Bonnets for convict women and children

IT’S four years since Christina Henri began bringing Derwent Valley women together to pay tribute to the female convicts transported to Australia in the first 65 years of European settlement.

Those tributes, in the form of simple handmade bonnets, have taken on a life of their own.

Dr Henri’s ‘Roses from the Heart’ project is now a weekly get-together at the Glen Derwent property in New Norfolk.

And thanks to her efforts, Bothwell, Hamilton and Oatlands are also beginning to tell their stories about convict women. 

Home to a series of bonnet exhibitions, Glen Derwent is the centre of this activity. 

One from earlier this year attracted a visit by Tasmania’s Governor, the Honourable Barbara Baker, and Emeritus Professor Don Chalmers.

Those particular bonnets acknowledged the convict women assigned to work at Government House during the transportation era.

A group of local women now gather regularly at the Lyell Highway home to bring together sewing, embroidery, lace making and craft skills, along with performance and music accomplishments.

All pay tribute in some form to convict forebears.

Around New Norfolk, those stories have been displayed on the town’s High Street, exhibited at the Barracks Willow Court, at the New Norfolk Library, and shown in multiple schools.

In recent weeks, the bonnet tributes being sewn have expanded to recall female convicts who had a relationship to the Valley and the Southern Midlands. 

In Bothwell, Dr Henri spoke of convict lass Jean Robertson. Violet Lipscombe and Susan Lipscombe recalled their ancestors with a Bothwell connection, each reading poems specially written for the occasion.

And as of this week, after an introduction at a National Trust Heritage Festival event at Rathmore, ‘Roses from the Heart’ expanded to Hamilton and the transported women associated with that town.

Christina Henri says she aims, over time, to have permanent bonnet displays throughout the Derwent Valley.

“This is important, a tangible testimony to the transported women whose social and economic contribution has been shrouded by a veil of amnesia for decades,” she said.

“The symbolism of the bonnets gives voice to this much neglected part of Australia’s history,” she says.