Monday 18 December 2017

Women and children sent in prison ships to Australia are remembered

Artist Christina Henri Photo: Damien Eagers
Artist Christina Henri Photo: Damien Eagers

Alan O'Keeffe

Thousands of women transported from Ireland in prison ships to penal colonies in Australia will be commemorated at a ceremony in Dublin on Friday.

More than 3,000 women and over 500 of their children had been locked up in a women's prison in Grangegorman in Dublin between 1840 and 1852 before being transported as convicts to the Australian island of Van Diemen's Land.

Eliza Davis
Eliza Davis

The prison, named the Grangegorman Female Depot, was later converted for use as a mental asylum.

Artist Christina Henri has travelled from Tasmania, formerly known as Van Diemen's Land, for the event.

She has named it the 'Wear A Bonnet Living Art Installation' as all the women convicts would have worn bonnets to protect themselves from the blazing sun in Tasmania.

The tale of transportation recounted in 'The Fields of Athenry' did not just involve male prisoners banished from Ireland to work without pay in penal colonies, she said.

The 3,216 women processed through Grangegorman were only a proportion of the thousands of women transported from Ireland for crimes, often minor in nature, which were mostly committed due to poverty and desperation.

"I discovered in recent years that one of my ancestors was transported from Ireland.

"She was Mary Monks from Dublin who was transported on August 9, 1795, from Cobh on board the Marquis Cornwallis sailing ship," the mother of three said.

Some soldiers and convicts were involved in a mutiny plot which failed. Some 42 men were flogged and six women punished on the voyage.

During a 12-year period in the 1840s and 1850s, women were brought from prisons all over Ireland to the Grangegorman Female Depot to be trained in certain skills so that they could be more productive when spending years working without pay as convicts for white settlers.

Many children they brought with them were taken from them and put into orphanages in Australia. Female convicts included women like Eliza Davis from Mullinacuffe, Co Wicklow, transported at the age of 22 in the 1840s through the Grangegorman depot.

It is hoped that more than 1,000 members of the public, including secondary school students, will attend the event at the old prison site, now a part of the DIT college campus.

Men, women and children will be given cloth bonnets to wear at one point during the event so that an aerial photograph can be taken. It will be one of a series of such photographs planned at different locations.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr and Australian Ambassador Richard Andrews will be among those attending.

The bonnets used are some of the thousands that began to be made by hand by supporters of Ms Henri in 2007 for her earlier projects to remember the women convicts sent to Australia. Many of these bonnets were sewn voluntarily in recent years by male and female prisoners in Ireland.

"The story of transportation, especially that of the convict women and children, is part of our two countries' mutual colonial history. In Australia, and also, I suspect, in Ireland, this part of our history has been suppressed. However, this is now changing," she said.

"Ireland's loss is Australia's gain. The resilience and fortitude of these forcibly exiled women and their children has become the part of an Australian we now recognise as 'courageous' and 'plucky'," she said.

Irish Independent

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