Could John Bunyan’s Bible, yes….Bunyan the Puritan preacher and author of Pilgrim’s Progress, have ended up in the fair city of Adelaide? Not just any of his Bibles, but the very one he used while imprisoned all those years ago in Bedford. (Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Bunyon spent 12 years in Bedford gaol for refusing to cease his non-conformist preaching).
The first mention I can find of the Bible being in Adelaide appeared in The Advertiser on December 25 1937
JOHN BUNYAN BIBLE READINGS AT MAUGHAN CHURCH
Readings from an old Bible bearing the signature ‘J Bunyan’ and the date, 1664, will be given by the Rev. S. Forsyth tomorrow at the Maughan Church P.S.A. and evening services. Bought recently in Brisbane by Mr George Garnett, of Gouger Street, Adelaide, from the widow of Mr James Hutt, who was for 17 years Bodley Librarian at Oxford.
Mr Hutt’s widow had also been a librarian, and it does seem odd that she would part with the Bible, but that was the story from the purchaser, Mr Garnett.
‘IT’S GENUINE’, SAYS GARNETT!
Mr Garnett said yesterday that the Bunyan signature had been examined by authorities in Bedford who vouched for its genuineness. He is negotiating for the disposal of the Bible with the British Museum and with Dr. Rosenbach of Philadelphia and New York, and had put a reserve price of £3,000 on the book. Other signatures contained in this old Bible are John Hampden, 1637 and Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, 1704.
A lengthy article about the Bible and its provenance appeared some years later in The Adelaide Advertiser, on September 7, 1945. It had been republished from a UK newspaper;
LONDON, September 3 – An attempt is being made to ascertain whether a Bible found in Adelaide is the one that John Bunyan used at Bedford Gaol.
The librarian of the Bedford municipality, Mr Thomas Cooper, says that Bunyan had two books in prison – Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’, which was sold in 1911 for £2,000 to Mr Pierpont Morgan, and a Bible.
The Bible from which Bunyan is reputed to have preached was sold in London in 1814 to a man named Whitbread. Another with the name Bunyan written on the title page is at present in Harvard University.
A third Bible, not signed by Bunyan, bore the name ‘Martha Wethered’ who helped Bunyan’s family when he was imprisoned. There is no record of another signed by Bunyan, but several signatures exist, by which the newly discovered Bible could be tested.
Well, the Bedford librarian was hardly encouraging, but not surprisingly an Adelaide scholar took a very different view.
Principal E.S. Kiek, of Parkin Theological College, who has prepared a special memorandum on the Bible, said last night that he was convinced the Bible was a genuine Bunyan copy, and he believed that it would be worth at least £1,000. ‘It is dated 1619’, he said, so it must be one of the earliest copies of the King James version extant. It includes, besides the Authorised Version of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, a number of queer genealogical tables, a concordance, and Sternhold and Hopkins metrical verses of the Psalms.
Mr Kiek was a Congregational minister, so we can assume he desperately wanted the book to be the real thing.
He continued……’It is quite a stout volume, and considering its antiquity, is in an excellent state of preservation.’ said Principal Kiek. ‘It’s most interesting feature is its autographs. The Bible seems to have belonged originally to John Hampden, hero of the 1637 ship money controversy during the reign of King Charles I. It bears Hampden’s signature in two places, dated respectively 1635 and 1639. Hampden was a Parliamentarian captain in the civil war, and was mortally wounded in the skirmish at Chalgrove Field in 1643. We know that Bunyan served as a soldier in the parliamentary army, and my conjecture is that he may have fought under Hampden, who may have bestowed the Bible upon him. One of Bunyan’s signatures is dated 1664, so evidently Bunyan must have had the book with him in Bedford Gaol. We know he was a prisoner there at that date. This deduction is borne out by a list of purchases written in the back of the Bible and initialled ‘J.B.’ The list is written in Old English, and the purchases, which include a cap for 10d. and a pair of boots for 10/-, total. £1. 12/-.
Subsequently, the Bible came into the possession of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, and direct ancestor of Winston Churchill. Churchill’s signature ‘Marlborough’, appears on one of the pages, with the date 1704 – the year of his great victory at Blenheim.
Principal Kiek said in 1801 the Bible was apparently owned by John Adams, whose history he did not know. However, Adams may have been one of the earliest settlers in South Australia.
He added that it was interesting to note that the Bible bore the signatures of three of the most important Johns in English History – Hampden, Bunyan and Churchill. My word, what a fantastic coincidence! And with those detailed gaol purchases as well. I wonder whether it crossed Mr Kiek’s mind that it was all a bit too good to be true? It certainly doesn’t appear to have done, and who’s to say it wasn’t true?
When this article appeared in 1945, another reverend gentleman wrote to The Advertiser. He was far less convinced.
To the Editor
Sir – Noticing the interesting article in ‘The Advertiser’ of September 7, entitled ‘Bunyan Bible in Adelaide?’ I looked up my diary of January 26 1940 and noted that I was in Moonta at that date visiting my late brother, Mr George Page. He took me across the street to visit his neighbour, Mr Garnett, who possessed some wonderful antique works of art. The entry reads, ‘George took me across the road to visit a man named Garnett, who showed me some ancient works of art and a Bible supposed to have been used by John Bunyan.’
I make not the slightest claim to be expert in estimating the genuineness of such kinds of works, and the conservative manner in which I made the above entry is probably indicative of the query in my own mind whether I was was indeed looking upon the actual book which shared the prison experience of that Saint of God, John Bunyan. The article in your paper and the discussion of the experts are extremely interesting to me.
I am Sir, &c,
ALBERT E. PAGE
Presbyterian Manse, Gawler.
(The Advertiser, Saturday September 8 1945)
George Garnett died on January 29 1945 and subsequently his widow Constance sold the ‘Bunyan Bible’ to the Reverend Forsyth, who had preached from it back in 1937. The following was published in the Adelaide Mail on May 28 1949. Rev, Forsyth was a great supporter of the less fortunate. His great desire was to sell the Bible and use the funds to extend a care home he had established in Payneham.
In 1950 Rev. Forsyth did indeed go to America, although there is no mention of the famous bible in his travel plans!
NOTE – The Payneham Care Home did get two extra wings. However, they were not funded by the sale of the ‘Bunyan’ Bible. Opening in May 1951 one was named The Netter Wing, in honour of Mr J. Netter, who gifted it to the home. The second was named the 5KA Wing, for the Adelaide radio station which raised £5,000 for its construction. The Reverend Forsyth spoke on opening day and made a plea for government funding of aged care. He said the Payneham Home was barely paying its way. Hmm, so what happened with that (supposedly) rare and valuable Bible the good Reverend had pinned his hopes on?
Rev. Forysth retired in 1952 and died on August 24 1960.
George and Constance Garnett are buried in South Australia’s Moonta Cemetery.
Where is the John Bunyan Bible now? I wish I knew. Could it all have been an elaborate hoax on the part of collector George Garnett?
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