A Bonnet For Eliza and Hobart, Tasmania.

The Perchance Performers are a newly formed community theatre group that recently performed A Bonnet For Eliza at the local museum. The ticket price included a Devonshire Tea. Think I’de miss an opportunity like that?

25,566 female convicts were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1853. They faced tough lives and uncertain futures at the various convict female factories and until relatively recently, their history was largely unseen and unknown.

In 2007 Dr Christina Henri began a project to commemorate all those women by inviting people to make a bonnet embroidered with the name of a female convict, the name of the ship she arrived on and the date she started her life as a convict on the other side of the world.

Bonnets were made in Workshops across the country under the umbrella the Roses From The Heart Project. In a Workshop in Brisbane in 2010, the great great granddaughter of one such convict woman shared the history of her relative, Eliza Davis, an Irish woman who was to be hanged for the alleged murder of her baby till her sentence was commuted to life in Van Diemen’s Land. She arrived in Australia in 1845. Unable to read or write, she nevertheless proved to be a resilient woman who made a decent and useful life for herself and the nine children she gave birth to in this country.

Another attendee at that Workshop was so taken with the tale that she debuted as a playwright with A Bonnet For Eliza.

Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, our island State with the capital city of Hobart, is a beautiful town with its sandstone warehouses, galleries and culinary temptations. From 1803 to 1853, almost 13,000 convict women together with 2,000 children arrived in Hobart and were imprisoned at the Cascades Female Factory (which is still open for tours).

When I visited Hobart last year three women and two children had been immortalised in bronze sculptures on Hobart’s Macquarie Wharf — the arrival point for the convicts. This was undertaken as part of Footsteps Towards Freedom Project by Irish sculptor, Roman Gillespie.  

These monuments are extremely sobering, especially in this very swank area of Hobart Harbour where I could only afford a Devonshire Tea!

( If you’re up for something really swank I’de recommend the MQ1 Hotel which has rooms that each tell a different Tasmanian story. Personally, I’m more for some of the old seaman’s haunts on the waterfront and a crisp vino and a seafood chowder sitting on one of the trawlers in the harbour).

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