Great to see this blog! I have been aware of the work the Sisters of Charity have done since I was young although I didn’t always know it was the sisters doing it. The contribution to education and care of the sick are just a couple that spring straight to mind. What I would like to mention here though is what I discovered when I was working on an exhibition Women Transported – Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories. This exhibition looks at the ordinary women who mostly, through circumstance and the basic needs just to survive, committed the first or second offence of their lives and were transported to the Colonies of NSW and Van Diemen’s Land.
This subject doesn’t sound like it has a connection but it certainly does. Some people may not be aware that the pioneer sisters came out specifically to work with the women in the factory. When I was researching this early connection it became apparent to me what amazing women these were.
At a time when a significant part of the Colonial Australian population (and the British) considered convict women to be from a crime class, lazy, illiterate and mostly prostitutes – the dregs of society – the Pioneer sisters showed compassion and believed that the women only needed a chance in life. This chance may have been a new skill or someone believing in them. These sisters made a real difference to the lives of these convict women and were unafraid to do what was needed in the colony to give the women a chance, whether it was the Governor of the time (Governor Gipps) or the conservative parts of the society.
The diary material in the Sisters of Charity Archives give a rare glimpse into this time. There is also a story recorded by Sister Gertrude Davis about an object which shows a sign of the women’s affection. This object is an appliqué made by the Female Factory Women at Parramatta and given to Sister Xavier Williams as a ‘thank you’ and to commemorate the first communion held at the factory. This appliqué was kept by her and before she died Sister Xavier Williams sent it to the leader of the Congregation as a relic. This is the last we have heard of it.
In 2008, the Parramatta Heritage Centre displayed a contemporary interpretation of the missing relic by artist Diane Zimatat (pictured here), as part of the Women Transported Exhibition.
It would be wonderful to find this object as it would tell both stories of the early church in Australia and the convict female factory women. If found it would be the only object with provenance directly related to the Parramatta Female Factory cloth. Although not flattering by the commentator its description is very detailed in the description. It is as follows and if anyone finds something of this description then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is what was said to Sister Gertude Davis:
In order to perpetuate the memory of this confirmation ceremony- the women endeavoured to reproduce it inoriginal embroidery! The only materials available for the artist were some coloured worsted and a scrap of grey calico- the result was a clever piece of work but grotesque in the extreme. (the Arch, the impromptu throne and the alter were fairly well done, but the figures were atrocious). A figure in skirts, to represent the Archbishop stood on the Predella under the Arch, wearing a flowing mantle and cone-shaped hat to represent cape [could also be cope or cap] and mitre. The skirts were short and revealed feet and ankles clad in white stockings and blue slippers. Fathers B – [original name not able to be discerned] and Coffey, were shown on either side of His Grace, with very short white skirts, no doubt to represent the supplice – they scarcely reached the knees and beneath were extra wide black trousers- white stockings and Japanese slippers. The whole picture was most ludicrous and created quite a sensation. It was presented to Sister Mary Xavier Williams some days after the ceremony as a souvenir of the grandest and greatest event in the history of the factory. Shortly before Mrs. Williams died in Hobart, she sent the embroidery to our present Head. Superior as a relic of the pioneer days.