Henty is a small farming town mid-way between Albury and Wagga Wagga, NSW. At this time of the year the town attracts thousands of visitors to the gigantic Machinery Field Days. If you’re interested in tractors and trailers, seeders and bailers then this is the place to be. You will meet a lot of nice people there. But that’s the thing about Henty; there are so many nice people who do their best for the community.

Bonnets - Female Factory

Bonnets: remember convicts (photo by Roger Findlay)

Blessing of the Bonnets: Henty

by Roger Findlay

On Sunday September 9, I was privileged to be present at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church for a very special ceremony with a very special Tasmanian guest. Conceptual artist, Dr. Christina Henri, had travelled from Hobart the night before bringing her wonderful rosy cheeked smiley face and engaging personality as well as a selection of outstanding bonnets.

I met her in the hall adjacent to the church where she was busy assisting with the set-up. She was most receptive to a visit from Think Tasmania and soon had me lending a hand. It was a busy time for all and not a time for questions. With Nikon raring to go, we made our way outside where the tension was high as bonnets were sorted and handed to those taking part.

Blessing of the Church

Filing into the church I noticed a gentleman with red hair and a guitar adjusting a microphone over at the side. I parked myself out of the way to maximise the opportunity for photos. The congregation was a mix of young and old with the majority being in the older bracket.

After a welcome by the Caretaker Mayor of the Greater Hume Shire, and an Irish song by a gentleman with red hair, Dr. Christina Henri took the stage. She explained the origin of the Blessing of the Bonnets and Roses from the Heart and how she got involved.

Dr Christina Henri: Convict Bonnets Calling

Although being born and bred in Tasmania, Dr. Christina had never been to the Cascades Female Factory until 2003 when she visited as an art student for a half-day module. At that time she thought she would be seeking a career in the environmental field but she had a vision of a major art project right there at Cascades. In brief, she went back to Cascades and became the Honorary Artist-in-Residence and that is her current role.

Female Factory - Tours

Cascades Female Factory Historic Site (photo by Roger Findlay)

A moving moment of her life was the day she went to a Battery Point residence and discovered a box containing many small bonnets from children that had died. As a result, Dr. Christina Henri commenced her campaign where people from all parts of the world made and sent 900 bonnets in memory of children that died while their convict mothers served time for the most trivial crimes.

Roses from the Heart

Her next major project was named “Roses from the Heart” where the aim is to make and give 25,266 bonnets in memory of the female convicts that were shipped to Australia between 1788 and 1853. These poor souls had to endure hardships, abuse and depravity that we can’t imagine. If their children survived, they were taken away at an early age and often never seen again by the mother. Various accounts and a poem got this message home.

Profiles of four convict women were delivered in two different styles.

Eleanor Connell (aka – Sullivan) was sentenced to seven years for a crime unknown and arrived eight years after the First Fleet on the Marquis Cornwallis. Susannah Holmes was sentenced for stealing linen and shipped on the First Fleet in 1788 enduring eight months at sea with her baby before being in the first wedding party when she married Henry Kable who arrived on a different ship.

A humorous theatrical performance portrayed the lives of Catherine Collins and Sarah Byrne who was convicted for stealing a watch. Both arrived on the Marquis Cornwallis. A pair of well-respected “local molls” made the most of the occasion by dressing in period costume in conjunction with light fingers and a bottle of grog that substituted the lost baby!

Tasmanian History: Emotional English Rose

Likening a rose to an uprooted English or Irish female convict and the heart to the sincerity, sewing a bonnet in memory of a particular female convict and then handing it over is an act of emotional devotion and giving. Compare it to giving away a baby. Ladies of the Greater Hume Shire had embraced this project putting in hours of research before busily sewing a bonnet for an ancestor, distant relative or for one they had researched.

Bonnets - Convict Children

Blessing of the Bonnets (photo by Roger Findlay)

As the female convict name was announced, a bonnet was handed over for the blessing. I counted 57 bonnets in all, 41 of them sewn by people from the Greater Hume Shire, three from by those close by and the remainder from all parts of the world. The candles were lit and the priest said a few words from his magic book. We all opened our palms in a gesture of giving as the bonnets were blessed.

Celtic Blessing

It was time for a bit of music. “Black Velvet Band” just lacked a pint of Guinness but it was sung beautifully as was the “Celtic Blessing”. At the end, we made our way into the hall for home-made cakes and sandwiches and a cuppa. With precision, the bonnets were displayed for all to see while at the same time Dr. Christina Henri had become a popular target for photographers.

If ever you wanted to buy a corset with bones or a Tamar Knitting Mills jumper, you would shop at Booths clothes shop. The two shops that I knew were in the same mould as (Ronnie Barker’s) Arkwright’s grocers where the biscuits were dispensed into a paper bag and the crumbs sold separately. You just don’t get that type of service anymore! Yvonne Booth and her husband have been successful business operators and the methodology for this occasion remained the same. It must be said that Yvonne and her band of helpers put in a wonderful effort to deliver the goods and should be commended.

Luck of the Irish: Christina Henry, Hobart

Dr. Christina admitted that she always wanted to be Irish. Time is running out but what I do know is that I can get her fairly close when she joins me for a well-earned Guinness next time I’m in Hobart.

Thank you all for a great afternoon of not only sadness but also making you realise what a fantastic country we live in and how lucky we are compared to those that involuntarily paved the way.

Roger Findlay spends all his holidays in Tasmania, then writes about the experience for Think Tasmania. If you’d like Roger to visit you in the name of research (so we can publish information about your business) please contact us.

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Map: Bonnets, Female Factory, Hobart Tasmania…

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