Show highlights how deadly serious Aberdeen’s Victorians were when mourning loved ones

Burial traditions, mourning, and superstition in Victorian times are the focus of a new exhibition opening in Aberdeen this weekend.

The event at the Maritime Museum on Shiprow, which took more than six months to create, delves into the extravagant ways the Victorians marked death.

Jenny Pape, 28, is the local history curator who was inspired to created the Kiss of Death exhibition.

She says one piece in particular from the Aberdeen Art Gallery caught her eye.

She said: “This whole exhibition was born from one piece – a Victorian mourning bonnet.

“This exaggerated version is a contemporary piece of artwork created by Jo Gordon.

“We have it on display here in its case and it’s so beautiful and unique.

“It inspired this whole exhibition, which is part of our Art and History series.”

"Kiss of Death" Headpiece by Jo Gordon
“Kiss of Death” Headpiece by Jo Gordon

Mourning bonnets were just one of the traditional fashion items with which women in the 19th century adorned themselves to signify they were mourning a loved one.

As well as brooches entwined with the hair of the dead, women were expected to show their grief by wearing only black for two years after the passing of a husband.

This was greatly influenced by Queen Victoria who mourned her beloved Prince Albert for 40 years, until she died in 1901.

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria

Jenny said: “We have letters on display written by Queen Victoria during this period and even those are adorned with a bold black frame, signifying her mourning.

“Many didn’t wear black for as long as the Queen; after the two years in black they would traditionally broaden it out and wear only grey and purple for a further six months.

“During that period the widow was expected not to attend any social events for a year, and wives were actually still considered ‘property’ of their husbands for the two and a half years after the man’s death.”


The Kiss of Death exhibition includes images of a North-east bride from 1891, wearing a far from traditional wedding dress.

Jenny said: “This lady was thought to be from Banff and is wearing a black wedding dress on her big day, as someone close to her died near to her wedding.”

The exhibition has a selection of images from the National Media Museum showing what were once said to be the first photographs capturing spirits.


Although proven to be fakes, Jenny said they show the Victorian fascination with superstition and the spirit world.

Aberdeen City Council Depute Leader Councillor Marie Boulton said: “The Kiss of Death exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see of the city’s significant collection on display while Aberdeen Art Gallery is being transformed into a new cultural centre.

“We have committed to ensuring a strong continuity programme of events during it’s closure in order for the residents of Aberdeen to continue to engage with the arts and with culture. This particular exhibition offers an unusual glimpse into some of the gallery’s possessions.”

The free exhibition runs until June 18.