Annie Julia Holmes wore this dress when she married John White at her father’s house in Andersons Bay on 5 October 1876. The Holmes family were at the apex of the colonial elite. Annie’s father, Matthew, was one of the wealthiest men in Otago, with extensive landholdings across the South Island. Annie was born in Australia in 1852 and came to Otago as a 12 year old. She was brought up amidst the best that colonial society could offer, with a strong emphasis on art, literature and music. Her husband was an ambitious young lawyer, a suitable match in the social conventions of the day. He went on to a lively career in the law and in local politics but failed in two attempts to enter Parliament. Annie bore seven children but had time to play a full part in Dunedin cultural life. She was a gifted singer and artist, performing in local Gilbert and Sullivan productions and serving on the Otago Art Society’s council for several years. One of her ball gowns is also on display here. She died in 1932, aged 80.

This dress is markedly different from the day dresses worn by most of the brides here. It is a one-off, top-of-the-line creation, designed for someone with considerable social pretension. Perhaps surprisingly, it was made in Dunedin, by the leading Dunedin drapery specialists Brown, Ewing and Co. It is made from a cream silk taffeta with net and lace, studded with artificial flowers. The skirt is swept back into a bustle and train, set off by elaborate ribboning and ruching. It has the newly fashionable cuirasse bodice, tight-fitting at the waist and extending over the hips to a point at the back and front. This would have required Annie to wear a long, extremely tight corset underneath. After the wedding this dress was packed away and preserved until Annie’s daughters donated it to the Museum in 1987.