Pretty But Practical

Ann Chellew’s Day Dress

This day dress and petticoat were owned and worn by Mrs Ann Chellew nee Milburn (1872-1948) when a young woman around the turn of the twentieth century. Ann was the daughter of Janet Miller and James Milburn, who migrated to Australia from Scotland and England.  Arriving with her family (in 1852) Janet was a baby, and James arrived (in 1861) with a friend when a young man of twenty-one years.

Ann was raised in Wallsend near Newcastle, where her parents eventually met and married. Both the Miller family and James Milburn went to the district to work in coal mining. As they probably set out to do, at Wallsend Ann’s parents established a comfortable working life. Ann’s pretty but practical dress symbolises the Milburn family’s status as respectable working people.

Probably sewn by Ann, the dress was handmade and features typical elements of everyday Edwardian clothing: a high lace yoke, puffed blouse and straight pleated skirt. Known as a day dress,  Ann’s dress served everyday purposes, such as running errands or taking tea with a friend. In contrast, evening dresses were made from more luxurious fabrics and trims.

Of lightweight fabric, the dress was worn in the warmer months.  And Ann may have completed her look by having a centre part in her hair and or a broad-brimmed hat, decorated with flowers, ribbons and feathers.

The petticoat is plain and straight in design, closely following the shape of the outer skirt.  This would have pleased the writer of a 1916 home manual, which instructed that ‘cotton petticoats for every-day wear…should be flat in finish, so as not to spoil the ‘set’ of the outer skirt. Flounces, however attractive, may be made veritable dust-traps, which is contrary to good sense’.

In 1897 Ann married Charles Chellew (1858-1926) and went to live in Sydney. She gave birth to four children, but two died in infancy. The dress was handed down the line of her oldest surviving child James and eventually donated to the Berry Museum by Ann Milburn’s great-granddaughter Ann Chellew, whose father Laurence died at Nowra in 1989. The survival of the dress suggests Ann was fondly remembered, and long after her death in 1948.