I’m reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture at the moment- borrowed from Trish (thank you Trish!) and short-listed for the Booker Prize.  And here I am, reading away, thoroughly enjoying it all when all of a sudden the REAL Resident Judge of Port Phillip- John Walpole Willis- comes bursting into the story!  Well, not so much him as his son, also named John.

The main character of the book, Roseanne, is a 100 year old woman, who has been incarcerated in an asylum for longer than anyone can remember.  Her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, comes into her room and picks up a book that used to belong to her father.

Because I knew the book so well, I could guess what Dr Grene was looking at.  It was a picture of Sir Thomas Browne, with a beard…Sampson Low, Son and Marston were the printers. That ‘Son’ was beautiful.  The son of Sampson Low.  Who was he ? Who was he? Did he labour under the whip of his father, or was he treated with gentleness and respect. J.W. Willis Bund supplied the notes.  Names, names, all passed away, forgotten, mere birdsong in the bushes of things.  If  J. W. Willis Bund can pass away forgotten, how much easier for me?  We share in that at least (p. 98)

Ah- but J. W. Willis Bund hasn’t been forgotten- or at least his father hasn’t been.  They have been pursued all the way to Worcestershire by a woman from Melbourne, in the district of Port Phillip, Australia! And here she is (looking suitably maniacal) in the small local church in Powick, near the Wick Episcopi estate- found them at last!

(In case you can’t decipher the inscription, it reads:

In memory of John Walpole Willis 1798-1877, Formerly Judge of the Supreme Courts of British Guiana, Canada and New South Wales, and of his son John William Bund Willis-Bund 1843-1928 Chairman of the Worc. County Council for 35 years, both of Wick Episcopi in this county. Jesu Mercy.)

So who was J. W. Willis Bund?  He was born at Valparaiso (the usual stopping place on the western South American coast for ships returning from Australia to England), on the trip home from Port Phillip, after his father,  John Walpole Willis, the Resident Judge of Port Phillip had been removed from office in 1843.  His mother was the daughter and heiress of Colonel Bund who lived at Wick Episocopi in Worcestershire, and on return from Port Phillip, Judge Willis and his family lived there on the maternal family estate too.  In order to inherit the estate, it was necessary for Judge Willis’ son to take his mother’s name as well- hence the Willis Bund  (although the Bund Willis Bund seems a trifle excessive). He was prominent in local affairs in Worcestershire: he sat on the County council, he established the local historical society, and he was a prolific historian and writer.  And yes, he did write the foreword to the Religio Medici mentioned in Sebastian Barry’s book.

So, how about THAT!

3 responses to “Synchronicity!

  1. Glad to see that even though the ending didn’t have a deep significance (it seemed a little too contrived for me, although I did still enjoy the book…) but that another part of it did have a deep significance!

  2. Did you know that the personal library of the son, J W Willis Bund, is up for auction in Malvern Worcestershire on 8th January 2009?

    The library has been kept for many years at Worcester City Library (where I used to work), but its owners have put it up for sale ahead of the library’s move to new premises.

    • How fascinating! I wonder how many of his father’s old books there were amongst them? When the Resident Judge left Melbourne, somewhat hurriedly, he auctioned off most of his household furniture and effects. At about the same time he left here, there was an advertisement for a sale of books and I wondered if any of them were his. It was quite common for gentlemen to sell their libraries before returning home. And just yesterday, I read about a court case where he mentioned that he had a copy of the only copy of corpus juris civilis in Australia- it doesn’t seem to be in the son’s catalogue though. I wonder how much the library will bring?

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