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Rebellion of 1837 Prisoner's Box

 Rebellion of 1837 Prisoner's Box


A heart-shaped, hand-carved oak box with lid. The top and bottom have small heart-shaped pine plaques with ink inscription inlayed into them, and are keyed to slide into each other from the side. All inscriptions are in black ink. The top reads 'In memory of / his sufferings / for Liberty in / Canada.' The bottom reads 'Presented to Mrs. T. Sheppard / from Daniel / Sheppard / 1838'. Made by Daniel Sheppard.

Curatorial Comment

In December 1837, an armed mob led by former mayor William Lyon Mackenzie tried to overthrow the provincial government. The group was crushed by local citizens loyal to the government and by early 1838 the latter responded by taking more than eight hundred men prisoner. (Two men, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, were hanged.) There is a long tradition of prisoners carving decorative boxes as gifts and/or to supplement their income during their time in jail. A number of these dating from 1838 are in the City of Toronto’s collection. This small, heart-shaped wooden box was carved by Daniel Sheppard, a man arrested during the Rebellion, and is inscribed with personal dedications and political sentiments.
Sitara R.

Sitara R.

Wind Me Up

The heart-shaped box reminds me of a dark wooden jewelry box I once had when I was a little girl. Instead of Barbies, I used to play with trolls and I would store their miniature clothes and hairbrushes, and the books I made for them, into one of the compartments of the box. I made the other two compartments into beds for a couple of my trolls. Every time you would open the middle compartment with the clothes, a song would play from a wind-up music box in the bottom. I treasured this box; I was in love with it and would listen to it sing on repeat, constantly winding it back up. Sometimes I wouldn’t have anything in it at all, to preserve the mirrors and blue velvet inside. There was something so special and beautiful about the box.

Years later, one of the compartments broke. I was getting older and it was time to let go of it, but it felt wrong to throw it out. So I took it apart and removed the bottom drawer with the music box inside. For the first time I saw where the music had been coming from. I remember being so fascinated watching how the teeth of a steel comb could pluck out such a lovely melody, out of a mechanism smaller than my sharpener. I remember watching the gears spin, all working in harmony to make one little masterpiece. I kept it ever since. Whenever I dig it out of my closet and wind it up, I remember the exact feeling of those days spent in my old room with my jewelry box.

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