My short story went nowhere today but I remembered my convict ancestor

My ever alert husband pointed out to me today a short story competition I should enter. So I sat down to make this happen, only it didn’t. The theme, major or minor, was ‘thread’ and the word count was only 1500 words. Very easy to bash this out, I thought.

It then got complicated.

Ah, thread. Embroidery. I know I will write about Sophia Grantham, my convict ancestor, transported to Australia from England (well, Van Dieman’s Land, now Tasmania) in 1841 aboard the Rajah. The quilt the convicts (including Sophia) stitched during the voyage is now a highly prized Australian textile artefact.

Have you ever been completely sidetracked by research? I just wanted to know a few facts I couldn’t recall from earlier reading. Several hours later, I was still absorbed by the research and remembering long forgotten information, with no story written.

I won’t beat about the bush here. Sophia Grantham was a thief – she worked in service in England and opportunistically helped herself to some money that didn’t belong to her. She did eventually make something of herself in Australia, and particularly in my home state of Queensland where she started, what else, but public houses. Through her, there is one small town in mid western central Queensland – Rolleston – where I imagine I’m related to just about everyone in the graveyard.

Australians are quite keen on tracking back on their ancestry – I find it hard to imagine the English, Irish and German people in my ancestry who came willingly (apart from Sophia) to an unsettled and strange land as far from Europe as they could get to start a new life, virtually hacked out of the bush.

So, no short story yet, but the idea is there. So in the meantime here is a poem I wrote some years back, with the simple idea of honouring her contribution:

Sophia’s Rajah Quilt

She wanted it badly

a trinket, largely worthless

but it wasn’t hers to take.

She almost hanged for wanting

to rise above her lot.

Instead they shipped her

much against her will

to a place across the ocean.

 

In the sordid southern port

she slipped into a way of life

that meant survival,

offering only what she could

in free exchange.

Catching a disease

she didn’t know existed,

her future clouded by the knowledge

that one day it would take her

over the edge

into madness

 

But in those years in between

she gave a fledgling country

so much more

than it gave her.

Her name is not remembered

in the towns she helped create.

 

She’s forgotten,

her memory lost,

her story barely known

to anyone

save for a fragile quilt

more valuable than anything

her small hands ever stitched.

 

Now a national icon

the Rajah quilt holds stories

that we will never know

except that our Sophia’s clever fingers

once worked upon the cloth.

 

Copyright J Mary Masters 2009

Written to honour her great, great, great grandmother Sophia Grantham, later Kezia Tregilgus

 

 

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