Sunday, 18 October 2015

George's Bible

George's bible and the papers that were inside it

I've recently come into possession of something precious - my great-grandfather's bible.  My cousin Donna had it in her care until she passed away, and now, thanks to my cousins Dick and Pam, it has come to me.

George Cockram / Thomas Smith was a man of strong faith, and a regular church-goer who often read his bible.  It's an old one, printed in England in 1890 for the British and Foreign Bible Society, and it's showing its age.  It's obvious that it was consulted often, by George and probably others in his family.  One page has been badly torn and repaired with sticky tape; a few other pages are ripped and ragged, and one has fallen out completely; and the binding has come loose from the spine and is just hanging on by a few threads.  At some point, the cover was patched up with something that might be duct tape.

George, or someone else, apparently consulted the ten commandments frequently - a corner of the page has obviously been turned down for many years, and there are pencil marks on several of the commandments - the ones to do with honouring God and one's parents, and keeping the Sabbath, rather than the more juicy ones about not killing, stealing, committing adultery or bearing false witness.  What does that tell us?  It might suggest that the person making the marks took the latter ones for granted, but needed to reinforce the others.

Donna told me that our great-aunt Prue, one of George's daughters, told her many years ago that George was very fond of the psalms.  And sure enough, those pages are obviously well thumbed.  The psalms are numbered with Roman numerals, and George has renumbered over fifty of them in Arabic numerals, apparently to find favourites more easily.  Other than that, and a few more pages with their corners turned down, George hasn't left any clues in the bible.  I had been hoping that he had written margin notes that might tell me something more about him, but I was disappointed there.

However, he and other people did write in the front of the bible.  All of his children's births, marriages and deaths are there, as well as his and Louisa's, and some of their grandchildren's.  I recognize George's handwriting from his signature on a couple of documents I have - it looks like he entered most of the information about marriages and deaths, but someone else wrote the names and birth information, probably Louisa, and later, more than one of the children - it's clear that there were four or five different hands at work.

Two pages showing George, Louisa and their children's births, deaths and marriages

Records of some of the grandchildren, opposite the title page

Tucked inside the bible was a page from a book probably published in 1895.  Sadly, it's not a revealing piece of prose or poetry, it's an advertisement for other books published by George Routledge & Sons, priced from 1 to 2 shillings.  One of the 'new volumes' listed is Kate Greenaway's Almanack for 1895, leading me to assume that this page comes from a book published that year.  There's also a very small brown cut-out from a newspaper, containing the following quote:

When that one great scorer comes
To write against your name;
He writes not that you won or lost,
But how you played the game. 

This comes from a poem written by Grantland Rice in the 1920s, so it could have been George who cut this out and kept it in his later years, but of course I don't know.  Another cutting, with a list of bible lessons, comes from the late 1950s (I was able to figure that out from a partial advertisement on the back).  George died in 1943, and Louisa in 1928, so it obviously wasn't either of them who put it there.

Although the bible hasn't proved to be the hidden source of great revelations about George's life, it's something I treasure.  Because I live in Australia, and my family are all in Canada, I have no other family heirlooms that date back before my parents, so this is a special gift, and I find it incredibly moving just to hold it in my hands and make a connection between myself and the great-grandparents I never met.

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