What is believed to be an historically significant item, discovered by chance at a charity book fair held in Burnie, has been donated to the Cascades Female Factory.
The book, an edition of Poems on Several Occasions by English poet John Gay dating from the late 18th or early nineteenth century, is believed to have belonged to a convict in early Hobart.
According to Dr Jody Steele, Heritage Programs Manager for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA), which manages the Cascades Female Factory, there are very few items that are known to have been owned by or associated directly with particular female convicts.
“This book is particularly exciting, because it has an inscription and several names inside the front covers, presumably of people who have owned it.”
One of the names, Hannah Barker, came up on a search of the Female Convict Research Centre’s database.
“There were two Hannah Barkers in the colony at that time, only one of whom could read and write,” said Dr Steele. “This Hannah, a convict, was in the Hobart Town factory before Cascades was built. She married George Dexter, also a former convict, in 1827. They had no children. When George died at Hobart, he left his wife very well provided for and also left money to the poor of Hobart Town and the Orphan School. Hannah Dexter, nee Barker, died Hobart in 1878 aged 86.”
A forensic handwriting expert is being sought to compare the book’s inscription with Hannah’s marriage certificate, to hopefully confirm the book’s provenance.
The book was donated by the Burnie Emu Bay Lions Club, which ran the book fair at which it was discovered by volunteer Pam Thorne.
Pam and her husband Neil (former President of the club) recognised that the book might have some historical interest and contacted Professor Lucy Frost, President of the Female Convict Research Centre.
“We are indebted to Pam and Neil for recognising a potentially significant historical item, and to the Burnie Emu Bay Lions Club for their generosity in donating it to our collection.”
The book will be displayed at the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site after being attended to by a specialist conservator.