Thomas Sheppard and the sighting of Father Christmas....
Hull residents owe a debt of gratitude to Thomas Sheppard, Hull Curator extraordinaire. Under his watchful eye and professional guidance, from his initial appointment as Hull Curator in 1901 to the date of his retirement in 1941, he had been involved in the creation of nine museums in the area and has left a lasting legacy [See photo 1].
|Photo 1 - Thomas Sheppard|
He was a remarkable man who was for the most part self–taught since he was only formally educated to elementary standard. For the first eleven year of his working life, he was employed at a railway clerk and then in the Dock Offices. He spent his spare time attending courses which included the preservation of natural history specimens. Some of the courses were in London where he achieved a First Class Stage Certificate for Geology.
Sheppard was greatly influenced by two men – The first, J.R. Mortimer, the Driffield corn-merchant and archaeologist whose greatest work is regarded as “Forty Years research in British and Saxon Burial Mounds in East Yorkshire” [L.571.92(5)]. Sheppard’s passionate interest in geology was primarily due to the encouragement of Percy Fry Kendall, the first Professor of Geology at Leeds University. Sheppard’s “The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast” [L.551.36(5)] has acted as an invaluable guide to present and future geologists by recording the geological changes that have taken place in the area.
Sheppard, in his role as curator, published numerous books and papers - predominantly catalogues, histories and introductory geological works. He also was responsible for the writing and editing of innumerable Hull Museum publications. He was a prolific writer and editor.
Therefore, I was bemused to find an account in his personal journal – “Journal of a Trip on the S.S. Thurso, 1930-1931 – by the Passenger, Mr. T. Sheppard” [L.001 SHE] – of a sighting of Father Christmas! Surly this would been one of the most remarkable academic papers to grace any scientific journal of repute – Although Sheppard did not witness the event himself, he wrote down “the Witness Statement” of lucky crewman’s incredible sighting in this journal [see photo 2].
|Photo 2 - Eyewitness Statement from "Donkeyman" regarding the sighting of Father Christmas|
Christmas Day on board the ship was celebrated with gusto after the exciting events of “the night before” and Thomas Sheppard makes a note of the Christmas Day Menu [see photo 3]. It wasn’t until I saw that the Plum Pudding didn’t have plums in it, that I ever thought to question why our traditional Christmas pudding was originally called “Plum Pudding” when no plums are called for.
The reason is that it has its origins in medieval England and the use of the word “plum” in pre-Victorian times refers to dried fruit of any variety: whether dates, prunes, sultanas or currants.
|Photo 3 - Christmas Day Menu 1930 - SS Thurso|
Although you might not be as fortunate as Sheppard’s shipmate in actually seeing the “Real Father Christmas”, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas!
Caoimhe West, Reader Assistant, Unlocking the Treasures Project