Under the Bonnet

Martha Ann Cotterell’s Treasured Keepsake

Handmade of high-quality fabrics and in the typical style of the period, this pleated grey bonnet was one of Martha Ann Cotterell’s (née Tarrant) (1825-1891) most prized possessions.

Martha grew up in the middle of London, where she met Thomas Cotterell (1825-1903). On their wedding day in 1848, Martha was dressed to the latest fashion, including this bonnet. Every ruffle and fold was meticulously hand sewn, probably by Martha or her mother though they may have paid a professional seamstress.

It is of typical style for Victorian era fashion when bonnets became more closely fit and the crown flowed directly into the brim, making them indiscernible from each other. The brim curved down around the woman’s face and usually greatly limited her peripheral vision, but also contributed towards the modesty required of the period.

Following their wedding, Martha and Thomas left England to start a new life in Australia. In 1849 they settled on Ben Lomond, a small farming town in NSW about 40km from Glen Innes on Ngoorabul country. Thomas already had a job lined up as a farm labourer at the nearby Ollera station.

By the 1870s Martha and Thomas owned their own station, which they named Tedworth after Thomas’ birthplace, it was over two thousand acres with just as many sheep. Martha would have been kept busy with domestic duties including cleaning, cooking, and raising their children. She might have done some gardening and raised hens for their eggs.

Although a long way from London, Martha’s much-loved bridal bonnet was a physical connection to her home and past. For an item that is about 180 years old, it is in remarkable condition, and shows just how much Martha valued the nostalgia this bonnet embodied.