Ceremony honours women and girls sent to Australia

Pupils from Rathgar junior school wear bonnets on their heads for a photo project to remember thousands of women incarcerated at Grangegorman in the 1840s and 50s prior to their transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Photo: Damien Eagers

Alan O'Keeffe

Women and girls transported as convicts in prison ships to Australia were commemorated at a ceremony in Dublin yesterday.

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, Tasmania.

Rhonda Lynch (69) travelled from Brisbane in Australia to honour her husband Ian's ancestor Catherine Duggan, who was transported from Grangegorman in 1852.

"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," Ms Lynch said.

The ceremony of remembrance was organised by Australian artist Christina Henri, who has sought to increase public awareness of the thousands of women transported as convicts.

In recent years, she has promoted the making of bonnets to remember a female prisoner transported, with each bonnet bearing the sewn-in name of individual prisoners.

Hundreds of people - men, women and schoolchildren - wore bonnets in the women convicts' honour at the ceremony, including Australian Ambassador Richard Andrews.

"It was marvellous that so many people came today to remember all those women who showed such resilience and courage. One in seven Australians is descended from convicts, including a prime minister and high court judges," Ms Henri said.

Debbie Biglin (55) travelled from Melbourne and told of her ancestor Alicia Kelly who was born in Earl Street in Dublin in the 1800s. She was eight when she was sentenced to six months' hard labour 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, with 36 children, were put on board the Mexborough sailing ship at Dun Laoghaire on August 12, 1841.