Christening Gown; Elizabeth Parish; 1848; 3.91

From

Port Macquarie Museum

Name/Title

Christening Gown

About this object

Christening gowns are often passed down through several generations of the same family. This simple fine white cotton batiste gown was made for the baptism of James Parish who was born in Australia in 1848, and it was last worn by Jessica Gatenby in 1989, a sixth generation descendant of the Parish family.

It is representative of christening gowns made in the 1800s with its long, full, pintucked skirt and the use of ‘broderie anglaise’ to highlight a lace panel on the front bodice and for the frills on the capped sleeves. Apart from the machine embroidery on the lace and on the ‘broderie anglaise’, the only other embroidery on the gown consists of tiny white handmade French knots on the ribbon casing around the waist. The seams, pintucks, and trimmings have all been hand sewn using very fine cotton and tiny stitches.

The gown was made by Elizabeth Parish, née Howe [1823-1865] who was married in England in 1847. She arrived in Australia with her husband David and his five (5) children from a previous marriage, in May 1848, and the family settled in the Patterson area of NSW. James [1848-1941] was Elizabeth’s first child and he was the first child to be baptised wearing this Christening gown. Subsequently James’ sister Mary Annette Parish [1850-1925] was christened in the gown, then her daughter Mary Ann Edwards, née Parish [1871-1959], then her daughter Alberta Rundle, formerly Bird, née Edwards [1917-1995] who became the custodian of the gown for the next three (3) generations. Christopher and Jessica Gatenby were the last children to be christened and they wore the gown in Sydney NSW, in 1984 and 1989 respectively. They were the great grandchildren of Alberta Rundle and the grandchildren of Alberta’s daughter, Helen, who married Max Gatenby in 1959.

In the 1700s and 1800s, pregnancy and birth were considered to be very private occasions, while christening ceremonies were quite public affairs. Most Churches insisted that babies be christened in a white garment which was regarded as a symbol of purity and innocence. Christening gowns at that time were made from silks and satins and were often lavishly embroidered, however as cotton became more readily accessible, it became a more popular fabric. It was often embroidered with very delicate stitching known as Ayrshire embroidery and with fine threads that were mostly imported from the United States, but when the American Civil War brought an end to the cotton trade, the Ayrshire embroidery industry collapsed resulting in an increase in popularity of the style known as “broderie anglaise” or ‘English embroidery’. This had become the most fashionable embroidery style in England by the mid 1800s, with ‘broderie anglaise’ fabrics and trims being used extensively on ladies’ and children’s clothing and particularly on christening gowns. Initially designs were hand drawn and hand stitched but as embroidery machines were developed and refined, machine-made braids, trims and laces became readily available and affordable.

Because the first child to wear this gown was born in Australia in July 1848 and his parents had only arrived in Australia in May 1848, it is likely that the materials and cottons were brought from England, and it is possible that the gown was made during the family’s voyage to Australia. It is in remarkably good condition in view of the fact that it was worn many, many times over a 140 year period, not only by the family members listed above but by their siblings and the children of these siblings as well. It is also believed to have travelled widely throughout New South Wales and possibly Queensland during this time, as the family expanded and moved to various areas throughout the country.

It is apparent that Mrs Alberta Rundle, the great granddaughter of the maker and the custodian of the gown, regarded it not as a precious, protected item, but as one that should to be shared and celebrated as a tangible link between the six generations of her family, thus ensuring that the family’s past would not be forgotten and that the their story would be remembered well into the future.

Margaret Blight
25 August 2018

Maker

Elizabeth Parish

Maker Role

Needleworker

Date Made

1848

Place Made

Australia

Medium and Materials

Cotton

Inscription and Marks

Written in ink on back opening facing 'R Edwards'

Measurements

Back neck to hem – 9800 mm
Back neck to waist – 120 mm
Front neck to hem – 9700 mm
Front neck to waist - 110 mm
Neck circumference – 500 mm
Waist circumference – 4500 mm
Hem Circumference – 1954 mm
Sleeve length (cap sleeve) - 45mm

Subject and Association Keywords

Baptisms

Credit Line

Donor: Mrs A Rundle

Object Type

Christening gowns

Object number

3.91

Copyright Licence  

All rights reserved

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