When small things mean the most

IMG_6738 (2)This tiny machine-made nineteenth century brass thimble is of no financial value. But it tells a tale rich from Australia’s colonial past.

It belonged to Janet Barclay who ran her 1840s bush inn and home with kindness and authority. In the isolation of the Australian bush, she made everything, including clothes for herself and growing family.

The inn on quiet Sunday Creek, in the Victorian western district, was on the fringe of European civilisation. Travellers would sometimes collapse exhausted, anxiously looking over their shoulder for the Aboriginals who chased them that far. There was an Aboriginal camp nearby, Janet gave them food from her kitchen, and her husband sold them grog often with disastrous effects.

Janet was left with her seventeen year old son as the man of the house when her husband and oldest son went to the Ballarat gold diggings in the 1850s. Her three oldest boys joined the New Zealand gold rush a decade later.

They must have done ok, because the family relied less on their own production and prospered, even buying small imported luxuries like this thimble for Janet.

This diminutive artefact was found earlier this year on the site of Janet’s inn, which had burnt down and been lost for almost a century. It means a lot because of its connection to the wild colonial days, and because Janet is my 3rd great-grandmother.

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