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  • Kylie Sprott

Around the world in 104 years

I never had the privilege of meeting my great grandparents William and Margaret. I have never seen a photo of them, although they loom large in my mind. The more time I spend in Scotland, the more my imagination wanders to their lives and their relationship.

Sticking to the facts only, we know that they wed in the year 1905 in Greenock, which is on the mainland and not far from Bute. We know that they both grew up in families of fishermen, a trade that William would also inherit. And we know that they made a life for themselves together in Rothesay, with their only child, my grandmother Mary. I can see most of the places where they lived from my kitchen window, and I often walk past their last family home on my street.

The last family home where William and Margaret lived with my Gran and other family members.

In 1920, Margaret would set off to Australia with Mary and her other child Archie (who was a grown man of 20 by then) . There she had other relatives and the promise of land and a new life beckoned. For reasons unknown, William did not join them. As you can imagine, many stories and speculation surrounds his decision. Neither remarried and their marriage was never dissolved. They died 12 days apart in 1955, but a world away from each other.

As a woman of modest means, Margaret brought very few treasured possessions on that long voyage over sea to Australia. In a small basket, she carried two small tea sets and one commemorative plate that featured Robert "Rabbie" Burns. After a bit of research, it appears that the plate dates back to the late 1800s. It was clearly of great importance to Margaret, and was quite possibly a wedding gift.

Not long after I started my Scottish adventures, my Mum gave me this plate. I had seen it at my Gran's house in Toowoomba and in my Mum's house over the years. I remember thinking it looked a bit dull when I was a child, and I didn't give it much notice or thought. However, it now holds great significance to me and I marvel that it has travelled so far.

After much discussion, my Mum and I agreed that the plate should return back to the flat and its original home in Rothesay. I figured that if my great grandmother could keep it safe on a sea voyage over several months, surely I could manage a few plane trips!

So, on my last trip to Scotland in April, I carefully wrapped up the plate in bubble wrap and one of my thick, woollen jumpers. I placed it in the middle of my hand luggage (no checked bags for me!) and determined to keep it safe.

The travel Gods were in a mischievous mood during that trip, and what should have been a fairly straight forward route took a lengthy detour. Rare floods in Dubai diverted my initial route and I travelled via Los Angeles and London before landing in Glasgow, with the Robert Burns plate carefully in my possession. Despite an over zealous customs search in LA, I managed to deliver the plate to my flat without a scratch.

And it now sits where it seems to belong best - back in Rothesay. It took a journey around the world, spanning 104 years, but it has made its way home. The plate is currently at home in my bedroom, where the sun hits the gold rim in a way that I had not previously appreciated. It makes me happy to see it take pride of place once more, atop my lovely Victorian dresser.

The mysteries of Margaret and William will probably continue to entertain my active imagination. I am grateful to them both and I suspect that I may have inherited some of Margaret's sense of adventure and resilience. She created a much bigger life for herself than she was born into and I admire that greatly. I also suspect that underneath her strength was a sentimentality that I also share. And I hope that she and William would be pleased that they have not been forgotten.

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