The Press dress worn by Mrs Matilda Butters

Contributed by: State Library of Victoria

Press Dress H141541 Front Press Dress H141541 Back Press Dress H141541 Side A Press Dress H141541 Side B Press Dress H141541 Detail
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    State Library of Victoria
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1866 - 1867
  • Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This dress belonged to Mrs Matilda Butters, second wife of colourful Melbourne politician and businessman James Stewart Butters. It was first worn at the mayor's fancy dress ball in September 1866, held to celebrate the arrival of the new governor of Victoria, Sir J Manners-Sutton.

The dress was constructed from panels of silk printed with the front pages of Melbourne newspapers. The panels were sewn together to form a bodice, sash and full-length crinoline skirt with train. The skirt, which measured more than five metres around the bottom edge, was made up of 14 panels, each of which were separated and edged with gold braid. The front panels showed the new design for the Town Hall, a portrait of the just-appointed Victorian governor Sir H Manners-Sutton, and Mr Punch as portrayed on the front page ofMelbourne Punch

To complete her costume, Mrs Butters wore a coronet headdress proclaiming, 'Liberty of the press' and carried a staff with a functioning miniature printing press. Throughout the night she used this press to print lines from Lord Byron's poem 'Lara' onto satin ribbons. The dress was in fact such a hit Mrs Butters wore it on a number of subsequent occasions.

The dress was made by Mrs William Dobbs of Gardiners Creek Road, South Yarra, about whom little else is known. The papers featured on the dress were The AgeArgusWeekly AgeLeader, AustralasianHeraldBell’s LifeSpectatorJournal of Commerce,Government GazetteDicker’s Mining RecordIllustrated Australian News, and Punch.

The majority of the panels for the skirt and train were printed from the actual plates and type of the newspapers by Blundell & Ford, a well-known Melbourne printing firm. The exceptions were the Argus and Government Gazette, who printed their own panels.

Widely regarded as one of the great 19th-century printed works in Australia, the silk panels of printed newspaper are still readable – testament to the skill of the printers.

Today all that's left of the costume is the skirt and part of the sash. Thanks to funding from the Violet Chalmers Bequest, the dress has undergone extensive conservation treatment in 2006.

Author: , .


Dress worn by Mrs Matilda Butters at the Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball on 20 September 1866.

The costume characterised the Newspaper Press at the time. The white satin panels of her skirt were printed with pages from 13 Melbourne newspapers including the Age, Argus, Herald, Australasian, Leader Illustrated Australian News and Punch. On slips inserted between the panels the titles of all the Victorian newspapers were printed. The dress was trimmed with gold braid. The top of original costume is lost and has been replaced by a reconstruction based on newspaper images.

Digital images show skirt and sash following extensive conservation and restoration in 2006/7. The dress is viewed on a life-sized mannequin.

History and Provenance

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The white satin panels of the skirt were printed with pages from 13 Melbourne newspapers including the Age, Argus, Herald, Australasian, Leader Illustrated Australian News and Punch. On slips inserted between the panels the titles of all the Victorian newspapers were printed. 

Where did this information come from?

Illustrated in a wood engraving by Samuel Calvert in: The Illustrated Melbourne Post 27 October 1866 page 357. The dress is described in The Age 21 September 1866 page 6, column 2. A description also appears the following year in the Argus 24 December 1867 page 5 when Mrs Butters wore the dress again at the Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball.

This garment has been exhibited

Exhibited: "The story of Australian printmaking 1801-2005," at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 30 March - 3 June 2007. 

"Carnival of Curiosity", at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 2013.

  1. Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Dress owned and worn by Mrs Matilda Butters at the Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball on 20 September 1866, again 14 days later at the Return Fancy Dress Ball 4 October 1866 and 23 December 1867

  3. Worn by:

    Dress worn by Mrs Matilda Butters 

  4. Occasion(s):

    Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball 1866 and 1867.

  5. Made by:

    The maker, Mrs Dobbs, is referred to in the Age 21 September 1866 p.6. "Altogether, the dress was one of great beauty in its general effect, and reflected much credit on the printers who conveyed the impression of the types to the satin fabric, and on the maker, Mrs Dobbs of Gardiner's Creek Road."

Trimmings / Decoration


Metal trim or ribbon was added to cover skirt seams. The trim consists of a cotton warp and gold alloy wire weft.

Fibre / Weave

 Skirt: cream coloured silk satin

Lining: cotton

Pocket: linen

Metallic ribbon trim: cotton warp and metal wire weft.  Metal identified as a gold alloy by XRF

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Thirty one panels of silk of varying size were attached to a cotton lining.  The silk pieces were handstitched to five stiffened open weave cotton panels. The five wide rectangular panels were were joined with triangular gores between each to give the shirt its full appearance.  The cotton panels were machine stiched together to form the skirt.  The panels were gathered at the waist in a great number of regular pleats, suggesting a narrow corseted waist. A silk waist band was attached by oversewn stitches and finished with two hook and eye fasteners.  The gold trim was added to cover the skirt seams.  Silk ribbon was folded over the lower edge to form the hem.  The ribbon is then covered with a single piece of metal trim.

The original bodice of the dress is missing.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Stiffened open weave cotton lining to which 31 printed pieces of silk are attached. Five wide panels of cotton were used to give the skirt its full width.


Actual dimensions (flat):

length (front) - 1090mm, length (back) - 1550mm, waist - 6805mm, circ (hem) - 5250mm.


Treated by Textile Conservator Christina Ritschel in 2006.


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


  1. Frayed
  2. Dirt
  3. Crease
  4. Holes
  5. Parts missing
  6. Worn
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