Thursday, 5 February 2015

The One Pound Pom

One of the first tasks of the New Year has been to finish off  two books that had been made last year but were sitting with some details unfinished.  One of these was the book I made for the Personal Histories Exhibition of 100 books organised by Robyn Foster and which will take place from the 29th March to 10 May at the Redland Art Gallery in Cleveland.

I wanted to delve into the family history and make a book about my husband's ancestor, Timothy Dempsey, who was transported to Australia in 1821 after being found in possession of a forged one pound note, which I guess was a fortune in those days.   Timothy couldn't read or write, so obviously he wasn't the forger, and was no doubt a young man leading a miserable life in Wiltshire in England (though he was originally from Cork in Ireland). 

Despite all the hardships he would have faced being on a prison hulk in Portsmouth for many months and then surviving the trip to Australia on a convict ship, overall it turned out he was quite lucky.  He was sent to the Bathurst region to work on the farm of Henry Fulton and was given a Ticket of Leave after seven years which allowed him to move around the district freely and to work.  After another seven years he received his Certificate of Freedom.  He was granted land, married and had a large family and after his death was buried in the biggest most impressive vault in the local cemetery at Blayney.  Not bad for someone who would have continued a poverty stricken miserable life in England.

How to tell this story visually?  The most intriguing idea for me was to somehow make a reference to the convict ship and the journey.

I have always liked the Kurilpa pedestrian bridge over the Brisbane river near the Gallery precinct, which is suggestive of a boat with all its masts and rigging and  this inspired me to think of adapting this idea into a book structure using concertina folds, satay sticks and linen thread.
I experimented with lots of random masts along the middle and sides of concertina folds, but was not happy with the result and I decided it needed simplifying.

On Arches paper I printed three important historical documents - Timothy's trial at the Wiltshire Assizes, his Ticket of Leave and his Certificate of Freedom.  To these I added rubber stamps of dates, the verdict and sentence along with details of his time on the prison hulk and convict ship.  Crosses for his signature were completed with wax seals.  I joined the docments and folded them into a concertina structure.

I inserted masts of satay sticks into the three centre mountain folds.  These were sewn in with linen thread and tied down with rigging.  The stitches formed a nice pattern like the steps of the ladders up to the sails. The trial document contained a reproduction of the one pound note in question, and this was also printed and used for the main middle sail, along with a painted Union Jack for the back sail.

I cut some copper shim and made some convict tokens as an approximation of the tokens the convicts often made from pennies and engraved roughly themselves (or they had finer ones made by one of the forger/engravers in prison with them).  I had a book from the library with photos of many of these surviving tokens (now in collections) and I was able to engrave authentic sentiments on the copper.

The final step was to roughly draw in ink and brush a simple sketch of  the convict ship and its rigging, and I liked the contrast between this crude drawing and the finely, well crafted handwriting of the documents, like the contrast between the convicts and officialdom. 

I made a folder/box for the structure to sit in, complete with ribbon and wax seal and I thought the book was finished.

Then recently I thought of how to make a cover for the book by sewing the middle valley fold onto the spine of a book cover.  But what sort of cover would you have on a convict ship?  I opted for some very rough canvas, hand-stitched and roughly cut and made two covers, but it frayed so much I had to edge it with the sewing machine.  I inserted the book board inside the covers and stitched them to a leather spine.  The last step was to stitch the middle of the book structure onto the leather spine.


dinahmow said...

Another lovely one! That's an interesting way to portray the story.I'd love to see the exhibition, but don't think I can get down there

Jack Oudyn said...

A beautifully made book full of interesting family history. Wow!

Fiona Dempster said...

looking forward to seeing this one too Helen!