A lovely telescope, impressive size, impressive maker. But it gets even more interesting when you read the history of the possible owner, John Grant Gerrard, who rose to become a Lt Col in the 1st Bengal Fusiliers. Most notably he was at the siege of Jellallabad in 1841-2, and fought the battle with and defeated the Afghan Army of rebels under Akbar Khan, when on his way to Kabul, 60 miles to the west. He went on to serve in the Fusiliers in the Indian Mutiny, and was killed in a battle with the Jodhpur Legion near Delhi in November 1857. A detailed account of his life and a photo of his medals is given on http://www.britishmedals.us/collections/TB/heic/gerrard.html.
In this 21st Century when the British Army is once again engaged in fighting Afghan rebels, it is interesting to note that there are still these links to the same fight 150 or more years ago.
His final battle
Immediately after the fall of Delhi on the 14th of September, Gerrard was appointed to command the 1st European Bengal Fusiliers. Gerrard’s column of approximately 2,500 men marched from Delhi on the 10th of November, 1857. On the 16th, the column reached the village of Narnul which was thought to then be occupied by the enemy. However, upon arriving at Narnul, it was determined that the enemy had withdrawn to a camp some two miles away. Gerrard immediately ordered an advance towards the enemy’s position. The centre of the first line was occupied by the 1st European Bengal Fusiliers and “in front of all rode Gerrard, a handsome man, with bright dark eyes and wavy grey hair, his red coat covered with decorations, conspicuous on his white Arab, surrounded by his staff. Gerrard was the only man of the force, his Orderly Officer excepted, dressed in red, the infantry wearing the khaki uniform.”
These extracts are taken from “The History of the Indian Mutiny”, by Rice-Holmes.
“Gerrard halted for a short time to refresh his men. They were eating their food when they saw a little cloud of dust rising over some sloping ground in their front. In a few minutes they discovered masses of horsemen through the dust. Presently a shot whizzed over their heads. No time was lost in replying to the challenge. The British advanced steadily; their artillery threw a shower of grape and round shot into the rebel ranks; and now the loud ‘Shabash’ of the Guides, and the flash of sabres and tulwars amid a cloud of dust on the right showed that a cavalry combat had begun. The enemy’s horsemen met the shock of the Guides and the Carabiniers right gallantly, but were, notwithstanding, overpowered and hurled back; the victors, wheeling round after their pursuit, swooped upon the gunners and cut down all that stood their ground; the 1st Bengal Fusiliers overpowered the infantry and captured the guns, and the Multani Horse, charging the rebel right, completed the route.”
“As in the fight, so in the pursuit, Gerrard maintained his prominent position. He pushed forward, directing the men, till he reached a rivulet with partially wooded banks. On these banks he drew in his horse, whilst he directed the movements of the troops to the other side. To him, thus sitting on his white Arab and giving directions calmly, one of his staff officers, Lieutenant Hogg, suddenly pointed out a man on the opposite bank taking deliberate aim at him. Just then the man fired, but missed. Hogg entreated the Colonel to move back. Gerrard replied that he would move in a minute, but that he must see what was going on. But before he did move, the man had reloaded and fired. This time his aim was true. Gerrard fell mortally wounded, and died in two hours”
How would the telescope have come back to the UK?
J G Gerrard was born in 1808, in Calcutta in India, son of a Major John Gerrard of the 5th Bengal Native Infantry and his wife Harriet (nee Holt). (Presumably, therefore, his father was also a Captain Gerrard at some time previous to 1808). The son was educated in England – so presumably his parents were accustomed to making regular trips home – and then he became a cadet in the Bengal Light Infantry in 1826. When he died in India in 1857 he was aged 48: his wife was in India with him, I believe.
The telescope appeared on Ebay in 2011, and the seller was quoted to have bought it from a house clearance person in Jersey. So possibly Col Gerrard’s effects were returned to a family member in the UK, who maybe lived in Jersey?
This telescope is very long when extended – it has four brass draws. Closed it is compact, 2.5” OD and 11.25” long. The mahogany barrel is 10.75” long, and has the brass end fittings screwed in place with the original recessed screws. The eyepiece has a cover, and there must have been an end cap over the objective at some time, because the lens is vulnerable right at the end of the tube. This is missing. There was also no sunshade.
The edge of each draw and the eyepiece are knurled, and the eyepiece design is the pre-Victorian, ie Georgian flat design. Draws three and four have air holes (to relieve the air pressure on closing up) positioned near the knurled fitting end of the tubes. Fully extended the total length is a little over 42”. Magnification is better than average, as might be expected for this length, and the lens quality is good: the only problem is evident and visible when looking through, there is a rough edge on one side of the circle of the view: this can be attributed to damage visible on one edge of the second lens, ie the inner one of the eyepiece pair, which is broken away. There are several dents visible on the third and fourth draws, presumably from where the telescope has been balanced on something too solid, too fast! The varnish (and wood) on the wooden barrel is worn away similarly, both from hand holds and resting on support structures. The flat end of the eyepiece also has a dent.
On the first draw, the telescope is engraved “J&W WATKINS – Charing Crofs, LONDON”, and above that “Capt Gerrard” in script, with the “t” of Capt in superscript. This is written the wrong way up, ie in use the engraving would be covered over by the right hand of the user: it has the J of J&W Watkins closest to the eyepiece. That, and the “f” (indicating a double “s”) in Charing Cross, both indicate a pre-1800 date of manufacture. As does the eyepiece design: but the four brass tubes themselves could look as though they had been manufactured in the early 1900s.
The Manufacturers – J & W Watkins
This name also dates the telescope to the late 1700s. The initials stand for Jeremiah and Walter Watkins, who operated at 5 Charing Cross between 1784 and 1798. These were very accomplished instrument manufacturers, and worked by appointment to the Duke & Duchess of York, and the Duke of Clarence. Walter died in 1798. Jeremiah’s father (Francis) had run his instruments business at this address since 1747, and they took over from him in 1784: Francis had been associated with John Dollond, and took a share in his Patent for the achromatic lens doublet. So they were accomplished manufacturers. Jeremiah continued working there until he died in 1810. So a date of 1790 is fairly certain. Anyone buying the telescope new at that sort of time, for military use, would need to have been born in the 1770s at the latest – unless is was purchased (and engraved) second hand, later!
It seems that the telescope was indeed designed as a high power spotting scope, such as would be useful in the mountains of Afghanistan. It was probably an Army telescope, rather than a naval one, because of the compact size when closed up, for easy transport on a horse. Note that the Officers did not worry about having bright metal parts on show, capable of flashing in the sunlight and giving away their position, in the same way as they wore bright red uniforms! Plus the rank on the first draw is “Capt”, which to me is more indicative of an Army rank, than a Naval one. Is this valid? But an Army function is fairly certain, probably for a cavalry officer to own, in those days.
What value, what history?
The telescope is fairly valuable just because it is in excellent working condition, and dates from 1790, and is made by J&W Watkins. So that puts it above £400. There have been many officers in the Army – as well as maybe the Navy – called Capt Gerrard, and we have no initials to make a more positive identification. A Google search finds J G Gerrard, but there is also a Capt Gerrard in the First World War, and in Ireland later, giving evidence in 1950 to an enquiry, and he even mentions another officer, a General Gerrard. But this telescope would have been engraved in the early 1800s, rather than the 1900s. [Just for amusement, Google also finds a lot of references to a Captain Gerrard who is/was a football player!] There is nothing to link J G Gerrard directly to this telescope – but he would have had one, for sure. With a positive link the value would double, at least.
A future story will show how sometimes full documentary proof of such links is available – occasionally! But that proof goes back to only 1890. Already described, the Lt. Rolfe telescope engraving enabled tracing his history back to 1811, and the Peninsular Wars. At the time I valued that one at £350, maybe that was a bit mean!
Where does it fit with other telescopes
This does not “fit”, it is in fact a design leader, or one of two of them, ie alongside Jesse Ramsden (and maybe Berge). Whether they were both ahead of Dollond in the design of metal tube multi-draw Army telescopes is not known, as early Dollond telescopes of this style cannot easily be dated between the 1790 period and the 1840s, because Dollond did not change their name in that period. There could be earlier dated Dollonds, identified by having the flat eyepiece and the engraving this original way up on the first draw. But the ones I have seen have not necessarily been multi-draw types, I need to look at some samples. I maybe should read the Dollond history book again.
The forces war records website finds another Captain Gerrard, this time called Thomas Gerrard, who suffered a major wound while fighting for the 23rd Light Dragoons at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815.
There is then another Thomas Gerrard who flew Sopwith Camels in WW1, becoming a Flight Lieutenant and a Flight Commander: he was the son of Brigadier General E. L. Gerrard DSO, according to Wikipedia. Presumably the Brigadier had at some time been a Captain too!
It seems likely that the best candidate found so far for having purchased this telescope new, in the 1790s, at the time holding the rank of Captain, could have been JG Gerrard’s father…..?
Siege of Jellallabad
Wikipedia reports on the siege of Jellallabad/Jellalabad/Jalalabad as follows:
The defence of Jellalabad made heroes of the 13th Foot (later known as the Somerset Light Infantry). It is reported that as the regiment marched back through India to return to Britain every garrison fired a ten gun salute in its honour. Queen Victoria directed that the regiment be made Light Infantry, carry the additional title of “Prince Albert’s Own” and wear a badge depicting the walls of the town with the word “Jellalabad”. The army barracks in Taunton, the county town of Somerset, was named Jellalabad Barracks after the battle and that area of the town is still known as ‘Jellalabad’.