Agnes Thompson's Wedding Dress

Contributed by: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Agnes Thompson's Wedding Dress Close-up of Agnes Thompson's Wedding Dress Anes Thompson's wedding dress side view and draw string bag Back view Skirt detail Agnes Thompson's Bag Shoes and Bag of Agnes Thompson
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This wedding dress forms part of a collection of wedding attire, including shoes, dress and drawstring purses, which were used by Agnes Thompson on her wedding to Dr George Busby, government medical officer at the Convict Hospital at Bathurst, on 11 January 1833. Thompson and Busby are significant personalities in the colonial development of Bathurst, in country New South Wales, purchasing the first parcels of land in the town and establishing the town's first bank and School of Arts.

At the time Agnes Thompson married George Busby, weddings - and wedding dresses - were often quite simple with the intention that the dress and accessories would be used for 'best' for some years to come. The dress is typical of the fashions of the 1830s in its simple classical design and the shoes, imported from London, reveal how closely English fashions were followed despite the distance and the comparative isolation. 

This dress and related items are well provenanced and important surviving examples of an early colonial woman's costume. The dress has great interpretive capacity providing insights into early colonial weddings, the history of Bathurst, and the Busby family.

This collection has added significance through the family's links to John Busby, George's father, who designed and constructed the bore that brought fresh water for Sydney's inhabitants from Lachlan Swamps (Centennial Park) into a reservoir in Hyde Park, Sydney.


Author: Powerhouse Museum, edited by Rebecca Lush, 31 January 2017.


The wedding dress is made from cream silk organdy with a low rounded neck, pronounced leg of mutton sleeves and high waist. The seams have been hand stitched using backstitch. The top of the sleeve is gathered into pencil pleats and this detail is picked out in a silk ribbon trim. A broad cream silk ribbon has been stitched around the neck and the skirt is trimmed with three bands of cream silk ribbon. The edges of the cuffs are piped. The dress opens down the centre back and has no evidence of closing devices. The bodice and skirt are gathered into a plain cotton band that runs around the high waist. Three petticoats have been added later and all are machine sewn.

Cream silk purse lined in cream cotton with drawstring made from cream silk ribbon. A rectangular card covered with the same cream silk has been stitched to the centre of each side with the card surrounded by piping formed from cream silk ribbon. The card on one side is painted with a design of purple violets and on the other side with purple daisies.

Square toed shoes with cross stitch embroidery of flowers edged in red leather with leather soles.

History and Provenance

Before the wedding, Agnes had travelled to Bathurst to stay with her brother, the town's Presbyterian clergyman, Tom Thompson. There she met and married Dr Busby, writing later that they had been married by her brother at Saltram, with Eliza Piper (daughter of Captain Piper) and Miss Ball (the Piper's governess) as bridesmaids. The dress passed to Agnes's eldest daughter, Agnes Busby, and was worn by her for her marriage to Charles West Alexander (grandson of Rev John West). Their son, Charles Alistair Alexander, kept the dress and passed it on to his three children who are the donors.

George Busby was the eldest son of John Busby (1765-1857) and had followed his family to Australia onboard the "Elizabeth" after completing his medical studies in Edinburgh. John Busby is remembered for his work on the construction of Sydney's first regular water supply which brought water from Lachlan Swamps to a reservoir in Hyde Park. Although two of his brothers worked with his father on the bore, George remained in Bathurst, practising medicine there for many years.

After their marriage, Agnes and George remained in Bathurst. Between 1833 and 1852, they had ten children: John, Agnes, Sarah, Catherine, Jessie, Mary, George, James, Alexander, and William. George was the only child to die during infancy aged 1.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Agnes was born in Scotland in 1810 and died on 26 November 1906 in Bathurst, New South Wales. George Busby was born in England on 18 December 1789. He died in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 29 January 1870. They were married in 1833.



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

George Busby was the assistant colonial surgeon between 1826 and 1844. His first position was at the Norfolk Island penal settlement until 1828. From 1826 until 1844, Busby worked at the Convict Hospital in Bathurst which later became the Bathurst District Hospital. According to the Bathurst Regional Council, Agnes and George were the "First Bathurstians" central to establishing the first bank and School of Arts in Bathurst. They were important figures in the early history of Bathurst purchasing the first town allotments and building the first brick private residence in the town.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Agnes and George were figures in the early settlement of Bathurst in the colony of New South Wales.

Where did this information come from?

Bathurst Regional Council, "The Pillars of Bathurst", brochure, 2016.

Powerhouse Museum,

This garment has been exhibited

The dress was exhibited at an Ascham exhibition of wedding dresses in the 1980s organized by Chris Jacovides.

  1. Place of origin:

    Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    The dress was owned by Agnes Thompson.

  3. Worn by:

    The dress was worn by Agnes Thompson in 1833.

  4. Occasion(s):

    The dress was worn for Thompson's marriage to Dr George Busby.

  5. Place:

    The wedding was held at the cottage at 'Saltram' in Bathurst.

Trimmings / Decoration

Bag: Embroidery covers front and reverse of bag. A ribbon is threaded through the top of the bag.

Shoes: Embroidery covers the top of the shoes.


A broad cream silk ribbon is stitched around the neck of the dress and there are three bands of cream silk ribbon around the skirt.


The edges of the cuffs on the dress are piped.

Fibre / Weave

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The purse is simply constructed and may well have been made by Agnes Thompson or one of her relatives of friends. At the time there was a fashion for making such drawstring reticules to hold necessaries such as money, comb, handkerchief and fan.

  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

Lining was added to the dress in the 1980s before being exhibited at an Ascham School, Sydney exhibition of wedding dresses.


Front neck to hem 1190 mm
Convert to inches

Overall width measurement taken from widest point is: 960mm

Measurements of Shoes:

Height - 30 mm

Width - 60 mm

Measurements of Bag:

Height - 200 mm

Width - 210 mm

Depth - 25 mm


Evidence of repairs

Over all stable condition, structurally sound. The garment has been re-worked in the recent past, 3 modern petticoats have been stitched to the interior, 2 of silk crepeline and another in cotton. The outer layer of the dress shows recent handstitching at centre back seam.The ribbon decorative element along the neckline shows damage at the top of the shoulders.The dress is discoloured unevenly over the entire garment.


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


  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
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