Anna King's Evening dress

Contributed by: National Trust of Australia (NSW)

Evening dress, worn by Anna King, c. 1805 
Photography by Brenton McGeachie
 Historic Houses Trust of NSW Detail, Evening dress, worn by Anna King, c. 1805 Photography by Brenton McGeachie
 Historic Houses Trust of NSW Philip & Anna Gidley King & family, 1799, by Robert Dighton, watercolour, ML 1244  State Library of NSW
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    National Trust of Australia (NSW)
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This simply cut evening dress consists of short sleeves, a very high waist, sitting under the bust with a A-line skirt. Sleeves have a drawstring at the base, which creates a gathered, look when worn. The hem of the dress has a scalloped edge. The front of the skirt is slightly shorter than the back, which has a train. The whole dress is embroidered with silver 'plate' embroidery in flowered sprigs and a running floral border at the base.

This dress was worn by Anna Josepha King from 1805 most probably for evening wear and formal events in Sydney. Anna Josepha King was the wife of Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales. Anna was born in 1765 and had three children, Philip Parker born 1791, Anna Maria, 1793 and Elizabeth 1796. She lived on Norfolk Island from 1791-1796, Sydney from 1799-1806 and Parramatta 1832 till her death in 1844.

This dress was worn in the early days of the Colony. This is a fashionable style of dress for the period, which saw a move away from the elaborate styles of the 18th Century to a more classical mode. In the newly created society of Sydney with a large number of convicts, it was important for those in positions of power to demonstrate their authority. This dress with its luxurious muslin and fashionable cut would have stood in contrast to convict clothing. The distance between England and Sydney at that period would have made it desirable to keep up with English fashions.

This dress is significant as one of the oldest provenanced dresses in New South Wales. It was owned and worn by a significant figure in the Colony, Anna Josepha King, wife of Governor Philip Gidley King. It is also a beautiful example of early Nineteenth Century fashion with its high waist and beautiful silver 'plate' floral embroidery. It represents the need to remain fashionable in the early Colony. This is a very important Colonial Australian dress.

Author: Rebecca Evans, April 2011.


Evening dress, that consists of white Indian muslin, embroidered in silver thread or 'plate' embroidery with flowered sprigs and a running floral border. The bodice is short with the front panel cut on the cross and is finished with a casing of ribbon. The skirt is made from two widths of fabric with the two seams taken to the side backs and slightly tapered to the high waist. The back of the skirt is slightly longer than the front.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Anna Josepha King was born in Hetherington, Devon in 1765 and married Philip Gidley King in 1791. Anna is not believed to have been born of wealthy parents. Shortly after marrying she sailed to Norfolk Island. Six weeks later she gave birth to her son, Philip Parker. She gave birth to two daughters, Maria and Elizabeth.

In 1796 they returned to England due to Philip's health but in 1799 they returned to Sydney, Philip was appointed Lieutenant Governor. In 1806 the family return to England and Philip dies in 1808.

After her husband died she spent 25 years in England, returning in 1832 to Sydney. She lived with her daughter, Maria her her husbands, Hannibal Macarthur in Parramatta until her death in 1844.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

How does this costume relate to wider historical context?

This dress is one of the oldest examples of provenanced costume in Australia. It dates back to, 1805, the oldest period of the Colony and was worn by Anna Josepha King (1765-1844) the wife of Governor King.

Simply cut and made it was probably sewn by a Colonial seamstress. It is made up in fine, white muslin with silver plate embroidery in a floral design.

The style of the dress is very fashionable for the early Nineteenth Century with a move away from the elaborate modes of the Eighteenth Century towards a more simple line and look. Muslin was also a highly fashionable choice of fabric helping to create this silhouette. From the early part of the Colony in Sydney, muslin was imported from the Bengal region of Nineteenth Century India.

This dress would have been worn for evening, possibly at Government House balls. Although Sydney was a penal Colony at this time, dress was a significant market of identity, status and power. In the new society of Sydney it was important to distinguish between convict and those in power. This dress, with its highly fashionable cut and fabric would have been a visible reminder that Anna King, with her husband, was in power.

This garment has been exhibited

'India, China, Australia: Trade and Society', The Historic Houses Trust, Museum of Sydney, 2003

'Persuasion, Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen', National Gallery of Victoria, 2009

  1. Place of origin:


  2. Owned by:

    This evening dress was owned by Anna Josepha King.

  3. Worn by:

    Anna Josepha King

  4. Occasion(s):

    Evening wear

  5. Place:

    Worn in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

  6. Made by:

    This dress does not appear to be professionally made and was probably sewn by a colonial seamstress.

  7. Made for:

    Anna Josepha King

Trimmings / Decoration


Dress is gathered around neck line.


Plate embroidery is a floral design.

Fibre / Weave

Evening dress is constructed is muslin fabric with silver plate embroidery. Silk tape is used to secure the internal seam at the waist line.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


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


The front panel of the bodice section is cut on the bias, while the rest of the fabric is cut on the straight.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


There is a drawstring at the back opening at waistline as well at the cuff of each sleeve. There is one pearl button at top of back opening.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Silk tape is used to secure the internal seam at the waist line.


Neck 950 mm
Chest 316 mm
Cuff 302 mm
Hem circumference 1920 mm
Front neck to hem 1090 mm
Back neck to hem 1040 mm
Back waist to hem 905 mm
Sleeve length 204 mm
Neck to sleeve head 306 mm
Cross back 310 mm
Underarm to underarm 355 mm
Fabric width 963 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

This dress would of been worn for evening wear and balls. Anna is believed to have loved parties and balls. When in Cape Town en route to Sydney Anna convinced her husband to stay an extra day so she could 'attend a dance at the assembly in her new gold muslin dress.'

Marnie Bassett, ' Anna Josepha King',

Additional material

Other related objects

A wedding dress, worn by Anna Josepha King in 1791.


Evidence of repairs

Small stitch repair near the side seam about half way down dress.


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
  3. Holes
  4. Parts missing
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