Commemorating Female Convicts

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Inspired by Roses from the Heart, an Australia-wide initiative of Dr. Christina Henri, stories of female convicts of the Hunter Valley are now being told in a new documentary supported by Mt Owen/Glendell community grant funding and Create NSW’s Cultural Grant Program.

Dr Henri began Roses from the Heart in 2003. It is now a global public art project where embroidered bonnets are used as a metaphor for the convict women and children transported to Australia.

The documentary created by Maitland and Beyond Family History Inc. tells the story of seven women and their experiences that found them cast as convicts, their transportation to Australia and their lives thereafter.

Maitland and Beyond Family History Inc. Vicki Osborn has been pivotal in both the research of the female convicts and the bonnets that have evolved during the project which has quickly become an obsession for this family history buff.

“You hear lots of stories about the male convicts but few of the women,” Vicki said, aiming to rectify the situation and expose the good, the bad and the challenges that faced the more than 25,000 female convicts that found their way to New South Wales.

It was back in 2018 that Maitland celebrated its bicentenary and Vicki wanted to mark the occasion by researching 200 Hunter Valley female convicts and, in addition, have embroidered bonnets made representing their stories.

Each bonnet is unique and features the lady’s name, the ship she was transported upon and the year she arrived in Australia.

ATCF 18.1 Convicts 2

The documentary features seven women, hand picked because their stories were both unique and common to many women of the time.

“One of the challenges was we only had 20 minutes to tell these stories, from the time they were sentenced in England and Ireland, their ship transportation and what happened when they landed,” Vicki said.

“Some were sent to Parramatta Female Facility, some on assignments and some married men who rose to prominence.

“There were sad times, good times and many challenges as they raised families here in the Hunter.”

The documentary was filmed at Tocal Homestead and Vicki was among the colonially dressed women to feature.

They were filmed doing jobs of the time around Tocal while the story telling sounds over the visuals.

The documentary talks about the Roses from the Heart project and many other initiatives that stemmed from it, including ‘Many Were Sent, Some Stayed ‘by Maitland & Beyond Family History, ‘They Sent Me North’ by Newcastle Family History Society, and projects by Singleton Historical Society & Museum.

“We wanted to make it entertaining, interesting and factual without being boring,” Vicki said.

With the showing in Singleton and a second at The Barracks in Maitland, some 100 people have now seen the documentary and it has received nothing but praise.

The stories of the Hunter Valley convict women are fascinating, and the more Vicki learns, the more she wants to delve into research.

While the documentary is now made, Vicki is far from finished with her project of female convict story telling.

Inspired by the Roses of the Heart project, Vicki has begun a Rosebuds project where bonnets for children will be made combined with research on how their lives unfolded.

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