Cooper family wedding dress

Contributed by: Manning Valley Historical Society

Alice and Walter Cooper's wedding photo Alice Cooper in her wedding dress Close up of sleeve Close up of open rear bodice
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Manning Valley Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Wingham, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

The gown is of local historic interest as it was produced for the wedding of Alice May Chapman and Walter Stephen Cooper- two individuals from premier familes of the area. Both the Cooper and Chapman families have a long history in the Manning Valley dating back to the early to mid 1800's. The Cooper's owning beef properties such as 'Norwood' and the Chapman's in retail trade.

The fact that a photograph exists showing the bride in the gown is of significance and hangs in the Manning Valley Museum. The photograph shows Alice, a woman of 24 years of age whom is very aware of the current fashions in dress, hair and even a more modern 'pose' for a photograph. Interestingly the bride and her dress is the central focus of the photograph rather than the 'couple'.

The gown itself is almost ethereal in appearance made of quality silk and lace. As a gown produced for a 1906 'country' wedding in regional NSW- it would be considered a stylish gown typical of the periods fashion anywhere in the world at the time. It's design shows the transition in womens dress where either a very small bustle or no bustle was needed as the corsetting (58cm waist) sufficiently defined the waist when balanced with leg of mutton sleeves, masses of lace at the bustline and gathering at the rear to emphasise the feminine form.

Author: Margaret Clark and Marsha Rennie, 6/1/11.


This dress was worn by Alice May Chapman at her wedding to Walter S Cooper in 1906.

This beautiful, light almost ethereal ivory silk gown consists of four pieces - a fully lined internally corsetted bodice, skirt, under skirt and matching waistband.

The skirt is constructed of fine ivory silk with lace ribbon running horizontally in loops along the skirt and finishing the 3 ruffles along the hem. There is gathering running along the rear length of the waistband from the right side to the left side to give fullness at rear to give a slight bustle appearance whilst four pintucks run down the centre front of the skirt. The skirt was floor length at the front with extra length to form a subtle train at the rear. The train has two loops of silk ribbon below knee height to allow the bride to pick up the train and hold it gathered to the side of the dress. The underskirt is similarly constructed with rear gathering and a side opening but made from a heavy lustrous cotton fabric and is finished with two rows of plain ruffles.

The rear buttoning bodice has a full lining which is boned with 5 ribs under the bust down to the waist. It has rows of gathering designed to blouse below the bustline lace panels but above the tightly drawn and boned waistband- typical styling of the period also with 'leg of mutton' sleeves. The waist band has 5 ribs of boning and a large round lace rosette sitting at centre front. At the time of the wedding it appears to have had a cascade of lace at the bodice although there are pin pricks still visible where this lace has been removed or fallen off due to disintegration of the thread with age.

Alice May Chapman was the daughter of William Chapman M.P. of Kimbriki in the Upper Manning.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Alice May Chapman was born in 1882 to William and Mary Chapman of Kimbriki.

Walter S Cooper was born in 1876 to John Burnett Cooper and Agnes Ann Cooper (nee Andrews).

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Walter Cooper was the grandson of Maria Cooper nee de Smirnoff. Maria had an interesting history. Her father, Jean de Smirnoff was a Russian consul to Holland. He was murdered there at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Maria was brought up in St Petersberg and made an arranged marriage with her cousin Leonard Cooper in Madras, India in 1828. Her husband Leonard died in 1852, leaving Maria with nine surviving children. After her husband's death Maria's eldest son, Also named Leonard immigrated to Australia. Around 1856 Maria also decided to move to Australia and bought a property on the north bank of the Manning river, that she named 'Norwood'.

There are numerous members of the Cooper family still residing in the Manning Valley though the four daughters of Walter and Alice are not among them, having all married men who went to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The wedding dress is indicative of the social status of the wearer at this period only the more wealthy members of society had a gown made of such fine fabrics.

By the late 1800's branches of the Chapman family owned both the 'Federal Store' located in Wingham and 'Chapman's Emporium of Commerce' located in nearby Tinonee. The stores being advertised in publications such as Town and Country as 'universal providers'. Alice May would have been well connected and her family sufficiently financed to be able to have such a fashionably styled, well made dress of such fine fabrics. From the photo it is apparent no expense was spared from the dress, perfectly and fashionably coiffed hair to the fresh flowers.

The wedding joined two of the premier families in the Manning Valley during this period.

Descendant Arthur Cooper tells a story of his family being the considered the 'wrong' Cooper's and having the Chapman's cross to the otherside of the road to avoid passing them. Obviously Walter Stephen Cooper was considered wealthly enough from his beef cattle properties to the west of Wingham to give the marriage the Chapman's blessings.

Where did this information come from?

This information was provided by Arthur Cooper a current member of the MVHS and the Great Grandson of Leonard and Maria Cooper. It is further supported through the documentation of the Cooper family history contained within 'A Cooper Chronicle' printed in 1982, a copy of which is currently held within the MVHS archives.

  1. Place of origin:

    Wingham, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Cost:


  3. Owned by:

    Alice May Cooper nee Chapman.

  4. Worn by:

    Alice May Chapman

  5. Occasion(s):

    Her wedding to Walter S. Cooper.

  6. Place:


  7. Designed by:


  8. Made by:


  9. Made for:

    Alice May Chapman

Trimmings / Decoration


A lace ribbon is run horizontally along the bottom of the skirt and train in loops.


Lace sleeves and a bodice trimmed with panels of lace . Also has lace ruffles on the skirt and cuffs.


Pintucking running down centrefront of skirt and along either side of rear buttoning bodice.

Fibre / Weave

A four piece ivory silk wedding gown. Bodice comprises of silk and lace which is lined with a heavy quality cotton forming part of an internal boned corset. The leg of mutton sleeves have lace from the elbow to the wrist, a high lace boned collar and ruffles finished with lace on the skirt and sleeves. There is a large single ruffle of ivory lawn sitting beneath the silk ruffles on the skirt to give extra fullness.

The underskirt is made of a quality white lustrous cotton. The lace is silk.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye



It appears lace may have been removed from the bodice or has become separated due to thread deterioration.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The button holes appear to be finished in silk thread with buttons ornately carved of shell.

Brass hook and eyes as closures on both the skirt and underskirt. Also used to secure the rear of the boned lining under the bodice.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

There are 5 steel capped ribs made of a natural substance (perhaps flattened goose quills) inserted for stiffening on the bodice below the bust. There are also 5 inserted into the waistband and four inserted into the upright lace collar.


belt bodice petticoat skirt
Neck 320 mm
Chest 750 mm
Waist 580 mm 580 mm 580 mm 580 mm
Front neck to hem 560 mm
Front waist to hem 1060 mm 1060 mm
Back neck to hem 500 mm
Back waist to hem 1260 mm 1280 mm
Sleeve length 580 mm
Neck to sleeve head 130 mm
Cross back 280 mm
Underarm to underarm 420 mm
Convert to inches

1470mm length overall from top of collar to floor length at front of gown.

Additional material

Other related objects

Photographs of Maria Smirnoff and five of her sons. Other Cooper family memorabilia. A nightdress and separated under-pants within the collection are said to be linked to the wedding.


Some light spotting of rust marks. Excellent condition overall.

Evidence of repairs

There is evidence that some lace originally on the bodice has been removed whilst some pieces of lace are hanging from the garment due to disintegration of thread.

Insect damage


Mould damage



  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Parts missing
  2. Stained
  3. Torn
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