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Roses From the Heart

Updated: Feb 14

Did you know that between 1788 and 1868 about 25,000 women were transported to Australia? They endured a harrowing six month sea voyage before landing in NSW, Tasmania or Western Australia to complete their sentence of either 7 years 14 years or life. Thousands of these women and young girls who arrived in Port Jackson in NSW were sent north to Newcastle, Maitland and further up the valley. After five years of researching, writing and editing our publication They Sent Me North: Female Convicts in the Hunter is complete.

It was decided that a display of convict bonnets to run in conjunction with the launch of this publication would be a positive and complementary feature. Our Female Convict Bonnet Project forms part of the Christine Henri's Roses from the Heart project that she launched in Tasmania in 2010. We are paying tribute to these remarkable and courageous women who became the founding mothers of the colony by making a bonnet for each and sharing their stories. The name of each convict woman and her year and ship of arrival are recorded on the brim of each bonnet.

These beautiful creations were made by a group of volunteers. Bonnet making days were held every month beginning on 21 August 2018 and were held in the Society's rooms in Lambton. After August these sewing get-togethers were held every month on 11 September, 16 October, 15 November, 11 December, 12 February, 12 March, 9 April, 14 May, 11 June and 9 July. They were a great success. Members and guests worked hard tracing, cutting, sewing and embroidering. Those days were memorable in other ways as even while remembering the convict women for whom they were making the bonnets, the stitchers not only enjoyed each other's company, but shared their own family history stories. Some stitchers made a phenomenal number of bonnets. They were so popular that the stitchers continued to meet to sew bonnets during and after the exhibition to try to ensure that every female convict was represented with her own bonnet.

The problem of displaying the bonnets was solved by modifying clean, plastic two or three litre milk bottles to mount the bonnets for display. The bottles were cut down to construct frames to hold the fabric bonnet in shape. The fabric store Spotlight generously donated a huge number of long curtain hooks to hold the bonnets on their frame.

The advertising flyer

To commemorate the convict women who came to the Hunter Valley and the launch of They Sent Me North: Female Convicts in the Hunter, an exhibition of these convict bonnets was held at the Lovett Galley in Newcastle until 21 August. Support from the council was wonderful and the exhibition was extended for some weeks.

After this exhibition the bonnets were moved to the three-day Stitches and Craft Show at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre between 26 and 29 September 2019. A long description of the exhibition was included on their website. A raffle was held with items provided by NFHS and Maitland and Beyond FHS. The display was well patronised and popular.

To help celebrate the 200th Anniverary of the town of Singleton, formerly known as Patrick's Plains or St Patrick's Plains, a selection of bonnets created for the Roses from the Heart exhibition were moved to the Singleton Library for display. There was a special emphasis at this exhibition of the bonnets created to commemorate the convict women who were sent to or settled in the Singleton area.

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