Material Memories

By Marius Kwint; Christopher Breward et al. | Go to book overview

one
Materializing Mourning: Hair,
Jewellery and the Body
Marcia Pointon

Teeth, bones, and hair, give the most lasting defiance to corruption. Sir Thomas Browne, Urne Buriall, 16581

Manuscript 1067 in the Australian National Library consists of a brown folder. Inside is a small collection of objects: a black leather passportholder and a passport made out to Edward John Eyre, late Governor of Jamaica, his wife, son, two daughters and maid-servant travelling on the continent, 27 July 1880, a letter about Australia, a child's drawing of a ship labelled ‘The Victory’ and, in a tiny envelope stamped ‘Rastall & Son Ecclestone St., London’, a lock of brown hair some eight inches in length, looped and secured with a tight binding of blue cotton and a scrap of blue flowered silk roughly cut from the selvedge edge of a remnant. The force of these minor archaeological fragments figuring the commerce of the metropolis (envelopes and stationers), the bureaucracy of states controlling their frontiers (passports), and the Navy and its triumphs passing into popular mythology (drawings of Nelson's vessel) are suddenly confounded by the spectacle of a quite different archaeological trace: a fragment of human physical existence. The inscription on the tiny envelope strives to anchor this detached bodily object: ‘Gervas Selwyn Eyre's hair at the age of 11 years & half … Jamaica 1863’.2 The hair is bright and shiny, and springy to my

____________________
1
Sir Thomas Browne, Urne Buriall (1658), ed. J. Carter (Cambridge, 1967), 33.
2
MS. 1067, Australian National Library, Canberra. Gervas Eyre was the son of the colonial explorer and Governor of Jamaica (1815–1901) who is renowned for his violent suppression of the 1865 slave revolt, as a consequence of which he was retired from office.

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