Ann Hordern  (nee Woodhead) arrived in Sydney with her husband Anthony and their four children in 1825.  When their ship the Phoenix docked she wrote a letter to her parents, to be sent back to England on the ship’s return voyage.

Sydney around the time Ann Hordern arrived.

After a wander up George Street Ann realised that the ladies of the infant colony were interested in fashion and appeared to have money to spend on  their costumes.. She quickly added a postscript to her letter, asking her parents to send out enough stock to allow her to open a small shop. She requested  cotton ginghams, prints, muslins, lace, bonnet shapes, ribbons and sewing silks  etc.  Oh yes, and boned stays, which she suggested should include sizes 27 inches and over because, ‘Women run large‘  😎  She was well placed for such a venture because her father, John Woodhead, was maker of stays and corsets in London, and Ann had learned the trade at his side.

Even before the stock arrived, she had ventured into commerce;



As time went by Mrs Hordern prospered and began to specialise in bonnets.  In March 1834 the following advertisement appeared in The Sydney Gazette. She had now moved to larger  premises in King Street.


Mrs Hordern, 17 King Street, near Castlereagh Street.  Invites ladies to an inspection of her splendid stock of TUSCAN BONNETS – These bonnets are renowned for their elegant display of shape, and the beauty of the fabric. A large assortment of Dunstable Split Straw and Leghorn Bonnets, at half their usual prices……. (Sydney Gazette, Mar. 4 1834)

The following month another advertisement appeared, this time with a filled-in line drawing of one her bonnets.  Mrs Horden was creating  fashion history, because it was the first time such an illustration had appeared.


Advertisement for Ann Hordern's drapery shop.

You can still buy an 1830s style leghorn hat on-line if it takes your fancy.  That brim would be good for keeping the sun off.

The following picture dated circa 1938 was listed for sale by the Josef Lebovic Gallery in Sydney. It is described as a watercolour sketch with gouache and ink. The gallery could not fully decipher the artist’s signature ‘George G…….’  What source the artist used is also unknown, but I have included the image  out of interest.


It was around this time that Ann’s coachmaker husband Anthony joined her in the drapery business.  When he was seen washing down the shop windows one day, someone drew the wrong conclusion and thought he was the  shop keeper’s assigned servant; an ex-convict! This was to have bizarre consequences a few years later.

In 1839 Ann and Anthony made a temporary move to Melbourne. Their son Anthony Jnr. was also in Victoria. When it was suggested he stand for  election to  the town council  the old  ex-convict rumour resurfaced.

George Cavenagh, proprietor of the Port Phillip Gazette,  published a story claiming that Anthony Jnr was the son of  a convict and thus not fit for public office. Even more ludicrous was the claim that Anthony Snr. had been transported because he had robbed a bank  of  £25,000 pounds.

Ann Hordern's son Anthony Hordern Junior, born 1819.

ANTHONY HORDERN JNR. (Source – Find a Grave)




Plenty of evidence was produced to show that the Horderns had been free settlers



Not surprisingly George Cavenagh decided to plead  guilty. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment and a fine of  £50. Fortunately for him the  prosecution agreed to drop the gaol sentence and  Cavenagh dutifully paid the fine.

Soon afterwards Anthony Jnr. returned to Sydney. He established the  giant emporium that  covered almost an entire block. At one time it comprised the largest retail space (52 acres) in the world.

A century on from Ann’s fledgling venture, Hordern & Sons was still the place to go for a new season’s hat.

I know Ann is not looking that happy in the following photo, but sitting for a photographer was a long and tedious business in those days, so who can blame her?

Ann Hordern

Ann Hordern  died aged 79 in 1871, at the mansion her son Anthony constructed  at Sydney’s Darling Point.  It was named for the town of Retford in Nottinghamshire, where his mother’s family were from. You could say that the house was built on bonnets and stays!

Retford Hall, built by Ann Hordern's son Anthony.


The matriarch of the Hordern family was buried in St Jude’s  Anglican Cemetery, Randwick.







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