In the 65 years from 1788 in Australia, 25,655 women were transported from Britain and Ireland as convicts.
Most of these women have been known simply by their assigned convict number rather than as people. Rarely has the positive impact they made to the fledgling colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land been acknowledged.
That is changing thanks to the Roses from the Heart project begun by Tasmanian artist Dr Christina Henri.
Dr Henri worked as an artist-in-residence at the Cascades female convict factory in Hobart where she first became aware of the number of female convicts sent to Van Diemen’s Land. Approximately 12,500 females were sent to the island penal colony.
In 2007 Dr Henri began her mission to have 25,655 simple cloth bonnets made – one for each female convict transported – and is currently only 500 short of the target. The bonnets – similar to those worn by the women – are made by people from throughout the world, many with family links to the convicts being remembered.
Each bonnet includes a convict name and arrival ship and Dr Henri considers them a powerful symbol of remembrance for the women who are no longer just numbers on a list.
Some of the bonnets were presented at a special Blessing of the Bonnets service at St Andrew’s Uniting Church, in the small Northern Tasmanian town of Evandale, on Sunday 18 September.
The Governor of Tasmania, Professor Kate Warner, was the special guest at the service which saw people travel from throughout Australia to participate.
Prof Warner said the project had inspired many people to research their convict past, with a particular emphasis on female convicts. She said her husband, Dick, had uncovered his family’s links to Elizabeth Bruce, who arrived on the First Fleet in 1788.
Many of the bonnets presented at Evandale bore the names of convicts who arrived on the Australasia and eventually found their way to the town.
Evandale parishioner Kate Rowe was the organiser of the service. Kate has made more than 50 bonnets and sees the project as an important blessing and long overdue recognition for convict women.
Kate said Evandale was an obvious location for such a service given many convict women came to the region during the early days of settlement and played important roles in the development of the young township.
When finished, the bonnets will be on permanent display in Tasmania and New South Wales.