Monday, April 12, 2010

Bonnets for the Past

Just today my attention was once again drawn back to the distant past, to the time when Australia was settled by convicts shipped across the oceans all those many years ago.

I remembered something I had written in September 2008 ... ...

Once in a while Miss Serendipity crosses our horizon and if we notice, and catch, her, a new adventure along Life's pathway begins. Whether it is luck, or chance, or good fortune, or what is meant to be, the word matters not ... the outcome can enhance our day.

I have one vice. Not anything injurious to health, or especially expensive on the pocket ... I buy craft magazines; more than I can ever hope in a lifetime to complete even one project from each. As I wander around newsagents I pick up the daily paper, maybe the local weekly rag, and even the thrice-weekly paper for the region, my feet invariably lead me towards the magazine racks. Brightly coloured magazines that cover all aspects of daily living ... craft [my downfall], boating, cars, caravanning, woodturning, Sudoku, Crossword puzzle books, you name it, they are there ... I choose a magazine that has within its pages instructions on how to make [sew, embroider, knit, bake] small and sometimes larger items, mainly for the home. They also have interviews with interesting people who have fascinating jobs or hobbies.

Recently one of the craft magazines featured a story about a woman who has studied the life and times of Australia's convict women. Let me hasten to add that many of the convicts who were transported from mainly England to Sydney or Tasmania, had severe sentences imposed upon them. Seven years transportation for stealing little more than a loaf of bread, or a couple of handkerchiefs, from their lord and master ... the rich. Nearly all were poor, nearly all stole because of necessity. However Australia was a new colony and needed settlers ... convicts were considered a good bet. Packed into ships holding 100, give or take a few, sailing across the world to an unknown land, far from family with the knowledge they would probably never see their parents or siblings, and in some cases husbands or wives or children, the convict of the early to mid 1800's had little choice but to buckle down or perish. Most who made it to Australia buckled down!

It has only been in recent years that any consideration or thought has been given to them as people.

The magazine article focused on how modern woman could honour these early settlers who had no say in their destiny. She hit upon the idea of a way of recognition ... make a bonnet for each one. There were 25,226 female convicts transported. To date over 6,000 bonnets have been made; a selection of which were photographed and shown in the magazine. She set up a web site that included a printable pattern. Upon reading the article I was completely fascinated. You see, one of those convict women was my g.g.g.grandmother. Her son left Australia as a young man sailing to New Zealand where he became one of the earliest sealers and whalers on the southern coast. I grew up knowing about him through family stories, and had the satisfaction of being able to raise my hand in class and claim him as my g.g.grandfather when early local history was the subject.

When my g.g.grandfather died, aged 93 years which goes to show that a life of making do and hard work does no harm, his death certificate, of which I have a copy, stated his father was a soldier ... his mother unknown. Neither parent's name was entered. Because, until very recently it was not something to be admitted to ... one did not confess to having a convict for an ancestor. I did not know until 10 - 15 years ago when a distant relative researched our mutual g.g.grandfather.

Upon reading the article I immediately decided to make a bonnet ... to honour the memory of an unknown g.g.g.grandmother, a woman for whom life would have been a thousand times more difficult than mine. Making a home, raising a family ... all in a land that was an unsettled wilderness. Having a length of suitable homespun fabric I cut the pieces out, stitched, and added a lace trim. All the while my mind travelled back to how this Elizabeth may have felt, what she looked like, and whether she had ever owned a bonnet with a lace trim. There was a feeling of attachment to her, and while I will never know any more about her than I do now, deep down I know I have done something just for her ... and in that knowledge hope that in some small way I have helped to cross the generational gap and in some way we may be, just may be, bound a little closer in family ties.

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