BONNETS AND ROSES OF THE HEART
8 November 2016
A week or two ago, I was part of a group of Sisters of Mercy from Australia and Papua New Guinea who were meeting in Ballarat. During this time we visited the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E), one of Ballarat’s main tourist sites. M.A.D.E is located on the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade in Ballarat, and is home to the Eureka Flag.
An added bonus to seeing the Eureka Flag and the other exhibits at the museum was viewing the ‘Roses from the Heart’ exhibition. The ‘Roses from the Heart’ project is the first memorial to the 25,566 women sentenced as convicts and transported to Australia from 1788 to 1853 and features an overwhelming number of hand-made servant’s bonnets, all hand stitched with the names, dates and ships they arrived on.
The exhibition was conceived by conceptual Tasmanian artist, Dr Christina Henri. After visiting the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in South Hobart in 2003, Dr. Henri was captivated by the plight of convict women and their children and the ‘Roses from the Heart’ project came into being.
M.A.D.E presents thousands of these memorial bonnets and commemorates the important legacy these women made to Australian history. Visitors can participate by stitching a bonnet to symbolise the life of a convict woman and add to this incredible installation which aims to reach the final target number of 25,566.
Having heard of the exhibition previously I was pleased to see the bonnets and appreciate their significance. I was not prepared, however, for the surprise that awaited me as I left the café to return to the reception area.
As I walked along I took notice of the names on the bonnets – Brigid, Mary, Eliza . . . when one name in particular struck me: Susannah Chapman – arrived in Sydney on HMS Glatton in 1803. The name rang a bell – and no wonder! She is my great-great grandmother!
Five years after her arrival Susannah, sentenced for stealing a frock and a handkerchief, married William Raynor who had been sent to Botany Bay for life in 1786 for highway robbery. Subsequently they moved to Hobart where, in 1832 their daughter Sarah married Thomas Kerr, a free man newly arrived from Scotland. Thomas Kerr is my great- grandfather.
The end of Susannah’s life was not happy. She smoked a pipe and ashes from it fell on her gown, catching alight. She died from the burns she sustained.
The chances of my finding that bonnet at MADE were very slim, even had I been aware that it existed. I had not, however, connected Susannah’s story with the bonnets, though I was aware of the circumstances of her coming to Australia. After all more than 25,000 bonnets have been made and only a fraction of them are part of the Ballarat exhibition.
Yet, on Wednesday October 19, as I casually made my way towards the front of the building, I discovered the bonnet created in her memory! What a wonderful connection to have made.
Messages to: Berenice Kerr rsm