This day dress, belonging to Ballarat woman Eliza Perrin, opens a window on the day-to-day life of women on the Victorian goldfields. Eliza married John Perrin in West Yorkshire in 1851 just months before he sailed for the diggings. Left alone, Eliza gave birth to their first child in October, waiting one year before she and baby Fanny braved the 147 day journey to Melbourne. From the city they followed John’s trail inland to the Ballarat diggings and were finally united with husband and father on the goldfields.
The euphoria of this meeting however was short-lived. Eliza found that she could not rely on her husband for financial support. Eliza went into business for herself. A Yorkshire woman on the other side of the world, she opened a refreshment house and store, at one point providing board for ten miners to supplement her business’ income. John and Eliza went on to have two more children. Eliza Perrin’s story illustrates the day-to-day financial instability faced by many women in Australia as their husbands pursued golden fortunes. Eliza and John eventually established a butchers shop together in Bungaree and John’s extended disappearances in pursuit of gold came to an end.
Everyday items of clothing in the nineteenth- century were generally worn until they served no useful purpose. The preservation of Eliza’s day dress mirrors the story of its owner. Both document the extraordinary but not uncommon life of women on the goldfields.
Round-waisted day dress with rows of hand-worked embroidery on the skirt bodice and sleeves