National Library of Australia

Aboriginal children’s quilt

A patchwork quilt made by Aboriginal children in Western Australia c.1845

cotton; 105.0 x 139.5cm

Pictures Collection

Donated by Mary Willis, 1959

National Library of Australia
A patchwork quilt made by Aboriginal children in Western Australia c.1845

click to enlarge this imageView in the owner's online catalogue

This cotton patchwork quilt was made around 1845 by a group of Aboriginal children. It provides evidence of the meeting of two cultures, and of the children’s introduction to aspects of European culture.

The children were taught sewing, reading and Sunday School by Elizabeth Irwin, in the Swan River settlement of Western Australia. Miss Irwin was the niece of Colonel Frederick Irwin, who was later acting governor of the colony from February 1847 to August 1848. The Irwin River, south of Geraldton, was named for him.

The quilt was donated to the National Library in 1959 by Mary Willis, of Essex, United Kingdom. It was given to Mrs Willis by Jane ‘Jennie’ Nixon who was nurse to Colonel Irwin’s seven children at the Swan River settlement and, later, in England.

The quilt was lucky to survive. It was never a showpiece, and could easily have been worn out, lost or discarded because its history was not appreciated. Willis said she hoped that one day the quilt might find its way back to Australia. Through her gift to the Library, it finally made the journey.