Nancy Broomfield's 'going away' ensemble

Contributed by: Manning Valley Historical Society

Back detail Rosette and hand worked eyelet Damage on lower hem Nancy Broomfield in her later years The Broomfield family at Lower Bow Hill in 1893. 
From left: Robert, Elizabeth, Margaret, Ethel, Alice, Ellen Wallace and Nancy seated.
  • 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

This handmade vibrant blue silk taffeta ensemble is a classic example of 1860s period dress. With the classic sloping shoulders, highly fashionable black silk fringing and complex bustle waistband made of many smaller layered peplum-style panels over a full gathered skirt it would be fitting for a young lady of the period anywhere in the world let alone in rural NSW.

As a handcrafted garment produced by a woman in rural NSW, it certainly demonstrates that people within these communities had access to the knowledge of current fashions and best quality fabrics. The complex design of this garment also shows high level of skill from the dress maker. However, it would appear that the seamstress did not have access to a sewing machine as the entire garment is hand stitched- this may be a reflection on their personal economic situation.

It would not be inconceivable that this beautiful dress or the fabric required in order to produce the dress was in fact a gift from the Herkes family to Nancy Wallace upon her marriage to Robert Broomfield as stated by the donor. She was only 5 years old when she came into the Herkes family's care moving with them from 'Dunmore Estate' in the Hunter to the Manning, so she had endured an early formed and long lasting relationship. It was certainly treasured by Nancy, as it was worn infrequently and preserved through the generations.

This elaborate and well preserved 1860s dress is significant for more than a display of design or sewing skills - it contributes to conversations on social history, both that of the early Australian immigrants and their bonds, as well as the marriage and rights of passage theme.

Author: Marsha Rennie, 10/8/12.


A brilliant royal blue and white checked silk taffeta ensemble consisting of an unboned bodice, skirt and sash/bustle. From the 1860's 'Balmoral era' with classic sloping shoulders.

It has five blue and white rosettes down the front of the bodice. These rosettes are formed from silk taffeta ribbon cut from the fabrics selvedge and folded into circles. The bodice has long sleeves that are open (vent) to the front, from the cuff to the underarm. Four blue velvet ribbons with taffeta rosettes secure the sleeves at intervals along the arm. The bodice is designed so it appears there is a small cape over the shoulders. A black cotton fringe runs from the left shoulder to the centre front. It appears the right hand side fringing has been lost. This fringing also continues around the back panel to complete the shoulder cape look. A fine band of cream machine lace circles the neck. A gathered blue and white taffeta ribbon circles the cuffs and binds the edges along the length of the open sleeves.

The skirt would have been worn with many petticoats or a crinoline. It is gathered at the waistband with a box pleat at centre front and several pleats to the centre back. It falls to the ground with gathered ruffles of ribbon. It has a hidden pocket in the left side seam. The skirt varies in length from 108cm in the front to 118cm on the back. A 'knitted' cotton binding has been used on the hemline. The hem has a stiffened cream cotton interfacing of 11cm deep. The garment has been hand stitched.

A decorative feature of the skirt is a separate sash that is arched, being 13cm deep at its widest point. It is attached at the waist with a hook and eye. The sash would have served as a decorative bustle. The sash is a brighter colour suggesting the gown may have been worn more often without the sash. The ornate bustle/sash comprises of 8 peplum style panels layered along its length to give extra fullness at the waist and emphasise the bustle. The ornate bustle is also finished with black silk fringing and bows, both on the centre front and rear of the bustle.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Following the marriage of Nancy Wallace to Robert Broomfield in 1859 there were six daughters born.

Helen b.1860 Married J. Mc Pherson 1888

Elizabeth b.1863 Unmarried

Margaret b.1867 Unmarried

Alice b.1870 Married J. Gibson 1906

Ethel b.1874 Married H.Yarrington 1906

Edith b.1880 Died as a child in 1892.

Alice and Ethel Broomfield were reportedly married in a double ceremony.

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

This dress was donated to the Manning Valley Historical Society by Nessie Gibson the granddaughter of Nancy Broomfield and daughter of Alice Gibson (nee Broomfield) perhaps during the 1980s. Brief notes in the museum suggest that this garment is the going away ensemble of Nancy Broomfield although this provenance has been queried by current family members who believe that Nancy was too poor to afford a dress of such quality. It has also been suggested that the dress may have been a wedding gift from the Herkes family who had fostered Nancy from age 5 until her marriage to Robert Broomfield.

Although there may be conjecture from the living relatives over whether this gown did in fact belong to Nancy Broomfield due to her imagined lack of resources living with foster parents, who were Scottish pioneers working their newly acquired land west of Wingham, there is no doubt that this item was passed through the Broomfield family until ultimately donated to the Manning Valley Historical Society by Nessie.

It is quite possible that this was a gift from her foster parents on her marriage to Robert Broomfield and may also explain its condition. This dress is in beautiful condition despite being 150 yrs old, so was treasured and only worn infrequently. The bustles fabric is pristine and suggests it was worn rarely if not only on the special occasion for which the gown was made.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This ensemble has links with the social history of the Manning Valley, particularly relating to the early settlers. The young Nancy Wallace travelled from Scotland with her family aboard 'The Formosa', into the Hunter Valley following the wave of Scottish Presbyterian migrants. Not long after, many of these families took up land opportunities west of Wingham.

This dress and the Nancy Wallace story is also a testament to the strong friendships forged between the early settler/ immigrant families.

Where did this information come from?

The original donor information came from 'Nessie' Gibson in the 1980's.

This garment has been exhibited

This dress was displayed as part of our 2012 Scottish Festival in Wingham. The dress and the cabinet in which it appeared was unveiled by The Right Hon Ian Sinclair.

  1. Place of origin:

    Wingham, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Cost:


  3. Owned by:

    Mrs Nancy Broomfield (nee Wallace)

    Nancy Wallace, the third child of Robert and Hellen Wallace was born in Melrose in the Scottish Lowlands on 21st January 1837. Her family came to Australia in 1839 in the hope of realising their dreams of land and employment as promoted by the Rev. Dr John Dunmore Lang.

    Upon the death of her mother at age 33, Nancy and her siblings were fostered to various families. Nancy at the age of 5 was taken into the care of the Herkes family, whom she remained with until her marriage to Robert Broomfield in 1859.

  4. Worn by:

    Mrs Nancy Broomfield (nee Wallace)

  5. Occasion(s):

    Post wedding going away outfit

  6. Place:

    Married on the Herkes family property, 'Chester Hill', Dingo Creek, Manning River.

  7. Made by:


  8. Made for:

    Mrs Nancy Broomfield nee Wallace

Trimmings / Decoration

9cm long black fringing is used as trim on the bodice and bustle/waistband.

The matching tafetta ribbon, cut from the fabric selvedge, is folded to form rosettes down the centre front of the bodice and sleeves. This fabric is also folded to form a bow on the centre front and centre back of the sash/bustle.


3cm wide gathered tafetta ribbon (matching fabric) has been used to trim edges of bodice.Blue velvet ribbon used on sleeves.


A fine band of cream machine lace (1cm wide) circles the neck.

Fibre / Weave

Silk tafetta bodice and skirt, velvet ribbon, cotton lace, silk fringing and cotton binding along the hemline.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


This checked fabric would have had a wide patterned selvedge which was used for the trim and cut into the ribbon strips to form the bindings and rosette trimmings.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The garment uses brass hooks with hand worked eyelet holes.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Calico has been used as lining on the bodice and as interfacing on the skirts hemline.


bodice skirt
Neck 420 mm
Chest 900 mm
Waist 600 mm 550 mm
Cuff 400 mm
Hem circumference 3400 mm
Front neck to hem 360 mm 4650 mm
Front waist to hem 1080 mm
Back neck to hem 400 mm 1540 mm
Back waist to hem 1180 mm
Sleeve length 520 mm
Neck to sleeve head 150 mm
Cross back 360 mm
Underarm to underarm 320 mm
Fabric width 520 mm
Convert to inches

It is estimated that the fabric width was 520mm.

Dress Themes

This dress was reportedly worn as the 'going away' ensemble following the wedding.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

A book titled 'Letters to Nancy' by Ruth Woodward is based on a collection of letters sent to Nancy from her family members. It outlines the family history of Nancy and the Broomfield / Yarrington families.

Other related objects

The Manning Valley Historical Society has many objects relating to the Broomfield families of both Bow Hill and Lower Bow Hill within the collection. These items include household furniture, photos and other pieces of costume such as a hat c.1910 owned by Ethel Broomfield the daughter of Nancy Broomfield (nee Wallace).


There is evidence of sweat staining under the arms and as a consequence the dye has run.

There is missing fringe from the left side of the bodice. There is one rosette/velvet ribbon missing from the right sleeve and two missing from the left. There is also another hanging (left side) which will require immediate stitching to stabilise before it is also lost through handling and packing.


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Holes
  3. Parts missing
  4. Stained
  5. Worn
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