Patchwork Prisoners: the Rajah Quilt and the women who made it
Authors: Trudy Cowley and Dianne Snowden
Published: 2013 by Research Tasmania, Hobart
Size: 352 B5 pages
Patchwork Prisoners is a study of the 180 female convicts who were transported on the convict ship Rajah from England to Hobart in 1841. It is also a study of the Rajah Quilt and the convicts on board who may have been involved in the making of it on their voyage to Van Diemen’s Land. The role of Miss Kezia Hayter as Matron on board and in the making of the Quilt is also explored.
The Rajah Quilt is the only known surviving quilt made by female convicts on their voyage from the United Kingdom to Australia. It was found in a Scottish attic in 1987 and gifted to the National Gallery of Australia in 1989.
- Chapter 1: The Rajah Quilt provides information about the Quilt and how it was made.
- Chapter 2: Upon the Seas provides information about embarkation, arrival and the voyage, including content from the Surgeon’s Journal.
- Chapter 3: The Matron provides information about Kezia Hayter, the Matron on board the Rajah, her involvement in the Ladies’ Society, and her life in Van Diemen’s Land (informed by her diary) prior to her marriage.
- Chapter 4: The Quilt and The Quilters provides information about the making of the Quilt and identification of the convicts potentially involved in making the Quilt by looking at their trades given at embarkation and arrival.
- Chapter 5: The Convicts and Their Crimes provides statistics and stories about the Rajah convicts, including information on age, height, native place, trial place, crimes and whether or not they were on the town prior to sentencing.
- Chapter 6: Arrival and Disposal provides information about how the convicts were disposed of upon arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.
- Chapter 7: Colonial Offences provides information about colonial offences while under sentence, classified into five classes: offences against the person, offences against property, forgery and offences against the currency, offences against good order, and offences not included in preceding classes.
- Chapter 8: Institutional Life provides information about the women’s lives in the female factories, hiring depots, hospitals, pauper establishments and invalid depots.
- Chapter 9: Marriage provides information about marriages prior to transportation, permissions to marry and colonial marriages, including common-law and same sex relationships.
- Chapter 10: Family Life provides information about children prior to transportation, children on board, colonial children and family left behind.
- Chapter 11: End of Sentence provides information about gaining freedom, and survival in the colonies.
- Chapter 12: Death provides information about death, wills, and burials.
- Chapter 13: Conclusion
The book also contains a Preface by Emeritus Professor Lucy Frost, a Table of Contents, List of Illustrations (78), List of Tables (80), List of Figures (24), About the Authors, Acknowledgements, Authors’ Notes, Abbreviations, Appendix (Classification of Offences), extensive Bibliography and Index. There are also sections related to the World Heritage Sites of Cascades Female Factory, Brickendon and Woolmers.
Biographies of the 180 Rajah convicts are available for download from this website.
Noel Shaw, The Examiner, 27 July 2013
Women convicts display resilience
In July 1841, the convict ship Rajah arrived in Hobart Town with a cargo of 180 convict women and 10 of their children.
During the long voyage, some of the women used their needlework skills to create a beautiful quilt, which is now owned by the National Gallery of Australia.
This is its story, but mostly it is an engrossing account of all the women, their crimes and what became of them in Van Diemens Land.
It’s the result of years of painstaking research by the two Hobart historians, Dr Cowley and Dr Snowden.
The females on the Rajah ranged in age from 13 to 60.
Nearly 90 percent of them would commit more offences after they arrived, and would be punished.
Drink was the cause of many of their offences, but as the authors remind us, drink might have been their only solace. Jane Robertson, who had moved to Bendigo after her release, was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in March, 1894. She pleaded with the magistrate to let her off, it being Easter.
“There appeared a possibility of Jane getting another chance, when sub-inspector Murphy imparted to the bench the interesting bit of information that this was was the woman’s 74th appearance.”
Some had been “on the town”, a euphemism for prostitution, before being transported. Some would continue this in Van Diemens Land after they finished their sentences. In 1860, we read: “Police stated there were 100 prostitutes in 20 brothels in Hobart.”
Catherine Lowry was charged in Hobart with misconduct in being in bed with a ticket-of-leave man at her residence, “and also with having obtained her living for the last two months by prostitution”.
At the time, her husband James was serving a sentence with hard labour at Oyster Cove. Catherine defended herself in court stating, “I work for my living.” Catherine confessed to being on the town from the time she was about 13.
Some of the women married and lived out their lives happily.
Jane Taylor, only 14 when she was transported, married in Hobart in 1844. She gave birth to a daughter in 1847.
Two years later she was in the female factory at Ross when she gave birth to another daughter. Jane had another five daughters between 1852 and 1866.
“The family settled in Canning Street, Launceston, and remained close.”
Margaret Miller, who spent most of her colonial life in the Longford district, died there, “surrounded by family”.
Many of them died in institutions, for instance the Colonial Hospital in Launceston. “By 1868, this was overcrowded, with people often sleeping on the floor.”
On the whole, say the authors, the Rajah women, once free, did not rely on crime to survive. Nor did the majority rely on prostitution.
“The women of the Rajah were survivors — resilient individuals who continually adapted to situations in which they found themselves.”
Both the authors say they are proud to count at least 20 convicts among their ancestors.