Friday 3 July 2015

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781922179913
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a story about the Rajah quilt. The Rajah was a ship that carried convict women from London to Van Diemen’s Land. Lizzie Flynn, a young woman sentenced to 7 years for stealing a shawl, narrates the story.

On board all the women are given a bundle that consists of needles, cotton, scissors and pieces of fabric. Each one takes part in joining the pieces of fabric into strips to create a quilt.

Lizzie doesn’t know how to sew, so her friend Molly teaches her. She applies herself and soon perfects her stitches. This occupation fills the endless days of the long journey.

Sadness overwhelms Lizzy when Molly gets sick. Now the sailors ‘stitch a canvas shroud for Molly.’ Lizzy stitches on in Molly’s memory, until ‘the pieces grow into patterns, into strips.’ The convict women’s arrival in Van Diemen’s Land is moving. The quilt is finished. It remains forever as a testament to those women’s lives. 

Illustrator Lizzy Newcomb has done an extraordinary job of the art work created with acrylic paint. There is a strong sense of time and place both through the text and illustrations. Every page brings the reader right into the story, from their departure, through each fantastic double spread.

There are many double spreads and some a bit less than double with the text in a strip, which allow the words to speak alongside the visual interpretation.

The Rajah quilt was made in 1841 and was created with 2715 pieces stitched by 20 women and remained unbacked. Presented to the Governor’s wife, she sent it back to England, possibly to Elizabeth Fry, the woman who was head of the committee that gave the bundles to the convict women. But, ‘it is not known whether the quilt ever reached Elizabeth.’

It was lost for 147years. The quilt is now in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, after being found in a Scottish attic and returned to Australia in 1989.
This story is part of our rich convict history and suited to the 7+ age groups, overseas visitors, and collectors of fine children’s books.

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