Mr J.D. Hathaway had an eye for detail and knew the value of things great and small.
On October 12 1949, the estate agent made an inspection of the home of the deceased at 4 Village Lower Road Vaucluse. Mr Hathaway owned the firm and doubtless employed a number of staff but took on the job personally when engaged by the executors of Mr Alexander Barclay Shand’s estate.
Just nine days earlier the barrister had died in St Vincents Hospital of pneumonia aged 84 and perhaps Mr Hathaway could feel his formidable presence in the house, like he might have returned home at any time, his walking stick tapping time between the heavy beat of his footsteps on the worn felt of the entrance hall. The 10 yards of fabric, though past its best, was still worth £2 10s, Mr Hathaway noted on his clipboard. The oak grandfather clock, silent now that the housekeeper was no longer there to wind it, could fetch £12 10, he estimated. An oak occasional table, a maple telephone table, an inlaid hall seat and a Wilton mat (worn) would take the total of the chattels in the entrance hall to just over £22.
And so Mr Hathaway went from room to room compiling the material inventory of my great-grandfather’s life. Nothing was missed, from the linen and a broken Hoover vacuum to the coir mat on the back step.
In the lounge room was a 9×12 Chinese rug with felt surround (worn £15), two leather arm chairs and lounges (£19), a maple tea wagon with glass top (£4 15), lace curtains and linen blinds (22s), a glass vase (7s) and two water colour pictures valued at £1 10 a piece.
In the front bedroom was a small Tann’s Defiance Safe (£15), the old man’s single bed (£13 10), a wardrobe (£10), a dressing table (£7 10) and a set of bookshelves (£4 15) all in maple. On the shelves were 50 books, (mostly poetic works and literature) valued at £5. With no gramophone in the house, it must have been a quiet and serene place.
In the dining room, there was a maple extension dining table (£9 10) with six chairs (£9) where AB hosted a fortnightly roast Sunday lunch for his many grandchildren, including my father. Reading this inventory from his estate papers, the fragmentary references my father had made to visits to his grandfather’s house came alive. I could discern the man whose life had fitted between the shapes of these inanimate objects.
I could hear the old man tell each grandchild “for porterage” as he gave them two florins. I could see Edith Walters, the stout, friendly housekeeper who had been with him for more than 20 years. After his beautiful wife Florence had passed away suddenly in 1929, Edith Walters had kept life in the place. She had kept the dust from settling on her employer after he retired from the Bar in the late 1930s. The Shands had been living in Double Bay on the site of today’s Woolworths supermarket when Florence had died at home. Perhaps he had moved to Vaucluse to escape that sad memory, but Mrs Walters had created a new family atmosphere in Vaucluse, even though it was the residence of a widower.
Every fortnight she would cook roast beef or lamb and a mountain of vegetables that AB would carve and serve with great aplomb for his grandchildren. These lunches were stern affairs , the children would be ordered to clear their plates while watching their grandfather consume vast quantities of food. There was little discussion that anyone can remember. This was silent ritual but for the powerful mastication of food going on at the head of the table. At the completion of lunch, Mrs Walters would take the children for swimming lessons at nearby Parsley Bay. They would leave their mother Enid Mary talking to old AB on the front step.
These were troubled times for the family in the late 30s. In March 1939, Enid Mary was granted a divorce from my grandfather JW (Jack) Shand QC on the grounds that he “had deserted her without reasonable cause by reason of his failure to comply with a Decree for Restitution of Conjugal Rights” a year before. In other words, he had run off with another woman and refused to come back. He left his wife with the “issue of their said marriage four children,” according to the divorce papers.
I can picture the scene, just as my father would have seen it, from the items on Mr Hathaway’s list. Two brass figures (£6), one China figure (£2), a bell (£1), a gong (£3 15), the silver plated trays (£3 15) on the maple sideboard (£12), all gleaming from Mrs Walters diligent attention.
There were but few decorations in the house beyond that, but Mr Hathaway noted two water colour pictures which he valued at £1 10 each. I asked my father what they depicted but unsurprisingly after 60 years he couldn’t remember. Nothing had been passed down to him. He and his siblings had received nothing from AB’s will.
By 1949, their father Jack had started a new family and whatever he had inherited from his father had gone to them. When Jack died in 1959, it was said that he died without a will and the entire estate, meagre as it was, had gone to his new wife Judy and their two children Angela and Ronald. My Dad was given his father’s briefcase. It was probably because he shared the same JWS initials as his father, which were emblazoned on the case, rather than through any sense of entitlement.
As a child, I had seen my father carry that briefcase to work for years. It was only after researching the family history that I realized that Dad had carried his father’s metaphorical baggage for a long time too. For years, he had believed that his father had not cared enough to leave his first family anything or indeed take the trouble to make a will. I grew up believing that, in modern parlance, Jack Shand had been “a deadbeat Dad.” It wasn’t until just last month that this changed.
A lawyer contacted me to say that he found a will that Jack Shand had made back in 1946. The document showed that he had left almost everything to his second wife but had instructed that £2000 was to go to his first wife. This was no doubt inconvenient. It was unlikely that Jack had 2000 quid in cash at that stage. He had never cared much for money and spent lavishly on living well, shall we say.
To make good on that bequest, his second wife Judy would have had to sell the family home. So she did the practical thing and kept the will a secret. It gave me the greatest pleasure to tell my father that his father, while far from perfect, had indeed made provision for his children.
As someone trying to recreate the past, I felt the loss of family heirlooms more keenly than any monetary inheritance. To hold something in my hands that AB had owned would somehow confirm my link to him. But AB died 13 years before I was born. Everything seemed to have been dispersed and the memories dissipated. Short of travelling back in time, I would have to content myself with creating the scene in that house from Mr Hathaway’s inventory.
There are many moments of serendipity in conducting genealogical research. I have discovered family I never knew, like my great-great grandfather John Shand (AB’s father) whose existence was lost in the sands of time for various reasons. There have been discoveries of hidden assets, like the old lane from John Shand’s farm that I learnt was still in the family’s ownership (read the earlier post Long Road Home). I have also become the proud custodian of the family burial plot where John and his wife Mary are interred. But it’s the new living family that I have met through the research that has given me the greatest pleasure.
As part of getting to know more about AB, I contacted my second cousin Anne Stone, whom I had previously never met. Her grandmother Florence (known as Bebe) was a Shand, sister to my grandfather Jack. Bebe had married a stockbroker Wyndham Fulton Rofe. Anne’s father Alec Rofe had been one of the executors of AB’s estate.
So I called Anne several months ago to introduce myself and within minutes she was offering me something wonderful. Among AB’s possessions had been a caricature of the old man himself, rendered by none other than the celebrated Test leg spinner and artist Arthur Mailey. This delightful piece (pictured above) had been in the house at Vaucluse.
Anne’s father had asked her to pass the picture onto my uncle Alec (who shared his name with AB) but she had never got around to it. It had sat in cupboards in various homes for decades until Anne had decided to have it restored and re-framed. She had fully intended to pass it on to Alec but sadly he passed away last year. She asked if I would like it. It should rightfully go to a Shand, she said.
So to cut a long story just a little short, this is how I came to have one item from Mr Hathaway’s inventory in my possession. He valued it at £1 10 back in 1949. Needless to say it’s priceless to me. I look at it and I am transported back to that house in Vaucluse. There’s a sense of identity and purpose, like threads waving in the breeze of time are being re-connected.