Sewn at Sea

A Dress and Jacket by Berry’s Ann Boyd

What was thirteen-year-old Irish girl Ann Boyd thinking about as she stood on the deck of the emigrant ship Australia on 8 June 1853, as it sailed into Sydney Harbour and approached Dawes Point to lower its anchor? Accompanied by her parents Mary and Adam, and her eight siblings, Mary might have been impressed by the winter sunshine, felt a sense of relief to reach land and been filled with excitement for their new beginnings. Maybe she also felt a sense of accomplishment for having sewn this little linen dress and jacket during the voyage.

Anne and her family had left Templecarn, County Donegal, Ireland, and journeyed to Plymouth docks, where the ship embarked on 27 February. She was one of 330 emigrants on board, most of them Irish, including agricultural labourers, farm servants, and mechanics. They were following a steady wave of Irish emigrants who left the extreme poverty of famine-stricken Ireland from the 1840s, in search of a better life in Australia.

During the 100 days the ship spent at sea, Ann and her younger siblings may have attended the shipboard class, where 54 students were under the instruction of schoolmaster Mr Pennington. As was common on emigrant ships, there were probably also needlework materials and matrons on board, to help young women practice their sewing, and equip them with employable skills. Making the most of the materials and the months at sea, Ann used a Richelieu or ‘cutwork’ technique on the dress and jacket, cutting away parts of the linen, then ornamenting the surface with whitework embroidery. Its size suggests it might have been intended for Ann’s seven-year-old sister, Susan.

After disembarking from the ship, Ann’s family established a dairy farm at Terara, near Nowra, then moved to another farm at Broughton Creek (later re-named Berry), where Anne’s father became Mayor. Ann married Alexander Hanlon in 1864 and lived at Woodhill all her life.