Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Elizabeth Read (née Archer)

c. 1853
an unknown artist

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

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

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Elizabeth Read (age 33 in 1853)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

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.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

The Gallery

Visit us, learn with us, support us or work with us! Here’s a range of information about planning your visit, our history and more!

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency