Review Blog

Jun 18 2015

My name is Lizzie Flynn: A story of The Rajah quilt by Claire Saxby

cover image

Ill. by Lizzy Newcomb. Black Dog, 2015. ISBN 9781922179913
(Age: Primary and Secondary) Highly recommended. Picture book. Historical. Convicts. Resilience. Quilts. Based on the true story of a quilt made by convict women on board The Rajah, bound for Australia. Young Lizzie Flynn, sentenced for seven years transportation to Van Diemen's Land for stealing a shawl, arrives on the ship, The Rajah with nothing and knows that she will never return to England. She meets Molly another young convict who takes her under her wing. On board The Rajah, the female convicts are each given a bag, containing a bible, fabric and needle and thread. This has been supplied by the Ladies of the Convict Ship Committee, who when discovering that the convict women and girls had nothing to occupy themselves with on the long sea voyage thought that it would be helpful for them to have something useful to do. Lizzie has a good eye for colour but doesn't know how to sew and Molly teaches her.
This book is a fascinating look at transportation and convict life aboard a ship. The story is told in Lizzie's words and the horror of the trip comes to life as the reader follows the dangerous voyage. With Saxby's descriptive and emotional prose and Lizzy Newcomb's illustrations, it is easy to see the convict women and girls' lives in the hold, how vulnerable girls have to endure bullying, all the while facing storms and the deadly threat of disease. Lizzie says 'I do not want to pass from this world as if I had never been here', and continues to stitch the quilt for Molly as well as herself.
There is a gorgeous photo of the quilt, now housed in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, at the back as well as the inscription on it and information about what happened to it. According to an article found on Trove the quilts that the convict women made would have a ready sale and would help to provide them with much needed funds when they arrived in Australia.
I have returned to this picture book a number of times. It is a fascinating story in itself, and the scope for learning about convict life, the dangerous voyage to Australia and the work of Elizabeth Fry and other women make it ideal for using in Australian history lessons.
Pat Pledger

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