Evening cape, women's, silk gauze / petersham ribbon / braid and lace, maker unknown, made in Australia, probably worn by Catherine Barker (1843-1904) or her daughter Eleanor Kate Barker (1875-1954), Australia, c.1895-1910
Simplicity of cut and ease of wearing have made capes an enduring and popular form of outer wear for both fashionable and working dress. The capes basic silhouette left it open to myriad interpretations and embellishments from the purely decorative layers of pleated silk gauze, ribbon, lace and braid seen in this Edwardian shoulder cape to the drama, mystery and warmth of floor length styles worn by the 19th century Dandy and the 20th century super hero.
This waist length cape dates from around 1895 to 1910, a period when capes were a necessary part of fashionable dress, the exaggerated size of women's sleeves making it difficult to wear more fitted forms of outer wear like coats and jackets. The capes mix of different fabrics, textures and trims would have complemented the soft layers of filmy fabrics, braids, laces and delicate flounced trims that characterise Edwardian women's evening dress.
The donor believes this cape was probably worn by her great grandmother Catherine Barker (nee Chambers 1843-1904, married John Barker 1872) or by Catherine and John's daughter Eleanor Kate Barker (1875-1954). John was a very successful horse dealer, chairman of the South Australian Jockey club and Director of the Adelaide Steamship company and the family and they appear to have been a well respected and wealthy family. Catherine and Eleanor may have had their clothing made by a local dressmaker or used the increasingly popular services of a department store. Department stores offered made-to-measure garments from their in-house dressmaking departments as well as various grades of ready-made clothing. For those not able to visit a store, well illustrated catalogues were available, allowing the consumer to buy the latest fashions by mail order. Capes were particularly suited to the ready-made industry as they didn't require careful fitting and sizing and descriptions of evening capes from Anthony Horderns 1901 catalogue sound very much like this example- 'Black Lace Capes' for Spring and Summer 'Charming models, choice and exclusive designs, Chantilly Lace and Chiffon, elegantly trimmed, Accordion Chiffon and Lace-44/-, 53/-, 59/- to 70/-' (pge 95 Anthony Horderns' catalogue 1901).
Black mourning dress was considered an essential part of the Victorian and Edwardian women's wardrobe and the often elaborate mourning etiquette was carefully disseminated through women's magazines which detailed the colours and fabrics that could be worn for each stage of the lengthy mourning period. This cape may have been part of a mourning outfit; Catherine Barker could have worn it after the death of her mother-in-law Priscilla Barker in 1900. Catherine died soon after in 1904 and perhaps Eleanor claimed the cape as a keepsake, alternatively she may have worn it in mourning her mother. However it should also be noted that it may simply have been a fashionable evening cape, the strictures of mourning etiquette were beginning to break down in the early 20th century and black clothing was not restricted to mourning dress.
The cape was probably made by a local dressmaker or purchased ready-made from a Department Store or store catalogue. The cape would have been made between 1895 and 1910.
This cape was passed down through the descendants of Alfred Barker, one of South Australia's pioneer pastoralists and hoteliers. Barker arrived at Port Lincoln in 1836 as part of the crew of the brig 'Rapid' under Colonel William Light. He was present as Governor Hindmarsh conducted the proclamation ceremony at Holdfast Bay and appears in a painting by Charles Hill recording the event. (The Proclamation is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia). Barker married Priscilla Chambers in 1842 and the donor believes this cape was probably worn by Catherine Barker (nee Chambers 1843-1904) wife of John Barker, Alfred and Priscilla's, third son (1847-1925) or by Catherine and John's daughter Eleanor Kate Barker (1875-1954).
John and Catherine Barker appear to have been a well respected and wealthy family. John worked for the Bank of Australasia before establishing a very successful Auctioneer and Stock Agency 'Barker and Chambers', becoming the leading horse dealer in the State. He had shares in properties in South Australia, NSW and Queensland, was a director of the Adelaide Steamship Company and a member of the local Board of Advice of Dalgety and Co. Ltd. Popular in sporting circles particularly horse racing he became chairman of the South Australian Jocky Club in 1894. Barker, his wife and children were equally active in supporting the local Church of England and various philanthropic causes.
In the Barker family history 'A South Australian Pioneer Family' the author Dean Berry notes that the family records contain very little information about Catherine Barker, 'It is understood that she was a very quiet and unobtrusive women; one who would be described as reserved. I should say that she was probably very shy as that is the term I would apply to many of the Barkers I have known, both male and female. They were considered by those who were able to get to know them as people of the finest and most reliable character, the soul of honour, upright, straight forward, generous, fair minded and the very salt of the earth. but they were so reserved and so shy that it was to a very limited circle that the majority of them were known' pge 45. When Catherine is mentioned in her mother-in-laws diaries it is only to record that she paid a visit or played whist. On her death in 1904 John Barker erected a stained glass window to her memory in Christ Church, North Adelaide.
After her mother's death Kate lived with her father until his death in 1925. She also maintained an interest in the charities that had been established by her Grandmother and continued by her mother including the Church of England Boy's Home at Walkerville and the House of Mercy and Retreat for Women. She helped found the babies home near the House of Mercy and acted as its secretary. Like her father she took a passionate interest in thoroughbreds and enjoyed attending race meetings. Dean Berry notes that "she too was of that retiring disposition of which I have spoken. After her father's death she maintained many of his philanthropic interests. She gave to Henley Beach the Eleanor K Barker Cottage Homes and to prospect The Barker Gardens, and with her sister-in-law The Barker Free Kindergarten in North Adelaide' pge 47.