To our absolute delight and surprise the first Kirk Session Minute Book (1875-1888) for the Caversham Presbyterian Church has been located in a secondhand bookshop in Sydney.
It was believed that the record had been destroyed in a fire in January, 1882 and an assumption made by subsequence Sessions and the Archives that a record between 1882 and 1888 when the existing Minute Book commenced was also missing. We now learn that the first Minute Book closes off on 4 September 1888 which adds a further mystery around its disappearance and rediscovery.
The compiler of the Jubilee History of the parish in 1924 notes that he did not have access to the early records, the most serious loss,[in the fire of 1882] however (or so it appears to the historian 50 years onwards), was the destruction of all minute books, communion roll, sustentation books –in fact, all church records. No reference to a missing Session minute book can be located in any subsequent records. Therefore, by the time of the Centennial in 1974 the understanding that all the first records were destroyed in the fire had become well engrained in the historic memory.
However, with the discovery of this Session Minute Book and a little digging around we now can confidently state that the fire did not destroy all church records as believed. Noted in the Deacons’ Court Minute Book on 31 January 1882, three days after the fire, a list of destroyed records include their own Minute Book dating from 1874, the Sustentation Fund Collection Book, the Sunday School Library, hymn books, music books, and a number of personal bibles, all stored in a Church cupboard. The absence of Session records confirms an accepted practice of this time for the Minister to retain, at the manse, the Session Minute Books, Baptism and Marriage Registers and, often, the Communion Rolls. Missing from the present Caversham collection is the Baptism Register prior to 1901 and a Communion Register/s prior to 1920 the loss of which we can safely assume is due to some other circumstance.
But the question remains how did this minute book find its way to Australia? Information gleaned from the Bookseller suggests that it was literally rescued from the clutches of the recyclers in Sydney a number of years ago. As the Minute Book is in surprisingly good condition one can guess that it has sat amongst family papers undisturbed for years, possibly those of an office-bearer or his family who moved across to Australia before 1924. Sadly, however, why and by whom the record arrived in Sydney will more than likely remain a mystery and a story untold.
Our grateful thanks must go to Dr. David Murray from the Hocken Library in Dunedin, who drew our attention to the existence of the Minute Book through the online booksellers, Abe Books.