Cathy Davies, New South Wales regional Meeting

About a year or so after Garry Duncan and I were asked if we would help set up the Australian Quaker Tapestry Project I asked Garry how many panels he thought we should create.   I was thinking perhaps ten or so, but Garry’s answer was much more positive – “Forty” he declared.   Heavens above!   Forty, and we hadn’t even given thought to a single one!   And what would they, could they be about?

Where to start?  I realised that the range of subject matter was huge.   Many of the English tapestry panels were based on the Testimonies, and this really appealed to me.   However it quickly became apparent that each Australian Regional Meeting group was keen to tell stories that were only known to their individual Regional Meeting.   Indeed not many of the stories to be told in future panels were known in other Regional Meetings, nor were stories from previous centuries.   It was so easy to leave something of importance untold.

So instead I decided to start at the very beginning of Australian Quaker history, when I realised that one of the first Europeans to come to Australia, Sydney Parkinson, was a Quaker on the Cook/Banks adventure.   I had collected a number of books about the Endeavour voyage after realising that Cook had been brought up in a part of Yorkshire where my father was born.   Cook was apprenticed to two Quaker brothers who owned ships based in Whitby and travelled up and down the east coast of Britain.   He was very influenced by them, treating those around him in a manner different from most captains at that time.   I became even more curious when I found Sydney Parkinson was mentored by a York Quaker nurseryman, John Fothergill.   My father was a nurseryman in York so it felt very serendipitous.

So I had my subject, but how to depict him?   I spent a very long time on the internet looking at masses of photos of things to do with the Endeavour voyage, the Transit of Venus, a number of the diaries written by those on board, as many paintings by Sydney Parkinson as I could find, the way plants were recorded at that time and how that changed to how they are recorded now.   In the next few years I travelled to many of the places where Cook and Banks and Banks’s gentlemen travelled including Botany Bay NSW, and Cooktown in Queensland, Murderers Bay and Young Nicks Head in Poverty Bay New Zealand and Whitby in England.   In a small way I became a very minor authority on Cook, the Endeavour and by default on Sydney Parkinson.   The father of the manager of the English Quaker Tapestry was a very well-known authority on Cook and part of the Captain Cook Society based in Whitby, England and was happy to answer questions about him.   Also at this time the Endeavour replica was based in Darling Harbour, Sydney so it was (and still is) possible to go aboard.

I felt completely overwhelmed by all involved at the beginning as I was very much on my own.   But slowly a group of dear Friends gathered around to support me, including a group from my Meeting, Wahroonga.   I also had three close Friends in Sydney who met with me once a month, and were stalwarts in their support.   A year or two later Tessa Spratt suggested she work permanently with me which was an excellent suggestion as this expanded our reach beyond New South Wales.    We spent the next few years visiting many other Regional Meetings, introducing them to the embroidery concept.   … But that is another story !

When I decided to embroider the Endeavour in Botany Bay I realised it would have been tossed around with the tide and the winds so I rang the current Captain of the Endeavour to ask him what set of sails would have been used to hold the ship steady.   He told me, then said, “I wouldn’t worry.   No matter what you show no one would be any the wiser.”  Little did he know Quakers.   I overheard two Quaker boaties talking about the sails’ settings, saying, “That is exactly the setting I would use.”   We learnt early that we had to be very accurate.

We of course had never embroidered anything similar to the panels before, and every step was a new venture and experiment.   We had been fortunate in having the manager of the English Quaker Tapestry, Bridget Guest, come to Sydney for a few days and give us a demonstration on how to embroider and had left a video on how to create a panel.   We carefully followed each step, but Sydney Parkinson was then the first and only panel created and a second panel was not stitched for several more years.

To start with, a drawing is created showing everything that is intended to be embroidered on to the panel.   This was first drawn on thin but firm paper and then traced back-to-front on to heavy duty white card the same size as the panel-to-be.   Then this was transferred on to calico which was carefully attached to the woollen material.   Only at this point could we begin the embroidery.

One of the first things we had decided was that we would keep all the panels the same size, with the same size lettering in the same colour.   This, we knew, was the key to the uniformity and cohesiveness of the whole viewing experience.   One of the people who helped me so much in Sydney the first year spent many months searching for the material we were to embroider on to.   I felt strongly that we needed Australian wool, not something from another country.   We eventually found in Fremantle some coloured merino with an excellent staple – another learning curve, the requirements needed for weaving wool.   Australia Yearly Meeting was prepared to fund us the cost of both purchasing the wool and for having it woven.   We were introduced to a brilliant Brisbane master weaver, Kay Faulkner who was lecturing in Paris at the time.   She agreed to weave seventy metres of the wool for us, taking her time to do it but eventually producing more than that amount.   The English tapestry wool weavers had not produced enough for themselves so we were glad to know we have enough no matter the contingency.   We were disappointed to find when it came to buying the embroidery colours that there is no Australian company whose colours were sufficiently stable.   Our stipulation was that we could buy a colour today or in a 100 years and the colour would be identical.   Yes!   We have actually planned for a 100+ year life for our panels.   This also meant a crash course in how to care and conserve our panels.

But back to my actually choosing what to embroider.  Let’s look at the lettering first.    Looking at the Sydney Parkinson panel, the lettering Sydney Parkinson is in a typeface chosen for the English Quaker Tapestry, which we think that, while it has faults, is still clear enough to be read from a distance.   The size of the typeface is the same on all panels and in this largest size has an edging which gives a clear and solid outline.   Originally I embroidered in a quote just under the dotted line in a very small typeface.   Charles Stevenson from Adelaide saw it and was emphatic it was far too small for his eyes.   It sat for ages untouched, glaring at me before Tessa kindly unpicked it for me.  I also originally used the phrase, “Live adventurously”, at the bottom which I felt Sydney Parkinson epitomised, but I came across “How amazingly diverse are the works of the Deity”, which though old fashioned still seemed so appropriate for someone as interested in ecology as he was.

The whole design has been cut into three, separated by dotted lines.   The top third contains the ‘title’ and extra information.   The bottom third contains any quotes, children’s drawings, or other cartoons. The centre section shows the story.

In the lower section of the panel are three canoes, reproduced from the diaries of sailors on board.   They show the local aborigines fishing in Botany Bay for stingray.   The stingray would hide in the shade of the canoes.   It amused the sailors watching the local fishermen to see how frustrated they became.   The right hand canoe is made of bark from trees with the ends lashed together, while the left hand canoes show boats made from burnt out logs.   When this was first shown I was assured that these two types of canoes were never seen together in this area.  So I checked with the Capt. Cook Society in Whitby and our friend there checked with Captain Cook’s diary.   There were two different types of canoe as shown.   The bark canoe was much lighter and less stable whilst the other floated much better and sometimes needed two paddlers.   So once again check, check and check!!   In a similar way I had intended to have a white cockatoo at the top of the picture but was told the cockatoo didn’t move into this area until a number of years after the Endeavour visit.

I placed Sydney Parkinson in the middle of the picture as he was (to us) the most important person and so took centre stage.   His coat was embroidered in a stitch which I stitched back to front, and the correct stitch should have been the other side.   However I liked the tweedy look so left it in.   His trousers are embroidered in a cotton-like wool provided by the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne.   It is possible to buy this embroidery wool offcuts with many different shades and his trousers demonstrate this.

The kangaroo is interesting as at the time I embroidered it it was acknowledged as being drawn by Sydney Parkinson.   A number of years after I embroidered it it was credited to George Stubbs, the painter of horses.    However all Sydney Parkinson’s paintings were ‘finished’ by others in England, and it is possible that this is what happened with his painting of a kangaroo.

The figures of Cook and Banks are taken from a large painting by Mortimer of famous people involved with this extraordinary voyage.   However, years later I came to the conclusion that Capt. Cook in the Mortimer painting was actually Lord Sandwich!   Now the truth is out!

The embroidery of the Endeavour is taken from a photograph of the reproduction of the Endeavour as it catches the first of the waves leaving Whitby on its way to Australia.   The boat rowing Capt. Cook ashore is an exact copy of the similar boat drawn by Sydney Parkinson in Cooktown when the Endeavour was careened for repairs after their near-fatal piercing with coral.   The interesting thing with this drawing is that there is a slight gap between the hat and the shoulders of the seamen, and one’s eye inserts a face, even though there is not one there.

The imaginary aboriginal man was placed behind the bush, not because he was naked but because he believed that the white men were ghosts and he did not wish to be seen by them.

The plants are exact copies of paintings done by Sydney Parkinson in colours similar to his paintings.   They are, from the left:

  1. Epacris longiflora. Native fuchsia.
  2. Isopogon anemonifolius Drumsticks Botany Bay. In the branches of the Drumstick there is a male and female blue wren.   I had seen a pair nesting in a Drumstick a week or two previously so added them.   I was unsure what the embroidered birds looked like until I saw them photographed as they are so tiny, but the female is exquisite.
  3. Banksia serrata
  4. Banksia integrifolia.
  5. Banksia ericafolia.

 It took me about four years to finish this panel.   I loved the research and found it not only a fascinating story but had many byways, and a “boys-own” story as well.    Quakers today are as adventurous and gallant as then, but often keep their light hidden.   We just need to seek the hidden story within us all.

I still thank all those lovely people who helped me create and supported me with this panel.

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