British Columbia

106-year-old copy of classic novel Kidnapped finds its way back to family in B.C.'s Cowichan Valley

A New Orleans woman who purchased a 1914 copy of Robert Lewis Stevenson's Kidnapped found an inscription for a J. Earl Ackroyd in the book and decided she would find his relatives and return the book to them.

New Orleans woman bought 1914 copy of book and sought to return it to inscriber's family

A photograph from the late 1940s of the novel's original owner Earl Ackroyd, middle, with his wife Vera Strangways, left, and their daughter Jean Tiller née Ackroyd. (Vivyan Ackroyd)

It's impossible to know what famed Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson would have thought of the derring-do in how one of his books was reunited with the family of one of its readers decades after they last touched it, but it certainly makes a good story.

It involves a dusty old book in a used bookstore in New Orleans, the woman who bought it, the handy use of social media and a woman in B.C.'s Cowichan Valley, and it goes like this:

In 2019, Mandy McQueen, who works as a nurse supervisor in Louisiana and collects antique books as a hobby, bought a 1914 copy of the Stevenson book Kidnapped at a bookstore in the French Quarter of the city for $5 US.

The book, published in 1886, chronicles the adventures of 17-year-old David Balfour who fights for the inheritance of his family's estate during the Jacobite rising of 1745.

The cover of the book Kidnapped owned by Earl Akroyd in the early 1900s. It was bought as an antique in New Orleans by Mandy McQueen. (Vivian Ackroyd)

When McQueen opened the book, she saw a man's name written inside: J. Earl Ackroyd, along with some drawings and the name of a school, Brampton High School. 

"The book caught my eye because of the drawing. It gave a a personal touch," she wrote in an email to CBC News. "Many of the books I collect have personal notes and drawings.  I do read most of them."

Details from the title page of the 1914 copy of Kidnapped owned by J. Earl Ackroyd. (Vivyan Ackroyd)
Insriptions from the inside front cover of Earl Ackroyd's copy of Kidnapped. (Vivyan Ackroyd)
Inscriptions and sketches from the inside rear cover of Earl Ackroyd's copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. (Vivyan Ackroyd)

McQueen, 39, said the book sat on her shelf for some months, but one day in November of last year she decided to search the name written inside it online.

"To my surprise, there was a lot of information about Earl," she wrote.

She was able to find an obituary for Ackroyd from 1960, and the name Vivyan Ackroyd who turned out to be his granddaughter. MacQueen then found Vivyan Ackroyd on Facebook and reached out to her.

"She just decided that she was going to find the family of the owner of this book and she found me and she sent it to me and we've been friends ever since," said Vivyan Ackroyd from her home in the Cowichan Valley.

Detail and sketches of the inside rear cover of the 1914 Kidnapped owned by J. Earl Ackroyd. (Vivyan Ackroyd)

Ackroyd, 69, says she was seven or eight when her grandfather died. He and his family mostly grew up and lived in Brampton so she knew it was his book. She said it was moving to hear from McQueen and receive the book.

"It was a really warm feeling that this was something that my grandfather had read in high school," she said

Ackroyd said she tried to pay McQueen back the $22 US she said it cost her to ship the book, but McQueen declined.

'Sweet gesture'

"I thought it would be a sweet gesture to return the book to the family," said McQueen. "I would hope someone would take the time out and do so the same."

Ackroyd has offered for McQueen to come and visit her in the Cowichan Valley once it's safe to travel again post-pandemic, which McQueen says she would like to do. She and her husband have visited Vancouver once before and say they love the West Coast.

It turns out the two women have things in common beyond the book. Earl Ackroyd, along with Vivyan's father were both police officers. McQueen's husband is a police officer.

Both have no idea how the book ended up in New Orleans, but McQueen says she's just happy it's back in the Ackroyd family.

"Hopefully, it can be passed down," she said.

With files from Deborah Goble


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