It was refreshing to come upon this book as there aren’t a lot of children’s books showing the adversity our pioneer convict women faced.

They faced very real trials and tribulations, and this book doesn’t sugar-coat the facts – we hear of death and squalor amidst it all.

So we see the faces of the convict women aboard the “Rajah”, illustrations done with feeling to reveal the sadness of leaving their families and all they knew to carry out their sentence of transportation to Australia as convicts. In some ways it must have seemed like a death sentence, and often for small offences such as stealing a loaf of bread or a shawl. The language in the story is strong, but true:

“…what has England ever done for any of us?

Except banish us to the other side of the world….for being poor.”

The writing style offers voices that ring true to the convict experience. In addition there is a poetic quality to the writing that paints another story of its own.

Lizzie Flynn is just one of many women on board who receives a bag of cotton, needles, scissors, comb, a Bible and pieces of fabric. The women find consolation and laughter in making a quilt together.

The result of their industry is a work of beauty and although the story is fictional, it is based on fact.

The author has once again done her research well. It is interesting to note that the real quilt was presented to Elizabeth Fry, a prison reformer who headed the committee that made the bags of sewing material for the women.

Some time later it was lost for 147 years but was later found in a Scottish attic and is now kept at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

A lovely book that will teach children valuable lessons about Australia’s proud female heritage.

A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is now a full-time wife and mother of two.