Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An ancestor who published Cinderella

Yesterday, I wrote about my great-grandfather William Skyvington, who must have spent a particularly nasty period of six months in a notorious London prison. Even to be able to lie down there on something looking vaguely like a bed, you had to have friends on the outside with money, to purchase that privilege… otherwise you spent the night sitting around with crowds of poor inmates on the freezing muddy floors of the jail's stinking rat-infested cellars. And that was just over a century ago, in the grand capital city of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, my great-grandmother Eliza Mepham, aged 34, was dying of tuberculosis behind the façade of this posh little house at 16 Marriott Road in northern London.

As for my future grandfather Ernest Skyvington, cared for by his Mepham aunts in another house, he carried on going to school in Woodstock Road, probably unaware that his father was in jail.

He once told me that his constant dream, at that time, was to get aboard a cargo ship of the kind on which his uncle William Mepham was a captain, and to sail away to the Antipodes… where he would be able to ride a horse through the bush. In 1908, the 17-year-old lad finally found such a ship, the SS Marathon, whose master was a colleague of Captain Mepham.

The SS Marathon reached Sydney six weeks later... which meant that it was quite a rapid vessel for that epoch. Ernest Skyvington set foot in Sydney on Christmas Day 1908, and William Mepham and his wife Gertrude Driscoll were waiting on the wharf to welcome the young man to his new land. The Mephams lived at Rushcutters Bay, which was the site at that time of Australia’s best-known boxing stadium. The fighters Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson were to meet here on Boxing Day 1908 (an ideally-named day) for the world heavyweight title. That Saturday, Ernest woke up on Australian soil for the first time in his life, and it so happened that he was rambling around in sunny Rushcutters Bay at the moment that Burns and Johnson arrived at the stadium. But the boy from London did not yet have enough money in his pocket to pay for a seat at such a boxing match.


I was recently informed by a friendly English fellow that the rest of this blog post is totally erroneous. My ancestor John Harris [1756-1846] certainly existed, but he had nothing to do with another individual, of the same name, who published the Cinderella stuff. I hope that true descendants of the publisher will forgive me for this silly blunder.

Today, as an outcome of lengthy Google searches, I discovered a lot of interesting stuff about a Londoner in the ancestral line of my paternal grandmother. I'm speaking of John Harris [1756-1846], who was my 4xgreat-grandfather. He was a publisher, specialized in children's books, with a bookshop alongside St Paul's Cathedral, seen here:

I was thrilled to learn this afternoon that he had published a wide variety of high-quality works, many of which can be downloaded today from the Internet. One of the nicest publications I found was his Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper (John Harris, London, 1827), which contains beautiful hand–colored woodcuts.

The Cinderella story is so familiar that we can more-or-less figure out what's happening for each of the following woodcuts:

These splendid illustrations remind me of the celebrated Epinal images created in France by Jean-Charles Pellerin [1756-1836], who was a contemporary of John Harris. I have spoken already of this famous French tradition of simple and colorful graphic work in my article of 6 March 2007 entitled Epinal images [display] and in my article of 17 May 2007 entitled Upside-down world [display].

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! How lucky you are to have a connection to this piece of history!