The Rajah Quilt

The Rajah Quilt

Sunday, December 29, 2013

'Quilts 1700-1945', the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, August 2013.

The Rajah quilt is not displayed very often, it has only been in 3 or 4 exhibitions in Australia in the past 10 years. As one of the most significant textiles in Australian, and world, history, it was included as a 'guest quilt' in the Victoria and Albert Museum's 'Quilts 1700 - 1945' display in 2010. The V&A holds most of this collection of over 50 historic quilts, with some pieces borrowed from museums and private collections.

This exhibition was brought to Brisbane, Australia in 2013, with the Rajah Quilt again featuring, courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia. It was on display from 15th June to 22nd September, and I was lucky enough to be able to go up to Queensland for just a weekend, a few days before my birthday, and see the exhibition.

My cousin Hazel gave a presentation on Grace's story, at the V&A, during the 2010 exhibition, and contacted me about whether I would like her to get the book for me, from the exhibition, but the Rajah Quilt was not actually in it. I decided not to. Thankfully the book was reproduced in conjunction with the QAGOMA exhibition 2013, with a new section dedicated to the Rajah Quilt, written by Dr Robert Bell, senior Curator at the NGA.
Book produced for the Exhibition
 Naturally, although it's disappointing, no photography was allowed inside the exhibit. The book is a fantastic resource and keepsake with pictures of all the quilts, and a story about each one.

In the book and gift store specially set up in conjunction with the Quilt exhibition, I found a hard cover edition of Annette Gero's "The Fabric of Society" - a well known and hard-to-get book of Australian quilts.

Launch of "Patchwork Prisoners"

The long awaited work by 2 very well known Tasmanian Female Convict Researchers, Dr Trudy Cowley and Dr Dianne Snowden, was launched at Parliament House on July 19th, 2013, the 172nd anniversary of the arrival of the Rajah in Hobart.

The book is based on the various records of the time, with information about the voyage, the arrival, the women on board and what happened to them later in their lives. It also notes the 'potential quilters' on board, based on those women's records which noted their stated profession as seamstress or needlewoman.

I am not entirely in agreeance, and I know that Trudy and Dianne are not saying, that only those with recorded employment history, or recorded experience in sewing, were involved in making the quilt. There are no actual records from the voyage, or later sources, detailing the way the quilt was constructed, or the women involved.

I do agree that it is reasonable to assume that Keziah Hayter, even though she was only 19, had the needlework and literacy skills to produce the inscription on the quilt. 
photo from NGA website
I do have my own theory, with various reasons which I will go into in more depth in another post. My theory is more to do with friends and friendship, based on the history of patchwork itself, the quilts of the early to mid Victorian era, and of the Quaker philosophy of the British Ladies Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, than with the convict records :)

Outside Parliament House in the outfit I made for the occasion

Reading the huge volume of biographies that are a separate appendix to the book

Premier of Tasmania the Hon. Lara Giddings launching the book

Dianne and Trudy on the left, with other Rajah descendants who attended on the day.

Here is a Link to the book launch on Trudy's website. Another thing we have in common is that our husbands both follow us around with a camera!
 You can obtain a copy here:

Heritage Tasmania's report on the launch day

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bodmin Jail

It was a cold, wet day in June 2012, when we visited the Bodmin Jail, in Cornwall.  This is the prison where Charles Blight was held in 1834, after his conviction for wounding a sheep.  The Jail is now a private tourist operation, and well worth a visit. The current owners saved the site from a derilect state in 2004, and are continually restoring the buildings. It has an excellent restaurant, and some great books on the history of the jail. They concentrate on the notorious local prisoners convicted for murder, and sentenced to execution.  The hanging of brothers James and William Lightfoot on 13th April 1840 attracted a crowd of 25,000 plus some 1,100 passengers on a train, which halted below the prison so that those on board could see the execution.  One of the main attractions of Bodmin Jail today is a daily re-enactment of a hanging at the restored gallows. 

The original Bodmin Prison was built in in the reign of George III, in 1779. Based on the reforms of the 1778 Act of Parliament, the site was chosen for its clean air and pure water, which would help in reducing disease.   Three prison areas were designed to separate minor misdemeanants, felons (major crimes) and debtors, as well as segregating men and women.  Bodmin was also one of the first jails with prisoners kept in individual cells. 
The entire prison was rebuilt in the 1850's after being declared unfit for purpose, due to changes in legislation which required total segregation of remand prisoners, convicted prisoners, felons, misdemeanants, debtors, vagrants and of course, men from women. This resulted in over 20 different classes of prisoners; each group had to be housed in separate sleeping areas and workshops.  A new 220-cell prison was built from the late 1850's - it is these buildings that remain on the site.

Notice on the wall inside the restored prison, naming Charles Blight amongst prisoners transferred to London prior to their transportation. At the time when Charles Blight was in Bodmin Jail, it was a different building to the one that is currently on the site.

 Remains of the Naval Prison from 1887.


Sunday, March 3, 2013


Convict Lives at the Launceston Female Factory

Convict Women's Press


On Saturday February 23rd, 2013, the new book, from Tasmanian publishing group Convict Women's Press; 'Convict Lives at the Launceston Female Factory', was officially launched at the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, in Hobart.
The book contains 34 stories about the lives of convict women who at some stage encountered the walls of the Launceston Female Factory.  Contributors range from historians, professors and family members, all keen to continue to bring the stories of female convicts to life. 
A few of the authors, along with myself, are direct descendants of the women they wrote about. 
Grace's story is included in this book, and Grace's photo on the front cover!
In a costume that belongs to the Female Factory - attempting to replicate the pose in the original photo of Grace

Signing copies of the books

The launch was a great celebration for all the authors.

Gary and I dressed for the occasion - Sam said we look like the Pastor and his wife :)

A photo of Grace, date unknown, current owner of this photograph also unknown - I would like to find out who has the copy that this image was made from.

More signing.

The Premier of Tasmania, the Honourable Lara Giddings, was official guest speaker at the launch.

I, along with 2 other contributors, was asked to read a short section of my story at the launch.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Centenary Celebrations for St Brigid's Catholic Church Wynyard

When I first contacted the church about taking photos of the window for the Female Convict's Research Group, I was invited to the centenary celebrations, as a person with a connection to Bridget Brewster, nee Cassidy (see previous post).

St Brigids in 1912 - photo from State Library of Tasmania
Saturday October 13th 2012 was the day of celebration for the 100th anniversary of St Brigid's church in Wynyard.  The iconic new church was opened in 1912, and replaced the nearby wooden church built in 1876.
When Archbishop Patrick Delaney travelled from Hobart to Wynyard to lay the foundation stone on May 28, 1911, he saw the plans and said it was far too large and grandiose, and made Father T. J. O'Donnell move the stone 6 m (20 feet).  After the Archbishop departed, Father T. J. moved the stone back to it's original position.
The  O'Neill family provided the iron, and together with the Brewster family donated the original altar for the new church.


Interior of St Brigids, Archbishop Adrian Doyle

The church shares design features with Westminster Cathedral in London, completed in 1903. The design of red brick with light bands is known colloquially as 'blood and bandages'.

Westminster Cathedral, London 2004

Westminster Cathedral Precint, London, 2004


We were told that the dress for the celebration would be in the style of 1912.  We decided to make a day of it with the Tulip Festival on the same day, and wore our costumes out for the afternoon

A bus load of international students arrived at the tulip farm, just after we did.  I'm sure they thought we were part of the day's attraction :)

I'm sure I had my photograph taken with most of this group :)

We also visited the 'Wonders of Wynyard' exhibition of vintage transport, and I discovered another treasure, a Singer No. 3 treadle.




With a little time to fill in, we 'visited' Bridget and Thomas, who are buried at the old general cemetery, Jenner St, Wynyard.

Returning to town for the mass at 5 p.m. we sat next to Bridget's window.
Since this journey of discovery began, I have been contacted by 3 descendants of Bridget and Thomas, and it's to them that I dedicate this post.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Introducing Bridget Cassidy.

Dr Trudy Cowley contacted me a couple of months ago with an interesting request :).  Could I photograph a window, in the Catholic Church at Wynyard?  Well, sure, I reckon I could do that.  And guess what, there's a family connection - for me.   The window is dedicated to Bridget Brewster.  Ok.
Bridget was born at County Monaghan, in Ireland, in about 1830.  At her trial on 5 March 1849, she was convicted for stealing 2 quilts, and sentenced to 7 years transportation.  19 year old Bridget was transported on the Australasia, departing Dublin on 26 June and arriving in Hobart on 29 September, 1849.  On arrival, she and her fellow prisoners spent 6 months at the Anson Probation Station, a hulk moored in the Derwent, where Bridget was classified as a 3rd class, or Crime Class prisoner.  These women were the least well behaved, and were put to hard labour.

Between arrival, and when her sentence expired, Bridget was constantly in trouble with the authorities, with 8 records of being in either Ross or Launceston Female Factories (prisons).   During this time, Bridget was on 2 occasions the subject of ‘Convict Permission to Marry’, and had 2 daughters, with the men she hoped to marry.  Elizabeth b. 1853, (father Robert Roach), and Caroline Anastasia, b. 1855, (father William Green), but things evidently did not work out with either request for permission to marry.   Elizabeth, as the illegitimate daughter of a convict woman under sentence, was placed in the Queen’s Orphan School in Hobart. 

On 10th February 1857 Bridget married Thomas Ambrose BREWSTER, also a convict (Eden).  The marriage took place at the home of George Ramskill, at Table Cape.

Bridget and Thomas had 4 sons and 3 daughters –
John Francis b. 1857, Albert Joseph Sylvester b. 1859, Thomas, b. 1861, Sarah Ann b. 1864, Isabella Eudora b. 1866, Frederick Vincent b. 1868, and Mary b. 1870.  Caroline, Bridget’s second daughter before her marriage, stayed with the family, and Elizabeth was discharged to her mother’s care from the Orphan School in 1863, when she was about 10 years old.

Of Bridget's children, Thomas Brewster b. 1861 died unmarried in 1889.  John Francis Brewster did not marry as far as I can tell, no spouse or children mentioned in his obituary in 1928.  Mary, the youngest daughter, also appears to have remained unmarried until her death in 1940.
Son Albert was an interesting character.  In September 1877, only 18, he was acquitted of a charge of forgery and uttering.  In 1886 he was assaulted while a police constable in Launceston, and in 1887 was charged with perjury in a case he was prosecuting, falsely testifying against the accused, of having used indecent language.  In October 1887 Albert was prosecuted for leaving his illegitimate child, to Lousia Davis, without means of support.  The case was discharged.

In 1890 Albert, with 3 other men, was charged with ‘riotously disturbing the peace by fighting’. They each paid a £25 fine and were given a good behaviour bond.
On 8 January 1891, Albert Joseph Brewster married Grace Elizabeth Alice Louchlon Blight, at her father’s residence, Pine Road near Ulverstone; Albert aged 27, bachelor, miner; Grace aged 22, spinster, domestic; witnesses Emma Amelia Louchlon Hayes and James Hayes.  Grace’s father was John Lachlan Blight, son of Grace nee Stevens and Charles Blight; her mother was Ellen Blight nee Dewhurst, daughter of Charles Dewhurst and Elizabeth Banks.  This is where the family is connected to mine, as John and Ellen are my gggg-uncle and aunt, one of the 3 pairs of step-brothers and sisters to marry from the 2 families of Grace and Charles.
Grace and Albert had 2 sons, John Thomas Mervyn b. 1891, and Albert Richard Avondale b. 1896.
The troubled times weren’t over for Albert, who was declared insolvent in January 1893, with liabilities of £134.  In November 1901 he was a passenger in a Tatlow’s coach which crashed near Boat Harbour, but suffered only minor injuries.

Grace Alice Brewster nee Blight died Sept 4th 1902, aged 36 years.
In 1908, Albert, calling himself Albert Cassidy, stating his parents’ names Thomas Cassidy and Bridget O’Connor, married Alice Veronica Hammond in Victoria.  They had a son James Alfred In 1909, and a daughter Monica Aileen in 1912.
Albert Richard Avondale Brewster was thrown from a horse and killed age 13 years on 30 October 1909 near Flowerdale.  His mother had died and his father had run off to Victoria, young Albert was living with Bridget and Thomas at Flowerdale.

Marriages of the other Brewster children:
Caroline Green m. Joseph MORTON
Sarah Ann Brewster m. Thomas Stephen BERECHREE
Frederick Vincent m. Lizzie WELLS
Isabella Eudora BREWSTER m. John O’NEILL
Bridget Brewster nee Cassidy died on 20 December 1908 and is buried in the Old General Cemetery at Jenner St, Wynyard.
Thomas Ambrose Brewster erected a stained glass window in the St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Wynyard, in honour of his wife.

Thomas died on 17 August 1912. His funeral took place the same day as the opening of the new church.  He, along with son Thomas, is buried in the same plot as Bridget at Wynyard.