My Grandfather's Clock: Four centuries of a British-Australian family
Miegunyah Press, $50 hb, 318 pp
With My Grandfather’s Clock: Four centuries of a British-Australian family, historian Graeme Davison has offered his readers and bequeathed to his grandchildren a very special book, at once genealogy, travelogue, memoir, broad social history, and a meditation on the sources of personal identity. It is a book to be treasured.
The pursuit of ancestry is a narrative quest, aided by family memory, private papers, public records, and now an ever-expanding archive of digital sources and online data sets, as well as DNA testing. But as sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel has noted: ‘Rather than simply passively documenting who our ancestors were, [genealogies] are the narratives we construct to actually make them our ancestors.’ Davison’s quest takes him way back to the wild Scottish-English border country of the seventeenth century, where he finds unlikely but not unwelcome forebears in the Davidsons, an unruly bunch of ‘reivers’, smallholders who were also cattle thieves and sometime murderers.
He describes a journey beginning in frontier warfare and dispossession in the Scottish Lowlands. But as centuries passed, the Davisons, as they were increasingly known, moved south of the border and transformed over generations into more recognisable family relations: respectable tradespeople, ‘handworkers’, a labour aristocracy that had converted to Methodism, temperance, with a commitment to harmony between masters and men and self-discipline. There was ‘something uptight as well as upright’ about the Davisons, their best-known descendant observes wryly. ‘Methodism and migration turned us into the quiet, respectable folk I knew.’