Dress from the 19th century offers glimpse into the past at Naracoorte Gallery

Emily Alma Bancroft died at only 44 years of age, but her wedding dress, dated 1882, and life story, is now to view in the Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery.

Emily is the great grandmother of Jean Marr, and brother, Geoff Arthur. The family preserved Emily’s dress with acid free tissue paper, and found a mannequin from an antique shop from Millicent to model the gown.

(Although the gown still needed some fabric underneath, as it was so small – but Angela Marr could fit into it as a teenager!)

As for the colour of the dress, as Jean Marr explained, it was just the fashion then to have wedding dresses in bright jewel colours – navy blue, ruby red, forest green, fawn.

Emily was married to Richard James Hutchens in the District of Frome, South Australia, and they lived at Ororroo. They had eleven children, including, the last, Ruth.

Giving birth to Ruth would lead to Emily’s death.

Emily died from a condition known as placenta previa – the placenta has dropped to the bottom of the uterus, and is obstructing the cervix. When the cervix dilates during birth, it means that the placenta is ruptured beyond a normal level, and there can be excessive bleeding as a result.

Without modern medicine and with the toll of eleven pregnancies on her body, Emily had a tragic death, eventually dying of exsanguination. She was laid to rest in the Orroroo Cemetery Public Cemetery in 1898.

Richard remarried, and it was up to Jean’s grandmother (at the age of 15) to take on a maternal role for her other siblings. Two of them – Ruth, and the second youngest, Emily – were raised apart from the rest. Ruth was adopted by another family, whilst Emily was raised by Richard’s sister, Sarah.

Emily’s wedding dress – whose colours are royal blue and marine blue – had button eyelets hand-stitched, and was considerably elaborate for its time. 

Whilst it has been a point of pride for the Marr family to preserve their ancestor’s dress, the decision to donate it to the Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery was made based on how much value the community would get out of viewing such a historical artifact.

The building the gallery is in also holds a personal connection to Jean, as it is where she began her career as a hairdresser, and where she met her husband, Bruce.

Emily’s full biography, dress, and other possessions can be viewed at the Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery in the upstairs level.