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

Boys dress worn by John Marsden

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 …


Object No.


Object Statement

Dress, boys, cotton, probably made by Elisabeth Marsden, 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.



305 mm


560 mm



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.



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.


Credit Line

Gift of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 1981

Acquisition Date

29 July 1981

Cite this Object


Boys dress worn by John Marsden 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 9 February 2023, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Boys dress worn by John Marsden |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=9 February 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}