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B.C. woman looks to Newfoundland and Labrador to unlock century-old mystery box


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A woman on the other side of the country is trying to unravel a 120-year-old mystery that’s linked to this province.

Four years ago, Laura Lang of Victoria, B.C., took on the difficult task of sifting through her sister’s possessions after the 65-year-old died of cancer.

“She was a very private person,” Lang said during a recent telephone interview with The Telegram. “She was a bit of a collector, so there was a lot to go through.”

During the rummage, Lang found a beautiful old wooden box, about 12” x 6” in size and nine inches deep, with the key left in the keyhole. Curious as to what it was, she opened it, and what she found inside was a piece of history.

Lined with purple velvet, it appeared to be a writing box, as there were two glass ink bottles, two glass inkwells and a blotter. There was also a pop-out compartment for storing dip pens. Taped to the back were two 5 x 7 portraits — one of a man in uniform and another of a young woman.

Laura Lang of Victoria, B.C., displays a wooden writing box that she found in her late sister’s home four years ago. Many of the items found inside have links to St. John’s, and she hopes someone will know more.
Laura Lang of Victoria, B.C., displays a wooden writing box that she found in her late sister’s home four years ago. Many of the items found inside have links to St. John’s, and she hopes someone will know more.

“It was so beautiful and in really good shape. It was quite a unique thing,” she said of the box. “(My sister) never mentioned it to me and I have no idea where she got it, so it’s a bit of a mystery.”

There was some of her sister’s jewelry inside, but it wasn’t until months later that Lang found some hidden treasures behind a few compartments.

Tucked behind were dozens of old photos, some about 6 ½” x 4 ¼” in size and several others at 4” x 2 1/2" and one postcard. Many of them were marked as having been taken in St. John’s, some by professional photographers. Several were of the same man.

Behind one of the compartments, there was also a beautifully hand-written, four-page letter, dated Oct. 14, 1898, from the Turks Islands. It is addressed to Mrs. M. McCaubry in St. John’s regarding the death of her husband, Dick McCaubry. It appears to be signed by W. Stanley Jones. The letter was folded and the thin paper is torn in a few small places, but otherwise is in good condition.

“I immediately thought, wow, I can’t believe this letter is so old and so well preserved,” Lang said. “Then I thought, did they come with the box or come from somewhere else? Did she put them in the box? I don’t know if my sister knew anything about the history. My sister wasn’t the type to do research and try to discover who these people were.”

Lang carefully put all the contents back in the box, took it to her home and placed it on a shelf in her basement, where it remained for four years.

“There was so much going on at the time, but every time I would go downstairs to watch TV, I would think to myself, I really should do something about that box,” Lang said.

A few weeks ago, she finally decided to do just that. In an attempt to try to find descendants of the people in the photos, Lang contacted The Telegram.

“I know I would be thrilled if I was to discover such a treasure that had been in our family, so I thought that someone else may want to have the photos and the box,” Lang said.

“Having said that, and knowing my sister, who’s to know whether the photos and the box even belonged to the same person? I thought it would be worth a try.”

Lang did a quick online search of the name McCaubry, and said she found one family who immigrated to St. John’s around the time the letter was dated, but she couldn’t find much more information.

She pointed out that some of the photos were marked, “S.H. Parsons Photography and Fine Art Emporium, Water Street, St. John’s, N.F.”

“I know I would be thrilled if I was to discover such a treasure that had been in our family, so I thought that someone else may want to have the photos and the box." — Laura Lang

According to online information from The Rooms on early photography, Parsons — who was from Harbour Grace and had a studio on Water Street run by his sons — was “probably the best known of Newfoundland photographers,” with an internationally renowned reputation. “His studio was a St. John's landmark until it was insensitively renovated after a fire in 1976,” The Rooms’ website indicates.

Other photos Lang found were marked, “Lyons and Vey Photos, St. John’s, N.F.” “Jas Vey Photo, 300 ½, Water Street, St. John’s, N.F.,” “Fergus Brothers, Greenock,” and “Page Wood, Photographic Artist, 178 Water Street, St. John’s, Newfoundland.”

“Miss Clara Simpson,” was marked on one of the smaller photos, taken April 3, 1873. Another one had “Lady Hill,” handwritten on the back.

Lang hopes someone will have some information to help solve the mystery.

“I think it would be kind of neat if we could find a relative or someone who knew them or where these all came from,” she said. “They could be really valuable to someone.”

Anyone with any information about the photos or the letter box can contact The Telegram.

Twitter: TelyRosie


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