Day dress worn by Esther Hovell
This day dress was first worn by Esther Arndell, the wife of explorer Captain William Hilton Hovell, in around 1837.
Captain William 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 most famously 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 Governor Brisbane however did not eventuate, thus Hovell and Hume's undertaking was largely self-financed. Hovell and Hume actually arrived at Port Philip Bay on 16 December 1924, however an error in calculating their position led Hovell to believe that the bay was in fact the western shore of Westernport, and the party returned to Gunning in January 1825. In 1826 another party, including Hovell and led by Captain Wright, was sent by Brisbane to Westernport by sea, where on arrival Hovell realised that the site was in fact Port Philip Bay. Further examination of the area also revealed large quantities of coal - a valuable resource for the new colony.
Right from the beginning, the colonists of Australia wanted to maintain a fashionable appearance. Conscious of fashion's role in signifying status and respectability, the colonial elite eagerly awaited the irregular shipments of goods from Europe, India and China. Class distinctions were enforced with a rigorous set of codes for behaviour and status symbols such as fashionable dress and grand houses. This beautifully finished day dress, made of fine yellow satin, reflects the Hovell family's social and financial position in colonial Australian society.
This well provenanced day dress, worn by Esther Hovell, is an excellent example of women's dress from around 1835. The dress compliments other holdings in the Museum's colonial dress collection, and can be used to illustrate important changes and processes in the design, fabrication, function and cultural meaning of women's fashion.