Quesnel Cariboo Observer

Saturday 21 June 2008
Community section

Dressing the part, 1860’s style

By Benjamin Alldrit
June 21, 2008

There was something for every member of the family at Cottonwood House on Fathers’ Day.

The historic roadhouse hosted two demonstrations from the Royal Engineers Living History Group as well as showing off their traditional displays.

Mrs. Mary McMurphy, also known as Sandee MacKinnon, walked spectators through the extremely involved process of dressing a lady in 1860.

McMurphy dressed an obliging Kayla Plamondon in split drawers, chemise, corset, under-petticoat, hoop skirt, over-petticoat, dress, gloves, bonnet and of course, reticule, which some observers might recognize as a purse.

Plamondon actually got off easy, considering that McMurphy told the gathered crowd a woman of that era might actually wear up to 12 layers of petticoats under their dress, in pursuit of the much-coveted bell shape.

All of the clothing was sewn by McMurphy herself, who estimated a single dress, not including undergarments, required more than 30 hours of work.

Following her demonstration, guests took some time to enjoy the first Cottonwood House wagon rides of the season as well as a quick meal and some games of croquet.

After lunch, Serjeant Jock McMurphy of the Royal Engineers, also known as Todd Birch, produced a dozen different firearms that would have been seen in the Cariboo between 1858 and 1900.

“I have shot every one of these,” McMurphy told his rapt audience.

“In fact, the last three game animals I shot, a moose and two black bears, were with period pieces.”

McMurphy’s demonstration followed both local history and the evolution of firearms, as ever-improving weapons found their way to the Cariboo in the hands of American miners, British soldiers and the Overlanders.

“Anyone who arrived here during that period would be armed to the teeth,” McMurphy said.

The original Jock McMurphy was a heavily decorated veteran of several British colonial conflicts before arriving in the Cariboo with the Columbia Detachment of the Royal Engineers.

“They were tasked with building the infrastructure of the colony: bridges, roads, canals and so forth.  They left their boot-tracks just about everywhere.”

Benjamin Alldritt photo