Fancy dress

3

Mrs Matilda Butters’ “Press Dress” from Melbourne, Australia, 1866-1867

Australian Dress Register, Powerhouse Museum

This dress belonged to Mrs Matilda Butters, second wife of colourful Melbourne politician and businessman James Stewart Butters. It was first worn at the mayor’s fancy dress ball in September 1866, held to celebrate the arrival of the new governor of Victoria, Sir J Manners-Sutton.

The dress was constructed from panels of silk printed with the front pages of Melbourne newspapers. The panels were sewn together to form a bodice, sash and full-length crinoline skirt with train. The skirt, which measured more than five metres around the bottom edge, was made up of 14 panels, each of which were separated and edged with gold braid. The front panels showed the new design for the Town Hall, a portrait of the just-appointed Victorian governor Sir H Manners-Sutton, and Mr Punch as portrayed on the front page of Melbourne Punch

To complete her costume, Mrs Butters wore a coronet headdress proclaiming, ‘Liberty of the press’ and carried a staff with a functioning miniature printing press. Throughout the night she used this press to print lines from Lord Byron’s poem 'Lara’ onto satin ribbons. The dress was in fact such a hit Mrs Butters wore it on a number of subsequent occasions.