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Blaxland clock

A mantelpiece clock, showing the face and one of the sides. The clock is made from dark material and has carved decorations.
The Blaxland clock. Photo: Lannon Harley.

At a glance

  • Pendulum mantel clock by London clockmaker Devereux Bowly
  • Brought to Australia by the Blaxland family in the early 1800s
  • Prominent colonial settlers John and Gregory Blaxland
  • Illustrates the type of household items brought to the colony by wealthy settlers

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A pendulum mantel clock made by London clockmaker Devereux Bowly is one of the household items a wealthy family brought with them to Australia in the early 1800s.

The imposing slate case references an ancient Greek temple. It's also very heavy, weighing 45 kilos.

There are gold floral scrolls and two decorative figures (in the form of caryatids) on either side. The base has a frieze of human figures, lions and horses, and gold floral scrolls.

A medallion on the front of the clock has the name of the maker, 'Devereux Bowly', and the date 1718.

The fusee system

The clock is powered by a fusee system which was first adapted for powering of a horological timepiece in the early 1500s by Jacob Zech, a clock maker of Prague. Earlier drawings of this system by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519) show the fusee in principle.

The fusee is a spirally grooved pulley varying in diameter designed to equalise the torque of the mainspring when it is fully wound and unwound.

A fine chain, similar to the construction of a bicycle chain, transmits the power of the mainspring from the barrel to the fusee.

About the clockmaker

Devereux Bowly worked at 54 Lombard Street in London. He was apprenticed to clockmaker William Tomlinson and was a member of the Clockmakers' Company (a guild) from 1718. He became a Master Clockmaker in 1753.

The Blaxland family

John Blaxland was a Captain in the Duke of York's Cavalry. He inherited the family estates and resigned his military commission in 1792 to manage the properties at Newington, Kent in England.

John and his brother Gregory became interested in New South Wales and decided to venture to the new colony, possibly on the recommendation of their friend Sir Joseph Banks. They were promised land and convicts to work for them by the Colonial Office.

Gregory was the first to arrive. John sold the estate in Kent and arrived in Sydney in 1807, just over a year after his brother Gregory. John was accompanied by his second wife Harriet, the daughter of Jean Louis de Marquett, a merchant in Calcutta. They had four sons and six daughters. Their son, John Marquett Blaxland (1801-1840), subsequently became an explorer like his uncle Gregory.

A close-up of part of the face of a mantelpiece clock.
A close-up of the face of the clock. Note the clockmaker's name in the circle above the face. Photo: Lannon Harley.

The government in Sydney expected John Blaxland to plant crops for the colony. Instead, in partnership with Gregory, he raised cattle: breeding, slaughtering, salting down and selling meat and dairy produce. Their dairy was on the corner of George and Market Streets in Sydney. They also established salt pans on the Parramatta River.

Both brothers were considered difficult men by successive governors; both were discontented with their treatment in Sydney and lobbied for more land and more assigned convicts. John eventually received a further 4,144 hectares of land in 1831 as reparation.

John Blaxland held a prominent place in colonial politics. He supported the introduction of trial by jury in the colony and was an ex-officio member of the Legislative Council from 1829 to 1843. He was reappointed in 1843 but resigned because of ill health in September 1844 and died at his property, 'Newington', on the Parramatta River, on 5 August 1845.

Gregory Blaxland was not a politician but was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1825 and to the Committee of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales in 1826. He lived on his estate, 'Brush Farm', where he conducted many experiments with crops and grasses. He was unsuccessful with tobacco growing but most successful with buffalo grass and viticulture. He produced some of the earliest wine in the colony (possibly the first wine). He won two medals for his New South Wales wine from the Society of Arts and Commerce in England (in 1823 and 1828). While he was there, he published A Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales (London, 1823).

Landmarks

The Blaxland clock is on show in the National Museum's Landmarks gallery.

Landmarks: People and Places across Australia

More

View the time-lapse photography of the clock being reassembled after repair:
Video icon Part one (MPEG4 2.2mb) duration 0:50
Video icon Part two (MPEG4 1.7mb) duration 0:39
Photos: George Serras.

See the reassembled clock working:
Video icon Blaxland clock in motion (MPEG4 4.2mb) duration 1:06
Video: Jeffrey Gear.

View the Blaxland clock conservation slideshow