Sovereign Hill's Gold Museum exhibits rare collection of original Victorian garments and accessories

RARE: Fashion exhibition curator Snjez Cosic adjusts an 1874 wedding dress worn by Fanny Perrin, the daughter of business owner, Eliza Perrin. Picture: Lachlan Bence

RARE: Fashion exhibition curator Snjez Cosic adjusts an 1874 wedding dress worn by Fanny Perrin, the daughter of business owner, Eliza Perrin. Picture: Lachlan Bence

A new Ballarat exhibition will provide a glimpse into the fashion trends and role of women in the Victorian era.

‘A Victorian Silhouette’ draws on the Sovereign Hill Gold Museum’s incredible collection of original Victorian garments and accessories.

The collection will be shown alongside reproductions made by Sovereign Hill’s costume department to highlight the craftsmanship in recreating Victorian-era fashion between 1837 and 1901.

Exhibition curator Snjez Cosic said one of the rarest items in the museum’s collection, Eliza Perrin’s day dress, would be on display.

She said day dresses would normally be worn until discarded, but remarkably, the miner’s wife and hotel owner’s dress survived.  

Ms Cosic said Mrs Perrin’s daughter’s wedding dress would also be on display.

“It’s wonderful to have two dresses representing a day dress and a wedding dress that has come from the same family. The fact the dresses have survived is remarkable and they tell a story as well,” Ms Cosic said.

She said Ms Perrin’s polished cotton and wool blend day dress was quite simple but by the time her daughter, Fanny, got married she had successfully established herself on the goldfields – evident by Fanny’s elaborate wedding dress.

Ms Cosic said another rare dress on display was Amy Gibbs’ wedding dress.

Ms Gibbs was the daughter of Charlie Napier Hotel proprietor John Gibbs.

“Sadly, Amy was only married for one year. She delivered a stillborn son in 1883 and died herself the following day on her wedding anniversary, aged 30 years,” Ms Cosic said. 

A Victorian Silhouette will show visitors three different styles of women’s fashion – the balloon look of the 1850s; the corset, refined look with the use of bustles and bows of the 1860s; and the ‘s’ curve and ballooned arms of the 1890s.

“Female clothing in the Victorian era reflected the role and status of women in society. Wealthy and middle class women wore more decorative and elaborate clothing, while the outfits of their working counterparts were simpler,” Ms Cosic said. 

“With costume one of the most recognisable aspects of Sovereign Hill’s interpretation of life on the Victorian goldfields, this exhibition provides visitors with a fantastic opportunity to understand how fashion and women’s roles were defined by the Victorian era.

”The Victorian-era fashion was about coverage, the demure woman and highlighting her child-bearing hips.”

Ms Cosic said there were drapers and dressmakers on the goldfields who were conscious of fashion trends and often referred to ‘The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine’.

Other exhibition highlights include an 1867 ballgown, an English tea set circa 1885 and wedding accessories circa 1890.

The exhibition will be held from May 18 to November 4 at the Gold Museum. Cost is $13.60 for adults and $7.20 for children. Concession and family tickets are available.  

During Ballarat Heritage Weekend on May 26 from 2pm to 4pm, the Gold Museum will host a panel discussion with Sovereign Hill’s costume department to find out how they create the ‘Victorian silhouette’.

From 1pm to 5pm, a bonnet-makers demonstration will be held, showing visitors how they re-create elegant headwear from the Victorian era.