The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.
86/1008 Court suit with accessories, mens, various materials, possibly made by Robinson, Florence, Italy, worn by Captain William Hilton Hovell, Florence, Italy, 1856. Click to enlarge.

Court suit with accessories worn by Captain William Hovell

Possibly made
This court suit was first worn by Captain William Hilton Hovell (1786 - 1875), a sailor, explorer, and one of Australia's prominent early colonial settlers.

In 1823, whilst exploring the land surrounding the Cumberland Plain, Hovell was the first European to discover the Burragorang Valley. However Hovell is best known for accompanying Hamilton Hume in 1824 on the first European exploration of southern New South Wales down to Port Philip Bay. An official expedition was first proposed by …


Object No.


Object Statement

Court suit with accessories, mens, various materials, possibly made by Robinson, Florence, Italy, worn by Captain William Hilton Hovell, Florence, Italy, 1856

Physical Description

Men's court suit consisting of a pair of breeches, a cream embroidered waistcoat, a three-quarter length cashmere coat, a plain cream silk waistcoat, a white linen neckpiece, a neckpiece with lace jabot, a pair of lace cuffs and a pair of shoe buckles made of cashmere, silk, linen and metal.


Possibly made


The donor advised that the court suit was made for William Hovell by an English tailor, by the name of Robinson, in Florence on the occasion of Hovell being presented to King Leopold II in 1856. The note states that the English tailor lived beside the Arno River. Hovell's mother-in-law was Italian, which may explain his travels there.

Although often made to be worn together, jackets, trousers and waistcoats from this period were not necessarily made of the same material. This suit has been made according to regulations of the day which detailed the dress requirements for court attire. The suit consists of a single-breasted court coat with standing collar and breeches, made from chocolate brown cashmere. From around 1830 trousers were the usual attire for day wear; however breeches such as these were still worn as court dress.

Worn with the suit is a cream silk waistcoat with silk hand-embroidered floral decoration using satin stitch, stem stitch and French knots. Waistcoats first appeared in men's wardrobes toward the end of the 17th century, and later became an essential addition to the three-piece suit. Originally having longer sleeves and being of mid-thigh length, the waistcoat gradually evolved during the 18th century into a sleeveless garment that reached to the waist. The waistcoat became a focus of men's dress, featuring highly elaborate embroidery and decoration. Embroidered waistcoats continued to be worn well into the 19th century, gradually diminishing from popular fashion as men's clothing took on a more practical and conservative approach.

The neckpiece was an essential part of formal attire. This neckpiece is made of white stiffened linen with mechlin lace jabot. Matching the neckpiece is a pair of lace cuffs, attached to white bands. The cuffs exhibit remnants of black cotton thread, indicating that they were originally attached to a garment.

Court suits of this period were commonly worn with black pumps trimmed with buckles. The buckles accompanying this suit are rectangular in shape, and are made of cut steel with black leather centres.

This men's suit and waistcoat has been finely sewn and embroidered by hand. The sewing machine was first patented in America in 1834, and until they became widely available costumes were made to measure.


Byrde, Penelope, 'The Male Image: Men's Fashion in England 1300 - 1970', B T Batsford Ltd, London, 1979

The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Byrde, Penelope, 'The Male Image: Men's Fashion in England 1300-1970', B. T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1979

De Marly, Diana, 'Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History', Holmes & Meier Publishers Inc, New York, 1985

Perry, T. M., 'Hovell, William Hilton (1786 - 1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966, pp 556-557, accessed, viewed 19/10/2007

Waugh, Norah, 'The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900', Faber and Faber Ltd, London, 1964



This court suit was made in Italy around 1856 and was worn by explorer William Hilton Hovell (1786 - 1875). Hovell was born on 26 April 1786 at Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, and on 10 May 1810 married Esther Arndell at Cripplegate, London. The Hovells lived in the Goulburn district and had two children, Julian Palmer and Emily Elizabeth. Hovell later married again to Sophia Wilkinson.

The suit was worn by the donor's brother, Hilton Charles Bernard Blythman, to a fancy dress party at Vaucluse House on Saturday 19th March 1932. Machine-made alterations have been made to the waistcoat of the suit, probably for wear at this occasion. Hilton's cousin, Hope Ryrie, also attended the function dressed as William Hovell's wife, Esther Hovell (nee Arundell). The costume worn by Hope originally belonged to Esther Hovell and is now in the Museum's collection (object no. 86/1010). Hilton's sister, Rosemary Howe (nee Blythman), attended the party as 'Miss Hovell'.

Also in the Museum's collection is the program from this day, 'The Book of Revels at Vaucluse House' (object no. 86/1012). This program outlines the afternoon and evening activities for the day, including a garden party, fencing display, reproduction of the First Landing of Governor Phillip, and a costume pageant. The program details the names of over 100 guests, who appear to be direct descendants of the characters that they play. A prologue states:
"From out the long dead years we come to-night
To play again our parts before your sight...
...No easy task was ours in those first years,
We fought our way through hardship, want and tears...
...The waiting, and the hard machineless toil,
Before we won from out the alien soil
The first fruits of our sowing - we had come
To a wild bush-land which we made a home:
And in our hearts the while we wrought, there grew
The dream of a great nation made by you"

In 1986 Hovell's great great granddaughter Rosemary Howe donated the suit to the Museum, along with a dress worn by Esther Hovell.


Credit Line

Gift of Mrs G Howe, 1986

Acquisition Date

30 July 1986

Cite this Object


Court suit with accessories worn by Captain William Hovell 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 7 December 2021, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Court suit with accessories worn by Captain William Hovell |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=7 December 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}