Sometimes, I toy with the notion that I would have been a great detective. You know, had the opportunity knocked. Had Sherlock Holmes needed a Wally instead of a Watson. Had Poirot been the sort to hire a sidekick. Had both those characters been real outside of my mind.
I love a mystery. I love a story. I love the stories of objects.
This bring me to the Bible of Jesse Wallis. I’ve mentioned before that I have a collection of old Bibles and prayer books. Not because I’m especially religious but because they are so tactile and so treasured. I think of the hands they have touched as they were passed through the generations.
Of course, I bought it at a market and although it’s not in the best condition, it’s dated 1847. Pleasingly, when I got it home I found it was full treasures – two receipts from a saddlers dating 1895, a bookmark and a love token probably dating from around 1915.
The inscription on the inside cover tells me it was gifted to Jesse by a clergyman. The back of the book lists the date of his marriage and the births of his children.
How can I not ask more questions? How do I contain my curiosity when I possess enough information to know more?
[Insert timelapse of my computer-based research frenzy]
Like many colonial Australians, Jesse was a convict. More unusually, he could read and write. His records say he was 5’3” and was born in Berkshire. At the age of fifteen he was found guilty of arson and received fifteen years transportation. His convict record was exemplary – his report card is blank – instead Jesse states he’s innocent of his crime. He received his ticket of leave within five years (like parole) and was pardoned in ten.
Curiosity feeds curiosity.
What of his family? What happened to them after he was transported? The detail of his records allowed me to trace his family back to England and the 1841 UK Census. A search on his father revealed he too was convicted with his son and received transportation for life! I traced his mother to the 1851 Census and she listed herself as a pauper and a widower. I could not trace his brother.
The receipts contained with the Bible pertain to Jesse’s daughter, so the Bible remained within the direct family for at least two generations.
This is what happens. Whenever I have an object that peeks into another life – I must explore it. What happened? How long did they live? Often I struggle to stop.
Once, such research allowed me to reunite a photo album with its family. I once found a book belonging to a friend’s great grandfather. I observe the movement of objects. I recognise the history objects contain and I protect them until there’s (hopefully) another person who values that too.
This is weird, right?