‘I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am stronger for their courage, I am the wiser for their words
I am filled by their longing for a fair and brighter future
I am grateful for their vision, for their toiling on this earth’.
”Standing On The Shoulders“
by J. Johnson Rouse
All those involved in Mary Aikenhead Ministries are standing on the shoulders of the first five courageous Sisters of Charity to come to Australia in 1838, the first religious women to come to our continent. Three of the five, Sisters John Cahill, Frances de Sales and Xavier Williams, went to Hobart in 1847 to care for the convicts, the orphans, the sick, those in prison, the marginalised and the voiceless. It is therefore appropriate that we go as pilgrims to Hobart to experience the Tasmania that the three sisters arrived into, so that we may be inspired by their story to be a voice for the marginalised.
Regardless of the number of times I have been involved with the Hobart pilgrimage I continue to find it a very emotional experience and I come away touched by a particular activity. In March, it was the experience at the Hobart wharf.
Our pilgrimage commenced with a gathering of pilgrims and a welcome from Sr Linda who then gave a brief account of why the three sisters came to Hobart. Following this we walked down to the Hobart wharf on Castray Esplanade, following the route the three sisters walked on their arrival. Here we listened to an account of the sisters’ journey from Sydney on the ‘Louisa’ and their arrival in Hobart on 4th June 1847, followed by a time of contemplation. I could picture a bitterly cold, bleak June morning, the crowd gathered to greet them. How did they feel? What was I feeling now?
It was also at this wharf that the women convicts disembarked from the ships in the dark hours, and where they were separated from their children, before being marched to the Female Factory. The children were taken to the Queen’s Asylum (orphanage); some of the children were never to see their mothers again.
Last year as part of the project “Footsteps Towards Freedom”, three sculptures were erected at the wharf, two convict women and a child named Toby, to tell the story of our convict past. Inscribed on the base of the sculptures of the women are the typical crimes committed and the length of their sentences given while on the base of Toby’s sculpture are the names and ages of the children. It was these very women and children that the Sisters came to bring hope and comfort to.
The vision for the artwork is to engage through artistic expression with visitors on a deeply emotional level. I can assure you it doesn’t disappoint!
Many fellow pilgrims wiped away a tear or two as we left the wharf area.
Maria Wheeler rsc