Wedding Dress Display Sparks Heartwarming Family Reunion

A 141-year-old dress brought six descendants of the Voss/Franke family together.

Whanganui Regional Museum has unveiled a captivating piece of history, showcasing a resplendent silk taffeta wedding dress worn by Alvine Augusta Voss for her nuptials in February 1883. The unveiling was accompanied by a public talk at the Museum, triggering a remarkable occasion for both the museum and the community.

Alvine Voss, a native of Germany born in March 1858, exchanged vows with Wilhelm Franke at the Lutheran Church in Marton, when she was 25 years old, he was 34.

Generations later, in 1993, the exquisite dress found its way to the Museum’s collection through the generous donation of Eileen Martin, a granddaughter of Alivine and Wilhelm Franke. The dress has become not just a historical artefact, but a tangible link to the past for living family members.

Around 38 people attended the lunchtime fashion talk in the Museum hosted by Kaihāpai Taonga/Collections and Curatorial Lead, Trish Nugent-Lyne. She was joined by Eileen Martin who was able to share her recollection of rescuing the dress from a cousin’s wardrobe.

The presentation took on a special significance when relatives from Auckland, on hearing about the fashion talk, made the journey to Whanganui for the occasion. Shiree Watt and her sister Carolyn Perkin accompanied their mother Beverley Bonnar, a great granddaughter of Alvine Voss.

Voss/Franke family descendants
Back row L-R: Carolyn Perkin, Shiree Watt, Eileen Martin. Front row L-R: Thelma Dawes, Beverley Bonnar, John Bligh

Adding to the richness of the narrative, a dress of similar style and colour worn by Alvine’s sister, Caroline, at her wedding to Robert Ross the following year in 1884, is also part of the Museum’s esteemed collection. Thelma Dawes, a Whanganui resident, and descendant of Caroline Voss also attended the talk. John Bligh, a son of Eileen’s younger stepsister, travelled from Bulls. All convened at the Museum to meet and form new connections, embodying the living links to the dress’s history.

Shiree Watt said, “We all had such a fabulous day. Mum is so happy that we came for the public talk. There are now plans for a get together with my Aunty to update the family tree on the Legacy website, with the new information we have learnt.”

Kaihāpai Taonga/Collections and Curatorial Lead, Trish Nugent-Lyne expressed her delight at witnessing the family kinships forged. “Seeing the heartfelt reunions sparked by the shared history of the wedding dress fills me with immense joy. It’s a powerful reminder of the enduring bonds that connect us across generations and the profound importance of preserving our heritage.”

The wedding dress is the Museum’s Ko te Kākahu o te Marama – Outfit of the Month for May.

The exhibition is open to the public free of charge, with donations gratefully accepted. The dress will remain on display at the Whanganui Regional Museum throughout May, inviting visitors to step into the past and discover the rich tapestry of familial and historical connections it represents.

Image: Voss/Franke family descendants. Photographed by Kathy Greensides

Karen Hughes

6 May 2024

Fashion Talks