Sick Call Box

Recently Pauline Gallagher, Fairlie, donated a complete Sick Call Box to the Archives. The box is quite special in that it has all of its component parts. It has now been accessioned to our collection—Archives Reference 2017.5.

A Sick Call Box was a common feature in houses last century so the Sacrament of the Sick could be given. Until recently most people died at home rather than in a medical facility, and Catholic families were urged to be prepared for the coming of a priest to give the “Last Rites” for a dying loved one. The easiest way to do this was to have a “sick call” set that contained objects useful in the administration of the sacrament and convenient for the priest, who would always have with him the Oleum Infirmorum (Oil of the Sick) and Communion, but not necessarily other things that were helpful and meaningful.

For a sick call set a family could simply have a box of supplies in a drawer, but businesses realized that sets could be created to serve the practical purpose of storing items, and also be devotional items used and displayed when not being used. These include the shadow and ornate boxes that go back to the 1800s as well as the hidden-compartment crucifix models that have been the most common sick call sets since probably the 1930s.

This Sick Call box is made from wood and lined with purple velvet and it contains:

·         silver candle holder with detachable crucifix;

·         2 pattens

·         2 wax candles

·         silver dipper bowl with handle and spoon

·         silver dipper (minus the horse hair)

·         cotton wool in original envelope

·         glass bottle with silver filigree (parts broken) for holy water

  This box was originally brought to New Zealand by a Scottish family around 1877. The provenance of this box is told as follows:

John MacKintosh was born in Lochabor, Invernesshire in 1846 and was the son of a sheep farmer who suffered financially from the slump caused by the Australian competition in the 1870s. John decided to emigrate to New Zealand and landed in Port Chalmers in 1877 where he worked at the head of Lake Wakatipu. He then mustered in the high country of Otago and arived in MacKenzie Country in the early 1880s. He worked in Glenmore, Godley Peaks, Lilybank and managed Ashwick until he drew Woodburn in the 1893 land ballot, where he stayed until he died. This box was brought out with him and stayed in his family until 2007 when Nina Sheeran, who was adopted by John and Bridget MacKintosh after he mother died in 1916, gave it to Pauline Gallagher.

For those interested in these beautiful pieces a Sick Call Box Museum is located at the parish of St Francis by the Sea, Laguna Beach, California.


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