Winnipeg and the King James Bible
Shelley Sweeney, Head, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

     How did the original King James Bible arrive on the Prairies? This copy of the Bible was donated by the Reverend Daniel Greatorex (1829-1901) to St. John's College. Greatorex toured Canada in 1886 and stopped in Winnipeg to visit a Professor O'Meara, a teacher at the college, and his family for a few days. At the time, St John's College was a small, Anglican college with 21 students. The tour and visit must have made a sufficient impression on Greatorex that he donated his collection of rare religious books in 1897 to the College in order to assist with their educational efforts. By that time, Greatorex was the vicar of Whitechapel in London.

     Greatorex had a long history of good works, including establishing in 1864 an infant school, poor children's dinners (the equivalent of modern day school lunch programs), and a wide scale lending library for sailors on ships; in 1866 the establishment of the clothed scholars, an educational charity for seamen's orphans; in 1867 a maternity benefit fund; and in 1880 a children's temperance fund, among others. So perhaps it is not surprising that he would choose to support the training of ministers in the raw prairie of Western Canada.

     By the time the Bible had made its way to Winnipeg, however, the city was a bustling metropolis. The routing of the CPR through the city in 1881 had caused a real estate boom as thousands of immigrants entered the city and almost overnight the tall buildings and large warehouses that make up today's so-called Exchange District sprang up. We should not forget though that as late as 1868 over 400 families in the Red River Settlement were literally starving to death, and the Winnipeg of 1897 would not have left all such hardships behind. The King James Bible, a reminder of home, culture and refinement for many British immigrants, would likely have held pride of place then, particularly for theological students. Attitudes towards books in these years however cannot be judged by today's reaction to the King James Bible, where specimens in excellent condition can fetch up to $400,000. In these early years many books outside of the Greatorex collection disappeared with the departure of various students. Even as late as the 1970s the Bible was stored on open shelves in the St. John's College library, indicating a more casual attitude towards it than today's high security vault.

St. John's College King James Bible

     An inventory of the 318 items in the Greatorex library was created in 1926 and is held with the rest of St. John’s College archival records in Archives & Special Collections. That list reads as follows:

"Holy Bible" First revised edition   I Vol.   1611

Believed to have been the property of King James I.

Oddly, although we know this version to be a first edition, first printing because of the presence of 13 errors that occur in only that edition, whoever rebound the Bible sometime before St. John's College acquired it printed "First Revised Edition" on the spine. Then, what is the origin of this mysterious note "believed to have been the property of King James I"?

     Researchers have traveled to England to the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives to examine the papers of Reverend Greatorex to find out where he himself got this copy of the King James Bible. Daily journals from his educational years and the first years of his career have not revealed the acquisition of this Bible nor the other Bibles and books in the donation. Neither do his extensive travel diaries. It may be possible in future to review inventories of possessions of King James the First to determine whether this bible was part of his possessions. If the provenance proves true, the value of this particular Bible would increase spectacularly.

     A total of 16 pages or eight leaves are missing from this copy, most notably the title page and Epistle Dedication. Further into the Bible three maps are missing and two pages from the Book of Revelations. If compared to the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s copy at the University of Pennsylvania, there are a number of differences including perhaps most significantly on page A5v the final entry of the genealogies in this version are recorded as "Sa'omon" as opposed to "Rehoboam" in the Annenberg version. A number of handwritten annotations appear in the text. For example, someone has stroked out "Ioel." on page 4G2v and replaced it with "Micah" written in ink. Such differences are intriguing and challenge us to determine when they were made during the printing process.