The Story of ‘Our Great Grandmother’s Sewing Box’.

What about the Box?

184E copy

Nowadays, our great grandmother’s old sewing box is much the worse for wear, but still loved and treasured regardless. There’s no picture of Nanna so that’s all there is. The box’s story has become interwoven with the lives of her many children and grandchildren.

As a child, I was in awe of  this rosewood box with it’s intricately inlaid pattern, an engraved name plaque, satin lining and even a mirror! I had never seen anything so wonderful and perhaps it began my love affair with fine woodwork or maybe even trees! At this time, it was cherished by Nanna’s grand daughter who guarded it closely, but was unable to forestall the ravages of children and time. If you google ‘rosewood sewing box’ you’ll find plenty of delightful images.


In 1876, our great grandmother was born in Manchester, England and was the second eldest daughter of a ‘Provision Dealer’ according to the 1881 Census of England (Family Search). Years later, she told her only grand daughter that the rosewood sewing box was given to her on her twelfth birthday, in 1888.  All eight of the girls in her family were encouraged to sew and consequently received a sewing box for their twelfth birthday. Needlework seems to have been neglected as Nanna’s box appears to have been mainly used for family photos and treasured objects. The rosewood box travelled to her new home when she married in 1905 (General Register Office, England) and made the journey to Australia aboard the ‘Demosthenes’ which arrived in Melbourne in August, 1912 (Public Record Office of Victoria).


The White Star Line included both the ‘Demosthenes’ and the ‘Titanic’ which had sunk only two months before. With three baby daughters and a household’s worth of furniture, this intrepid family departed London on the 26th June, 1912. No wonder an article printed in The Argus was entitled ‘Happy Immigrants’ and shows the ‘Demosthenes’ passengers arriving in Melbourne on August 7, 1912. After correcting the scanned text in Trove, it begins:

HAPPY IMMIGRANTS.      DEMOSTHENES’ PASSENGERS.      WORK FOR ALL. Looking happy and expectant, about 600 assisted passengers stepped ashore at Victoria Dock from the steamer Demosthenes yesterday. Almost every class of British workman was represented,  from the burly boilermaker to the less robust shop-assistant, who had decided to change his occupation from farming. The girls were rosy cheeked and pictures of boisterous health, and all seemed endowed with a spirit of cosy confidence that should stand them in good stead. It was a well dressed ship’s company, with nothing to suggest the frowsy (!!!) destitution at one time popularly associated with the immigrant. The passengers who arrived by the Demosthenes might have walked off the gangway of an Orient liner etc……

190What will become of the box? Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions. What should we keep as time marches on and our cupboards invariably overflow? Some say, what does it matter anyway? Not me.

I wonder if any of the other girl’s boxes have survived? Do you have such an endearing sewing box in your family? Maybe there’s even an old family bible with your family tree hidden inside!

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