Meanings of a silk visite: Love, theft and commerce in colonial Sydney (354)
Young, in love, eager to impress, Thomas Skinner bestowed gifts of clothing in his fiancée, Elizabeth Archbold. His work as a shopman at drapers’ stores in Sydney made him access to the niceties of female fashion and finery. Gifts of parasols, black kid gloves, silk dresses, table covers, muslin curtains and other goods came her way, all of which she accepted in the belief – or so she claimed – that he had purchased them for her.
The most striking gift was an elaborate silk visite. Distinctive in style, it was easily identified by the drapers Rossiter and Lazarus, months after it had left their store. It was one of many items Skinner had allegedly taken without payment to give to Miss Archbold. In court its value was placed at £5 10s. When Skinner was found guilty of its theft, it would cost him his fiancée, his career, and five years of hard labour in a road gang. Investigation of Thomas Skinner’s sorry history of love and labour reveals a complex saga of intimacy and betrayal, a fragile grasp on respectability in a colonial city, and the many meanings of a silk visite.