Since I assumed the role of the Provincial Historian of the British Columbia Women’s Institute, I have had many boxes of materials to checked over and select those items that Archives and Museums wish to receive. It has been my pleasure to see these papers now housed where they will be preserved for others to research in the future. But the most unusual item that was given to me to identify and find a new “home” for was an elegantly engraved silver teapot.
When the Craigflower Women’s Institute disbanded in 2008 among the items they gave to the South Vancouver Island District was a silver teapot which had been presented to a gentleman by the name of Ellison by a family in England whose son he had tutored. There was no record of how it came to be in Canada, nor how it came to be the property of Craigflower Women’s Institute.
After trying to find something on internet about the family name, and speaking with as many Women’s Institute members as I could think of, I set the teapot aside and went on to other history projects.
Late one night when sleep was elusive – a thought out of the blue reminded me of Josephine Godman, a good friend of Mrs. Alfred “Madge” Watt and an Englishwoman. In the morning I found Jean M. Robinson’s book “Three Women of B. C. and the A.C.W.W.” and started to read. In the first few line s of Mrs. Robinson’s story of Josephine Godman I found: “Josephine Ellison Godman was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1890. She was the only child of Reverend W. G. H. and Mrs. Ellison who had quite recently come from England.”
So, there was the nucleus of the story of the teapot. The gentleman to whom the teapot was presented, was, from what I have gathered, her uncle. Just how the teapot came into her possession is unclear, but she had, in turn, given the teapot to the Craigflower Women’s Institute as she had no living children of her own to pass it on to. It had been used at many Craigflower teas and other events, and some of the more recent members were not all that familiar with the story.
The teapot is now in the care of the Saanich Archives and Museum and is a treasured example of the numerous items that the early residents of the Victoria area had either brought with them from their country of origin, or had been given later in life. Every family who has very old items should try to document how they came into the family’s possession, as well as the story behind the item.
If someone in our membership has some item they consider to be quite old and possibly valuable, I would encourage you to go to your nearest Museum and /or Archives, and see what you may be able to learn about it. You may have to do some investigating, but, why not? After all, everyone loves a mystery!
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