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 Roses From The Heart

an exhibition in memory of the 25,600 women transported from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales to Australia from 1788-1853

There was an exhibition of bonnets in Kilmainham Gaol in late 2013, representing many of the women transported to Australia from these Islands from 1788 to 1853.

Of the 120,000 men, women and children transported for crimes to Australia, one third of them were from Ireland – a disproportionate amount. 

It is a pity this exhibition made no reference to this bias against the Irish. There were good reasons for it – the Irish women were seen to be stronger, more capable women who could survive both the rigours of frontier life in Australia, and childbirth. For these ‘virtues’ there was an active policy of transporting Irish women who came before the courts.

In 2010 Dr. Christina Henri requested descendants of these women to embroider a simple bonnet in their honour. The bonnet design is simple, and typical of the bonnets worn by the females on board ship and in Australia. 

Christina has been entrusted with them and they were laid on the floor of the East Wing of Kilmainham Gaol, where they remained until December 1, 2013.

Until recently Australians were ashamed of their convict heritage, so it is good to see them now remembering and embracing it. Women in particular were written out of history and it is only fair that they be restored to their rightful positions as the mothers of that great country.

Dr. Henri claims what she is doing is art. In the personal opinion of this writer it is not, for to so claim the work of others – the people who made and embroidered the bonnets in 

memory of their ancestors – is to hi-jack their memories, their ancestors. The persons who made these bonnets remain mostly anonymous, which is fitting in a project which is intended to commemorate the transported. It is about them, not the embroiderers, or Christina.  

To claim that this was an art installation is to demean these mementos, those who made them, and especially those commemorated. 

This exhibition was a memorial – nothing more, nothing less. It was about people who suffered, not about 'art', whatever that meant in this context. The layout was an off-square rectangle, carelessly placed on the prison’s floor.

That said, this writer believes this this was a very emotive memorial. At first one saw nothing but a pile of cloth, then one began to identify individual bonnets and, eventually, began reading the names, ages, ships and sentences embroidered lovingly thereon. There was no distinction between Irish, English, Welsh or Scottish transportees – all were mixed together as they were in life.

We must, for this reason, be grateful to Dr. Henri for bringing this memorial to Dublin.

In Ireland we also have forgotten our transportees – no museum exists in Cork, for example, the main transportation port in this country. Indeed, when this reviewer tried to get information on prisoner transportation from the archives in Cork City and County a couple of years ago, nothing was available other than plans for improving transportation in the city, including bus lanes! 

If this exhibition achieved anything that will be welcome.

Return to the main transportation page here 

Dr. Christina Henri with her bonnets

The view from above, showing how off-square the layout is.

Looking down from the bridge

Dr. Henri with an impressive view of the mass of bonnets on the floor

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