kew Historical Society Inc 1 Civic Drive Kew Victoria

Gentleman’s smoking (lounging) cap believed to have been made in c.1860. The conical hat is made of a dark green cotton fabric embroidered with narrow ribbon of a paler green silk. The unlined rimless hat is made of four pieces of fabric. There is no evidence of the hat at one stage featuring a tassle. The original donation record noted that the cap had been made for, and was worn by, a Mr Middleton, of Vaughan in Central Victoria.
Object Registration
hats, smokers hats, men's clothing
Historical information
The context in which the hat was made and worn assists in establishing its potential historic significance. 'Bailliere's Victorian Gazetteer and Road Guide containing the most recent and accurate information as to every place in the Colony' (1870), describes the village of Vaughan as being located on the road from Daylesford to Castlemaine. In 1870 the Vaughan was deemed to be entirely a gold mining area, gold having been discovered in the district in 1853. Intriguingly the entry in the Gazetteer claims that the electoral division of Vaughan began at the junction of the Middleton Creek and the Loddon River, so perhaps the cap might have belonged to a member of a significant local family. In 1870, Vaughan had a population of about 1000 persons and included almost 300 dwellings. Articles from newspapers, published on Trove refer frequently to a Mr Middleton as a litigant in court cases before the Vaughan Court in the 1860s. By the 1870s, the Mt Alexander Mail, in an article on ‘Mining: The Pioneer Wheel’ describes the success of Mr Middleton and his Middleton’s Reef Gold Quartz Mining Company, which had built the largest water wheel in the Colony. The wheel was 20’ in diameter and 2’ wide. Quartz mining as practiced by companies such as Middleton’s had become necessary after the exhaustion of alluvial quartz mining deposits in the 1860s. So we can probably establish a link between the cap and a significant mining identity in the period in which the article was made.

When Made
The historical significance of the cap is only one part of the story. Caps such as the Middleton example can also be items of aesthetic significance as they were typically, examples of women’s work, using published patterns in magazines such as the Ladies Home Magazine. While women might follow or adapt a published pattern, their choice of materials reflected what was available locally. The fine hand stitching on this example is evidence of high quality domestic needlework. The maker crafted the cap from five triangular pieces of cotton cloth, each piece lined with a faded yellow net. The net provides some stiffening for the cap and has a functional purpose in that it anchors the hand-stitched, looped design of yellow silk ribbon that decorates the surface of the cap.
Last updated
1 May 2020 at 11:09AM