Brighter, hence the honour

March 15, 2010

Great Grandmother Garvie

The woman in this cabinet photo is my maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Buchanan, taken about 1878.  It is passing strange that I, out of all her descendants, came to inherit her jewellery box; a faded crimson velvet box that has seen better days, with silver lion’s feet, like those seen on Cybele’s throne.  Much of the jewellery Elizabeth is wearing in this photo is also in my possession, especially the brooch she wears at her neck.

This jewellery box holds a strange magpie’s collection of shiny sparkly costume jewels, broken necklaces, medallions from WWI and WWII, a dozen or more Anzac Day pins, a bullet cartridge, other bits and bobs and a scary set of partial dentures.  A reliquary of possessions that were once precious to my great-grandmother and grandmother and maybe a couple of other antecedants. 

I have managed to unearth more about the Buchanan side of the family than any other previous family historian, whose focus was primarily centered on tracing the Fletchers.  The information I have about the B’s was available to be found by the others, yet they simply did not look or maybe they thought the Buchanans were a minor off-shoot of no real consequence, and Elizabeth a mere footnote.

I have come to the conclusion that everybody has been barking up the wrong tree!  The Fletcher line has always been the one that glittered, because it can be traced back so far. Indeed it does glitter – like Fool’s Gold.

Whatever intelligence, canniness, astuteness in business, management of finances, physicality, determination, artistry and perserverance that lies in my genes, and which lay in the genes of my mother and her siblings, definitely streamed down from the  Buchanan side. 

I suppose it’s the tendency of genealogists to focus on the masculine ancestors, because women change their name after marriage and tend to get lost in the crowd if you don’t know who they married. The men are easier to track, yet it has been my experience, that herstories have been way more valuable than histories. 

Elizabeth married Jacob Fletcher and as far as men went, the pickings would have been slim in Jeffcott around 1880. Jacob may have been one of few available man who didn’t have dirt under his fingernails or who smelt of sheep-manure. He was also  the step-brother of Elizabeth’s good friend, so I tend to suspect their marriage may have come about more from an organic convenience, rather than being the product of a great bodice-ripping romance. 

I could be wrong, yet I can’t shake the sense that Jacob was persuaded to marry and Elizabeth did come from a wealthy family, who I think weren’t that impressed.   Or mayhaps they were chagrined that their native-born daughter was marrying an Englishman.  Anyhoo, by the  standards of that time, Elizabeth would definitely have been considered a far better catch than Jacob.

Elizabeth’s parents had emigrated from Scotland as young newlyweds in 1853, and after a couple of years of living in, what is now South Melbourne, settled in Blackwood, or Mt Blackwood as it was known then.  In the January of 1855, the first nugget of gold was discovered in Mt Blackwood and by the end of that year, 13,000 prospectors were panning the creeks and sluicing the riverbanks and hillsides. 

I guessestimate that my great-great grandparents, Andrew and Ann,  moved to Mt Blackwood sometime after the birth of their second child in 1855, because Elizabeth, their third child, was born in Mt Blackwood in June 1857.  They would have been right in the middle of the hustle-bustle of the Mt Blackwood goldrush and Andrew made a very smart move with going into business as a cartage contractor and proprietor of a General Store.

He was also a carpenter and the Police Stables he rebuilt in 1880, are now home to the Blackwood Historical Society’s Museum.  During the goldrush, the people that really established lasting wealth, were the ones who provided the goods and services to the goldminers; not necessarily the goldminers themselves.

My great-great-grandparents Buchanan had 11 children. Their first and last children were to die in infancy, while their middle nine children reached adulthood, married, had children of their own and lived to old age. The siblings of Elizabeth that I have managed to trace, were living in well-heeled suburbs of Melbourne when they passed away.  

Out of curiousity, I checked out Elizabeth’s natal chart and – boy! – did she have some major planetary mojo working for her.  A born doer and person of action, evident in her decision at the age of 14 to become a teacher. It’s all there – teacher, communicator, emotional maturity, determination, strong life skills, practicality, a passion for excellence and refined aesthetic values.  

Despite her stern countenance in the above photograph, Elizabeth’s obituary says that she was “always courteous, of a most kindly disposition and regarded in the highest esteem by all”. 

I wish I had known Elizabeth, yet when I look in the mirror, it is her face that looks back at me.  The resemblance I bear to this great grandmother is rather uncanny, to say the least.  However, the facial similarity is where it ends: I have never had a 19″ waist.



  1. It’s so wonderful to see your own likeness in the face of your great-grandmother — perhaps that’s why her jewel box treasures have made their way to you, to be near her still.

  2. Very astute, Debra!

  3. She has the same kind of stern beauty that Uma Thurman has; something in the eyes that says, “If you could see what I see…” And such delicate little wrists! How wonderful to have those treasures in your life.

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