Rose of Australia – Nellie Stewart’s Bangle

Nellie Stewart the Rose of Australia. Nellie Stewart’s bangle and how she started a trend still popular today. She was a popular singer and actress whose fame was worldwide with most of her success being in Australia. She began the fashionable trend of wearing feminine jewellery such as bangles, which was considered an outward sign of romantic attachment. Referred to as a Nellie Stewart’s Bangle.

Nellie Stewart Bangle antiqueWho is Nellie Stewart

Nellie Stewart, the ‘Idol of the Melbourne stage’ and ‘Rose of Australia’ was a fashion icon and philanthropist. She was born in 1858 and her popularity stretched over fifty years. From a very young age, she performed and sang in pantomimes, musicals and operettas. In Australia, she was even featured on two Australian stamps. Nellie’s frequent charitable works made her available socially thus allowing for imitation and a kind of worship. She was referenced as an ‘Idol’ with an appeal so great that women started to emulate her and began to wear the Nellie Stewart bangle.

Her immense popularity within the limelight and social affiliation led Australian jewellers to copy the design of her bangle. Women began to wear the bangle as a fashion statement. Nellie’s acclaimed stardom and influence allowed the bangles to grow in popularity among women and fashion trends.

Bangles (mostly gold) were worn in the Victorian era and into the 20th century. Bangles ranged from plain to tubular and solid with some being hinged. Most were thick and had a nice aesthetic on the arm.

The Gift – Nellie Stewart’s Bangle

In 1885, George gifted Nellie 5 gold sovereigns (made of 22ct gold) and had them made into a bangle. George created the design. The bangle was simple and round but heavy. Nellie wore the bangle for the rest of her life, over forty-six years. Nellie never removed it.

For Nellie and her love George Musgrove, a theatre producer, the bangle was a private recognition or symbol of their everlasting relationship. Though never married due to George’s first wife refusing a divorce. The two had a long-standing relationship spanning from 1880 until he died in 1916 and they had a daughter, Nancye.

Symbolism and Meaning

Ideas speculated as to why they chose a subtle almost disguised symbol of their relationship, Nellie’s bangle. One idea behind their choice of a bangle originated from their visits to India. In Indian culture, it is customary for the bride to receive a bangle of coloured glass from their soon-to-be mother-in-law. Another was from Victorian England. A bride would receive a bangle from her fiancé upon engagement and another on their wedding day. The bangles were worn as a pair.

Bangles antique
Nellie Stewart bangles were often given by men to their fiancé or bride as wedding gifts. From the early 1910s up to the mid-1920s, there was frequent mention of a ‘Nellie Stewart bangle’ in wedding stories. The bangles were also given as christening presents and to small girls as gifts. Keeping in the style of Nellie’s bangle most were unhinged and, in some instances, bangles had to be cut off as a child grew.

In 1931, Nellie died but her love of the bangle did not. She asked to be buried with her bangle but sadly this was not permitted. Instead, an angel etching with her likeness was placed over her grave and it wears a bangle. In 1938, another memorial was erected in the Sydney Botanic Gardens and shows her bangle.

Nellie Stewart’s bangle though we may not have known the origin are still popular today. Nellie’s memory lives on in our popular Australian fashion trend of bangles. Now referred to as golf bangles.

Original Article Accredited to: Annita Boyd

Antique Nellie Stewart BangleVictorian 9ct Rose Gold Nellie Melba OR Nellie Stewart Round Hollow Bangle


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