This is the first of 2 short articles about Sister Jean Galbraith that were presented at a Dorcas Class at Aberfoyle Park Ecclesia some time ago by Sister Janet Cresswell.

Sister Jean Galbraith wrote our beautiful Hymn 383, “Rejoicing in hope and the joy of salvation”. The story of Jean’s life, and that of the Galbraith family, is an interesting part of Christadelphian history in Australia.

The Galbraith family originally came from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1856 and settled at Beechworth, Victoria. In 1877, the family removed to Tyers in Gippsland where they found the Truth and were baptized in 1893.

Christadelphians were no strangers to the fam­ily, for in Beechworth they had met Brother Robert Tucker, and Brother and Sister Alfred and Jane Ladson. In fact later, two of Andrew Galbraith’s sons were to marry two of the Ladson girls. So the little ecclesia at Tyers began.

Visit of Brother Roberts

In 1898 Robert Roberts visited Gippsland and stayed with the Galbraiths at their Tyers home, aptly named “Mt. Hope”. He said: “He (Andrew Galbraith, Jean’s grandfather) is blessed with the company of a large family circle, embracing the hoary grandsire, 88 years, and the fair young olive plants growing up around the family board. The grandfather, Brother Ross, who playfully says he is 16 when asked his age (twice eight) is not a whit behind Brother Tanner in the ardour of his love for the Truth and his eager and robust interest in all things bearing on it…Stalwart sons share the grand­father’s interest and the father is the centre of it all; it is a patriarchal establishment – a beautiful sight.”

Robert Roberts visited their ecclesia which now had 25 members garnered from the surrounding district. Sister Jane Roberts said, “I do remember dear Brother Matthew (Amy’s fiancée) at Tyers, having spent some little time in his family circle…I formed a high opinion of all the family”. Matthew was 35 years when he married Amy Ladson, 6 years younger. Both were Christadelphians. They lived at “Home”, next door to “Mt. Hope”, her grand­father’s house. On the 25th March, 1906, their first child, Jean, was born. Jean was to become known Australia-wide as an expert on Australian wild flow­ers, and as a writer on botanical subjects.”

‘Home’ from home

Jean was eventually to20_5 women have three brothers – Lawrence, Lance and Angus. “Our home was called “Home” because, said mother, “that’s what it is”. The front verandah was embowered in a pas­sion vine with great crimson flowers. Below was Mother’s garden, with polyanthus, double buttercups and violets, and across the path was Father’s rose garden. So often when Father came in from work he would bring Mother one beautiful rose, sharing his pleasure with her. We probably all have heard the saying ‘take time to smell the roses’, but this was more – it was enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, looking forward to the time when the desert shall blossom as the rose.”

In 1914, when Jean was eight, her parents, Matthew and Amy Galbraith, moved to a new home, “Dunedin” – named after Edinburgh but in reverse–just down the hill from “Home”. Jean lived for 79 years in this house that became the ecclesial ‘home’ until about 1965. It was here her family began to build “a Garden in a Valley”, in 1914. Her love of gardens and plants was inherited, as both her parents and grandfathers were all keen gardeners.

To a large extent, the family was self-sufficient. They had their own milk and cream, butter, ham, bacon, fruit and vegetables which Amy grew. She made bread, cakes and jam from their own produce. They only needed to buy meat, flour, sugar and salt and cooking materials. Amy was also a dressmaker and made most of her children’s clothes.

In 1921 the Galbraith’s butter factory, where Matthew and Fred Galbraith worked for 28 years, was sold. This left Matthew free to concentrate on the farm and garden. Despite his poor health, due to chronic asthma and angina, he was a good farmer.

Family life

The family had a regular and peaceful life, liv­ing close to nature, governed by the seasons, and without radio or television. It was not until 1940 they purchased a radio. Amy was a wise and loving wife and mother. Very practical with wise common sense, she raised her family well. She and Matt held deep spiritual values and beliefs, and Bible reading and prayer was an indispensable part of their daily evening routine. Their four children absorbed and adopted these beliefs and values in their own lives as they grew in adulthood. Their daughter, Jean, was baptized on the 14th July, 1920.

Tragedy struck the family when Jean’s brother, Lawrence, died suddenly on Mt. Hotham. He left behind a wife expecting the birth of their son, Peter. When he was only 11 months old, he came to live with Jean’s family for 5 years while his mother trained as a nurse.

The garden started gradually. Jean and her brothers had their own little gardens which they planted with six-penny packets of children’s garden seeds. Jean wrote, “Now I look down that long path where ploughing used to be, through arch after arch of roses. In Spring they make it a rainbow path with fallen petals, primroses and polyanthus–white and blue and crimson, purple and tawny and gold border it thickly, while above them ranunculus look up to the roses. The orchard beyond is full of fruitful trees, and the wilderness has become woodland. We have water in Summer now and flowers all year, so we can look at the beauty and say, marvelling, ‘Can it be ours?!”’ “Happy are we who, needing quietness often to rekindle the flame, have a garden where strength is renewed every morning.”

When I visited the garden some years ago I was reminded of Isaiah’s words: “Yahweh shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Yahweh; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanks-giving and the voice of melody” (Isa 51:3) .

FOOTNOTE: With grateful acknowledgement of the help given by Brother Ian Hyndman through his fascinating book, Andrew and Sarah Galbraith, and his permission to quote freely from it.