Convict women and children who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land are the focus of new sculpture to be unveiled in the heart of the historic Hobart waterfront
‘Footsteps’ sculpture to be unveiled 2pm, October 14 at MACq01, Hunter Street Hobart, by Tasmanian Governor Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AC. The Internationally renowned sculptor Rowan Gillespie will be in attendance
‘Footsteps’ symbolises the journeys that shiploads of impoverished convict women and children made from their homelands (for many Ireland) and their arrival in Tasmania. From 1803 to 1853, shiploads of almost 13,000 impoverished convict women together with 2,000 children arrived in Van Diemen’s Land. A sculpture by internationally renowned Irish artist Rowan Gillespie will make them visible once more as four figures will stand over the exact site of the convicts’ original disembarkation at Hunter Island, on what is now the forecourt of the newly opened MACq01 Hotel.
Gillespie, whose singular method involves taking a work from conception to creation, was commissioned to make four bronze figures after a local, national & international invitation for artistic submissions. Celebrated for his poignantly moving historical depictions Gillespie is responsible for sculpture works in Dublin, focusing on the Irish potato famine, and Toronto, commemorating Irish refugees who fled to Canada during the same period.
Project initiator, State Cinema proprietor, John Kelly said the artwork would be uniquely suited to Hunter Island, the arrival point for many women and children who came to Tasmania in the 19th century.
"We typically think about the males at Port Arthur but little is said about the 12,500 females and 2,500 children transported from overseas," Mr Kelly said.
Moved after seeing Gillespie’s sculpture in Dublin which focused on the Irish potato famine, Mr Kelly was inspired to commence the project in Hobart. He recruited a team to develop the project, which became known as ‘Footsteps’, including urban planner Carole Edwards, Professor Lucy Frost and heritage manager Jo Lyngcoln. The team managed to secure a prime site in the forecourt of the MACq01 development, with the support of VOS Construction who developed the hotel which opened in June 2017, and began an international search for an artist who could capture their vision.
Gillespie, who works entirely unassisted in his purpose-built Dublin foundry, began work on the Hobart project in 2015, making several trips to Tasmania where he immersed himself in the stories of the convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land, and met their descendants - some of whom became the models for the figures.
The figures do not represent specific individuals, but Gillespie has taken their shape from individual descendants of the convicts, and the names of convict women have been engraved on the pedestals on which the figures stand. One figure is of a little boy who has sailed with his mother on the voyage out. Now separated from her he stands forlorn waiting to be sent to the Orphan Schools in New Town. On the four sections of his pedestal over 900 names are engraved of children who shared his fate as ‘orphans of the state’.
Dublin-based film company Moondance Productions’ Shane Brennan travelled to Tasmania and worked closely with Gillespie on a documentary which will showcase the Hobart project to an international audience. This production will follow Moondance’s earlier documentary about Gillespie’s work Sculpting Life (http://moondance.ie/index.php/portfolio-item/sculpting-life/).