My grandmother, Mary Grace Jane ‘Doll’ COGHLAN nee LEE (1881-1958) ‘handed down’ to her son, my dad, a gold locket. On the outside of the locket are the initials ‘MJL’ and on the inside are photos of a man, a lady and a baby. There are no names or dates on the locket or photos to assist in identifying MJL or the people.
So, with the very little information I had, I endeavoured to find out the heritage of this locket and its ‘occupants’…
The exterior of the locket is heavily engraved. I could propose that the locket was engraved by my great-grandfather, Doll’s father, Edward LEE (1840-1898), a wood engraver who worked on the Australian colonial newspapers.
Inside the locket is a fixed photo of a baby.
Dating the photos:
With the help of Lenore Frost’s book, Dating Family Photos 1850-1920 (1991), published by Lenore Frost, Essendon, Victoria, I’ve been able to narrow down the time period for the photos of the lady and man to the 1870s:
In 1870 the hair was parted in the centre, as a general rule, and drawn up from the temples to be dressed in swathes, coils and ringlets on top of the head…Ears were never covered with hair, and earrings usually worn, page 61.
This decade (1870s) produced more elaborate dressmaking than any other period. Dresses became extremely complicated…Necklines were higher cut to a slight V or square, and in most cases the bodice was buttoned down the centre front to the waist, page 59.
Tortoiseshell combs for the hair large earrings and cameo brooches were worn, page 62.
In the 1870s bushy beards were the fashion, and any combination of moustache and whiskers were worn. It was unusual to be clean-shaven. Hair became shorter, page 32.
So, if this locket ‘belonged’ to Dad’s mother, Doll, and the couple are dated to the 1870s it is not too far-fetched to suggest that Doll kept the likenesses of her parents in the locket, that is, Jane Mary LEE nee CAMERON (1851/2-1934) and her husband Edward LEE (1840-1898), the engraver.
Jane Mary CAMERON, ‘Jenny’, occupation-‘lady’, married Edward LEE, ‘engraver’ on 14 May 1873 at St Francis Church, Melbourne, Australia.
She was born in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland in about 1851/2. She was the daughter of Alexander CAMERON, a compositor, and Catherine RICE. She emigrated to Australia in about 1871.
Her husband, Edward LEE, was born in St John Horsleydown, Bermondsey, London, England. He was the son of Edward LEE, a cornmeter, and Jemimah WILLIAMS. He emigrated to Australia in 1863.
It’s interesting to note that Jenny’s father was, like her husband, Edward, in the printing business. It’s unknown whether they knew each other or if Jenny’s father emigrated to Australia too.
Edward LEE trained as a wood engraver in London before emigrating to Australia.
In the last half of the nineteenth century wood blocks of engravings were the only way of incorporating pictures into the letterpress for printing, thereby, giving the general public visual representations of places/events/people in the colonies. The engravings were eventually superseded by photography.
Edward collaborated with many artists in Australia and there are examples of his work as they were published in the newspapers of the day on the State Library of Victoria website (search terms ‘E. L. engraver’, ‘E Lee’ and ‘Lee and Richardson’) and the National Library of Australia website. An example of his work is shown below. More about Edward LEE’s body of work in a later post.
As for the initials MJL on the locket…
I see two possibilities: The locket was a present from Edward to his wife, Jenny, or a present from Edward to his daughter, Mary Grace Jane ‘Doll’ LEE.
The many permutations and variations of the names for Jenny and her daughter make it difficult to work out who is MJL. On various certificates Jenny is known as Jane Mary, Jean or Jenny. My grandmother, Jenny’s daughter, is Mary Grace Jane, or just Grace or Grace Mary and informally she was known as Doll. So, I’m not sure which lady the locket was originally intended for.
The 1870s were in the middle of the Victorian era. Times were peaceful, romantic and dressing was fancy and elaborate.
I like to think Edward was a romantic. One possible indication of this is he named one of his daughters, ‘Beatrice’. It may have been a popular name of the time but I’d like to believe he named her after Beatrice, Dante’s guide and love interest in Purgatory and Paradise.
Two large books of Dante Alighieri’s verse with engravings by Gustav Doré were handed down to my dad from his mother. The books belonged to Edward LEE. No doubt he admired Doré’s engraving technique and I wonder if he named his daughter after Dante’s Beatrice?
There are no known photos of the couple, Jenny and Edward LEE.
But I do have a couple of photos of Jenny LEE (nee CAMERON) in her 80s but it’s really hard to tell what she would have looked like in her younger days.
However, there is one thing in common, she had a lot of hair!
Jenny was debilitated by severe arthritis, hence the wheelchair. Mum told me that Dad used to help transferring his grandmother in and out of bed. Her care was a family affair.
Another family photo allows me to compare the young lady in the locket with Jenny LEE nee CAMERON:
I think there is a definite likeness between the two ladies—same chin, nose and general facial arrangement—to say that the lady in the locket is my great-grandmother, Jenny LEE nee CAMERON.
And it would not be too far-fetched to say that the photo of the man in the locket is her husband Edward LEE.
The baby could be anyone but I suppose it’s likely to be my grandmother, Mary Grace Jane LEE which may explain the MJL on the front of the locket.
As a child I loved this little intricate locket. I loved the way it opened on both sides and revealed miniature people inside. I never thought to ask anyone who they were I just liked looking at them because they were small and hidden. I knew the locket was from ‘Dad’s side’ but that was all. To me the locket was as fascinating as the Japanese babushka nesting dolls, a present from family friends, that sat in our sideboard. The fact that parental supervision was required to look at the locket and the Dante books impressed on me as to how special these objects were in my parents’ eyes. Fortunately, the locket and the Dante books have survived children’s hands and house moves and now they allow the CAMERON/LEE descendants to add some flesh to the bones of our little known forebears’ lives.