Martha Bergin’s Quilt

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Detail of Martha Bergin's quilt showing the inscription she embroidered
Source: Museum Victoria

This quilt was made by Martha Bergin (later Tipping) in Queens County, Ireland, in 1843, when she was about 21 years old. Her father was a draper, which may explain the rich range of textiles she used in the quilt.

Martha was a literate, adventurous woman, who emigrated to Australia with her husband Andrew Tipping in 1851. This quilt was one of the small number of treasured objects she brought with her from Ireland.

Martha and Andrew arrived in Melbourne in the early days of the Victorian gold rush where she gave birth to a son, James. He was their third child; their previous two sons had died tragically in Ireland. More heartache was to follow, as another son was born and died.

The family decided to move to the Victorian goldfields, shifting from town to town seeking a living. Three more children were born and died; only James survived to adulthood.

Why did so many of their children die? Poor sanitation, harsh conditions on the goldfields and lack of knowledge about the causes and treatment of disease all contributed. In Melbourne in the 1850s, one in five children died in infancy.