Treasure in the backyard at Mum’s

1900-1910 Southport digThere are treasures underfoot in the backyard at Mum’s. Our family home is built on the site of a very early estate “Ingestre” at Southport, in the heart of the oldest part of the now very modern Gold Coast. Cutting-edge technology and genealogy research has allowed me to unearth stories of Zulu wars, and political intrigue, on a global scale.

In search of treasure, I armed myself with a Minelab Safari, which is a metal detector that’s famous for its accuracy and finding artefacts. It was easy to use and I immediately discovered a two square metre treasure trove of history.

On the surface was a 1952 Australian George VI penny, minted eight years before “Ingestre” made way for our home, and given the location in the yard, was certainly dropped by the original owner. The detector’s sensitivity easily picked up six inches underground a brass button, and a brass curtain tassel hook, the kind you find in well-to-do homes. I exhumed a lady’s ring, unfortunately with its inside markings now indistinguishable, and three gems long since lost.

There was a shotgun shell, and a bullet shell from an 1880s Martini-Henry rifle. It’s the same kind that was used at the Ned Kelly siege in 1880, and was the official issue for the British in the First Boer War of 1880-1881. A hole made in the side is a tell-tale sign that it was kept as a souvenir.

With Mum’s concern growing, her backyard quickly became an archaeological excavation that gifted intact antique bottles that definitively dated the finds as being from 1900-1910. The multiple frequency technology of the Safari detector had portalled me 110 years back through time to before the First World War.

There was a Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce bottle with a typically imperfect applied top, complete with glass stopper. A tall salad oil bottle that also had a glass stopper, collectors call these whirlies because of the long, twisted neck. There were medicine bottles, and several for California Fig Syrup used to treat constipation, although it fell out of legal favour in the 1920s-prohibition environment due to its 6% alcohol content.

I found near-complete porcelain items, easily reassembled, including an English dinner plate, tea cup, and a petite milk jug. None of them touched nor seen for more than a century.

The original timber house was built in the 1880s, and was probably named after Ingestre Hall, the 17th century Jacobean mansion situated at Ingestre, in Staffordshire, England. It was formerly the seat of the Earls Talbot and the Earls of Shrewsbury.

Living here in 1900-1910 were Charles Barrington Philpott and his wife Constance Lucy Wood. Charles was associate to Justice Sir Pope Cooper, the Chief Justice of Queensland and the colony’s former attorney-general. Charles was the progeny of a long line of church ministers.

His wife Constance was a descendant of the English peerage. Her father Western Wood Junior was a member of the first parliament of Queensland, her grandfather Western Wood Senior a member of the British parliament for the City of London, and her great-grandfather Sir Matthew Wood, 1st Baronet, had been Lord Mayor of London.

One of Constance’s granduncles became the 2nd Baronet, another was privy councillor Baron Hatherley. Her cousins, the children of Baron Hatherley, are absolutely fascinating. One was Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood VC. He won his Victoria Cross in the Ashanti War in 1859, and was later the British commander in the First Boer War. His sister was Katherine Wood, better known as Kitty O’Shea, whose affair with Irish nationalist politician Charles Parnell ended his career, and ultimately resulted in the dreadful Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.

The personal historic items in my hand are letting me know the stories they hold. The fig syrup is saying that 110 years ago Charles, the associate of the Chief Justice of Queensland, had chronic constipation. His wife Constance’s modest ring tells she was a sentimental soul who loved simple things. The 1880s Martini-Henry bullet shell was souvenired from the First Boer War by her cousin Field Marshal Wood VC, and whispers that she valued her family memories.

Remember where you are. Anywhere you step, there may be treasures underfoot that can whisk you back to other times. Even in the backyard at Mum’s.

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