Historical information

This bolster sham 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 and household linens - adding her own handmade embroidered or crocheted decorative trim.

Most beds during the late 19th and early 20th century had a feather, hair or spring mattress covered by a blanket and topped with an under sheet, an upper sheet, several blankets and a bedspread. A flat bolster could be placed either under the pillows or on top of the pillows with a decorative sham. Washing pillows and quilts by hand would have been a very onerous task (involving heating water and handwashing in a tub or using a copper) and so it became the practise of many housewives to cover the pillows and bolsters with an outer slip (or sham) of washable material which could be easily removed and washed when needed.
If the bolster was kept under the pillows it wouldn't need to be very decorative but many shams or slips that were "on show" were often highly decorated with embroidery, pintucks, ribbons or lace.
This bolster sham is machine made and quite plain with the exception of some pintucking and eyelet lace on each end which suggests that it would mostly be hidden under the top pillows with just the decorative edges on display.


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 significant as an example of an early 20th century innovation that helped make the working lives of housewives a little bit easier.

Physical description

A long white cotton rectangular bolster sham, machine sewn, with seven ties and two buttons (plus one missing button) to enable it to be folded over lengthwise and closed. It has two pull string ties near each end to enclose a bolster and is finished with a decorative edge of pintucks and handmade eyelet lace and embroidery.