29 December, 2020

When Out and About

An artist's impression of Archbishop Polding wearing a shovel hat 
and clerical frock-coat.

With one known exception (1),  portraits of Archbishop Polding shew him wearing what might be described as "episcopal dress".  Surviving contemporary portraits of him are painted, drawn and photographed; and there are quite a lot of them.

In keeping with the dignity he perceived in his Episcopal office, it is not surprising that John Bede Polding always wished to present himself in portraiture in the formal dress of a bishop.  The impression might be drawn, however, that he dressed in such a formal manner on a daily basis.  This was not, in fact, the case.

Documentary evidence and one drawing of him indicates that he normally (and especially when travelling around Australia) wore a white shirt with a clerical collar attach to it,  (2)  black trousers and boots, and over the top of these a black waistcoat and frock-coat.  One anecdote  (3)  preserves the detail that beneath his trousers, he wore the purple  (4)  socks required of bishops.  He also seems usually to have worn a hat for protection of his head.  This also was a black hat and - at least in his earliest years in Australia - it took the form of a shovel hat.

The shovel hat is the millinery successor to the three-cornered hat typically worn by men in the 18th century, and which is frequently shewn in period dramas on television &c.  The shovel hat was made of  fur, had a broader brim and was turn up a little at the sides so that it loosely formed a triangular shape.  It gave good protection for the head and face.

Certainly on liturgical occasions, the Archbishop would always have been vested either in his choir dress or in pontifical vestments.  Whether he wore his Benedictine habit when in the precinct of the Cathedral or the Seminary is not known, but will be discussed in another post.


1.  A drawing of Bishop Polding from the late 1830s is preserved in the State Library of NSW and depicts him astride a horse, riding through Hyde Park with old Saint Mary's Cathedral in the background.

2. This is not at all like the so-called tab-shirt  : a modern development.

3. The anecdote is recorded in the autobiography of Archbishop William Ullathorne.

4. We use the word purple here, but most likely they were violet in colour and not fuchsia, or Roman purple.


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