Girls’ stories stitched-up

HANDMADE: Wilma Simmons with some of the dolls she has made as part of the Stitched-Up exhibition.
HANDMADE: Wilma Simmons with some of the dolls she has made as part of the Stitched-Up exhibition.

THE stories of the 193 inmates at The Hunter Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls will take new shape when the exhibition Stitched-Up opens at The Lock-Up this month. 

The school, once located in the grounds of the James Fletcher Hospital, Watt Street, operated from 1867 to 1871. It was home to girls aged between 2 and 18 arrested under the 1866 the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children. 

Much of the story of the institution has come to light due to the research of Jane Ison. One of the most notorious inmates was Mary Ann Meehan. Arrested near Rutherford in 1869 she was charged with theft after stealing a diamond ring, valued at 10 pounds and 10 shillings. She was the second to be incarnated at the school and her time there was “turbulent”. 

Mary Ann managed to escape on four occasions, each time she was caught, faced further charges, and returned to the school.  

Her exploits also included setting fire to the school, for which she was also charged. She faced court and representing herself pleaded innocent. She was commended by the judge for her skilled questioning and cross examination. However she was sentenced to six months hard labour in Darlinghurst Gaol. 

UNVEILED: Works by Anne Kempton to go on exhibition at The Lock-Up as part of the Stitched-Up exhibition.

UNVEILED: Works by Anne Kempton to go on exhibition at The Lock-Up as part of the Stitched-Up exhibition.

Stitched stories

FOR the past two years as many as 30 women have come together every Wednesday to stitch cloth books telling the stories of the girls incarcerated at The Newcastle Industrial School. 

Group member and textile artist Wilma Simmons said it had been an emotional experience for those involved. 

“At first we didn’t know anything about the girls,” Simmons said. “But we became very protective of the girls we focused on. Some of the girls were quite infamous. They were known for rioting and damaging government property while they were at the school

Simmons has made 193 dolls for the exhibition. One doll for every girl who was incarcerated. 

“I really felt every story was important and I needed to do something for every girl,” Simmons said. 

The exhibition will also feature the works of 24 contemporary national and international textile artists who have all responded to the stories. 

Stitched-Up opens at The Lock-Up, 90 Hunter Street, on June 24 until July 30.