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A Previously Unknown Collection of Medieval and Later Manuscripts in North Queensland In September 1979 I was approached by one of my first-year students who asked if I could read old writing. In response to my reply that I had had some experience in this area and would be willing to help her, she brought in a fragment of a parchment manuscript for m e to look at. After an initial examination, I was fairly certain that I had in front of m e a genuine fragment of an Elizabethan legal document dating from no earlier than 1583. My curiosity being greatly aroused, not only by the fragment itself, but also by its presence in North Queensland, I asked the student where the fragment came from and whether she had more like it. She told me that the document was one of many held by her husband's family in Cairns and that she would be willing to arrange for me to meet them and inspect their collection. I took up her offer, and in December 1979 I made the first of several trips to Cairns. In Cairns I was shown a wooden box which contained around 150 documents , almost all in manuscript. The family was not conversant with the documents, which had come down recently to them as heirlooms, since they could not read many of them, and there was no catalogue or descriptive list in the box. My first task, therefore, was to prepare a brief catalogue and to take a number of photographs, not only as a permanent record of the documents but also because it would have been very difficult to work on them in Cairns, the family being unwilling to lend them without the security of satisfactory insurance provisions. Such insurance proved impossible to arrange. Hence a large part of my time devoted to this material has been taken up with photography work, and, as a result, 1 am only now able to report briefly on the nature of the collection. The 150 documents span some five and a half centuries, the earliest dating from 1295, the latest from 1862. Most of them, about 80 items, date from the eighteenth century and the next largest grouping, comprising some 40 items, is of seventeenth-century material. Documents from other periods exist in smaller guantities. Besides the document from 1295, the medieval period is represented by four documents from the fourteenth century, and three from the fifteenth century, while the sixteenth century is represented by seven documents including the fragment already mentioned. Finally there are a number of items from the nineteenth century. Although some of the later material is undated, it can be assigned fairly easily to the seventeenth or eighteenth century. In contrast the early material can be dated with some certainty, either because the exact date is specified, or because the dates of persons mentioned in the documents are known from other sources, as, for example, in the case of two fourteenth-century documents which give the regnal year as the thirteenth year of King Edward's reign without specifying which King Edward is meant. Only two pre-1600 manuscripts 134 G. Barwell cannot be dated precisely. In both cases, while the dating clause specifies the King, there are gaps in the manuscripts where the regnal year would have been stated. However, i t i s certain that there are some 15 pre-1600 manuscripts in a collection of some 150 items. The collection i s composed mainly of documents of a legal nature. I t contains nothing of a literary or devotional nature, nor any illuminated manuscripts, and the only items of private correspondence are of the kinds which were generated by the various conveyancing practices of the five and a half centuries which the collection spans. Thus we find examples from the pre-1600 period of deeds of gift, deeds of grant, leases for lives, quitclaims, letters of attorney, indentures of fines and exemplifications of proceedings in the court of Queen's Bench. Indeed all the pre-1600 manuscripts are of this type. The only common conveyancing instruments of the period which are not represented are leases and releases, bargains and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 133-140
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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