Sampler by Isabel Buist, 1839

Sampler by Isabel Buist, 1839

Description

This is a hand-embroidered needlework sampler made in 1839 by nine-year-old Isabel Buist in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land). The rectangular linen cloth is embroidered with cross-stitch in coloured cotton thread. Starting from the top, the sampler features two sets of the alphabet in grey and blue thread, the numbers 1 to 12 and a heart. Below the rows of letters and numbers are two bowls of flowers and a verse that reads 'PARENT of good, thy works of might / I trace with wonder and delight, / In them thy glories shine / There's nought in earth or sea or air / Or heavn [sic] itself that's excellent or fair / But what is wholly thine'. Across the bottom, over three lines, is stitched 'Isabel Buist. Aged 9 / Van Dieman's [sic] Land / April 16 1839'. The sampler measures 28.0 cm (length) x 20.5 cm (width).

Educational value

  • A sampler is a piece of embroidery, usually produced by a young girl to practise a range of stitches and provide a record of different stitches and patterns - there are samplers made by girls as young as five years old dating from the 16th and 17th centuries; the word 'sampler' is derived from the Latin 'exemplum', meaning 'an example'.
  • Because, like most young girls making samplers, Isabel Buist (1830-1917) embroidered her name, her age and the place and date of her work, the sampler can be accurately dated to 1839 - the date confirms it as one of the relatively few surviving Australian-made samplers from before 1850.
  • In colonial Australia, the production of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue and industry and to demonstrate the achievement of domestic skills - the ability of middle-class girls to sew neatly and quickly and to execute a range of embroidery stitches was considered good preparation for their domestic duties as wives and mothers.
  • The background of the sampler's creator reflects the large numbers of British and Irish settlers in Australia in the early 19th century - Isabel Buist's parents were Scottish immigrants who had arrived in Australia in 1823; Isabel was born in Tasmania and at the age of 24 she married William Bayles; the couple moved to Melbourne, where William was later elected Mayor.
  • Van Diemen's Land was the name originally used by Europeans for Tasmania - Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (1603-59) named the island 'Anthoonij van Diemenslandt' in 1642 in honour of Anthony van Diemen, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery; from the 1830s, Van Diemen's Land became the primary convict colony in Australia; in 1853 transportation ceased and in 1856, Van Diemen's Land was renamed Tasmania in order to create a fresh identity distinct from its criminal past.
  • There were two main types of samplers, spot motif samplers and band samplers - spot motifs had a variety of motifs stitched randomly over the fabric, while band samplers were long thin strips of fabric embroidered more systematically in horizontal bands.
  • The cross-stitch, one of the oldest forms of embroidery in the world, involves using a series of 'X' stitches to form a pattern, with the regular weave of the linen as a guide - because of its simplicity, this stitch was often taught to young girls learning to sew.