After traveling Australia for 7 years and returning home for a couple of years, Shane agreed to follow his girlfriend back to her homeland: Japan. He applied for a working holiday visa and got it granted to him. Up until present day he doesn’t understand why, but after this once-in-a-lifetime one-year visa expired, the government granted him a second one, so he could stay another year worry free.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with the girl, but seeing that he was in Japan now anyway, he decided to travel around there and work in various places as an English teacher. He stayed in Tokyo, Sapporo and other places further north. For over 5 years he remained in the country on 3-month visas, flying in and out of the country 4 times a year. He even worked for Yamaha and Sony to teach English to their employees. When he offered to organize ‘English camps’ where participants were only allowed to speak English, his employer thought it to be brilliant and paid for the accommodation, food & all other expenses.
Towards the end of his time in Japan, one of the schools he taught at offered him a paid holiday as a reward for all the hard work and new students he brought in. His response on the question where he’d like to go to was easy: England! The school paid for a return ticket, but Shane only went one way. Upon arriving in England he liked it so much he didn’t want to go back so quickly, so he purposely missed his flight and spent the next 6 months in England, wandering, camping on beaches and partying with other backpackers. One of the last evenings he met some French travelers, and after having too many beers, he found himself waking up in France.
After this European adventure, it was time to head back to New Zealand. However, the bank had taken his house as he had rented it out to other people, but they had left at some point in these 7 years and so the bills weren’t paid. Having only a few thousand dollars left, he decided to spend it wisely… partying, eating and drinking in Fiji for 6 months. Life was good, until one day he got really ill. The sick feeling he experienced wouldn’t diminish and the main hospital was far away, so his best option was to take a plane back to New Zealand for medical treatment. Upon arriving in New Zealand he collapsed and an ambulance took him to the hospital. His mind was going crazy, but he then remembered what could have caused this. While walking on the beach in Fiji a few days before, he had felt a little sting in his foot but didn’t think about it. It turned out he stepped on some poisonous coral. The Last thing he heard in the hospital before passing out again was a doctor saying ‘we think he only has about 18 more hours to live’. He then went in a coma for 4 days while red lines were getting visible all around his body.. The little piece of coral had poisoned his blood and had spread everywhere. When they discovered that, the doctors had given him penicillin in an effort to save him, but they didn’t think he would make it. The universe still had a plan for him though, as 4 days later he woke up, slowly recovered and lived.
In the 7 years that followed before finding the autograph book, Shane spent his time studying computer science. That industry was booming and there were loads of vacancies where serious money could be earned. He studied part-time and worked the other half, again for a cleaning company. Just before a Christmas, they offered him a permanent position in the company and they gave him some time to think about it. He decided to accept it after Christmas, but fate struck again. While moving a piece of heavy furniture he felt something snap in his spine. He didn’t think much about it as it disappeared in the following days. However, one day while mowing the lawn, he suddenly collapsed and fell on the ground. He couldn’t stand up anymore and there was nobody around. He had to crawl to the house, open the door and make his way to the phone for assistance. But before any surgery could be done, he had to do a month’s work of insurance paperwork, and even then it cost thousands of dollars. After the actual surgery it took him 2 years to learn to properly walk again. Sadly, just as things were starting to get better he collapsed again and had to go in for a second surgery. This time to reinforce his back with titanium plates and bolts. One big positive thing happened during this period though: he found the Autograph Book.
One day during his recovery from the first operation, Shane went for his daily walk to try and walk out the pain and stiffness. While doing so, he saw someone carrying a stack of books towards the trash bin. Shane asked if the man was throwing them out. Hating waste, he took the books home, put them on a shelve, but forgot about them as he was too busy getting ready for the second surgery. After the second surgery was successful, it took him 3 years this time to walk properly again.
Time passed by, and one day in 2006 he woke up, felt alright and asked himself: What will I do with my life? He then remembered the stack of old books he had shelved 3 years ago. He took them out, blew the dust off and discovered a tiny Shakespeare birthday book. The first page was signed: ‘Leslie Crooke, September 1882’. Every page contained 3 calendar days, where the right side was empty for names and the left side had a daily quote by Shakespeare. It was full of signatures and Shane’s first thought was that these belonged to family members and friends of Dr. Crooke. Seeing that the book was so old, he decided to take it to a historian in the central library. Reading through it, the historian recognized one of the first names and his eyes went open wide. He said ‘Shane, we have to study this name, you might be on to something’. Robert Heaton Rhodes was the name written in the book. And it turned out he was a famous man in Christchurch & one of the most loved people in the city these days. Both him and his father were members of the New Zealand Parliament in the 19th century and somehow Heaton jr. had met Dr. Crooke and signed his birthday book.
The discovery of that name is how it all started. The historian told Shane he had to start studying these names & signatures to find out more about who this Dr. Crooke was. Researching initially didn’t go so fast because he was still recovering from his surgery. He tried to get back to work, but no one would hire him because of his bad spine. In-between applying he started studying, unraveled names and went to second-hand stores to endlessly spend time scrolling through old books to find names connected to the autograph book. His garage was starting to fill up with countless bookshelves. He met up with professors and authors from Canterbury to help him with his quest, and one of them slightly jealous said: ‘you have found something I have wanted to find all my life’. Another professor said: ‘You have found a retirement fund times 2, but you will need to study all these names, write about them and get that published’.
Shane started sending emails and letters to libraries and universities all over the world. Some of them responded quickly, for others he would wait for months or even years until someone found some information of interest. Responses started to come in from countries like France, South America, Australia, the UK & Ireland. Fitting all the puzzle pieces together from emails, old newsletters, books and articles from libraries he managed to unravel the history of Doctor Leslie Crooke.
Next time: The life of the sailing ship surgeon & the stories of the signatures in the autograph book.
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