Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Early social life and fashions

Mrs E. D. Cowan

(Read before the Society, April 27, 1928)

Cowan, Mrs E. D. [Edith Dirksey] 1928, 'Early social life and fashions', Early Days, vol. 1, part 3: 1-17.



Britons, wheresoever their flag flies, follow with much fidelity—suitable or unsuitable—the social customs of the land from which they come, and in this State of Western Australia were no exception to that rule. For, after flying the flag of the Homeland at South Fremantle, the pioneers duly proceeded to lay the foundation stone of the city of Perth; certainly the method adopted was unique, and perhaps, one may venture to say, prophetic of their attitude and that of their descendants for so many years to the ‘‘forestry” question.

Then came the publication of a newspaper in October of the same year. Nailed to a gum tree to ensure publicity, and strictly limited as to its issue, it shows the trend of mind of our British ancestors.

Quite early in life one learnt from old pioneers that furniture of the best type—such things as pianos, harmoniums, plate (much of it old Sheffield), pictures, china, silver spoons and forks, cutlery, silver-mounted harness, etc.—lay, buried by the drifting sand hills, near Woodman's Point, and Rockingham. Impassable sandy tracks made it impossible to cart them even to Fremantle much less to Perth, Guildford or the Swan.

We find such functions as Governors' levees were held (impromptu on the first occasion), vide the humorous description given by Dr. Wilson in his book. Later, however, and until Government House was erected, the Governor appears to have received under the shade of a


banksia tree, his visitors struggling through what was probably "a thorny brake” composed of the prickly little “acacia pulchella, and other shrubs, so abundant in those early times.


Dancing was a favourite amusement. Mr. Thomas Brown mentions in the 'forties in a letter a much-enjoyed dance given by the Commandant of the Forces (Colonel Bruce) who was afterwards Acting Governor. The late Mr. C A. Manning has left us also an interesting description of a “Freemasons’ Ball” which was held in Fremantle in 1860.

In his diary dated Perth, September 3, 1831, the Advocate-General (Mr. G. F. Moore) thus describes the first big ball at Government House: —

"All the world here is going to the ball. I must tell you all about the great doings since the last entry in my logbook. Yesterday I came down here for our market, and meeting of the Agricultural Society, and for the Governor’s ball. The brig had just arrived, bringing the first Indian invalid to our shores (Quartermaster-General Colonel Hanson) and also Lord F. Beauclerk. All Perth was alive. Upwards of fifty sat down to the agricultural dinner, at which we had (as honorary members), Lord F. Beauclerk, Colonel Hanson, and Captain Parker, R.N. And at this dinner a memorial to the Home Government was read and approved of. It is now in course of signature, and will soon be sent home.

"In the evening, at the Governor’s house, we had 180 ladies and gentlemen ... The ball was kept up with the greatest spirit until six in the morning, and dancing almost without interval— centre dances, quadrilles, Spanish dances, and gallopades. I never before witnessed such gaiety at a ball, nor ever before danced so much in one night. Four rooms and an arcade were all filled, and, connected with the verandah, a superb tent was fitted up, decorated and festooned with naval flags, and in this we had supper—an elegant and abundant one. The gentlemen from India were astonished, for they had heard the most gloomy reports; and the invalid confessed that when coming ashore he had been considering with the captain the expediency of sending some provisions from the ship as a preventative against starvation. His amazement at seeing ample supplies of butter, eggs, vegetables, poultry and butcher’s meat may be guessed at. He purchased freely and liberally; has rented a house for some time and is now recovering; indeed, he was actually frolicksome all the evening.”

Songs at vice-regal entertainments, appear to have been interspersed. I quote therefore part of a verse from one composed—as well as sung—by Mr. Moore himself at this evening as it indicates that his was not


the prophetic instinct as regards future State finance, though correct enough for that vanished period:—

“No Tithes and no Taxes we now have to pay.
And our Geese are all Swans, as some witty folk say.
Then we live without trouble or stealth, Sirs.
Our currency’s all sterling wealth, Sirs.
So here’s to our Governor’s health, Sirs.
And Western Australia for me."

Though according to a Dr. Collie, who was first at Albany and afterwards at Perth, there was a scarcity of women in 1832-33—he complains that “all are out of patience at the delayed arrival of the Governor (who had been visiting England) and the thousands of young ladies he was to bring out"—Dr. Ogle in 1839 (page 83 of his book) states:—

“In point of Society the Colony stands pre-eminent. The higher order consists of families well-born and well-educated; many of them men of rank in the Army and Navy. The elegancies of life are sedulously cultivated by them and constitute a distinguished feature of their intercourse. With taste and judgment they have formed associations corresponding with similar establishments in their native country, and which tend to accumulate and dispense the best information. In the sequel, it will be necessary to refer to their agricultural, commercial, botanical and literary institutions, as their records unquestionably contain the best information on subjects connected with the Colony. The same accomplishments which here (in England) add so great a charm to female society are made part of the education there; and music, drawing and general information are matters of routine. All writers agree in their account of the moral courage, and unmurmuring perseverance under great difficulties of the women who encountered the hardships entailed on the earliest settlers; and all agree equally in the great influence their noble and endearing conduct has, and must continue to have, on the community at large; and all are lavish in their praises of the manner in which they have assumed their new duties, without derogating from the habits and manners of their former life in this country.”

A Colonial Home of 1842

A colonial home of 1842 is interestingly described by Mrs. G. Eliot (nee Louisa Clifton) in a letter to her brother Waller in England:—


"I am sitting in our drawing room (so-called) which is a snug little room opening on to the verandah, and from the open door of which and window near it, I command as I sit the most lovely view you can imagine. The hill slopes very steeply down from the edge of the verandah. All round the foot, on its sides, and on the flat right down to the estuary’s mouth, are trees and shrubs. The blue waters of Koombana Bay beyond, and the rugged sandy coast stretching into the far distance give us a sea horizon which, though not extensive, is most lovely......The walls of our sitting room are whitewashed with a little pink colour in it. The pointed thatched roof is its ceiling; a boarded floor (no carpet, of course), a sofa under the front window covered with a green chintz, and green window curtains; a rug of red drugget, a fireplace for wood, and a mahogany mantle-piece. Between the fireplace and window is a large mahogany cheffonier [sic], with three rows of books, and a large cupboard underneath; four wicker arm-chairs, and a table with a brown and crimson cover in the centre of the apartment—this is the portrait of our sitting room. A door nearly opposite the fireplace leads into our bedroom. A door opposite the front door opens on to the back verandah and leads to the kitchen, outhouses, etc. My bedroom is very small but large enough to contain my Somerset House four post bedstead, which father kindly gave us, and with white furniture looks very nice and most luxurious in this quarter of the globe. A dressing table, chest of drawers, and mahogany washstand complete the furniture of this cottage room. My little boudoir containing all my concerns leads from it. Then George has a little dressing room detached from our bedroom. Andrew Stirling (the cousin) has a little room corresponding to George’s, and the one corresponding to my boudoir is a spare room. I have been minute in describing it that you may form some idea of the best colonial residence in the district.”

A feature making for social intercourse in those early times was that of reading circles where the perusal of books such as Shakespeare, the Iliad and Odyssey, Macaulay’s English History, Burder’s Sermons, Paley^s Christian Evidences, and Baxter’s Sermons caused lively argument, as also did the discussion of the contents of the Athenaeum, Chamber's Journal, London Society, and other magazines.


A Doctor Barry's lectures on “The Poets” and “Astronomy” are mentioned in a letter of my grandfather Brown’s “as having filled in (during a visit to Perth) two evenings,” “The Poets” being good, but the other “an awful infliction”; after which he and Mr. Fred. Wittenoom hied to the latter’s home, and sought to forget it under the influence of a bread and cheese supper, diluted with brandy and water.

Card parties were frequent, whist, vingt-et-un, Picquet, back-gammon, draughts and cribbage, as well as chess, being the favorite games. These would appear to have been needed to lighten the intellectual strain imposed on those belonging to the reading circles, and thus relieve their mental digestion or indigestion.

Dinner parties were frequently given by the early pioneers, the table appointments in many homes being very handsome owing to the beautiful china, plate, and table silver possessed by so many of them. Lustre candle sticks, candelabra, and chandeliers lit the rooms, kerosene oil and electric light being, of course, unheard of. The guttering of the candles was, however, often a nuisance, especially when dancing, as they had to then, by candle-light.

Miss Clifton in her diary mentions a dinner given by Mr. Waller Clifton, of Australind, to the workers employed in building the first edifice erected at Australind in May, 1841. About 40 sat down, “the chief carpenter at the head of the table, and the thatcher at the other end.” “The menu consisted of kangaroo tail soup, kangaroo pies and steaks, pork, beef, pease padding, suet puddings, a table being specially made for the occasion. No spirits were allowed, but Colonial beer and Barclay’s porter were the liquid refreshments supplied. The meal began at three in the afternoon and lasted till ten at night. Solos and choruses were sung, some of the men having remarkably fine voices.”

The poorest cottages had in them often beautiful china, large and small lustre jugs, cups and saucers of delightful designs, china dogs (so valuable now), and interesting curios of various kinds. Especially were these in the homes of the pensioner-soldier families from India, many of whom had been through the Indian Mutiny, Unfortunately, the china was not valued, and little is left to-day.


The official men folk, I notice from letters, did a fair amount of “afternoon calling” in lieu of their wives, who were often otherwise occupied. Clubs being nonexistent probably accounts for this fact. The men apparently enjoyed the proceeding, and gathered, even as to-day (in the more up to date rendezvous) quite an amount of gossip with which to regale their homekeeping womenfolk.

In “Letters to the Homeland,” from the pen of a woman pioneer, is described a settler who used his wife's scanty store of blankets (the best Witney) to cover up a cart load of salt on a stormy February night, with the result that the blankets lost a great deal of the comfort they had been wont to impart. Other husbands, we are told, used to demand that the kind and good housewives should produce their stores of sheets at harvest time, when the corn had been threshed, and there being "a sudden breeze must be winnowed immediately.” Apparently corn sacks were few, and it was astonishing (to the men) how fast the sheets wore out. “Why! they were in holes already! things do wear out faster in this country a great deal than they do in England.” One can only hope it did not mean for any long interval sheetless beds!

The First Race Meeting

Another inheritance from their ancestors in the Homeland was the love of racing, whole families taking the day out as a picnic, and the riders of the horses being most commonly their gentlemen owners. The first gathering of this kind took place on the Downs near Fremantle on October 2, 1833, and is described in the “Gazette” of those days. A Captain Taylor, of the “Helen,” having imported some Timor ponies, aided by a Mr. C. Smith and Mr. J. Weevel, were the organisers; and the daily newspaper says “It was the nearest they could get in those primitive turf days to the scenes on the green heaths of Old England.” The first race was for ponies, the stake being a subscription purse of five sovereigns, and the starters were Captain McDermott’s Dandy, Captain Taylor’s two nominations (Doctor and Teager), Mr. Leeder’s Bob, Mr. Solomon's Tinker, Mr. Dowing’s Jack Mackako, and Mr. Sampson’s [Samson] strangely-named More in Sorrow than Anger. The “Gazette”


gives the following description of the race:—

“The first heat was contested between Dandy and Tinker until within a few yards of the winning post, when Tinker's rider (Master Butler), whether with the intention of ‘jockeying,’ or from accident we will not pretend to determine, cleverly sidled his antagonist off the course. In the second heat, Dandy’s rider retaliated, and Tinker bolted at the starting, Dandy coming in without any competition. The third heat was again well contested between Tinker and Dandy, the latter winning. In the second race there were two starters, Mr. George Leake’s Jack and Mr. Sampson’s black mare. Jack won. In the third event there were three starters —Captain Erskine’s Perouse, Mr. S. G. Henty’s Jack, and Mr. Scott’s Grey. The latter beat Jack after a good race, Perouse bolting off the course.” The fourth and last race was for ponies, and the stake three sovereigns. Of it the “Gazette” says: “Five ponies were entered, but most of them preferring the branch roads soon after starting, the run was more amusing than edifying. Such was the first race meeting held in Western Australia.

Fashions for Women

It is interesting to learn that as early as 1831 Mr. Fletcher Moore wrote “As to the ladies I suppose you have been mistaking them for Hottentot dames, and consider them suitably apparelled in Lindsay-Woolsey, or in drugget drest at 13d. per yard, but our fair ones of the upper grade are of a very different type: Yet, alas! I cannot enumerate any of the thousand articles they may wish for. ... Pray interest yourself to have a well-selected cargo sent especially to them.”

Weddings being, of course, most important the description of that of Miss Louisa Clifton to Mr. G. Eliot, in June, 1842, from her own pen, and never yet published, seems fitting:—

“The last week at home was one of great bustle and excitement... Andrew, Mr. Northey and Mr. Wooi-laston came upon Tuesday. Could you have seen the custard-making, planning the table, etc., you would have been amused. The night was very stormy; such thunder, lightning and rain as would surprise you ... I did not expect the event of the day could possibly take place. The jarring of the elements, had I felt able to


sleep, would have chased repose away. Tired and wearied, I rose. A broken pane of glass in my window admitted the piercing wind, and I dressed shivering with cold and nervousness, not believing the ceremony could take place.... Thanks to the dear girls and kind friends, I was beautifully dressed in a white merino dress, made by Mrs. Williams, a white satin bonnet and most elegant fall (veil), Mary’s needlework, and a really splendid embossed white China crepe shawl, the gift of dear George, and white satin shoes made in Australind! The same orange flowers Eleanor and Chrissy wore, and collar and cuffs, Ellen’s tasteful work.

“Papa conducted me to the drawing room, and thence to the survey room, which was carpeted with sailcloth for the occasion and furnished with table, cushions, etc. George, with Andrew and Augustus Northey, received us there. Rachel and the two other little girls dressed in blue dresses and straw bonnets looked lovely. We walked back buffeting with the wind to our own drawing room and there received almost all the settlement. After partaking of an excellent breakfast I retired, changed my white dress for a green cloth habit and cap of the same, veil, etc. Having taken leave of dearest Mama and father, returned to the drawing room, at the door of which our horses were waiting.

“We mounted and left amid loud cheers and every mark of interest, which George acknowledged by bowing; and proceeded on our long, cold ride on the never-to-be-forgotten Koombana-road. The ford being too deep, a boat was waiting at Collie, and two men ferried us across; the horses, being ridden through, nearly had to swim. A shower overtook us as we landed, and so tempestuous was the wind we were obliged to shelter for some time under some thick trees and bushes. I wish you could have seen us as we stood shivering and talking over our strange position. Saddling our horses we re-mounted and were almost blown away as we wound along the shore of the estuary. . . . We arrived at home (on the Preston) just at dark. ... It is a ride of ten miles, and took us nearly three hours. A blazing fire awaited us though George's housekeeper had hardly expected us, and we felt thankful under all the circumstances at having been favoured with so prosperous and comparatively not unpleasant journey."


On reading the foregoing we realise how fortunate Mr. Eliot was in his selection of a bride, and perhaps you will query in your mind as I have done, how a modern one would take such an experience on her wedding day. A going away ride of ten miles taking three hours, in rain, wind, and lightning, was surely a fair test of even a pioneering disposition.

Riding Habits

Apropos Mrs. Eliot's riding costume: ordinary habits were then made with very long and full skirts, and sometimes a bodice of cambric just like a modern blouse, with sleeves full to the elbows and tight thence to the wrist. High straw hats slightly to one side were worn with a long veil of either brown, blue or green gauze floating behind. Later, stiff cloth bodices to match pointed back and front were preferred and felt or beaver hats (like modified men’s bell-toppers) became the fashion. Frilled white petticoats, and frillier “undies” were worn underneath.

Mrs. Thos. Brown, in the account of her ride overland to Geraldton, mentions a riding bonnet she made and wore with comfort to herself, though her son complained that “Mama’s large bonnet, glistening in the sun, was enough to frighten anything,” it having, according to him, scared a kangaroo he was trying to shoot.

Other riding costumes of that period, we are told on the authority of a Miss Mary Abbott, writing lately in a magazine, were those worn by women in France when hunting the stag, and consisted of the three-cornered hat and the wide skirted habit and coat of the time of Louis XIV. She says: “Gone, too, are the floating veil, with the stream-like habit, and short swallow tail coat donned by Queen Victoria when riding with Lord Melbourne. Yet with all the modern Diana’s craze for a slim silhouette, one feels she would never do what the Empress of Austria did, have her habit sewn over her bare flesh.”

Brocades, damasks and moire-antique silks were much patronised by young and old, though tarlatan and a sort of crape material not unlike the present time chiffons and georgettes were used as well for young people’s evening frocks trimmed with either lace or ruchings of the same material. The heavier fabrics were mostly handed on from mothers to their daughters, and much


prized by the recipients owing to their splendid wearing quality. Many of these daughters and grand-daughters, however, now regret their unwisdom in not keeping them as heirlooms, for the materials were woven direct from the cocoons of the silkworm, and not, as is the case now, mixed with ground glass or chemical, nor were they entirely artificial, as is so often the products of to-day.

You will remember that Thackeray in one of his novels mentions a lady, who wore a handsome India shawl over a rich and wide silk dress. She carried a blue silk parasol with a yellow silk lining, and on her head a bonnet “trimmed with a profusion of red poppies, blue bells and ears of corn.” Breadth in the skirt, and quantity as to bonnet decoration appears to have been a hall-mark of fashion, and more desired than good taste.

The Vogue of the “Sack”

A kind of coat called a “Sack” was worn by either men or women, hanging loosely from the shoulders. Leg of mutton sleeves also came in about 1830 with moderately full skirts, stiffened out by petticoats underneath. These sleeves were tremendously full at the top near the shoulder and upper part of the arm, but tight from elbow to wrist, and were succeeded by sleeves “en pagode,” tight at the top and hanging at the wrists with lace under-sleeves. These looked, it is said, rather nice, but were troublesome, owing to the fact that it was almost impossible to keep them from dipping into the teacups, gravy bowls and food such as jam, custard, cream or butter. Flounces from 15 to 17 inches deep adorned the wide skirts till about 1840; rosettes and long dangling ribbons being newer and further fashionable trimmings.

Just to bring before you some of the crudities in colour mixtures in 1837, I must mention another dress described at that time. “She wore a blue satin robe, a black-violet mantle (lined with blue satin) and trimmed with black lace, topped with an emerald green hat trimmed with blonde lace, pink roses and ribbons and feathers.”

Mr. Ogle, in 1839, advised ladies to bring out with them “green veils and parasols, Dunstable bonnets, gauzes, French clogs, boots, well-made shoes, and all linens.”


Sir Edward Stone tells us clogs were required in his youthful days “because as clay was the usual material for footpaths, the consequence was that wet weather made them regular quagmires,” so no doubt that is why the ungraceful articles were used. The neatly heeled shoes and flesh coloured stockings of the present time are indeed a contrast. White cotton, or black stockings were the mode, sometimes silk, and later a deep cream coloured kind (cotton) known as “Balbriggan” were favoured. In the 'sixties stripes were to be seen and kept in fashion for about ten years.

Gloves of several varieties were fashionable, some elbow length, some four-button, edged with lace or ruching, others being laced to the top of the arm to ensure its shapeliness. Lace mittens, either black or cream, were also worn at either evening or day functions. Children were miniatures of their elders, and wore the same frilled cambric trousers, short wide petticoats and similar overdresses. Quaint as the effect was, it cannot be said to have been either pretty or childlike in effect, as is their clothing now.

Paisley, India, Norwich and Crayford shawls were a distinct feature of the period.


Having gone out for a hundred years, hoops were revived from about 1850 to 1860. The correct method of making was as follows: “Four narrow steels covered with tape run into a calico slip; the steel nearest the waist should be four nails [a term of measurement denoting 2 1/2 inches] down from it, and must be one yard and three-quarters in length; the other three steels each 2 1/2 yards in length must be placed at intervals, the first six nails from the upper steel, and the other two must have two nails between each, the first of these two being two nails below the second steel. None must meet in front except the one nearest the waist.”

Crinolines were really complete petticoats into which were inserted the hoops. They were generally worn under the heavy types of dress, those made of silk (grosegrain), moire antique, brocade, satin, etc. Lighter materials such as tarlatan, muslin and gauze were given the desired amplification by wearing underneath sometimes as many as 14 petticoats heavily stiffened.


The crinoline finally disappeared here about 1868, and except for “Old Time Balls” we may be sure no woman desires its revival. About 1865 the fashion crept in of wearing over two or more petticoats and other garments, a skirt and bodice of white satin, one of net, one of plain tarlatan, and lastly, the dress skirt itself well ruched and frilled. Sometimes a tulle ball dress would have six skirts of tulle over the satin foundation to give the desired "bouffant” effect. Thus dresses took from 16 to 20 yards of material to make them. Later, however, the quantity was reduced to 11 or 12 yards. Sometimes stiff petticoats of a horsehair material were used, and modified trains were worn in the street and for balls. Ordinary house dresses were always short.

From 1870 to 1893 we adopted very narrow skirts with bustles and trains, with which we assisted the municipality to clean the streets, and these were followed by varieties of the Princess robe. The scarlet Garibaldi was in evidence in 1865; accompanied by the "Pork Pie” hat. Coral ornaments and bands of black velvet on the wrists, to enhance their whiteness were to be seen, and heavy jewellery of every description was loaded on to the person at that period. Plaid materials, alpacas and merinos of the most vivid shades of blue, violet, green and scarlet everywhere lit up fashion's landscape in the early Victorian era, even in Perth's most favoured rendezvous—Church and Government House.

Between the 'sixties and 'seventies the arrival of your own or your neighbour's (at least annual) case of clothing was an event of considerable importance, ensuring a good attendance at the next church service in order to get an early view.

Dr. Hora's wife (afterwards found to be the far-famed Madeleine Smith) was in my childhood—on such occasions—the cynosure of all eyes, for unlike many, she dressed in really good taste, and we, as very young children, were never tired of looking at her. One of the most devout and regular attendants at church, her example and refined appearance must have been impressive to others also. The impression left on my memory is that she was a gentlewoman in every way.

Mrs. J. Drummond, a Miss Shaw, married at Perth about 1851, wore white India muslin over white silk,


made with a double skirt, bodice with a v-shaped vest, and bell sleeves with inner sleeves at the wrist (en pagode). Her wedding bonnet was bought at the shop of a well known family in the State. The young girls of that time wore coloured cottons (or prints), chalys, poplins and silks.

It was about 1870 that bustles came in and were worn under the skirt at the back. They were in fashion about ten years, with heavily trimmed bodices and skirts with narrow flouncings to the waist, plush trimming being a popular adjunct.


Elastic side boots were worn by men and women from 1829 to 1880, some being laced up the front also with silk cords, prunella and bronze kid being much favoured by the latter. For evening wear white kid shoes laced at the side and with low heels were “en regie,” later came satin ones with high heels and bows over the rounded toes.

Mrs. Thos. Brown, writing Home, says: “Necessity obliges me to speak up for some boots and shoes which are so difficult to get here, and when procured intolerably dear and inferior, Matilda (her sister) enclosed to me in one of the cases some black prunella boots at 3/6 per pair. They were quite right in length, but too narrow, as were all the last, both for Mrs. Viveash and myself. Nevertheless we wore them, and I have now come to the last pair. Could some be procured a little wider ? I suppose fawn colour would not be any dearer; they would make a variety. Also a prunella cloth dress would be a very useful and suitable garment .... and would provide me with a pattern for the fashion.”

Mostly of the 17th century type, jointed in the middle, parasols of the period were quite unsuited to the Australian climate. The frames were of whalebone, and the handles ivory or bone, with a ring at the top for carrying them. They were covered with silk or brocade, and often heavily embroidered and fringed.

Poke and coal scuttle bonnets with immense feathers, quantities of flowers and broad strings of ribbon, remained in fashion till quite 1870, then came Princess bonnets. The caps worn underneath served either for street or house wear, though later quillings of lace, net


and flowers took their place under the brim of the bonnet, small insects such as bees, flies, beetles or lady birds being interspersed among the ruching. Caps were of manifold colours, covered the whole head and, heavily adorned with flowers, ruchings of lace, and ribbon, had strings of ribbon with sometimes a narrow pleated edge added.

Moderately high-crowned hats were worn with veils (then called falls) tied on by a string of some kind, the brims being slightly turned up all round. The vicissitudes of Lady Broome’s hat-bonnet described in her “Letters to Guy” nearly 50 years ago, would have been worth relating, but I leave my listeners to look it up for themselves as it is most amusing.

The hair was put up in nets, even children of 9 or 10 years wearing it thus. These nets were of heavy cord or chenille, being spangled for full dress occasions with jet, and fixed with other ornaments. Curls were worn on each side of the head if preferred; if not, the hair was combed plainly on each side, and tucked into the net with a sort of loop over the ears. The Alexandra curl came into fashion about 1865. Other modes were either the chignon, or a number of small sausagelike rolls on the back of the head, with one large one in front high on the head. Plaits, wound coronet like, were also in evidence after the eighties with a comb to give height. Much false hair was used in the attempt to enhance, or otherwise, the effect of these modes.

Men’s Fashions

In 1831—we have it on Mr. Fletcher Moore’s authority that he “had no notion there would be so much society here, so much gaiety, so much dressing. I thought in my simplicity that I had for ever laid aside my slight shoes, silk stockings and kid gloves, but I have been agreeably disappointed.” He also tells us that medical men, lawyers, clergymen, and those in mourning “wear black. Government officers, naval and military men wear blue cloth coats with gilt crown buttons, and blue frocks and trousers ;" but on official occasions white duck trousers were apparently donned also. Elsewhere he mentions shoes, boots, buskins (a kind of gaiter), corduroy trousers, and black beaver hats—“which everyone who can get them wears”— as being greatly in demand.


Mr. George Leake in 1829, writing on the voyage out to his brother John, states: "I enjoy excellent health and grow stout. I must not forget my costume in order to finish the picture. Item: a hairy cap. Item: a short jacket of blue camlet (a material made in those days from camels' hair), yellow waistcoat, etc. Probably the "yellow waistcoat and etc’s" (such as trousers) were of "nankeen,” a kind of Chinese cotton cloth very firm textured and of a yellow colour much utilised for men’s clothing, as also was "fustian," a material made with a warp of linen thread, and a woof of thick cotton.

That men’s clothing of most kinds, except for special occasions, became later (in 1838) a problem at times difficult of solution to the pioneers, is borne in upon us by entries made by Mr. F. Moore in his diary, and by various allusions in the letters of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Brown in the ’forties to Mr. Bussey, Mrs. Brown’s father, in Malvern, England, also by Mr. Landor in his book "The Bushman” and Mr. Knight in his Diary.

Mr. Moore confides that he is "really very badly off for many things. I had to go this day to Mr. Brockman to beg of him to let me have two or three pairs ot summer trousers, of which he brought a large stock from India. I have literally only one pair of boots, and one of shoes, and there are none to be got. The ships seem to bring nothing now.” If this was the plight of the Advocate-General and first judge of the civil court of this State, we can realise many others must have been even more pinched—and women likewise—-during the first fifteen years of the settlement, at any rate.

Coats and Hats

In those early days swallow coats were the fashion for day wear, and also others cut square at the bottom, with large cuffs on the sleeves, lapels and turn over collars. They were double breasted and cut away in front with square, round, or V.-shape openings. In 1834 there came in coats approaching very much in shape to the latter day frock coats, but with shorter tails.

Waistcoats were square at the top, short and well above the waist, and made of brocaded silk, wool work, and later crewel work; in fact, any material (preferably with a strong touch of colour) was allowable.


Tall hats of beaver or silk, and grey top hats were the correct headgear. The crowns of these varied in shape from narrow below to broad at the top, or were straight from the brim. Called “bell toppers,” they were unsightly and uncomfortable, yet men (true sons of their mothers) dared not dispense with their use, as they were the “Fashion.” Great improvement has been effected in the headgear of men; though a writer of that day thought “nothing short of a revolution would displace the “bell topper.” Its demise is almost accomplished, and is perhaps one of the things we may count on the credit side, when reviewing the results of the Great War. Many of those unaesthetic excrescensies, weighed 1lb. 4ozs., and cost three guineas. Though there may be no great change as to price, in weight there is a very great improvement. A pith helmet today weighs 8oz. or less, ordinary felts—now worn—3oz., and worsted caps with ear flaps—5oz.

Heavy, laced boots, to which were added hob-nails for farm work, were worn; patent leather, elastic side boots for dressy functions, and pumps with thin soles and low heels for dancing. The fashions in men’s foot gear have changed but little during the century. Canvas and cloth slippers, ornamented with wool work designs, were favourite gifts from maid to man, and much appreciated by recipients. Rosettes made of ribbon or gems often adorned the “pumps.” White or black socks (not coloured) were usually seen. An English dandy, be it noted, once paid £30 for a pair of rosettes to enhance the appearance of his feet. We may be sure they were well gemmed!!


It was a common thing to see men wearing beautifully embroidered or wool-worked braces, thus ornamented by their wives or female friends; and a most finished adjunct they were to the masculine “toilette” of that day.

Caps were in vogue, as they still are, and having first become fashionable in the reign of George II. In those days there was a saying: “Any cap, what e’er it be, was still a sign of some degree;” hardly is that the case now.


Frilled and pleated white shirts were essential to full dress, but blue striped ones were allowable ordinarily ; they had well-stiffened fronts; but collars were starched or not as preferred, and the ends turned back. Black or white stocks (neck ties) completed the ensemble. Stiff neck cloths flat and buttoned at the back (called, I think, cravats) were to be seen as late as the ’seventies here, softer ones, more like mufflers, being worn as well, and made of linen or silk. Red flannel shirts were worn by black herdsmen, and smocks, and both red and blue shirts were used by farm hands.

Somewhat shapeless plaid trousers were often to be seen, and later they were cut wider at the bottom (like our bell sleeves) and then in the middle part of Oueen Victoria’s reign they became tight from the knees downward, fitting with straps under the insteps, changing ultimately to their present straight form.

Owing to the troublesomeness of the flies and mosquitoes, cowtails, fitted in rather nice wooden handles, were much used to flick these worrying insects away.

Garry Gillard | New: 30 August, 2021 | Now: 30 August, 2021