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