The Mystery of Mrs Janet McDonald

Bodice of the purple wedding gown.
Detail of wedding gown worn by Mrs Janet McDonald, silk taffeta, Australia, c. 1887 (Registration number: 86/648). Image: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Even today, the government administers marriage laws in Australia and assumes control over people’s eligibility to marry. In the 1900s some states enacted laws regulating who Indigenous Australians could or could not marry.

This dress, was worn as a wedding dress by an Australian Indigenous woman identified as “Mrs Janet McDonald” and donated as a gift to the Museum by her granddaughter, a Mrs James from Cremorne, Sydney, in 1986. It reflects the way missionaries, reserve managers and people charged with the welfare of Aboriginal people perceived the white wedding as a means towards assimilation.

It was frequently the case that Aboriginal staff would be given hand-me-downs for special occasions, such as weddings.

This gown is made of the most remarkably intense purple silk and has undergone quite significant alterations – quite possibly as part of Mrs McDonald’s adaptation of the garment for her own ceremony. The beautiful deep purple beaded bustle dress is obviously well worn and appears to have been later cut to salvage the fabric for another use.

We are looking for more information about the mysterious Mrs Janet McDonald and hoping to locate any remaining members of her family. If you think you might know or have a connection to her please contact Marcus Hughes, Head of Indigenous Engagement and Strategy here at MAAS, on 02 9217 0184.

Written by Marcus Hughes.

Full length photo of the purple wedding gown.
Wedding gown, silk taffeta, Australia, c. 1887. Image: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
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One response to “The Mystery of Mrs Janet McDonald

  • It was wonderful to read this extra information regarding the ownership of this lovely dress especially after reading about it in an earlier ‘ Inside the Collection’ from the 4th of June 2017, “FASTENING AFFRAY – How a Victorian wedding bodice became fully buttoned up “

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