Anna King was the first Governor’s spouse to reside in New South Wales. Her husband (and first cousin) was Philip Gidley King, the Colony’s third Governor. He was in office from 1800 until 1806.
In 1799 Anna boarded the ship Speedy for a not so speedy trip to what was then known as New Holland. Her two eldest children remained in England to be educated and she missed them dreadfully. Only toddler Elizabeth accompanied her parents. There were also 53 women convicts on board. Anna kept a journal of the voyage, which is held at Sydney’s Mitchell Library.
The first entry with a strong connection to this article was written on January 4 1800.
‘Going on much the same, the sick rather better, unpacked more boxes find them in a dismal condition, most of my little things spoilt from being wet & lying in that state for so many months without being looked at; find in the same box to have lost out of it ten pounds of calico muslin, this is one of our small losses, and all that can be said is that we must put up with it quietly. I am however a few gowns out of pocket by this misfortune.’
The reason I have quoted the above is because one of Anna King’s evening gowns was carefully preserved by her descendants, and is considered to be the country’s earliest, probably made in Sydney from imported Indian muslin.
Here is a description of the gown from the National Trust.
The dress is made of fine cream muslin, decorated with silver plate embroidery in a sprig and spot pattern. The running border around the bottom of the skirt is decorated in a vine patter with a scalloped edge also in silver plate. The dress has the typical simplicity of the Empire style, with high waist, narrow bodice back and short puffed sleeves. The skirt falls straight at the front and gathers into the waist at the back where it draped a little longer to the floor. It is tiny in size, more likely to fit a young girl of today.
I have included one more entry, as it shows good humour and a philosophical approach to life. The Governor’s wife would need both these traits in her new role;
‘I must not forget to observe what a disappointment and fright I met with during dinner (the table we dine off is immediately under the skylight, and which was then open). I called for a glass of port, and was just going to drink the delicious draught when down came tumbling through the skylight a large fat goose plump on my head – with one foot in my glass – away went porter, glass and all – and with some bustle Capt. Questead saved and prevented the feathered Neptune from destroying the remains on the table – it caused a good laugh – with only the loss of porter & glass.
There is another very special personal relic associated with Anne King. The labour returns for 1800 include reference to a portable ‘toilet’ with dressing table, ordered for Lieutenant Governor King’s wife. It was made at the lumber yard by convict artisans, from solid casuarina (also known as she-oak). The wonderful design for the travelling table was taken from English pattern books.
It opens to reveal a hinged mirror and various compartments. This historic piece of furniture is now held in the Australian National Museum.
Below is a miniature portrait of Anna, held by the Library of New South Wales. I like to imagine her adjusting that fine bonnet at her dressing table mirror.
NOTE – Anna King’s greatest legacy to New South Wales was The Female Orphan School, initially established in George Street (later relocated to Parramatta). It was commonly known as Mrs King’s Orphanage, and also cared for neglected and abandoned children.
To watch a video of the dressing table opening, CLICK HERE.