The Rajah Quilt

The Rajah Quilt

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Rajah Quilt at the NMA

Hi everyone,

It seems so long ago now, and somewhat overshadowed by the surprise extra 3 nights in Melbourne, courtesy of a volcano in Chile!  I do apologise for taking this long to get this post organised.  The 170th anniversary of the arrival of the Rajah has also just passed me by, I don’t know where the time goes!

On June 11th Gary and I went to Canberra for the long weekend, specifically to see the Quilt, which is on display until today at the National Museum of Australia. The National Museum has done a wonderful job of displaying the Rajah quilt.  It is spread flat, but on an angle of about 45 degrees, so it's easier to see the whole quilt standing close to it, than it would be if it was hanging vertically.  Photographs weren't allowed inside the exhibit, and there was no photo of the quilt in the book they had published about the display :( 

The quilt is so beautiful, the colours are much more vibrant than the photos that are used on most websites, and in books and magazines, which are usually reproductions of the one NGA picture (the one that is usually printed the wrong way, with the inscription on the side).  Below is a good photo of the colours in the quilt (at the V&A with my lucky cousin Hazel who got to have a special photo taken with it.)

The inscription panel is so finely embroidered, it looks like pen work.  I wish I'd realised, before seeing the quilt in Canberra, that this embroidered panel is described in books as 'cross stitched' - I would have liked to take more notice, but it didn't strike me as cross stitched.  Does anyone else have first hand knowledge of this? 

They had some small souvenir items, I brought a selection back with me, but these also are based on the NGA photograph of the quilt.

This is what is written up on the National Museum of Australia's website, about the quilt:

"One small group of female convicts, who arrived in Hobart on the Rajah in 1841, has left an extraordinary testimony to their skill and perseverance — the  Rajah quilt, the only known surviving convict shipboard quilt. The names of the 37 women, their occupation and native county can be seen on the wall."
It was more than a little annoying that they only have 37 of the Rajah women's names listed, leaving 143 others not recognised, and there was no other information displayed with the quilt, so people don't know how it was made, or that there were many other women involved.  As well as the convict women, they could have told the stories of Elizabeth Fry or Kezia Hayter.  While we were standing at the display two other women were there discussing it and one was saying "they would have ripped up their petticoats..." I so wanted to talk to everyone about the quilt - it would have been nice to see the story explained a little better.  
I suppose it's connection to the Irish in Australia is really very tenuous and they can't say much about it that's Irish.  Honestly I don't think the NMA see the quilt as something that has living connections to real people - they see it as a piece of textile that 'belongs' to the NGA.

Naturally we did some other sightseeing in Canberra - and we were lucky to experience a recital at the Carillion, which only happens once a month. 

We also visited the new Parliament House which is very impressive.

We drove around the circuit of embassies and past Yarralumla, the Governor General's residence. 

The Market at the old Bus Depot:

Telstra Tower on Mt Black:

Hope to see you a little sooner next time,