Historical information

This apron is one of several linen and clothing items that were made and belonged to Mrs. Eliza Towns and donated to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village.
Eliza was born Eliza Gould in 1857 in South Melbourne (Emerald Hill) and in 1879 married Charles Towns. In the early 1880's they moved to Nhill in western Victoria and remained there for the rest of their married life. Charles was a jeweller and later became an accountant and for many years was involved with the Shire Council, the local show committee (A & P Society), the Hospital Committee and the Board of the local newspaper (the Nhill Free Press). They had three children and lived a life that would be regarded as comfortably "middle class". Eliza probably had a treadle sewing machine and would have made many of her own clothes - adding her own handmade embroidered or crocheted decorative trim.

In March 1915 Eliza travelled to San Francisco to visit her son, James. She went by train to Melbourne ("a pleasant journey on the up express') and the next day caught the express train to Sydney. She noted in her letters home that a " number of young men were going to Sydney to enlist but they had to stop in the corridors most of the way as there was no room for them to sit down". She spent the night on the train and arrived in Sydney the next morning and on the following day she boarded the R.M.S. "Moana" (a steamer which took about twenty-four days to reach San Francisco). She returned from Vancouver about five months later on board the "Manuka".

It is very likely Eliza took this "Travelling Apron" with her on her travels. Eliza was travelling by herself and had no one to help her with her dress or her hair. "Travelling Aprons" (also known as Toilet Aprons or Tourist Aprons) were designed with different sized pockets for holding a lady's toiletries - hairbrush, hair pins, comb and sometimes even soap and a powder puff. This allowed the owner, when travelling and getting dressed in small places such as an overnight train compartment or a ship's cabin, to have all her requirements at hand without needing to search for them or have them roll onto the floor. Some of the pockets are finished with buttoned flaps to keep the items in place and when not in use, the apron could be hung up or rolled up and put away.

Articles about the "Traveller's Apron" appeared in numerous Women's columns in Australian newspapers in the early 20th century - often with instructions and sometimes a pattern. In the "Age" on Sat 5th October 1907 in a column titled "Feminine Facts and Fancies" the author wrote "No man can appreciate the difficulties of dressing in a "wobbly" train or trying to do one's hair while a ship is weathering a storm".
A year earlier (Saturday 24th March 1906) in the same column, the author wrote "... you have to spend nights in a train... forever struggling to dress yourself in a wretched little lavatory. You know how your hairpins and combs jump all over the place ... a train is always at its liveliest when you're trying to do your hair. My travelling apron saved me many a rage."


This item is an example of the needlework skills of women in the early 20th century - combining machine stitching with hand embroidery to personalise and embellish a practical domestic object. It is also an excellent (and rare) example of an early 20th century innovation that helped solve the difficulties of privacy and convenience that many women experienced at a time when travel was becoming more accessible to them.

Physical description

A half apron, made of ivory linen with two waist ties and seven pockets. Along the top are two smaller pockets with triangular, buttoned flaps labelled "Hairpins" and "Nailbrush" and one larger unlabelled pocket. Underneath are two larger pockets labelled "Brush & Comb" and "Work" and two unlabelled narrow pockets. The seams are machine stitched and the pockets are outlined with hand embroidered feather stitch. The labels on the pockets are embroidered in stem stitch.

Inscriptions & markings

"Hairpins" / "Nailbrush" / "Brush and Comb" / "Work"