John Wardrobe's pith sun helmet

Contributed by: The Oaks Historical Society

Boer War Pith Helmet Brass ventilation button in centre of helmet Section of lining of pith helmet showing timber structure Top ventilation pith helmet Back view cover for helmet damage to interior
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    The Oaks Historical Society
  • Owner registration number:

    WHC Mosaic No: 2009.99/101
  • Date range:

    1889 - 1901
  • Place of origin:

  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

The sun helmet is in its original condition and made from materials currently in use in India in the late 19th century. The shola-pith material could be soaked in water to keep the wearer's head cool in hot weather. Later versions used cork as the main construction. It is therefore a rare example of colonial headgear used in wartime.

The historic significance of the object relates to the ownership by John Wardrobe, a one time Alderman of the inaugural Picton Shire Council, and local businessman and his commendable wartime service in South Africa.

John Wardrobe was born in Durham, England, in 1865. He migrated when he was 17 on the "Peterborough" in 1880 and went to Picton to work on the railway and married Eliza Cracknell. They opened The Upper Picton Stores in 1892 selling drapery, groceries and ironmongery and produce in a building owned by Eliza's father. John became very active in civic affairs and was elected Alderman when Picton was declared a borough in 1895. In that year he joined the Picton Half Company of Mounted Rifles and served as a corporal with them in South Africa. He was promoted to Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant and then Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant.

Author: Doreen Lyon, July 2nd 2012.


Lightweight Sun helmet with front peak formed from woven pith(Aeschynomene aspera or sola, an Indian swamp plant) covered by cotton bast and finished with white cotton drill.

Interior lined in green cotton.

Associated with British & French and other European colonial powers during the late 19th and early 20th century, for soldiers serving in hot and sunny climates. Also used by Governors and diplomats as part of ceremonial uniforms, sometimes with a swan feather plume attached.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

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

John Wardrobe was a significant local character in Picton, being an alderman on the first local Council and owner of Upper Picton Stores at Redbank, Picton. After his return from the Boer War his business failed and he took a job as a travelling salesman for Arnotts Biscuits and he moved with his family to Camperdown and then to Hurstville. During WWI he served as Sergeant Major at the Sydney Showground and later became nightwatchman until his death in 1946.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

John Wardrobe's story was part of the exhibition 'From Picton to Pretoria' which traced the history of thirty four men from Wollondilly Shire who served their country and the British Empire in South Africa.

Where did this information come from?

Research by Colin Sproule F.A.I.M.

This garment has been exhibited

The sun helmet is on permanent display in the small war display cabinet at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre & Museum at 43 Edward Street, The Oaks.

  1. Place of origin:


  2. Owned by:

    John Wardrobe was born in Durham, England, in 1865. In 1895 he joined the Picton half Company of Mounted Rifles and served as a corporal with them in South Africa. He was promoted to Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant and then Regimenetal Quartermaster Sergeant. He wore the sun helmet in South Africa.

  3. Worn by:

    Worn by John Wardrobe.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Worn during the Boer War.

  5. Place:

    South Africa

    Picton, New South Wales

  6. Made for:

    Australian Army

Trimmings / Decoration

Circular cotton drill band padded with straw-like material around the circumference of the helmet with a leather sweat band inside.

There are two metal clips either side of the peak for chin strap.

On the left hand side of the crown is a small metal clip which could have been used for a feather or badge decoration.

Fibre / Weave

Cream or off white.

Cotton drill.

Lined in green cotton.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Chin strap to hold helmet on head (not included).

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Circular band on outside of helmet is padded with what feels like straw or other plant material.


From top of crown to base of helmet = 203.2mm

Outside circumference = 698.5mm

Inside circumference = 508mm

From front peak to back of helmet = 254mm

Padded band around helmet on outside = 165.1mm x 508mm

Inside leather sweat band = 508mm

Additional material

Other related objects

Hat feathers.


The helmet was donated to the collection of the Wollondilly Heritage Centre in a khaki cloth cover.


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


  1. Fading
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
  4. Torn
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