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Muriel McPhee

The Home Front: Australia during the First World War

Muriel McPhee, dressmaker and farmhand

Muriel McPhee, about 1920.
Muriel McPhee, about 1920. National Museum of Australia.

Muriel McPhee grew up on a cattle property near Grafton in northern New South Wales. During the war, she worked on the family farm by day and sewed by lamplight in the evening.

An accomplished seamstress, McPhee carefully stitched underwear, nightdresses, pillowcases, tablecloths and doilies. These formed her trousseau, a collection of items made in preparation for married life. She kept a photograph of a young soldier on her dressing table but little is known about the man she was to marry. When he was killed, she packed away the trousseau forever.

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Muriel McPhee’s cotton nightdress, Journeys gallery, National Museum of Australia

audio_w15 Listen to 'Stories of sadness and loss' audio
Curator Susannah Helman detailed her research on the Muriel McPhee's trousseau in a presentation at the National Museum on 13 June 2009. The talk also covered the Alexander Mussen ambrotype and convict token.

Mourning overdress, 1910–20.
Mourning overdress 1910–20. The origin and use of this dress is uncertain but it was the only black item among Muriel McPhee’s trousseau. Worn over everyday clothes, it was a cost-effective way to acknowledge the death of a loved one. National Museum of Australia. Photos: Jason McCarthy.