Searching for lost treasures at a Victorian-era house named after India’s golden city of Lucknow was an alluring challenge. ‘The House Detective’ Marianne Taylor had already crafted an outstanding record of the home and its 130 years of owners. It was now my mission to discover if any artefacts and stories lay hidden underfoot.
Ben and Shelley’s home in West End, Brisbane, was built in 1891. As Marianne had found, the name ‘Lucknow’ came from its second owner William Mark Havelock Southwick whose grandmother’s first cousin was Major General Sir Henry Havelock. Major General Havelock was the hero of the Relief of Lucknow in 1857 when he saved besieged British forces during the Indian Mutiny. His heroics were immortalised with a statue in Trafalgar Square and a 1912 silent movie ‘The Relief of Lucknow‘. Even Mark Twain wrote about the Relief of Lucknow, and it was referenced in season two of Downton Abbey.
Because the garden had been landscaped many times since the house was built including the addition of a swimming pool, my task of retrieving relics from the past, even with the very latest Minelab metal detecting technology, seemed impossible.
Reflecting Havelock’s own determination, I eventually discovered a brass furniture fitting buried deep in the back yard. Although twisted by a century of moving earth, it appeared Victorian due to both its material and understated decorative design. It’s typical of the period when Queen Victoria was in mourning for Albert and wearing basic black. The item was nice to find but gave no clue as to who might have lost it.
Soon after, my detectorist buddy George unearthed a fob watch cover, and just a metre away I found a fishing net weight coated in the distinctive patina characteristic of lead buried for over a century. Both finds were near the property boundary that had been least disturbed. Now that we had datable relics, the research into the items’ personal history could begin.
The fob watch piece was the back cover of an English fusee pocket watch that was hallmarked sterling-silver in London in 1878. It pre-dated the house itself!
It was made by Samuel Jackson who was a watch case maker in Coventry, Warwickshire. Jackson worked as a watch maker for twenty-five years, until the opportunity arose for a career change. Coventry produced more bicycles than anywhere else in the world and so in the mid-1890s Jackson became a ‘cycle storer’ and his son a ‘cycle filer’. This sterling silver item wasn’t just a reminder of whoever lost it, but also of the 19th century entrepreneur who made it.
The watch cover with a diameter of forty-four millimetres was a bit small but still acceptable for a men’s pocket watch 140 years ago. But my mind went first to a woman of the house who may have lost it. Perhaps the lady pursued an occupation that required fob watches. There was one. She was a nurse.
Irene Stoddart owned Lucknow in 1920-1923 and was only the fourth owner who had lived there for any length of time. She’d been an Australian Army nurse in the First World war specialising as a masseuse. Irene’s father was The Reverend A.G. Stoddart who had served as an Australian Army chaplain, and his cousin was A.E. Stoddart the famous English cricket and rugby captain. Stoddart led an English Eleven to play at his cousin’s parish cricket ground in New South Wales in 1892. Irene had been born in the Bathurst district in 1880 and was twelve years old at the time of the match. The following year Stoddart was named a Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year. When Stoddart arrived in Brisbane as captain of the England team in 1897, after the welcoming crowd was dispersed, it was discovered that the gold watch which he had been presented in England was stolen.
The silver watch cover found at Lucknow didn’t belong to the England cricket captain, however it may have belonged to his niece Irene. The watch was hall marked in 1878 which was the same year that Irene’s parents were married in Exeter, Devon, before immigrating to Australia. Could the watch have been a wedding gift that was inherited by Irene? Irene herself never married, and her First World War medals were recently donated to the Bathurst Historical Society by her grandnephew Peter who also inherited from her a silver-plated bowl bearing the Stoddart family crest and motto. It was manufactured by Mappin & Webb which are the designers and makers of the gold standard Ryder Cup. Could the silver watch have been part of a family silver collection passed onto Irene?
To be sure, I had to delve deeper. Perhaps the fishing net weight could provide a clue. Both the watch cover and the lead weight were found in precisely the same context a metre apart, and so they could reasonably share the same owner. Was there a fisherman living at the house in Victorian times?
The man who built Lucknow in 1891 was John Isaac Caldwell who moved in with his new bride the following year. Caldwell was an accountant and then the company secretary for James Campbell and Sons, a family business founded in 1854 that manufactured and sold building materials into the 1990s when it was absorbed by BBC Hardware which in turn is now Bunnings.
At the State Library of Queensland, I found a photograph of the senior staff of James Campbell and Sons in 1892. Caldwell was a youthful twenty-five-year-old sitting right there beside the company’s chairman John Dunmore Campbell himself, who was later a member of the Queensland parliament. Of the six male executives seated in the photograph, including Caldwell, every one of them was wearing a pocket watch. Could the watch that we found belong to Caldwell? Was it a gift to new executives of James Campbell and Sons? But what about the fishing net weight found beside the watch, what significance could it hold?
In 1901 when Caldwell sold the house to William Southwick, he moved to Sandgate on Moreton Bay. The following year the Brisbane Courier reported that those in Caldwell’s fishing boat in just two-and-a-half hours caught a stunning 402 fish, weighing seventy-three pounds, and that Caldwell himself led the tally. When Caldwell passed away in 1922, a wreath was received by his widow from the Amateur Fishermen’s Association.
The fishing net weight belonged to John Caldwell, and it was most likely that the pocket watch did too.
Almost 130 years after Lucknow was built probably with materials from James Campbell and Sons, I discovered two lost relics from the home’s very first owner and resident. India’s golden city of Lucknow still held some secrets after all.
NOW CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE SHORT FILM OF THESE DISCOVERIES
ALSO SEE THE 1912 SILENT FILM ‘THE RELIEF OF LUCKNOW‘ BY THE STUDIO OF INVENTOR THOMAS EDISON
Do you want me to search for lost relics at your house? Click here.
Lucknow today 2020 – by Ben Wilson
The Relief of Lucknow 1857 – painted by Thomas Jones Barker 1859, National Portrait Gallery
Historic relics found 2020 – my own
Irene Stoddart c1950 – courtesy Peter Savage
AE Stoddart’s forward-drive nearing the finish 1897 – KS Ranjitsinhji, The Jubilee Book of Cricket 3rd Edition, photo by E. Hawkins Co Brighton
Staff of James Campbell and Sons Brisbane 1892 – John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
John Isaac Caldwell 1892 – from Staff of James Campbell and Sons Brisbane, John Oxley Library State, Library of Queensland