A bible’s journey rediscovered

Back in the 19th century, the British and Foreign Bible Society in London established committees in every colony of Australia. The goal was always the same, “that there should be a copy of the Scriptures in every home, and every man, woman and child in the colony should have God’s word in their hands.” This is the journey of one such historical bible that was lost and recently rediscovered. I told a version of the story live on West Bremer Radio.

On the 18th of October 1885 the ship the Duke of Sutherland berthed in Brisbane, Queensland, having sailed from London via Batavia. Disembarking was seven-year-old Robert Evan Ernest Hughes and his family from north Wales. A small King James New Testament bible, that had been printed in London in 1883, was placed in Ernest’s hands.

Duke of Sutherland

The boy signed his name and the date inside the front cover and pressed a small flower between its pages. He would later underline his favourite verses. The boy and his bible went on a journey through time only to be lost, and then found again.

Ernest carried his bible to Grandchester near Ipswich where his father built a slab hut and went about clearing twenty acres of their eighty-acre farm.

There Ernest met young Annie Dunlop. Annie’s parents Edward and Annie were from Dublin in Ireland. She was born in Grandchester and was in fact the first of her eleven siblings to take their first breath in the colony.

Edward and Annie Dunlop

Grandchester had been the birthplace of the Queensland railways, and the network was expanded south when the South Coast Line to Southport was officially opened in 1889.

Annie‘s family had moved to Goodna in Ipswich, and in 1889 her father got a job as a lengths man on the South Coast Line. Ironically for a railway family, Annie’s mother would later collapse and die at the South Brisbane railway station.

In the same year that the South Coast Line opened, Ernest’s father got a job as a carpenter at the very end of the line. Their Grandchester farm was sold by Patrick Landy of the railway works manager’s office in Ipswich. Landy had previously been five-times the mayor of Dalby. Ernest and his little bible then moved to Southport.

The Hughes family went to live in Meron Street in a home which they called ‘Hughesville’. Ernest’s grandfather back in Wales bore the double moniker ‘Hugh Hughes’, so the family’s first permanently-built home was probably named in his honour.

Favourite verses

Once he was old enough, Ernest with his bible went to work as a station hand on Rockwood Station in the Maranoa region of outback Queensland. The station was regarded as the best block south of Hughenden. The ‘block’ was in fact over 23,000 acres.

That’s where Ernest honed his horsemanship and in 1903 brought his bible back to Southport where he got work as a horse groom.

Soon after, Ernest’s life hung in the balance when he met with an accident at the Southport Racecourse. He was galloping a two-year-old colt. The horse bolted off the track and getting amongst the oak trees, Ernest fell and was knocked unconscious.

The well-known Doctor Robert Berry arrived on his big pure white horse. The doctor had served as a major in the British Army in the First World War, and his wife’s grandfather was the 3rd Baronet Milman. Ernest regained consciousness. But when he got home to Hughesville, he lost consciousness again and remained that way in a precarious condition for days. His little bible was evidently put to good use because Ernest survived.

Doctor Robert Berry

Ernest and young Annie crossed paths again and they were married in 1905. For a while Ernest’s bible moved around the corner into the couple’s home in Lenneberg Street in Southport. However, by 1919 Ernest with Annie and his bible were ensconced next to his parents in a Lather Street home that they called ‘Pentre’ after the family village in Wales. The bible remained there for the next fifty years.

Ernest passed away in 1954 and the little bible was then went to Annie. Their son Arthur inherited it in 1961. When Arthur passed away in 1965, the home ‘Pentre’ was sold and cleared out. That’s when the tiny King James bible disappeared, seemingly lost forever.

But that was until a wonderful lady saw the bible laying hidden on the grass footpath outside her home across the road from the old Hughes house. She picked it up, and knowing it must have been valued by someone, she kept it and gave it to her daughter.

That incredibly insightful woman who saved the piece of history was my mother. Thanks to her, the bible’s one hundred and thirty-nine year journey is now rediscovered and told for the first time. I love you mum.


Photo credits:
The 1882 King James New Testament of Ernest Hughes – © Harold Peacock 2022
Duke of Sutherland at Circular Quay Sydney 1871 – State Library of Queensland
Edward and Annie Dunlop – shared on Ancestry by Trish Sherwin 2013
Inside the 1882 King James New Testament of Ernest Hughes – © Harold Peacock 2022
Dr R.S. Berry – Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 15th December 1936, page 17

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