Being a lady

[Episode 20 | 1818 : Charles]

Charles' mother educates him on the difference between Sarah and 'a lady'. Charles steals some of his mother's clothes in order to create a disguise for Liam but is surprised when Liam uses the disguise to gatecrash Sarah's wedding.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [2]

Activity 1: Etiquette
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Subtheme(s): Fashion; Gender roles and stereotypes; Social order and education

In this clip, Mrs Owen is able to detect that Sarah is not a lady based upon her conduct and manners. She notes that if Sarah had been a lady, she would have known that the polite way of expressing thanks was to say 'Thank you ever so!'.

In the world of 18th century England that Mrs Owen comes from, manners and behaviour are important indicators of a person's place within society. The rise of an aspiring middle class led to the growth of a body of books which aimed to instruct the reader on conduct in polite society, and how to recognise class distinctions based upon behaviour.

  • Ask students to research the rules of etiquette of the 18th and 19th centuries in England. Students can find information in the school or local library, or online. As a starting point, refer to the resources listed below:
  1. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 'The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century: Topics', A Day in Eighteenth-Century London,
  2. 18th Century Notebook, '18th Century Books and Essays on Etiquette', 
  3. Center for History, 'Introduction to 19th Century Etiquette',
  • In small groups, ask students to find 10 rules of etiquette from the 18th and 19th centuries in England. They are also to decide which rules they think should still be followed today.

  • Organise a tea party for the students in which they pretend to be ladies and gentlemen of the early 19th century in Australia. Each student is to take on a character and pretend to adhere to the rules of etiquette for the times. Some examples for behaviour might be: 
  1. ladies will curtsey
  2. gentlemen will bow
  3. ladies will sit while the gentlemen stand
  4. ladies will pour the tea while the gentlemen assist with carrying heavy equipment
  5. ladies will not speak until the gentlemen have spoken first.
  • Ask students to dress up in character if they wish, or play different parts such as convicts and servants, as well as children and teenagers.


Activity 2: Fashions for colonial women
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Subtheme(s): Fashion; Gender roles and stereotypes; Social order and education

Early settler women living in the colony continued to dress according to European fashion, though their new circumstances limited their access to high-quality garments. In this clip, Mrs Owen lends Sarah her 'second-best shawl' to wear at her wedding. Mrs Owen and Sarah are dressed in very different clothing, as befits the social station of each.

  • As a class, view the clip Being a lady and compare the fashions worn by Mrs Owen and Sarah. Discuss how the clothing worn by each woman reflects her social position. For more in-depth information, students can conduct research in the school or local library, or online. As a starting point, refer to the websites below:
  1. The Costumer's Manifesto, '18th Century Costume Resources Online',
  2. Fashion-era, '1800-1845 Costume Fashion History', 
  3. Powerhouse Museum, 'Colonial Dress',
  4. Wikipedia, '1795-1820 in Fashion',
  • As a class, view the clip 'Rebellious women' on the website listed below:
  1. Australian Screen, 'The Colony',
  • Discuss the problems faced by early settler women when wearing European styles in their new situation in the colony
  • Ask students to write a response to the following question: How did the style of the dress in 19th-century Australia reflect the social status of the person?

  • Students choose either Sarah or Mrs Owen from this episode and draw their costume, naming the different items of clothing and describing why a woman of their social position wore this attire.
  • Ask students to design another costume for their chosen character and explain why they have dressed them this way. They could cut out their character as a paper-doll pattern and dress the doll in the new costume using paper tabs. As an alternative, students could use cards and magnets to make the designs into paper dolls that they can display on a magnetic surface.


Student Activity Sheet H20.6: Fashions for colonial women

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