This gown is one of a number of costumes in the Museum's collection that were worn by members of the Marsden family. Family history relates that it was originally worn in 1793 by Elizabeth Marsden (nee Fristan, 1835) on her marriage to Samuel Marsden (1765 - 1838), who went on to become an important figure in colonial New South Wales. The dress is believed to have been later remade and worn by their daughter, Ann (1794 - 1885), on her marriage to Reverend Thomas Hassall (1794 - 1868), 1822.
On 1 January 1793 Marsden accepted the appointment as assistant to the chaplain of New South Wales. On 14 March that year Samuel wrote to Elizabeth asking: 'will you go along with me? Are you willing to take up your Cross and share my Pleasures and my Pains? If, upon considering this subject you can answer in the affirmative and say I am willing, then my Hear (as far as it is proper I should give it to the Creature) and all I have are yours' (Yarwood 1977). Elizabeth and Samuel married at Holy Trinity church in Hull, Yorkshire, on 21 April 1793. The newly married couple, expecting their first child, left London on 1 July 1793 on the ship 'William'. They arrived in Port Jackson in March 1794 with their daughter Ann, who was born during the eight month journey. Reverend Samuel Marsden was an important figure in colonial New South Wales. As the chaplain to New South Wales, Marsden endeavoured, with some success, to improve the standard of morals and manners. Samuel soon became a leading figure in colonial life, combining, sometimes controversially, his job as the colony's clergyman with that of magistrate, missionary, wealthy landowner and farmer.
On 12 August 1822, Ann Marsden married Reverend Thomas Hassall (1794 - 1868), who had opened the first Sunday school in Australia in May 1813, and was ordained a deacon on 15 April 1821 and a priest in June the same year. The Hassall family had long been friends with the Marsdens and the match was deemed appropriate to the social standing of a chaplain's daughter. Ann and Thomas had three sons and five daughters, their eldest son, Reverend James Samuel, becoming a noted pioneer clergyman.
Life in the new colony proved extremely isolating. In 1796 Elizabeth Marsden wrote: 'We seem in our present situation to be almost totally cut off from all connexion with the world especially the virtuous part of it. Old England is no more than like a pleasing dream' (Marsden 1796). However, right from the beginning, the colonists of the remote penal settlement that became Sydney wanted to maintain a fashionable appearance. Conscious of fashion's role in signifying status and respectability, the colonial elite, including the family of Samuel Marsden, eagerly awaited the irregular shipments of goods from Europe, India and China. The Museum's collection of Marsden costumes appears restrained in style but of good quality fabric and finish, reflecting the family's social and financial position in society.
It was not uncommon for expensive silk gowns to be renovated into new modes, as is thought to be the case with this particular dress. Despite this light figured silk being almost 20 years old it had remained fashionable since Elizabeth's wedding, its design and weight being well suited to the new high-waisted 'empire' style.
The collection of costumes worn by the Marsden family was transferred from the Royal Australian Historical Society to the Museum in 1981. This collection includes some of the earliest surviving examples of colonial dress worn and made in Australia, and gives insight into both the life of the Marsden family and early colonial dress.
Michelle Brown, 2007
Marsden, Elizabeth, Letter to Mary Stokes, 1 May 1796, in George Mackaness, (selected and edited), 'Some Private Correspondence of the Rev. Samuel Marsden and Family, 1794-1824', Australian Historical Monographs, D. S. Ford, Sydney, 1942, p14
Winkworth, Kylie, (ed. Robert Barton) 'A Companion to the Mint Collections: Australian decorative arts from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences at the Mint', Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, 1982
Yarwood, A. T., 'Samuel Marsden: The Great Survivor', Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1977, p20