Tasmanian artist Christina Henri’s Roses from the Heart Memorial
focuses on the 25,566 women and children sentenced to transportation to Australia up to 1853.
By Christina Henri
In 2003 I took units in ‘Historical Landscape’ as part of a Fine Arts degree at the University of Tasmania, a subject that included visiting the Cascades Female Factory historic site. Unaware of the site’s existence, I was astounded to learn of a history that was pivotal to Australia’s successful social and economic growth, a story of convict women transported to become free domestic labour – a matter seemingly, even in 2003, shrouded by a veil of amnesia.
I raised the idea of using art as a means of boosting the profile of the Cascades site and the story of Australia’s female convicts. This led to my role as the site’s honorary artist-in-residence, a partnership that became a 12-year association (2003 – 2015). I continue to maintain a relationship with the site through membership of the Cascades Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) and am now sponsored within the Hobart City Council.
Roses from the Heart started in 2007. It seeks to activate heritage site/s by focusing on creating a memorial from a component of convict uniform, the bonnet. It has been extraordinarily successful in building an international community engaged with the experience of women convicts. Art offers a community custodianship of history – history as experienced, not just observed. Each cloth bonnet involves about eight hours in cutting out and sewing, another eight hours in embroidering a name and symbolism and scores of hours on researching the woman being memorialised, whether she is an ancestor or a chosen lass identified from a ship’s indent. The process of making a bonnet can be meditative and cathartic. The broader project connects individuals and craftspeople and builds community wellbeing.
Roses uses cloth bonnets to give meaning to the lives of the women transported to Australia. It values the contribution made to the growth of the emerging Australian nation by these women and their children. The template that we
use was sourced from an1860s colonial servant’s bonnet, part of the costume collection at Narryna Heritage Museum in Hobart.
The project values places that are central to the experience of female convicts such as Hobart’s Cascades Female Factory, Parramatta Female Factory, Grangegorman in Dublin and the Down County Gaol in Downpatrick.
Since 2010 I have visited Ireland every year to forge a relationship that recognises the mutual colonial history linking both countries and to raise the awareness of Irish convict women and of transportation to Australia. There have been events, displays and exhibitions as well as talks in Mayo, Galway, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin.
Over the years, work with the Roses from the Heart Memorial has been showcased in Derry, Downpatrick and Newry and in County Armagh. Today a permanent installation is part of the County Down Museum in Downpatrick. The 2013 exhibition of 2 000 bonnets, ’Swept Under the Carpet’, displayed in Kilmainham Gaol was viewed by more than 10 000 visitors. Over 6 000 convicts had been held in this gaol prior to their transportation to Australia
In 2010 I organised a ‘Blessing of the Bonnets’ in the Cork City Gaol and at the Cobh wharf, one of the two Irish ports from where colonial ships of transport departed. Since 2010 there has been a ‘Blessing of the Bonnets’ ceremony held in Cobh annually. The event is now a major feature of the Australia Day celebration that coincides with the Sea Princess cruise ship carrying 1 500 Australians and 300 New Zealanders on a world
This year I had a major event at Grangegorman, north of Dublin. Bonnets were worn by the public remembering the 3 216 women and their 506 children held in this the first ever female depot built within the British Isles. The concept followed on from Quaker Elizabeth Fry’s social reform ideas of prison segregation: female staff managing female inmates.
Event attendees included the Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr, the Australian Ambassador to Ireland Richards Andrews, officials from Dublin Arts, Grangegorman DIT, Grangegorman Development Agency, Quakers, Quaker Schools staff and students, busloads of attendees from NI, staff and students from numerous schools within Dublin and surrounds, Irish sculptor Ronan Gillespie, Government staff, RTE Nationwide crew, print media representatives and visitors from Australia travelling to remember the lives of family members exiled from Ireland across the seas to begin life afresh. It was a memorable occasion. The media exposure was significant, showcasing a story rarely given airplay in Ireland.
Ambassador Andrews also took part along with Cobh Tourism, the Cobh Heritage Centre and members of the Cobh Animation Team who since 2010 have added a wonderful visual appeal to the event. http://www.visitcobh.com/index.php/2017/06/10/australia-day-in-cobh-2017/ A permanent bonnet exhibition is displayed at the Cobh Museum and visitors may leave bonnet tributes in a specially provided wooden dinghy that links with the Roses from the Heart bonnet installation.
I was the guest speaker for the tricolour celebrations in Waterford this year. Bonnets for Waterford convict women are on display at various sites in the city and there is a search for a permanent home for the exhibition. My focus in 2018 will be on the completion of the Waterford convict women installation. I am currently working on a major event at Dun Laoghaire, the second departure site for colonial ships of transport.