Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Meggie told a story on her blog about a piece of family jewellery, and if we had been sitting round the fireplace swapping stories, this is what I would have said.

Mum gave me my share of the family jewellery when I moved to Queensland to live. I kept it in the same jewel-box that she gave me, and it lived in my top drawer. When my daughter was born she turned out, shall we say, SuperActive. There was nothing abnormal about her energy and curiosity and capacity for trouble, it's just that by the time she could walk I had a hard time staying ahead of her, especially as I had a baby to deal with too. Mum came to visit, and was horrified to discover that Seonaid had raided the top drawer and one brooch was in her own jewel-box now. I received a stern lecture, and I put the brooch in a tin with a tight-fitting lid that had defeated Seonaid before, and thought no more about it.

Years later I went to the tin and the brooch was gone. I was sick at heart to think that I had lost it. I thought Seonaid must have found it again and taken it, and I searched the house from top to bottom trying to find it. I never blamed Seonaid, she was only four at this time, and she couldn't remember anything about it. I can't tell you how many nights I lay awake berating myself for my carelessness. Finally I had to let it all go; the brooch was gone, all the heritage of it lost, and I had to accept that. But it scarred me.

Five years ago I went home to visit Mum and, as she always did, she brought out family mementos to see if I wanted to take anything with me. I opened a little velvet case, and inside was the brooch I thought I'd lost. Mum said 'You might as well take that' but I couldn't. I just closed the box and gave it back to her. It was Mum, not Seonaid, who went through my things until she found the brooch and took it, because I wasn't to be trusted with it; I suffered all that anguish because she didn't even tell me what she'd done. I was horrified.

Of course the brooch is mine now; I brought it home after her funeral last year. I love it, but it's a reminder of how my Mum valued things above relationships sometimes. Even when I thought that Seonaid had been responsible for it's loss I knew that she was a child and more important to me than a gold brooch. And I had done nothing wrong either, I just had a highly inquisitive daughter. All that grief Mum put me through, and for what?

Having said all that, this is no ordinary brooch.

When my father's mother died her jewellery was divided between her daughters. Whatever they didn't want Mum was free to have. Luckily Mum's initials were the same as Nan's, so she inherited anything monogrammed with MR, and of course all that was earmarked to go to Meredith when Mum died because they were her initials too. I think Mum felt bad about that, because she let me choose whatever I wanted first.

I chose this brooch. It has seen better days. It was worn a lot, and handled and bent and broken and badly repaired, but it's still a beautiful piece. Mum got it because neither of the daughters gave it a second glance. However, it's story is remarkable.

On those rainy days when we needed to be entertained Mum would let us go through her jewellery and tell us the story of each piece. As Mum told it, this brooch was given to Nan as a thank you, for looking after a baby girl orphaned in a shipwreck, until her remaining family came to collect her. There are three pearls in the centre, one pink, one white and one black, and they were local pearls found at Thursday Island.

While I was home last month Mereth and I decided to google the facts, and see if the story was true.

My nan's name was Mary Wilkie. She was the daughter of the Harbour Master at Thursday Island, a remote island settlement off the coast of Queensland. There was a flourishing pearling industry there in the 1890's. The name Wilkie comes up on the shipping charts again and again, Wilkie Rocks, Wilkie Strait etc.

We don't know her exact age, but she must have been between 15 and 20 years old in 1890. One February night the steamship Quetta, bound for London, sank near Thursday Island, and 134 people died. A Captain Wilkie was on the boat sent to rescue the survivors. Among those saved was a small girl, aged between 18 months and 3 years old. None of her family survived. She was too small to tell anyone her name, and was given to a Thursday Island woman who cared for her for 6 months, until she was formally adopted by a Captain Brown and his wife, a local couple. She was always known as Quetta Brown.

It all fits in with Nan's story perfectly. The only thing Mum misunderstood was who had actually claimed the baby in the end. I rather think that Nan's mother, our great-grandmother, would have been given the baby, and Nan looked after her. She would have had more time to devote to an orphaned child than a busy mother with a family of her own.

The workmanship on the brooch is superb, so much fine detail, some that I didn't even see until I had the photos on the computer. I think the scallops around the centre circle are meant to be oyster shells, with a gold bead 'pearl' in each one. The gold beading around the edge of the scallops is tiny, and it's edged by an even tinier gold rope. The back has a lovely glass circle, so it would have contained a photo once, but it's been repaired so horribly that it can't be opened any more. Maybe it once held a photograph of Quetta Brown.If you're interested you can read the story of the wreck of the Quetta here

Story of the Quetta

12 comments:

mereth 12:30 AM  

Oohhh! I've got shivers and I know the story! I do love family legends, but it's nice that this one turned out to be so well documented.

Andrea 3:04 AM  

What a really interesting story - you tell it so well !

F. Lynd 6:22 AM  

This is a terribly, terribly sad story -- I am reminded of my own family, and of myself.

Thank you for telling it.

--F. Lynd

Emma 5:52 PM  

Thank you for sharing that story! My family lived in the Torres Strait when I was a child, and I am familiar with the Quetta wreck. It's remarkable, the little pieces of history that crop up in everyday life.

meggie 4:21 PM  

Thankyou for telling the story of your brooch, & the story of the little girl. And yes, you do write so well. A pleasure to read you.
It is incredible the guilt, that our unwitting mothers lay on us, isnt it!

Carol E. 5:11 PM  

Fascinating story, and I love the brooch.

Tracey @ozcountryquiltingmum 5:35 PM  

I love the brooch, and I have the identical mother, took all the jewellry back from me that she didn't think was suitably cherished.
Great story, too. Tracey

QuiltMom 2:07 PM  

Hi Keryn,
I think the brooch is beautiful- what a story that goes with it- I do so enjoy your posts- it is obvious that you value the brooch no matter how it is that it has finally come back to you. I appreciated how much you value your daughter and was saddened because your mom couldn't have done the same for you. It is strange sometimes how the things we do can cause our loved ones such hurt. May the brooch bring your daughter a link with your family history.
I have pieces from my grandmother that have no monetary value; only the connection with her. I wear them when I need to feel her presence near in my life. Keep sharing your stories,
Regards from a Western Canadian quilter,
Anna

Anonymous,  11:05 PM  

Hello Keryn,I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your story about the Quetta brooch. I came upon it while researching the wreck of the Quetta because we were going up that way and quite close to where the Quetta went down. My mothers uncle was Quetta Browns second husband. Regards, Jan.

JuneH 3:28 AM  

Hello Keryn,
Thanks so much for your story about your grandmother's brooch. Like Jan I came across your story when searching for information about the wreck of the Quetta. When I read it I think my heart skipped a beat as I am the adopted daughter of Quetta Brown's daughter. So you can see that your story of how your grandmother cared for the toddler who survived the wreck is very significant to me.
If Jan comes back to your blog to read this she may be interested to know that I have a handwritten account of Malcolm's (Jan's great uncle) trip to the goldfields in WA in 1896. This was written in the 1930's by his brother Somerled to my mother.
Thankyou again for sharing your wonderful story.
June

Anonymous,  6:47 PM  

Hello June,
I would like to get in touch with you and my email address is jan_cotton@internode.on.net
Regards, Jan.

Anonymous,  10:53 PM  

Hi Keryn,
well i am researching my family history and was googling information on Thursday island, among the results was a beautiful looking woman you identified as Mary Wilkie..... Mary Wilkie is my great grandmother, her eldest daughter Mary Agnes is/was my grandmother. I would love to make further contact and share information etc. my email address is kerryannhill_56@hotmail.com
I hope you will make contact with me. The story gave me goosebumps and a thrill.
kerryann hill

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