THE Kempsey museum is home to many unique and wonderful items with a story to tell about the Macleay.
One in particular, a wedding dress from 1864, has a link to the Ducat family, early white settlers on the Macleay.
Donated to the Museum in 1966, the dress was already 100 years old at that time and still in excellent condition, considering its advanced age.
William Ducat migrated to Australia with his wife, three children and sister-in-law, Ann Gray, in 1840 from Scotland.
Their children were James Stuart (born 1822), William (born 1823) and Agnes (born 1825).
The eldest son, Charles had already arrived in Australia by this time.
Within a year, William had leased 7,000 acres bounded on three sides by the Macleay River for the sum of £10 ($20) per year.
The land was known as Moonaba, an Aboriginal word meaning "grassy flats".
The first homestead was built on the banks of the Macleay and was of cedar slabs and a bark ceiling.
William received extra rations to feed Aborigines and ticket-of-leave men who worked on the property.
His run was not as large as others on the Macleay which probably accounted for his surviving the economic depression of the 1840s.
William Ducat Senior passed away in 1858 and is buried on the property.
Following his father's death, James Stuart Ducat, now in his thirties, felt the need to marry and raise a family to continue running the property.
He began courting Eliza Wynter, the daughter of a well-respected Taree family after whom one of the main streets is named.
James and his sister Agnes are recorded as guests at Innes House in Anabella Boswell's journal, and it's possible James may have met Eliza there.
The guests of Major Innes sat down to dinner attended by four footmen in livery, a butler and the major's own private piper.
Eliza was a fine needlewoman and skilled seamstress, and she used her talents to make her own wedding dress, and other clothing in preparation for her upcoming wedding.
Eliza and James were married on January 26, 1864 at Edgehill, the home of Eliza's parents in Taree.
The wedding was registered at St Thomas' Church in Port Macquarie and the couple made their way on horseback to Moonaba where they stayed in the old homestead whilst a new one was being built.
Eliza's dress was made of Bengaline, a corded fabric with silk-like appearance.
It had a boatline neck with short sleeves, the skirt was fitted at the waist and may have had a crinoline.
A mantle known as a polonaise was made to wear over the dress when visiting relatives after the wedding.
Eliza and James were to have six sons and five daughters and continued to run the Moonaba property, reduced to 191 acres at the end of the pastoral era.
James was a prominent breeder of Ayrshire cattle, and his sons worked the property and bred beautiful Clydesdale horses in addition to the dairy cattle.
The new home James had built was very large and of weatherboard with timber floors.
Situated half a mile from the river and on a good rise, the dwelling was out of reach of floods and had a wonderful view of the surrounding country across the Macleay River to the Great Dividing Range.
Eliza made all the clothes for the family and after many years of work, her fingers became disfigured through the endless hand sewing.
Years later, when sewing machines became available, James bought Eliza the first one on the Macleay, a Wertheim model.
An Aboriginal woman, Mrs Holton, came to work for the family in the kitchen and stayed at the homestead for many years.
James' health began to fail around 1900 and he moved to his daughter's home in Sydney where he could receive better medical attention.
He passed away there in 1904 at the age of 82.
James is buried in Gore Hill Cemetery.
A few years later, the last of the Ducat family had left Moonaba (now spelt Mooneba) with Eliza passing away in Sydney in 1919.
The dress remains at the Kempsey museum to this day as part of the Linen and Lace Collection with Bridal Ensemble.
Unfortunately, the dress is 137 years old as of 2021, and along with the mantle, has become very fragile, so they are displayed in several perpex covered drawers.
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