Underwear belonging to Edith Lavinia Cameron

Contributed by: Canberra Museum and Gallery

Camisole - Full View Camisole - Rear View Tape fastening on camisole Petticoat Buttons Petticoat - Broderie Anglais Inserts Petticoat Lining Underblouse - Full View Underbouse - Broderie Anglais Inserts Underblouse Neck - Detail
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Canberra Museum and Gallery
  • Date range:

    1890 - 1899
  • Place of origin:

    Limestone Plains, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

These under garments, worn by Edith Lavinia Cameron, are of considerable historical signficance because of their connection to one of Canberra's most prominent pastoral families (see Item ID 526) and their rarity. Underwear is poorly represented in museum collections, the extensive wear-and-tear caused by frequent use and laundering meant that garments were often thrown away before they could be collected and preserved. The status of underwear as everyday items of clothing, rather than reserved for special occassion also meant they weren't considered as worthy of preservation by the original owners. Therefore, those undergarments which do survive are often in fragile condition with undocumented provenance. That these three garments have survived in such good condition, with well-documented history of ownership only enhances their significance.

The absense of the corset and drawers though does compromise the siginificance - being essential components of any woman's outfit in the 1890s, their inclusion would have completed the ensemble.

Author: Amy Butterfield, 8.19.2014.


Three pieces of cotton underwear including petticoat, camisole and underblouse. All garments are decorated with broderie anglais inserts, and the camisole is edged in white lace. 

Petticoat - Half petticoat gathered below waistband, fastening with two buttons at back.  Bottom half of the skirt has been lined in cotton poplin, with the embroidery anglais flounce over the top. 

Camisole - Thick shoulder straps decorated with lace edging joined to horizontal band of fabric, forming the garment. Camisole decorated with an openwork lace cross on either side of centre back opening, which fastens with four buttons and drawstring cotton tie. Two buttons are missing.

Underblouse  - Short sleeved undergarment with drawstring at hem and decorated with broderie anglais embroidered shoulders. Sleeve hems and collar decorated with scalloped edges. 

History and Provenance

Sixteen-year-old Robert Kilby (1839 – 1915) and his 45 year-old widowed father William Kilby (1812? – 1903) arrived in Australia from England in 1856. William Kilby lived to be 91 and is buried in Weetangera Cemetery (Campbell, Four Pioneers of the Limestone Plains, pp. 39-41). William Kilby’s sister, Mary Smith (1818 – 1907), had previously migrated to Australia with her husband and settled at Ginninderra, and the Kilbys joined them there after reaching Sydney. Robert, a blacksmith, and his father, a bricklayer, selected adjoining land at Weetangera, the whole property later becoming Land’s End.

The first homestead at Land’s End, in which the Kilby family was raised, was built by Robert and Jane. Edith lived at Land’s End continuously from her birth until a few weeks before her death in 1957 (Canberra Times, 10/05/1957, p.4); though in 1926 Edith and Evan built a new house on the property, one mile closer to Canberra (Canberra Times, 01/06/1926, p.2).

Edith Kilby’s grandfather (William Kilby) and Evan Cameron’s grandmother (Mary Smith) were siblings. Mary had migrated to Australia with her husband Edward Smith in 1852. Edward was assigned to work at Duntroon before transferring to William Davis’ property at Ginninderra. Later he selected land at Weetangera, the homestead becoming known as The House, where he and Mary raised their family. Their daughter, Anne Smith, married Ewan Cameron, later the first teacher at Weetangera School (1875 – 1884) in 1865 and amongst their children was the aforementioned Evan Cameron who married Edith Kilby.

In the book Four Pioneers of the Limestone Plains, Campbell recounted the prevailing wisdom regarding the naming of Land’s End. Apparently, a local named John Coppin expressed his surprise that Robert and Jane Kilby had not heard some recent news to which Jane replied, “How would we hear anything, living in this land’s end of a place?” Robert liked the name and decided to apply it to his property (p.51).

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Edith Lavinia Kilby was born on 11 September 1875 at Weetangera to Robert Kilby and his wife Jane Webster, whom he married in 1864. Edith was their fourth child and second daughter. She married Evan Cameron (1868 – 1956) in 1905 and they had five children: Twin daughters Freda Annie (1908 – 2001) and Thelma Jane (1908 – 1957), Heather Gladys (1909 – 2008), Selwyn Evan Robert (1911 - 1985) and Ewan Kinloch.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Limestone Plains were the name given by the early settlers to the floodplains of the Molonglo River. Originally a farming/pastoralist community, they were later redeveloped as the site of the nation's capital, Canberra.

Where did this information come from?

Information supplied by the donor, Miss Heather Shakespeare (daughter of Edith Cameron) from the research undertaken by her, her father Evan and her uncle Ernest Cameron on the history of their family and the local district, with the river dammed, forming Lake Burley Griffith.

This garment has been exhibited

Exhibited as part of 'The Women Who Made Canberra", Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, 24 November 2012 - 17 March 2013.

  1. Place of origin:

    Limestone Plains, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    The items belonged to Edith Lavinia Cameron (née Kilby) (1875 – 1957); then her daughter Heather Shakespeare (née Cameron) (1909 – 2008); then her niece Nanette Betts who donated the item to Canberra Museum and Gallery.

  3. Worn by:

    Edith Lavinia Cameron.

  4. Occasion(s):

    As undergarments, these items would have been intended to be worn everyday.

  5. Place:

    Lands End at Limestone Plains, where Edith resided until her death in 1957.

  6. Made by:

    Sewn by Edith Lavinia Cameron

  7. Made for:

    Edith Lavinia Cameron.

Trimmings / Decoration


White ribbon has been woven through the lace edging on the camisole


Camisole has been extensively decorated with lace.


All pieces are decorated with broderie anglais inserts, in a floral design.

Fibre / Weave

Cloth is undyed. Fabric appears to be a white cotton poplin. 

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Combination of machine and hand stitching. The structural seams of the skirt, underblouse and camisole have all been machine-sewn, The lace on the camisole also appears to have been attached by machine. The detail of the embroidery work on all the garments suggests that it was completed by hand. 


No label - most likely home-made garments. 

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


Underblouse has scalloped edges on the cuffs and around the neck. 

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Petticoat is fastened with two buttons at the rear.

Camisole has four buttons down the back and tape; two buttons are missing.

Underblouse has no fastenings. 

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

No padding in garments. The underblouse has been stiffened, (with starch possibly) around the hem. Where the camisole fastens at the back, both sides have been stiffened in the same manner. Bottom half of the skirt has been lined in cotton poplin, with the embroided fabric laying over the top. 


petticoat Singlet under-blouse
Neck 605 mm
Chest 1000 mm 995 mm
Waist 625 mm 970 mm 795 mm
Cuff 324 mm
Hem circumference 1340 mm 970 mm 972 mm
Front neck to hem 340 mm 425 mm
Front waist to hem 820 mm
Back neck to hem 300 mm
Back waist to hem 810 mm
Sleeve length 105 mm
Neck to sleeve head 270 mm 127 mm
Cross back 500 mm
Underarm to underarm 520 mm
Convert to inches

Slip only top half.


Camisole: Ribbon around the neck has torn and come loose, also two buttons down the back are missing. Otherwise the garment is in good condition. 

Evidence of repairs

Undershirt has been torn from the neck down at the rear; alternatively was cut deliberately but never repaired. 

Mould damage

Petticoat: slight discolouration in spots around the hem of the garment. 

Undershirt: Extensive mould damge around the hem of the garment, resulting in brown discolouration.


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


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