Skip to main content
Bern Emmerichs

Bern Emmerichs

Born: 1961, Melbourne
Works: Melbourne

Artist statement

Wrapped within the narrative of Australia’s history is the tale of the Rajah quilt. On 5 April 1841, the ship Rajah left Woolwich, England for Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in Hobart 15 weeks later. On board were 180 convict women and their children, a surgeon and three free passengers; there was also an array of sewing supplies provided by the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners. On the voyage, the women – led by free passenger Kezia Hayter – stitched a textile measuring a remarkable 325 by 337 centimetres, which was presented to Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Van Diemen’s Land Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin.

Cross-Stitched (Centre panel), 2018 by Bern Emmerichs

For me, the Rajah quilt is a portrait of hope created in treacherous conditions at sea. It is a women’s story born of our colonial origins.  

Ruffles on the Rajah, 2018 by Bern Emmerichs

My three ceramic artworks are also about hope. In Ruffles on the Rajah, we see a ship in elevation depicting the women and children on the voyage, each recognised and given dignity on board the vessel. From this sense of layered community comes Ms, Mrs, and Miss Demeanours. Here, every plate is stamped with a name from the historical record of the voyage, arranged together in plan view as the island of Tasmania. The plates are all second-hand, imbued with their own histories gained from homes over time. Finally, Cross-Stitched is a cruciform talisman paying homage to the many elements of the wider story, including Lady Jane Franklin, Kezia Hayter and English prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. The quilt appears mid-centre.

The three works can be read as a sequential narrative that is both epic and intimate. I hope people find So Fine threads inside the legend of the Rajah quilt, a beautiful, true story from our colonial past that lives on today.