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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Elizabeth Read (née Archer), c. 1853

an unknown artist

watercolour on paper (sheet: 37.5 cm x 31.0 cm)

More images of this artwork

Elizabeth Read (née Archer c. 1820–1884) had already spent time in gaol for offences including drunkenness and being ‘lewd and disorderly’ when, in 1840, she was found guilty of stealing and sentenced to transportation ‘beyond the sea’. She arrived in Hobart in 1841 on the Rajah – a vessel that is legendary by virtue of a patchwork coverlet stitched by the convicts en route. From the 1820s on it had been usual to try to instil ‘order, sobriety and industry’ in female transportees by supplying them with sewing materials on embarkation. It is extremely rare, however, for the results to have survived. The ‘Rajah Quilt’ – now in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection – is thus revered by curators, historians and genealogists alike as a tangible link with women who would otherwise have been written out of history.

Elizabeth worked as a servant after her arrival in Hobart, but was often punished for disobedience and insolence. She eventually earned her freedom anyway, and in 1850 left with her husband for Victoria. This elegant watercolour portrait indicates that she succeeded in leaving her ignominious beginnings behind her.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2019

Accession number: 2019.48

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Elizabeth Read (age 33 in 1853)

Related information

The Companion

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

The Rajah quilt, 1841 by Kezia Hayter
The Rajah quilt, 1841 by Kezia Hayter
The Rajah quilt, 1841 by Kezia Hayter
The Rajah quilt, 1841 by Kezia Hayter

Material culture

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2018

The Rajah Quilt’s narrative promptings are as intriguing as the textile is intricate.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.