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Meet conservator Peter Bucke

Conservator Peter Bucke working on the Blaxland clock.
Peter Bucke. Photo: George Serras.

Expertise in horology and beyond

Peter Bucke has worked at the National Museum for more than 20 years and came into conservation though his expertise and training in clock and watch making.

Peter's horological skills will be on show during the Museum Workshop exhibition, where he has set himself the task of servicing as many of the Museum’s chronometers as he can in the three month exhibition period.

Peter is also a musician, and has also been drawn to treating the Museum's musical instruments. His varied career and personal interests have given him a depth of knowledge about many objects in the collection.

But Peter's expertise extends well beyond clocks and musical instruments, and he has treated objects from ladies' parasols and sporting trophies to an 1821 landau coach and the paddle steamer Enterprise.

Hear Peter talk about conservation in the video below.

Video iconPeter Bucke on conservation (MP4 5.3mb) duration 3:04

Keeping them ticking over

It is clear that timepieces are an abiding interest for Peter. He has great admiration for the workmanship and  technology involved in making chronometers and clocks. He also admires them as beautiful objects. It is easy to see why.

Clocks and chronometers are complex devices made up of many small moving parts. The lubricants applied to these parts to ensure smooth operation produce acidic residues as they deteriorate. They can also cause irreparable damage to fine metal components. Specialist conservators like Peter service clocks and chronometers to prevent this damage. They dismantle the timepieces, then clean all parts and refurbish working surfaces before reassembling them.

The images below show some of the workings of a Johanssen two-day marine chronometer in the National Museum's collection.

Documenting and servicing chronometers and clocks

Documentation is vital when working with clocks and chronometers from the Museum's collection. It provides a detailed roadmap for reassembly, and a record of key features and areas of deterioration for each object. This documentation is a lasting legacy of the treatment, giving future conservators, curators and researchers more detailed information.

To service a timepiece, Peter cleans away old oils and treats any damage he finds. He then applies modern lubricants known to have a long life and no acidic by-products.

After reassembling the timepieces, Peter leaves them in a relaxed state for storage. This means the tension is released from the spring, to avoid strain on the mechanism when it is not required to function.

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.

Blaxland clock, early 1700s

The Blaxland clock was made by London clock maker, Devereux Bowly, in the early 1700s, and brought to Australia by colonial settlers, the Blaxland family. It is a striking clock that sounds a chime at the full and half hour. Peter closely examined and documented the condition of the clock mechanism and its function. To ensure preservation of original form, function and previous repair methods, the movement was completely disassembled and all parts were thoroughly cleaned and inspected for wear.

View the time-lapse photography of the clock being reassembled after repair:

Video iconPart one (MPEG4 2.2mb) duration 0:50
Video iconPart two (MPEG4 1.7mb) duration 0:39

Photos: George Serras

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

Beale player piano, 1926

As a musician, Peter has also been drawn to treating the Museum’s musical instruments. In a similar approach to the functioning vehicles in the collections, musical instruments are 'exercised' periodically. The Beale player piano, from the Museum’s Una Grace Williams collection, requires regular cleaning, inspection and exercising. And exercising means placing a pianola roll into the piano and pumping away on the pedals to keep the mechanical components working. It’s fun and it's hard work.

The Beale player piano was made by Beale and Co Ltd, established in Sydney in the late 1800s by Octavius Charles Beale. The company started out as sewing machine and piano importers. It grew to become the largest manufacturer of pianos in the British Empire, and was innovative in its creation of an iron frame.

Player pianos enjoyed enormous popularity in Australia from the late 1890s to the 1920s, but this instrument was much loved right up until the 1990s. It was an integral part of the home life of Una Williams and her family. They used it for extended family sing-a-longs and it was transported around New South Wales and to Western Australia and back again.

Peter Bucke sitting at the Beale player piano.
Conservator Peter Bucke with the Beale player piano. Photo: Jeremy Lucas.

Ranken coach, 1821

Another significant object treated by a team including Peter is the 1821 landau once owned by the Ranken family of Bathurst.

Photograph showing several sheets of A4 paper with a central black and white sketch of a coach. Coloured lines and handwritten not4s have been added to each.

These drawings are part of Peter Bucke’s documentation of the Ranken coach. Documentation provides an important record of condition before any treatment, as well as the treatments carried out and the materials used each time.  This documentation is a valuable resource for Museum conservators and curators should the coach need further work.

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