Historical information

This dress belonged to Ethel Nina Blundell (1876-1949), having been first made for her mother Jane Blundell (nee Burkitt, 1845-1878).

Born in Dublin, Jane married James John Blundell Jr at the Black Street Congregational Church in Brighton on 16 March 1874. The Blundells were a socially prominent Brighton family who played an important role in the development of the area. James' father, publisher and bookseller James John Blundell Sr, served as a Brighton Borough Councillor between 1862 and 1867 when the local government was still in its formative years, including holding the position of Mayor in 1864. He was involved in the foundation of the Brighton Volunteer Rifle Corps and was also a strong supporter of the Brighton Ladies Benevolent Society. The Blundell family were active members of the Brighton Congregational Church and supported the construction of the Black Street church, where James Jr served as a deacon for sixty years, in addition to his work in the Crown Land and Survey Department.

The dress is believed to have been made for Jane in 1875 or 1876 during her early pregnancy, likely by a local dressmaker. Jane died in 1878 when Ethel was very young, and Ethel was then raised by her father and paternal grandmother. As she never married, Ethel remained living in the family home of 'Eumana', 164 Church Street, and as an adult she assumed the role of hostess whenever she or her father had guests. On these occasions, she reportedly wore her mother's dress.

The family home was sold on James Jr’s death in 1924 and Ethel was living at 52 Black Street Brighton when she died in 1949.

In the 1930s, Ethel gifted the dress to a close family friend, Dr Jean Kelly. She told Jean that the garment held precious memories, perhaps due to the connection it provided to the mother she had never known. Jean donated the dress to the Merimbula Old School Museum in NSW in 1987, where it was on display for many years. The Museum donated the dress to Brighton Historical Society in 2023.

Physical description

This is a good example of a late nineteenth century day dress, made from two different patterns of russet brown silk brocade and featuring a lobster tail style bustle. The lack of boning combined with waist and hip measurements indicates it may have been made as a maternity dress. It is lined with beige leaf pattern cotton fabric.

The princess line fitted bodice of herringbone pattern brocade has a high round neck with small 'mandarin' style collar and buttons down the front to below the waist where it forms an overskirt which is bordered with a band of coffee bean patterned brocade. The overskirt drops down to hem length at the back but from the centre front it is draped up to the back to a point below the waist level. Here it is sewn to the edge of the lobster tail style bustle which is also bordered by the coffee bean fabric.

There is a concealed pocket with the opening under the right edge of the bustle.

The buttons on the front of the dress have a decorative circlet of small blue flowers around a russet silk covered dome.

The long sleeves are set in and slightly full with a contrasting three pleat band of coffee bean fabric with an ornamental turn back from the pleats sewn just above the wrist.

The skirt section of the dress is in four 20 cm bands of alternate fabric patterns with the top and third band of coffee bean pattern slightly gathered and the second and fourth bands of herringbone forming pleated ruffles.