Thursday 28 January 2010

The Rajah Quilt 1841 - Fruits of Industry

While recently in the Lake District talking with Quaker friends, they told me the story of Elizabeth Fry giving thread, needles and fabric to women convicts who were bound for transportation. I had not heard the story before and so I was mesmerised as the tale of the Rajah Quilt unfolded. (Rajah was the name of the ship upon which they were transported.) The Rajah sailed with 179 female prisoners from Woolwich on 19th July 1841, bound for Van Dieman's Land, present day Tasmania. There is evidence that the women made other quilts for their own personal use with the materials given to them, but none so far have been discovered. The importance of this work is that it demonstrated the women recognised the benefits of Fruits of Industry and were willing to reform their ways. See the Australian Bonnets Project to learn more about the female transportees.
The quilt was presented upon arrival to Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Sir John Franklin, then Governor of Van Dieman's Land, and later to be lost in the Arctic in his search for a North West Passage. The Rajah quilt is larger than King Size measuring 325cm x 337cm and is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia Accession No: NGA 89.2285
The inscription reads: TO THE LADIES of the Convict ship committee. This quilt worked by the Convicts of the ship Rajah during their voyage to van Diemans Land is presented as a testimony to the gratitude with which they remember their exertions for their welfare while in England and during their passage and also as proof that they have not neglected the Ladies kind admonition of being industrious. June 1841. Thank you to Mary Jenkins for reminding me to say that this quilt will be exhibited in the forthcoming quilt exhibition at the V&A - it is the first time that this quilt has been out of Australia.


  1. More about Elizabeth Fry can be seen in the wonderful set of embroideries that make up the Quaker Tapestry, housed in Kendal, Cumbria. I purchased some printed matter concerning the tapestry whilst there, one of which was a booklet by June Rose titled "Prison Pioneer, the story of Elizabeth Fry". It is only 32 pages but very informative. There are 77 separate narrative crewel embroidered panels celebrating Quaker ideas and experiences. Being Australian I was very interested in the work of Elizabeth Fry.

    Thanks for this great blog
    Carolyn Foley

  2. Jackquelin, do you remember my comment about it some weeks ago i was privileged to see it on its visit to Tasmania a few years ago it is held in the Australian Capital territory.
    My family goes back to the first fleet that landed under the command of Bowen who was only 21 at the time to Tasmania. on board was a lieutenant Gangel, who in-turn had granddaughters who married in to the Chilcott family which is my maiden name
    So i feel some affinity with the Quilt,

    There was in Hobart a place called the womans factory, the building is partly standing.
    there has been a project for some years now of
    ladies making bonnetts and embroidering them to represent each of the woman who where sent out as convicts and mostly ended up at the Womans factory, a brick cold looking building built by convict labor,

  3. I love the story of Elizabeth Fry and a full panel of the Quaker Tapestry is dedicated to it which was stitched by Australian Quakers. I even have a poster of it in my craft room to inspire me as I create!
    The women used to be taken to the docks by open carriages through jeering crowds and the night before there were always riots until Elizabeth Fry intervened. She arranged to accompany them in closed carriages and the riots stopped.
    Each woman was given a bag of useful things - a Bible, 2 aprons, one black cotton cap, one large hessian bag to keep her clothes in and one small bag containing a piece of tape, an ounce of pins, 100 needles, 9 balls of sewing cotton in different colours, 24 hanks of coloured thread, 8 small darning needles and one small bodkin. They also got 2 stay laces, a thimble, a pair of scissors, a pair of glasses if needed, 2 pounds of patchwork pieces, 2 combs, a knife, fork and spoon and a ball of string.
    The quilt was stitched to occupy them during the journey and could be sold for guinea. But it was also a testimonial to their stitching skills so that in Australia they might find employment as needlewomen instead of being forced into prostitution.
    The amazing thing is that Elizabeth, accompanied by another Quaker, visited every convict ship with one exception that left between 1818 and 1841.

  4. I really appreciate your taking time to share your knowledge and experience with us all - there are so many dimensions to explore, aren't there? It is exciting to be in your company, thank you.

  5. I love the story of Elizabeth Fry and a full panel of the Quaker Tapestry is dedicated to it which was stitched by Australian Quakers

    than you for your input to this lovely story
    Elizabeth Fry must of been such a caring person. It took 6 months and more to get to New Holland and Van Diemen's 's land as it was then called ( Australia/ Tasmania). There was much sea sickness and the conditions where very cramped can you imagine the hammocks only being an arms length apart and then small beds as well, the food was very basic. How the woman felt like stitching shows there real character, of course many stole just to keep
    their children from hunger.
    One can only imagine their amazement when they arrived here.

    Dear meg is there some where we can view the tapestry,

  6. After there imprisonment at the womans factory. most went in to sevice for the free settlers.
    Perhaps it helped them in that area, as they could mend and sew for the the wealthy families
    or should we say those that where granted land to farm .They often received a ticket of leave
    and sometimes married the well off, or other
    convicts. This is where a lot of older australians do not like to know about their convict heritiage but our generation see it as a badge of honour that we had people in our family
    who suffered so much and often made the best of thier new life.. Its a bit like the refugees of today they just wanted to get on with thing and create a life for them and their children, i often think this is where a lot of us get our character from.

  7. Denese, The permanent home of the Quaker Tapestry is at the Quaker Meeting House, Kendal in the Lake District and is open from 29th March to 29th October this year Monday to Friday with some Saturdays too.
    Once a year they take some of the panels to a Roadshow which this year is to be at Friends Meeting House in Brighton from today until February 27th.
    Australian Quakers are currently undertaking a similar project themselves having been inspired by the British one. Here's the link to their website