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A7885 Dress, boys, cotton, probably made by Elisabeth Marsden and worn by John Marsden, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1803. Click to enlarge.

Boys dress worn by John Marsden

Made by Marsden, Elisabeth in New South Wales, Australia, 1802-1803.
This dress was worn by John Marsden (1801 - 1803), the fourth of Reverend Samuel and Elizabeth Marsden's eight children. Reverend Samuel Marsden was an important figure in colonial Australia. On 1 January 1793 Marsden accepted the appointment as assistant to the chaplain of New South Wales, and was ordained deacon on 17 March at Bristol and priest in May of the same year. Samuel married Elizabeth Fristan on 21 April and the newly married couple, expecting their first child, left London on 1 July 1793 on the ship 'William'. They arrived in Port Jackson with their newborn daughter, Ann, eight months later in March 1794. 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.

This dress is a rare example of children's everyday wear from the early 1800s. Such an unassuming garment would not normally survive but two-year-old John was wearing the dress when he died after falling into a pot of boiling water in the Marsden's kitchen in August 1803. His death was a heavy blow to Elizabeth Marsden, whose first son Charles died in a carriage accident two years earlier in August 1801. In a letter to Captain John Piper in August 1804, Elizabeth wrote: 'I think I need not remind you that this is a month that has been fatal to me and mine - I have therefore made a determination not to leave home or suffer my dear children out of my sight as little as possible until this fatal month has expired...The loss of those I have parted from weighs so much on my mind that at times I am as miserable as it is possible to be - outwardly I may appear cheerful but I am very far from being happy - indeed happiness and me seem long since to have parted and I have a presentiment that peace will never more be an inhabitant of my bosom'.

The darned and faded fabric and its pieced construction suggest that the dress was cut down from another garment and worn as everyday wear. The garment is particularly modest considering the status of the Marsden family; rather than the white muslin that was commonly worn by children of privileged families, this dress is made from printed cotton. The high waisted style of the dress mirrors the fashion of women's costumes, as was common during this period.

The Marsden costume collection 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. The provenance of this dress gives extraordinary insight into the life of the Marsden family, and is a sad reminder of the hardships and suffering that were commonly endured by early Australian colonists.

Michelle Brown and Glynis Jones, 2007

Summary

Object No.

A7885

Object Statement

Dress, boys, cotton, probably made by Elisabeth Marsden and worn by John Marsden, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1803

Physical Description

A boy's dress made from red unbleached cotton that has been printed with a white geometric pattern. The dress has a high standing collar trimmed with a ruffle and long straight sleeves. The high waist of the dress has a drawstring through it. The dress opens down the centre front, finishing at the high waist in the dress. The opening fastens at the collar with a dorset thread button. French seams sewn in white thread can be seen in the dress.

Dimensions

Width

305 mm

Depth

560 mm

Production

Notes

The darned and faded fabric and its pieced construction suggest that the dress was cut down from another garment and worn as everyday wear. The dress has a high neck band trimmed with ruffle and fastened with dorset thread button, and long straight sleeves. The garment is particularly modest considering the status of the Marsden family, as printed cotton was typically worn by poor children, with children of the privileged commonly dressed in white muslin. The dress has a high waist, gathered with drawstring, and as was common during this period mirrors the fashion of women's costumes. The French seams, stitched in white thread, although very fine in places are irregular in stitch.

It is likely that the dress was made by John Marsden's mother, Elizabeth Marsden.

History

Notes

This dress was worn by John Marsden (1801 - 1803) when he died after being scalded by boiling water in the Marsden's kitchen in August 1803.

This dress, along with other costumes in the Marsden collection, was given to the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1919 by the executors of the estate of Eliza Hassall (2/11/1834 - 26/12/1917). Eliza was the daughter of Reverend Thomas Hassall and Ann Hassall (nee Marsden), born in 1834, and a granddaughter of Samuel Marsden. The garments were exhibited during the Society's 1920 Exhibition, along with subsequent exhibitions.

A note accompanying the dress, believed to have been written by Eliza Hassall, states: 'The dress Grandmother's little Son had on when he fell into a pot of boiling water and died at the Parsonage'.

The Marsden costume collection was donated to the Museum in 1981.

Cite this Object

Harvard

Boys dress worn by John Marsden 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 15 August 2020, <https://ma.as/195005>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/195005 |title=Boys dress worn by John Marsden |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=15 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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