Chinese field cape, made of vegetable fibre. The cape, together with a basket (SH900.659) and hat (SH900.660), had been in the possession of a family who occupied same property for four generations at Smeaton, Victoria.

The palm fibre cape is constructed from the matted and fibrous palm sheaths of the Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). Although sighted throughout Asia and the tropics, the palm fibre cape has been specifically attributed to the rural areas of the Guangdong province in Southern China. Worn by both men and women in the roles of porters, farmers and fishermen, it provides protection from the elements as the rigid structure extends from the shoulders and effectively funnels rain away from the wearer.

Native to China the Trachycarpus fortunei palm has been used throughout history in making the traditional capes, ropes, mattresses and brushes. Numerous sheaths are collected from the palm stem, layered then stitched together with a twisted horizontal weft. A firm collar is constructed from palm fibres and coated with a varnish or gum.

The cape most likely arrived in Australia during the Chinese immigration of the Gold Rush era. Mining attracted Chinese migration during the 1850s with the first arrival reported in 1848 and majority of migrants came from the fertile farming plains of the Canton Delta region of Guangdong. Large scale migrations were in decline by 1880 as mining work ceased and while many Chinese migrants returned home, those remaining returned to agricultural pursuits, general labourers and market gardeners.

Physical Description

Field coat, cape style, made of vegetable fibre. The top of the coat forms a waist-length cape, drawn together and strongly bound at the neck. A cord extends from either side of the neck band. Lower portion of the coat forms a skirt-like layer that is stitched on to the top of the back only, allowing the arms to move freely under the top. At the front, the lower portion has a long, narrow breast panel on each side that is held up with neck band cords (and 2 additional cords from either side of front opening). Three cords would hold the front opening of the lower portion securely closed. Plant fibre is of cross- thatch weave with horizontal cords woven in approx. every 2.9cm. Ends unhemmed and frayed. Coat is thick and heavy.

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