The Rossdhu Book of Hours

Auckland Libraries is much more than just a regional public library with borrowable books. Our friends will know that we are much more like a national library or even a museum in respect to the quality and quantity of the rare items we hold in our collections. We are a noted heritage and research centre.

The Sir George Grey Special Collections on Level 2 of Central Library, was founded by an initial gift to Auckland City Libraries, from George Grey himself in 1887. Grey was an enthusiastic collector of books and manuscripts, and his collection also contains correspondence and diaries from his time in New Zealand. This collection has been added to over time with many other bequests for other sources.

The Auckland Research Centre (ARC) and the Sir George Grey Special Collections (SGGSC) have a very close relationship with each other within Auckland Libraries. So close, that the collections can be described as either intertwined and/or complementary. Family historians flit across the floor on Level 2 between ARC and SGGSC on a regular basis.

An example of this, are the manuscripts and letters from the Sir George Grey collections, where a lot of information about New Zealand’s early settlers are found. Another is the Little and Sons' Funeral Directorsorder books, where the card catalogue is held in the Centre, and the original order books are held by Specials. A lot of this information has also been digitised and can be found in our eResources and can also be viewed on our virtual exhibition Shades of Grey.
Illustrated book of hours

One of the real gems of SGGSC holdings, which is currently being exhibited in their exhibition 
room, is a very precious medieval manuscript called 'The Rossdhu Book of Hours', which was commissioned between 1460 and 1470. This manuscript was the first medieval manuscript to
be digitised at Auckland City Libraries and it can be viewed online.

This manuscript is of particular interest to medieval enthusiasts of course. However, family historians would be fascinated by the accounts of the investigations into the provenance of this manuscript. The research that went into this investigation by different people resembles a 
detective story of the most intriguing and cryptic.

Although the fly leaf has long been lost, along with the name of the original owner, the Book of Hours almost certainly belonged to the Colquhoun family of Rossdhu, near Luss in Dunbartonshire. Convincing research done by Anne McKim and published in Migrations: Medieval Manuscripts in New Zealand, pinpoints the original owner to have most probably been Lady Elizabeth Dunbar who married Sir John Colquhoun in 1463.

McKim's research points to the notations made in the manuscript's calendar that had significance to the region around Luss where the Colquhoun's had lands, as well Inverurie where Elizabeth Dunbar had links.

She compares handwriting, often with the use of an ultraviolet light, and traces the pedigrees of the Colquhouns and Elizabeth Dunbar to convincingly argue her point. Signatures of Robert Keyth and William Lovertie in the Book of Hours, dated a century later, strongly indicate that this Book of Hours was passed down through the family as an heirloom.

Sir George Grey purchased the manuscript 'on approval' from W & T Boone in Bond St, London. The historian in me, shudders to think of such a precious item being sent 12,000 miles to New Zealand 'on approval' - an often treacherous journey for humans in the 1860s, never mind books.

Much more recently, the manuscript made its trip home to Luss for a visit, after an absence of at least 400 years. This time much more stringent controls over the travels of the book was made. It was accompanied by Auckland Libraries’ conservator and preservation manager David Ashman, and returned home by the Libraries' manuscripts librarian Kate de Courcy.

If the manuscript could only speak, I wonder at what tales it might tell of its much travelled life?

Those interested in hearing more about the Rossdhu Book of Hours, including its trip to Luss, should come and listen to Kate and David on Thursday, November 18 at 12 noon.

Seonaid Lewis

This entry was posted on Monday, 15 November 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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