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MERMAID

Date: 1870s
Dimensions:
Overall: 306 x 350 mm
Medium: Wool on canvas, wooden frame.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Woolwork picture
Object No: 00004596

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    Description
    This woolwork embroidery depicts the convict transport MERMAID, which made several voyages to the Swan River colony near Perth, Western Australia. It is made from coloured wools that are embroidered onto a canvas backing. The MERMAID was a 470-ton transport built in Calcutta, India in 1817. It made three voyages as a convict transport to Australia, the last being to the Swan River colony in 1851 carrying 209 male convicts.

    SignificanceThis embroidered work represents the vessel MERMAID and its association with convict transportation to Australia. It highlights Australia's early colonial history and the practice of convict transportation, and is a fine example of woolwork embroidery.
    HistoryThe Swan River colony was originally established in 1829 as a free settlement. A declining population and the perceived need by pastoralists for a cheap labour supply led to the introduction of convict transportation to the colony in 1850. Between 1850 and 1868 just over 9,000 male convicts were transported to the colony.

    Transportation to Australia began in 1787 when the First Fleet set sail. It was seen as a solution to the overcrowding of British prisons and the temporary measure of stowing convicts on prison hulks. Transportation reached a peak in the 1830s and continued until 1857, by which time new prisons were opening, many of which are still in use today. The practice of transportation wasn't formally abolished until 1868.

    The MERMAID undertook three voyages as a convict transport to Australia. The first was in 1828 when it sailed from Woolwich, England and arrived in Hobart Town on 27 June, carrying 99 passengers who all survived the journey. In 1851 the MERMAID left Portsmouth for the colony of Swan Hill, Western Australia. On this journey it was under the command of Captain J P Anderson and the surgeon Alex Kilroy.

    Woolwork was a folk art mostly but not exclusively made by sailors, either in their spare time or on shore during their retirement. Naval ratings in particular produced woolwork embroideries, usually on national flags or naval ships. Sewing was a necessary skill for sailors and embroidery pieces were produced well into the 20th century.

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