An important social event
In late August 1928, two Camden colonial families celebrated the marriage of Keith Whiteman to Alice Margaret (Marge) McIntosh. This wedding was a social event between two local families of some importance and social status. The McIntoshes conducted a very successful dairy operation on the family property of Denbigh at Cobbitty, while the Whiteman family were successful Camden retailers.
Both families had colonial origins. Members of the Whiteman family had immigrated to New South Wales in 1839 from Sussex to work on Camden Park Estate. While the McIntoshes had immigrated to New South Wales from the Inverness region of the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s.
The ceremony was a relatively small country wedding of 60 guests, given both families’ social profiles and economic positions. The wedding ceremony was held in the historic setting of St Pauls’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty.
St Pauls was the centre of the village of Cobbitty and an expression of its Englishness, typical of several villages across the Camden District. The church was originally built under the direction of Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall in 1842 and adjacent to his 1828 Heber Chapel.
According to the press reports, the church was decorated with a simple floral arrangement of white flowers and asparagus ferns (Camden News, 20 September 1928). The white flowers for the August wedding were likely to have been, according to Angela Wannet, Butterflies Florist in Camden, local calla lilies, oriental lilies, and carnations with trailing ivy.
While not elaborate, the floral displays in the church indicated that the families did not spare any expense on this critical family celebration.
Bride and groom
Cobbitty-born 33-year-old bride Marge McIntosh was the fourth child of Andrew and Ada McIntosh of the colonial property of Denbigh at Cobbitty. Denbigh is one of the oldest gentry properties on the Cowpastures and is listed on the state heritage register. It was initially an 1812 land grant to Charles Hook, then by the Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall (1826-1886), followed by the McIntosh family.
The family first leased the property in 1868 and then purchased it from the Hassall family in 1886. The State Heritage Inventory States that the house and property ‘retains a curtilage and setting of exceptional historic and aesthetic significance’.
Camden-born 28-year-old bridegroom Keith Whiteman was the second child of Fred and Edith Whiteman of Melrose at 69 John Street, Camden. Melrose was a significant Edwardian brick cottage on John Street Camden. The Whiteman family had significant business interests in Argyle Street Camden, including a general store and newsagency.
Keith and his brother Charles gained control of the general store 12 months after Keith’s wedding on the death of his father, Fred. The original Whiteman’s general store opened on Oxley Street in 1877 and moved to Argyle Street. According to The Land Magazine, it was ‘reminiscent of the traditional country department store’. (28 February 1991) and at the time of the report on Australia’s oldest family-owned department stores.
The fashionable bride
We are lucky to have a wonderful photograph of the bride Marge McIntosh in her wedding gown at Denbigh. It provides many clues to the importance of the wedding to both families and their no-nonsense approach to life. While not an extravagant wedding, the bride’s outfit reflects that no expense was spared on the gown and floral decorations for the bouquet and the church decorations.
The design of the outfits, as described in the press reports and in the photograph, reflects the influence of modernism and the fashions from Paris and London. This was a modern wedding in the country between two individuals of some social status.
According to the press reports of the day, the fashions worn by the wedding party were the height of modernism. The bride wore a classic 1920s design described as a ‘simple frock of ivory Mariette over crepe-de-chen’ of lightweight silk crepe as a backing, which was quite expensive.
According to one source, the made-to-order gown was fitted and likely hand-made by a Sydney-based dressmaker. The Mariette wedding gown style is still popular in England for brides-to-be if wedding blogs indicate trends. The bride’s gown was fashionable for 1928, with the hemline just below the knee.
The bride’s veil was white tulle, with a pink and white carnations bouquet. One local source in the shoe industry describes the bride’s shoes as a hand-made white leather shoes with a strap and a three-inch heel. They would have likely been hand-made by one of the four or five Sydney shoe firms of the day, some located around Marrickville.
Marge McIntosh wore a headdress of a ‘clothe’ veil style, which was popular then. The veil was ‘white tulle mounted over pink, formed the train and held in place with a coronet of orange blossom and silver’. According to press reports, the elaborate floral bouquet was made up of white and pink carnations and, according to Angela Wannet who viewed the bride’s wedding photo, was complemented by lilies and ferns.
The history of wedding robes as a part of celebrating wedding festivities dates back to the ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations. The first recorded mention of the white wedding dress in Europe was in 1406 when the English Princess Philippa married Scandinavian King Eric.
In the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution and the marriage of Queen Victoria to her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840 changed all that. The fitted wedding dress with a voluminous full skirt became the rage after their wedding. The British population romanticized their relationship, and young women rushed to copy their Queen. The bride’s beauty was enhanced with the rise of wedding photography and did much to popularise the white-wedding dress trend.
Our modern bride at Cobbitty was attended by her sister Etta (Tottie) McIntosh in a frock of apricot georgette and the bridegroom’s sister Muriel Whiteman who wore a blue georgette, with hats and bouquets toned with their frocks. Georgette is a sheer fabric with a good sheen that is difficult to work and requires a good dressmaker. The fabric is difficult to cut out and sew and, according to one source, is easy to snag. The dressmaker exhibited her skill and experience with handcrafted sewing if the wedding photo of the bride, Marge McIntosh, is anything to go by.
The groom had his brother Charles Whiteman act as best man and an old school friend from Albury, Mr T Hewish as groomsman. (Camden News, 20 September 1928)
The wedding guests retired to a reception at the McIntosh’s historic colonial property of Denbigh, where the bride and groom were honoured with the ‘usual toasts’ and many congratulatory telegrams. A master of ceremony would have stuck to a traditional wedding reception with an introduction of the bride and groom, then toasts, with a response speech from the bride’s father, more toasts, responses by the groom’s father, followed by the reading of telegrams. The McIntosh family household would have likely provided the catering for the wedding.
Amongst the wedding gifts were a rose bowl from the Camden Tennis Club and a silver entre dish from FC Whiteman & Sons staff. These gifts reflect the interests and importance of the bride and groom in these organisations. Tennis was a popular pastime in the Camden area in the 1920s, and some Camden tennis players did well at a state level in competitions. The entire dish would have been a plain design reflecting the influence of 1920s modern styling rather than the ornate design typical of Victorian silverware. (Camden News, 20 September 1928)
The bride’s going away outfit was ‘a smart model dress of navy blue and a small green hat’. This would likely have been a fitted design typical of the style of the period and the influence of modernism in fashions in London and Paris. (Camden News, 20 September 1928)
The bride and groom left for a motoring honeymoon spent touring after the wedding festivities. In the 1920s, motor touring gained popularity as cars became more common and roads improved. Coastal locations and mountain retreats, with their crisp cool air in August, were popular touring destinations in the 1920s.
The wedding photograph of Marge McIntosh in her bridal gown, like historical photographs in general, is a snapshot in time. The image provides a level of meaning that contemporary written reports in the Camden press do not contain. The photograph provides subtle detail that can fill out the story for the inquisitive researcher.
While the wedding reports did not make the social pages of the Sydney press, it does not understate the importance of this union at a local level in the Camden community. It would be interesting to speculate if there were similar weddings between other Camden families.
The visual and written reports of the wedding give a new insight into life in Camden in the 1920s and how the community was subject to external transnational influences from all corners of the globe. Many claim that country towns like Camden were closed communities, which is true in many respects. These two Camden families were subject to the forces of international fashion and maintaining their community’s social sensibilities.
Summer Brennan 2017, ‘A Natural History of the Wedding Dress’.JSTOR Newsletter, 27 September. https://daily.jstor.org/a-natural-history-of-the-wedding-dress/
Updated on 27 May 2023. Originally posted on 27 September 2017 as ‘Camden Colonial Families Celebrate a Moderne Wedding at Cobbitty’
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