This amber satin evening outfit was worn by Mrs. Isabella Mitchell (nee Russell, 1840 – 1929) at the wedding of her brother Alexander (c.1846–1938) and Eliza (nee Moore c.1854–1939). The jacket and skirt attach to each other at the waist by joining the metal rings that are around the base of the jacket and to the metal hooks that are on the waistband of the skirt. The outfit was donated with its own mannequin and fits it perfectly.
In the colonial days, outer clothing was rarely, if ever, washed, due to the expense of fabrics and difficulty in careful laundering. Clever methods were employed to reduce the occurrence of soiling. The mannequin included with the donation would also help keep the outfit in good shape as well as being used for ensuring a flattering fit.
The families connected with this wedding for which this outfit was worn are from Warrnambool’s colonial days. Isabella and Alexander’s parents, Robert Russell and Elizabeth (nee Mitchell) were both born in 1808 and married about 1830. They were from farming families in Northern Ireland where they raised their seven children there before migrating to Australia in the early colonial days, around 1857. Their graves are in the Tower Hill cemetery. Alexander’s wife Eliza (nee Moore, born in 1854) was also from Northern Ireland and migrated to Australia in 1858 with her parents, Thomas and Nancy Moore, in the last voyage of the sailing ship “Chance”.
Isabella (Bella) talked with her grand-daughter Ruby Akers about her memories of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding and other events in her life. Ruby recorded these memories in a letter. She says “They were married in the Warrnambool Congregational Church by a pioneer minister, the Reverend Uriah Coombs. The bride wore a pale blue silk wedding gown which was made by herself. Bella was Matron of Honora and Ian McCasker was best man. In those days the transport to the church was usually a carriage – similar to a cab – and a pair of white ponies. They would have the reception at home and then go for a drive afterwards and at night there would be a dance. They did all the catering themselves … Eliza carried on farming in the Dennington, Yarpturk and Purnim districts until they moved to Camperdown around 1905…”
Ruby’s letter later mentions “[Isabella] could recall seeing a blackfellows’ corroboree being performed near where the Dennington Bridge now stands. It was rather a terrifying experience, they seemed in a warlike mood and one never knew what they would do next. One lubra came running to granny crying, Hide me, bad man kill me. She was bleeding from a wound in the head. Probably the result of a blow from a waddy. My mother [Margaret Jane McLaughlan nee Mitchell], coming home from school, often met blackfellows walking ahead with spears and boomerang, the two lubras – he usually had two – following in the rear, carrying the children or any burdens they had.“ Margaret would probably have been in primary school in the 1800s when she saw these things.
Alexander and Eliza had ten children. One of their daughters, Margaret Jane, was born in Warrnambool in 1879. She married William McCullagh and they had eleven children. Margaret made headlines in the Warrnambool newspapers for celebrating her 100th birthday. She had lived in the district for 60 years before moving to Melbourne. Alexander passed away at the age of 92, and Eliza passed away six months later aged 85. Their graves are in the Colac cemetery.
Isabella married Ralph Mitchell and their daughter Margaret Jane married John McLauchlan in 1891. Margaret and John’s daughter, Ruby Elizabeth, Jane married Fredrick Akers in 1938. Fredrick was born in England and was a Boer War veteran and served in the British Army. He migrated to Queensland, Australia, in 1913 and he joined the Australian Army to fight in World War I. In 1935 he moved to Warrnambool where he served in the Volunteer Defence Corps 1938-1945. Both Ruby and Fredrick are buried in the Tower Hill Cemetery.
Together, the evening outfit and the mannequin are examples of female fashion of the mid to late 1900s.
They are also significant for their association with the colonial pioneer families of Australia, Victoria and Warrnambool.
The outfit and mannequin are significant for their connection with a wedding uniting two colonial families from Northern Ireland who immigrated to Australia in the mid-1850s. The families had a significant role in the history of Warrnambool and district.
The evening outfit and its mannequin are significant for its connection with colonial families and their contact with the indigenous culture of the district and the contact between the native and European people.
This ladies’ evening outfit is made from amber coloured satin fabric. It comprises a short-waisted, long-sleeved jacket and long skirt and it has its own neck-to-floor wooden mannequin on a pedestal.
The outfit was worn by Mrs. Isabella Mitchell (nee Russell) as the Matron of Honour at the wedding of her brother Alexander Russell and his fiancé Eliza Moore in Warrnambool, 29th April 1874.
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