Library Display: Life and Death in the Victorian Era

A new display of objects from the Hawkesbury Regional Museum and Hawkesbury Historical Society Collections is now open for viewing at Hawkesbury Central Library in Windsor. Launched as part of History Week, the display shows life’s defining moments and how Hawkesbury people celebrated life and commemorated death during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).

Portrait of Maria Farlow nee Cross (1833-1911) On display is an undertaker’s hat, worn by Windsor undertaker JW Chandler when escorting a funeral casket to the cemetery by horse-drawn hearse. Chandlers Funeral and Undertakers commenced operation in Windsor in Suffolk Street in 1885 and still operates today.

Visitors can also view mourning accessories and stationery. Mourning handkerchiefs, identifiable by their black border, were also known as funeral handkerchiefs, and were widely used during the Victorian era. According to Museum Curator Rebecca Turnbull, widows were expected to mourn for two years and to wear full black mourning clothes for all that time; then they were allowed to wear grey and lavender for six months called ‘half-mourning'. Children were required to wear full black mourning clothes for one year, men for only three months. Considering that mortality rates were so high, it was not uncommon for people to be in mourning wear for a large portion of their lives.

Almost all babies were born at home during the Victorian era, usually with the assistance of family and friends. The Library display has an Allenbury’s baby feeder on display which is made of glass, with a cork stopper at one end and a teat at the other. These were very popular before the baby bottles of today.

Two fine examples of Victorian-era christening gowns are also on show, hand-made with cotton, lace, ribbon, and fine cotton lawn cloth.

“The baptism, or christening, of babies was a complicated affair with strict rules about godparents and gifts,” Rebecca said.

“The christening gowns for both boys and girls featured frills, broderie anglaise and lace, and cascaded down beyond the baby’s legs – much like the gown worn by Prince Louis of Cambridge in July 2018.”


Monday, 3 September 11am-midday

Join Museum Curator, Rebecca Turnbull, for an in-depth look at the new display and a tour of the old morgue.  FREE bookings essential

Undertakers funeral hat HRM Collection

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