Lifting the Veil on Family Tradition

Lifting the Veil on Family Tradition

A treasured family heirloom in the Library’s collection tells 27 stories, writes Sally Hopman

In the National Library of Australia’s more than 10 million collection items, there are about 600,000 images, kilometres of books and manuscripts, an opera house full of music, dance and oral histories, enough maps to discover a brand new world—and an old bridal veil.

So, why did we add a 12-foot-long (3.5 metres), very fragile bridal veil to our collection? Simple. Because it was worn by 27 brides in 64 years, most of whom were from the same family.

Known as the Lockhart family veil, the treasured heirloom was donated to the National Library by brides Jenny Hadlow and Rosemary Hyde, on behalf of the family. They also donated a collection of photographs showing 26 of the 27 brides who wore the veil from 1929 to 1995.

Wedding Portrait of Agnes ('Nessie') Emily Hackett (née Lockhart) and Norman Alfred Hackett, Melbourne,

Hadlow told the Library:

Our mother Agnes (Nessie) Lockhart was one of 11 children. She was the second child and eldest daughter of Joseph and Alice Lockhart, farming pioneers on the Murray River in south-western New South Wales.

Nessie bought the white Honiton lace veil in Melbourne in December 1928 to wear at her marriage to Norman Hackett on 20 June 1929. It was also her 25th birthday.

M. Zaetta, Wedding Portrait of Frances Gill (née Mensforth) and John ('Jack') Gill, Swan Hill, Victoria,

After Nessie wore the veil, it was worn by her five sisters; four sisters-in-law; two daughters; a daughter-in-law; and two of her granddaughters. It was last worn by Nessie’s granddaughter Jane Hyde in 1995.

Hadlow explained:

Yes, we all wore it for sentimental reasons. But we also all wore it because it was during the Depression when few people had anything and in a country town, you always shared everything. Other brides who wore it included Nessie’s close friends; Norman’s sister and sister-in-law and daughters of family friends and rural neighbours. The only condition placed on all borrowers of the veil was that Nessie receive a photograph of the bride—we have 26 photographs of 27 brides.

Robert Peet, Wedding Portrait of Jane Elizabeth Merchant (née Hyde) and Mark Shane Merchant, Orange, NSW,, courtesy Jane Merchant

A volunteer at the National Library for almost 20 years, Hadlow said her family decided to donate the veil and photographs to the Library:

As eldest daughter, I became the keeper of the veil. My mother asked me to look after it—we kept it rolled up in a sheet, hung high in the wardrobe. But it was always in the back of my mind that because it was so fragile, we really had to place it somewhere safe. And because we had photographs of all the brides, we had the whole story. I spoke to the family to ask if we could give it to the National Library, and so we did.

The veil was examined by National Library preservation staff after it was donated. The veil was unrolled, flattened out and then placed on to a cylinder core roll so it would not crease. ‘We built a purpose-built box to store it in—it was huge,’ explained conservator Freya Merrell. ‘We interleaved levels of tissue in the box and tried to spread the veil out as much as possible so it wouldn’t crease.’ Although it was fragile, conservators decided no treatment was required on the veil to maintain its authenticity—and sentimental value.

Sally Hopman is the Media Liaison Manager at the National Library of Australia. View images of all the brides wearing the veil in the Lockhart Family's Wedding Veil Collection