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Rare Find At BMI



Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute reveals its Historical Treasures

Breeches Bible from 1585 re-discovered making it the oldest book in the collection

A significant and very rare book has been re-discovered in the Heritage Reading Room of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute (BMI).

One of the volunteers, who gather on a regular basis to record and chart the books in the Heritage Reading Room, came across a most amazing discovery.

Volunteer Marion Blythman was studiously working away amongst the collection and came across an unusual book she had not seen before.

In her hands was a copy of a Breeches Bible printed by Christopher Barker in London in 1585. This makes it the oldest book in the BMI collection and until Marion re-finding it, its status in the collection was unknown and had not been catalogued.

Roger Burrows a volunteer specialising in research and antiquarian books said that the Breeches Bible is important, as it was the first mechanically printed and mass-produced bible in English.

“The significance of the Breeches Bible comes from the translation found in Genesis Chapter 3 verse 7. “..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 Calvin and Knox and Coverdale and accompanied the “Mayflower” to America,” Mr Burrows said.

The translation from Greek and Hebrew is well suited to the fire and brimstone fraternity in America and a slightly modernised version in modern print is used by them.

The version of the bible, rediscovered in the Heritage Reading Room in Ballarat, was rejected by the Church of England in favour of the King James Version, although it is still used by some sects in England today.

BMI Board member John Blythman said that notes on pieces of paper with dates and births and deaths had been found in the bible, indicating that it was a family bible.

“The Board is indebted to the volunteers who work so hard to catalogue precious items. This is such an important edition to our collection. With so many books within our Heritage Library this is a truly remarkable discovery,” Mr Blythman said.

“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 hand written copy of the Koran, dated about 1800,” he said.

Mr Blythman said that he thought that the BMI had struck gold again with a copy of the Great Gatsby.

“I was recently at a book fair in Melbourne and there was a first edition of the Great Gatsby valued at $500,000. I knew we had a copy and I was so confident that it was a first edition! Unfortunately a number of “first editions” were printed. The one worth ½ million had a typing error..and that made all the difference,” Mr Blythman lamented with excellent humour!

Other treasures include a first edition by William Bramwell Withers The History of Ballarat published in 1870; a first edition of The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni printed in 1855.

“There are so many wonderful historical treasures to be found in the Heritage Library. I encourage the Ballarat community to become members of the BMI to take advantage of the subscription library and the Historical Reading Room,” Mr Blythman said.


For further information contact Ann Cato, Vice President Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute

BMI: 5331 3042 or Fiona Watson 0418 127 365

Click on the links below to read what the newspapers had to say about the find:

The Ballarat Courier

The Sydney Morning Herald