Volunteer discovers 400-year-old bible while tidying up

Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute volunteers Marion Blythman and Roger Burrows with the rare 1585 'Breeches Bible'. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute volunteers Marion Blythman and Roger Burrows with the rare 1585 'Breeches Bible'. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

A RARE 1585 ‘Breeches Bible’ has been literally stumbled upon at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute (BMI).

The book was found by excited volunteer Marion Blythman during a tidy-up at the historic Sturt Street building a few weeks ago.

“We were unpacking some boxes with bits and pieces in it and I saw this bible from 1585,” Ms Blythman said.

BMI volunteer Roger Burrows, who has a special interest in antiquarian books, said it was the first mechanically printed and mass-produced bible written in English.

“It’s relatively rare on antiquarian book sites,” Mr Burrows said, adding it would be valued between $3000 and $8000.

“The significance of the Breeches Bible comes from the translation found in Genesis chapter three verse seven ‘and Eve seeing that they were naked sewed fig tree leaves together and made themselves breeches’.”

“Although it is Gothic English, the bible is quoted by Shakespeare. It was also used by (theologians) Calvin and Knox and Coverdale and accompanied the Mayflower to America.”

Mr Burrows said the Breeches Bible was translated from Greek and Hebrew by a couple of British exiles living in Switzerland.

“Prior to that, bibles were always in Latin. It was also the first version of the bible to feature chapters and verses.”

He said the Breeches Bible was rejected by the Church of England in favour of the King James option, although it is still used by some English sects.

“It came in three sizes; this size, a pulpit size and a bishop size, which was much bigger.”

"With so many books within our heritage library, this is a truly remarkable discovery"

BMI board member John Blythman said notes with dates, births and deaths were also found in the book, indicating it was a family bible. 

“This is such an important addition to our collection,” Mr Blythman said.

“With so many books within our heritage library, this is a truly remarkable discovery.

“While it is now the oldest book in our collection, we have other remarkable publications. Among our treasures is a copy of Britannia printed in 1586 and written in Latin. There is also a handwritten copy of the Koran, dated about 1800.”

Mr Blythman said the BMI also had a first edition of William Bramwell Withers’ The History of Ballarat, published in 1870 and a first edition of Raffaello Carboni’s The Eureka Stockade, printed in 1855.

“There are so many wonderful historical treasures to be found in the heritage library. I encourage the Ballarat community to become a member of the BMI to take advantage of the subscription library and the Historical Reading Room.”

fiona.henderson@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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