It’s in the blood …

This is my Great Grandfather James Hebblethwaite. He was born in England in 1857, was self-educated through scholarships and eventually emigrated to Tasmania for his health, accepting a teaching position at the Friend’s School in Hobart, Tasmania, as Principal  of Queen’s College, Latrobe (1899) and became a priest of the Church of England (1904). In 1986 he published his first book of poetry, Verses. He was vicar of George Town, Swansea and the D’entrecasteaux Channel until 1916 when he retired, and he continued to write poetry. He has a few published books, which I am slowly collecting (they are hard to find!) and I just love his poetry.

I don’t think he contributed much in terms of great Australian poetry, although he was noted in the book Tasmania’s Literary Landmarks, and he is included as an exemplary Australian poet of his time. His poetry was very British, but I suspect as an emigrant his heart was still captivated by the history, folk-lore and landscapes of England. Tasmania, I believe, is very similar in climate and beauty to England, and his poetry certainly is very whimsical, almost longing of the folk-beauty of the Old Country.

You can tell when you read his poems that he was an intelligent, astute man, but also dreamy and soft around the edges. I read that he never neglected his duties, nor his work as a parish clergyman, but I can also easily imagine him sitting down to a task and then becoming distracted by a beautiful thought for several moments. Something I can relate to 🙂 I think his Muse visited him regularly, and I feel close to him when I read his poetry, although I never met him. He died in 1921.

His only son, my grandfather Hugh (Charles Hugh Hebblethwaite), I loved dearly. My Grandad, like the Rev James, was a man of many intellectual gifts, but also one of practical applications. He learned so many varied skills in his lifetime, but never overlooked the artistic and creative. We all have at least one of his watercolours in our house. The ones I chose were a set he painted of the Remarkable Cave down by Port Arthur. Each  painting, looking back through the cave to the view of the other painting. I look at these paintings and remember my Grandad pointing out the type of rock he had painted, its qualities, where it is generally found and how it was formed (I can’t remember now!).

I knew him as a softly (but correctly) spoken man who pursued all aspects of his interests: the scientific, literary, historical and the mathematical were equally important for him in his pursuits of the creative. He had a fabulous sense of humour – the one thing that I REALLY remember him teaching me, is the latin caveat emptor, or ‘buyer beware’! Funny what sticks in your mind. My Grandma, his wife, was very much the same: intellectually, creatively, practically and was also another wonderful and humourous storyteller. To her I honour her skills in fibre craft (embroidery, spinning and knitting). Her embroidery is exquisite and she contributed to a piece by the Launceston Embroiderers Guild that is now hanging in Parliament House. On one of my last visits to see them when they were BOTH alive, my Grandad tried to teach me how to spin yarn on his home-made spinning wheel. At the time my Auntie had goats on her farm, and between the three of them they had a little market business going: my Auntie would care for and clip the goats, my Grandad would spin the wool, together he and Grandma would wash and dye it, then Grandma would knit it into garments. I was impressed to say the least – but he never could teach me to spin!

These skills, of course, all contributed to the making of their children, my Dad and his two brothers and one sister. Dad is another who is interested in delving into all aspects of an idea, and pursuing the idea for its own merit – practical or otherwise, although having said this Dad is a very practical man and the vast majority of his ideas come to functional and aesthetic fruition, but like my Great-Grandfather I suspect the Muse leads him astray from time to time! He and Mum see things through together. Like Grandad and Grandma they love the planning as much as the application. The vision as much as the doing. The research as much as the enjoyment of the finished product. My brother and I have grown up surrounded by books on every topic. We’ve grown up surrounded by long-term projects of all sorts. Great ideas and interesting conversations. In my brother and I, and in our own new families of young children (7 grandchildren for our mum and dad between us when this little bubba is born!), I see the same qualities developing.

Today, reading through my Great-Grandfather James’ book of poetry, Meadow and Bush, I felt at home. I could feel my family in my blood and I felt a belonging to a tribe of people who are interested in life and love contributing to it. I felt deeply connected to a man I had never met, but who I know is a part of me, and a part of my children. He will reveal himself in some way to them in their lifetime.


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