Women and girls transported as convicts to Australia commemorated at Dublin ceremony
Women and girls transported as convicts in prison ships to Australia were commemorated at a ceremony in Dublin today.
Schoolgirls wearing bonnets stood in the rain at Grangegorman DIT college at the site where more than 3,000 women and girls were imprisoned in the 1800s before being sent to Van Diemen’s Land, which is modern day Tasmania.
Many girls exiled in prison ships from Ireland were the same age as the schoolgirls that stood together during the wet and windy morning.
“I feel very emotional looking at these girls as I think of how young so many girls actually were when they were put on board those prison ships,” said Rhonda Lynch.
Rhonda (69) travelled from Brisbane in Australia to honour her husband Ian’s ancestor Catherine Duggan, who was transported from Grangegorman in 1852.
The ceremony of remembrance was organised by Australian artist Christina Henri who has sought to increase public awareness of thousands of women transported as convicts to Australia.
In recent years, she has promoted the making of bonnets to remember each female prisoner transported. Each bonnet bears the sewn-in name of individual prisoners.
Hundreds of people, men, women and schoolchildren, wore bonnets in the women convicts’ honour at the ceremony today. Australian Ambassador Richard Andrews also wore a bonnet. The event was also attended by Dublin Lord Mayor Brendan Carr.
The Grangegorman site was formerly a women’s prison where 3,216 women and girls were detained between 1840 and 1852 prior to being exiled.
“It was marvellous that so many people came today to remember all those women who showed such resilience and courage. One in seven Australians are descended from convicts, including a prime minister and high court judges,” said Ms Henri, who travelled from Tasmania to organise the event.
Debbie Biglin (55) travelled from Melbourne in Australia for the event and told the gathering of her ancestor Alicia Kelly who was born in Earl Street in Dublin in the 1800s. She was just eight when she was sentenced to six months hard labour at Kilmainham prison for stealing a coat.
Then, at the age of 14, she was sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a woman’s cloak. Young Alicia was one of 144 females who, along with 36 of their dependent children, were put on board the Mexborough sailing ship at Dun Laoghaire, then named Kingstown, on August 12, 1841.
The voyage lasted almost six months and two of the female convicts died while at sea. The ship dropped anchor off the coast of Van Diemen’s Land on December 26, 1841.
Like the other female convicts, Alicia was made to work without pay for settlers.
In 1844, she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour for “being absent without leave”.
The following year, she was sentenced to six months imprisonment for the crime of giving birth to a child out of wedlock.
She eventually married a settler farmer named John Gardiner and was granted a certificate of freedom. She gained custody of her first child and the couple went on to have three children.
“By all accounts, Alicia must have been a remarkably strong character and we are very pleased to have discovered she had a place in our family heritage,” Ms Biglin said as the crowd applauded.