This dress belonged to Marion Wither, nee McHarg. She was born in Scotland about 1841 and came to Otago on the Ulcoats in 1864. She married John Wither at Otematata on 18 September 1867. John was from Wigtonshire, Scotland and had emigrated to Bluff on the Helenslee in 1863. After the wedding they made the three-week journey by dray to Lake Wakatipu, where they were pioneer run holders. After many difficulties they prospered and eventually retired to Andersons Bay where they lived out the rest of their lives in comfort. Marion died at Andersons Bay in 1913, aged 74 and John in 1920, aged 80. They were survived by three daughters and two sons.

The dress is a two-piece constructed from black velvet. It has a very good example of a Polonaise overskirt. It is decorated with a repeated motif of braiding interlaced into a geometric pattern. These braided pieces flank the centre front line of buttons down to the hip and continue down the underskirt on either side of the central pleated panel. There is also one on each sleeve cuff. The sleeves are full-length and fitted and are gathered at the shoulder seam. The bodice jacket opens at front centre with black glass buttons, which also appear at the cuff of the sleeves. Some of these are missing and have been replaced here with a smaller button of similar design. The customary watch pocket sits just above the hip line. The overskirt pulls back into a substantial bustle at the rear. The bustle reached its maximum size between 1885 and 1888 and jutted out like a shelf.

This dress was in very poor condition. The bustle and overskirt had to be reassembled while the front of the bodice was badly damaged and needed significant repair. The velvet had split and broken away, especially around the bustle. The dress is notable for having a maker’s label. It reads ‘Saunders & Co, Dunedin’. This suggests it was the work of Thomas Saunders who operated a drapery business on Princes Street from about 1884 until his death from consumption in 1889. The label not only helps date the dress but also provides a further indication that local dressmakers were able to produce fine dresses in the latest fashions.