Rajah Quilt

The Rajah Quilt is the only known surviving convict shipboard quilt. Itwas made by female transportees aboard the ship Rajah on the 105-day voyage from England to Hobart Town. The Rajah embarked from Woolwich on 5 April 1841, and 179 female convicts were landed in Hobart. The women were provided with needles, thread and patchwork pieces by the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, established in 1816 by the Quaker Elizabeth Fry.

The piece is a presentation quilt rather than one meant for use. It is inscribed in cross-stitch:

of the
Convict ship committee

This quilt worked by the Convicts of the Ship Rajah during their voyage to Van Diemans Land is presented as a testimony of the gratitude with which they remember their exertions for their welfare while in England and during their passage and also as a proof that they have not neglected the Ladies kind admonitions of being industrious

June 1841

The Rajah landed in Hobart on 19 July. Four days later the Governor, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Jane, Lady Franklin visited the ship and both remarked on the quilt, Sir John describing it as very well done.

The Rajah Quilt is currently held by the National Gallery of Australia.

Further reading: Margaret Rolfe, Australian Quilt Heritage, Fairfax, 1998; Debbie Ward, 'Blood, Sweat and Tears: A Close Look at the Rajah Quilt', The World of Antiques and Art, December 1998; Susan McCormack, 'The Rajah Quilt', Australian Antique Collector, July-December 1990, pp 45-47.

Bruce Rosen