The Rajah quilt


Our blogging friend Leslie recently posted an image of a wonderful piece of her tapestry:

That very same day we came across a report of an exhibition at our national gallery called Making the Australian Quilt:1800-1950, which included this image of the “Rajah quilt”, sewn by women convicts on their way to Van Diemen’s Land in 1841, on board the ship Rajah.

As they were not always allowed on deck, the women sometimes huddled in the hull where the lighting was poor, pricking their fingers and leaving small bloodstains on the quilt or sewing pieces in backwards. Over the course of the journey exotic birds appeared on the quilt….

This is now a prized piece in the National Gallery’s collection and Gert will be off to see it in the exhibition to run from July 22 – November 6 at NVG Melbourne.


4 thoughts on “The Rajah quilt

    1. No, I haven’t. I’ll see if I can track it down. The first fleets in the 1790’s were hellholes, with the convicts in fetters and a very high death toll. It took 250 days to get here. Things did improve; by the time of the Rajah it took about 100 days and the convicts could at least move around unfettered, had better food & water and many fewer deaths. But the ships were tiny. It must have been terrifying in those rough seas. Let alone the idea that they really were going to the other end of the earth and knew they’d probably never be going home again. It’s ironic that the British govt solved its overcrowding problem by shipping all those people here, and these days our govt moves heaven and earth to stop even one refugee boat landing here.

  1. At first I thought it was the male convicts who had done this and I was truly amazed. Few men are able to do needle work like this. I think women have a better focus and a lot more patience. It is a work that is part of your history and I’m glad it is being recognized.

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