The Ann Pidsley Clothing Collection: from Colebrooke to Australia.


Ann Pidsley was born in Colebrooke in 1772. In 1838, twelve years after she had been widowed, she emigrated to Australia with her remaining family. She took with her mementos of her life in Devon, in particular several dresses dating from the eighteenth century, including what is believed to be her wedding dress. These dresses stayed in her family and now form part of a collection in the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and represent some of the oldest articles of clothing in that country.

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Above, left to right: Blue silk empire-line dress, about 1810; this probably belonged to Ann Deane (née Pidsley)

Ann Pidsley's embroidered muslin wedding dress (she married Thomas Deane in Upton Pyne in 1807)

Detail on sleeve of eighteenth century silk brocade dress in Springfield Collection       All images courtesy National Museum of Australia.

Links to more information on Ann Pidsley's blue silk dress   embroidered muslin dress   silk brocade dress  (open in new window)


The Pidsleys were a well-to-do family living in and around Colebrooke. Ann’s father William Pidsley was baptised in Crediton but was living south west of Colebrooke at Great Wotton Farm by 1762 when he married Elizabeth Francis back in Crediton. Ann was the fifth of their six children; all were baptised in Colebrooke.

But by the time she was seven both her parents had died.

Colebrooke Church - where many of the Pidsleys were baptised or buried

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The tombstone of Elizabeth and William Pidsley, Ann's parents, set into the floor of the chancel of Colebrooke Church

Underneath are deposited the 

Remains of ELIZABETH 

Wife of Willm Pidsley Gent
who departed this Life Jan y 12th

1775 aged 42.
Also of y aforesaid W PIDSLEY
who departed this life July y 1st

1779 aged 41

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It is probable that Ann and some of her siblings were then brought up by relatives in the small village of Upton Pyne. It was there that her eldest sister Mary Battishill Pidsley married the local Curate, Revd Richard Skinner, in 1802.  Ann was one of the witnesses. And it was indeed in Upton Pyne that Ann was married, in 1807 to Thomas Deane from Bickington near Newton Abbot. Her younger brother Revd Simon Pidsley conducted both marriage services.


The Deanes were a prosperous Exeter family who lived in St Edmund’s Parish, where Thomas was born (although the family grave was in nearby St Leonard’s). They had family connections in and around Barnstaple, where the Deanes were clothiers in the 18th century.

Thomas and Ann Deane farmed at Wrigwell in Bickington. They had five children, all baptised in that parish. Thomas Deane died in Exeter aged 59 in 1826.

Little is known about Ann Deane and her family in Devon after she was widowed, although they spent some time in Barnstaple.

Her brother-in-law Robert Deane, a captain in the Bombay Marine who died childless in 1827, left several thousand pounds to her children Robert, Ann and Mary when they were 21 years old, i.e. between 1829 and 1836. Her son Robert became a solicitor and was until 1836 in partnership with John Pidsley (1763-1840) in North St., Exeter.

In May 1838, with 250 other emigrants, Ann Deane, now 66, sailed from Plymouth to Sydney on the “William Metcalfe” with her three surviving children: Robert, then aged 30, Ann, 27 and Mary, 24. Also on board was her grandson, Edgar Reginald Deane, aged about 2.



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Above - Robert Deane's application to become a solicitor in Australia

Left - an advert for the sailing of the William Metcalfe in 1838


Robert Deane continued to work in Australia as a lawyer, but ran up debts. He died in December 1848.



"ROBERT DEANE, arrived from England in 1839, and immediately plunged into cold water, by taking an active part in the establishment of the first Temperance Society in Melbourne. His devotion to teetotalism was not of long continuance, for by 1842 he had sunk into such an intense worship of alcoholism that judge Willis was more than once obliged to rebuke his unsteady appearance in Court. Deane commenced partnership with Mr. Richard Ocock, and the firm was for a while in a fair business, but Deane's irregularities precipitated a dissolution. It was said that he was driven to intemperance by an attachment contracted prior to emigrating, and that the lady of his love had promised to come to Melbourne as soon as her fiancé had settled down in his new home; but with her, absence did not made the heart grow fonder. Another wooer came, and Deane and Port Phillip were speedily forgotten. He was not the same man after the receipt of this intelligence."