Museum helped me find 'bit of a lad' great uncle Tom

Torbay Weekly

John Kennar, recently appointed new chair of Brixham Heritage Museum, writes:

I only returned to Brixham to live 18 months ago following my retirement in Hampshire.

I was so excited by being asked to take over as chair of this wonderful Brixham institution which I remember so well and fondly from my childhood.

I was born in Brixham and my father, Elie(zer) Kennar, was from sailing trawler stock – his father, also John Kennar, skippered and latterly owned, among others, Compeer BM21, Day Spring BM201 and Prairie Flower DH419 and my dad’s grandfather,  Eliezer Johnson (who had married Sarah Perrett), also owned trawlers.

I am rightly very proud of my Brixham heritage and, even though my parents moved our family of four to Plymouth when I was three years old, both sets of grandparents and many aunts and uncles remained here and my sister and I spent many holidays with them in Brixham.

Brixham Heritage Museum has, of course, suffered through lockdown as have all similar institutions but time is not being wasted.

Five of the seven current trustees have been appointed in recent months and Janet Pettit, who has been a trustee for some eight years, said that she could now feel the winds of change blowing through the museum corridors.

She said: “We have a very keen new curator, Jo Crook, a new administrator, Amanda Bouchier, a fine set of trustees now and we are filled with enthusiasm for what the museum will look like post lockdown – everyone is  working hard to move things forward and prepare for that wonderful day when we can reopen our doors to visitors – no charge to them, of course!”

What is the best thing about the museum? I could say that its those wonderful artefacts kept in our various collections here or our quirky old building, the old police station, or our fantastic historical sailing trawler archive and our other historic records or even our generous  stewards and other volunteers who give so much of their time but I have to say that, at the moment, what I love most is our family history research section – manned by some of our volunteers.

You ask me why that is? Well, personally because I had no idea that these volunteers could add so much to my 30 years of family research so quickly.

My dad always told me that his uncle Tom Kennar, born in 1876, was a 'bit of a lad' but, until my Aunt Doris Scoble explained a little more to me 10 years or so ago, I had no idea what he actually meant.

My aunt had told me that some years before at our last meeting that her uncle Tom’s personal effects had been sold at auctions around the country – no surprise there until she mentioned that his medal collection had been sold in 2006 for £33,000!

I was intrigued but sadly, following her death, I made no further progress in learning more about my great uncle Tom until much more recently.

Two years ago I was lucky enough, upon my retirement, to spend 10 days on a cruise in Antarctica and, while there, I mentioned to one of our lecturers – yes, lecturers on board ship  -  that Tom Kennar was my great uncle and I wondered if she knew of him.

She was seemingly delighted to meet his great nephew and knew much about his exploits with Sir Robert Scott in 1902-4.

She made me aware of the 'Kennar glacier' as it is known that still exists today and regaled me with stories of his time there on Scott’s first and successful expedition.

I returned home and life took over as it does until I was introduced to Hilary Emms, the head family historian at the museum.

She helped me track and trace him. I now have photos of him, copies of his various records and I have collected a set of medals to replicate his which one day will find their way into the collections here together with all those books and memorabilia which I have collected about him.

Good grief – this man even earned a Russian medal for courage following his involvement at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Now it is this wonderful service that I wish to draw readers attention to – when it comes to family history we really can help, a lot.

We charge a small amount for this service of course but those monies received keep us going from day to day.

Maggie Duffy, a recent volunteer recruit, said that when lockdown finishes we shall make a point of putting on local music and other events to celebrate our museum and highlight what is on offer, and who knows – she may well play a few of her award-winning songs for us all!

Brixham Museum has so much to offer its visitors and guests. Do please come and see us – not just on wet days when you need some shelter from the elements, although you are most welcome then too!