The Rajah was the name of the convict transportation ship that set sail for Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) from Woolwich in England on April 5 1841.
During the three-month voyage, many of its 180 female prisoner passengers were encouraged to take up useful tasks such as needlecraft to help to pass the time constructively.
Thanks to Elizabeth Fry who, back in 1816 had formed the Quaker group of The British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, there was a good stock of donated materials, such as cottons and coloured threads, thimbles, needles, pins, scissors and hundreds of pieces of fabric to be used in creating patchwork.
At some point, the quilt went on its travels again and was returned to England ~ until 1989 when it was acquired and placed on occasional display by the National Gallery of Australia.
In her novel, Dangerous Women (Published by Penguin Books in March 2021) the English writer Hope Adams has constructed a truly engrossing historical 'locked room' thriller based around a group of women involved in the making of The Rajah quilt.
The subject matter of exiled women often suffering the brutal sentence of transportation for doing little more than petty theft is explored with great skill and sensitivity. That such an ordered and geometrically complex work of art resulted from lives thrown into grief, anger, and chaos is in itself a wonder. The fact that its making would have brought disparate souls together in a common daily task, resulting in human bonds being formed just as the seams of the different fabrics were stitched together to make one cloth, is a rich theme that does not go unexplored. The stories of romance, murder, abuse, and betrayal ebb and flow from the women's past lives to colour their present fates. Sometimes, those tales are further rocked by the violence of the waves on which The Rajah sails.