The OOW telescope for RD Graham’s Rough Passage!

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers 

This telescope was quoted previously in the story describing the dozen or so ‘Officer of the Watch’  telescopes in the collection. The photo shows the main working parts, all mounted in the single draw tube, in two lens cartridges or carriers.

There were quite a few instrument makers based in Devonport and the Plymouth area – one for example was W.C.Cox: this single draw telescope was labelled as made by “J.Coombes, Nautical Instrument Maker, Devonport”. This company is not listed in Gloria Clifton’s Directory, but that only covers makers active before the year 1850, and the telescope is a classic ‘Officer of the Watch’ design, as made by many different people: it probably dates from the 1930s, maybe even later.

DSCN2332J.Coombes is quoted in reference material as ‘an optical and instrument supplier to the Admiralty from the mid 19th Century onwards’, so it is possible he did build the telescope, and was not just a re-seller. Coombes sextants are often quoted, and there is one in the National Maritime Museum. Nevertheless it is a good quality telescope, and even if only branded by Coombes it could have been made by one of the other OOW makers building for Naval personnel and the Navy, like Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

Cox & Coombes watch

Cox & Coombes watch

However, the link to W.C.Cox in Devonport could be closer than might have been imagined, as Cox was listed at 87 Fore Street, Devonport in 1851 (by Gloria Clifton), and other instruments made by Coombes are seen to quote his address as 87 Fore Street too (on optical instruments such as some Pince-nez, produced between 1900-1920). An advert from the Victorian era quotes Coombes as established since 1805, and then retailing from 87 Fore Street. Even better, a silver watch hallmarked for 1887 of ‘Deck Watch quality’ is recorded as having the makers name of “Cox and Coombes” (


Closed up the telescope is 44.5cms long (17.5”), and focused it is 58cms (23”). The sunshade does not pull out (as yet), because of damage on the objective end, presumably sustained falling about on a yacht. The OD is 40mm at the eyepiece ring, and maybe 38 at the objective. This oversized diameter at the eyepiece is reflected in the excessive lens mount diameter at the end of the first draw, which struggles to pass through the thread inside the barrel. Of interest here though, this lens carrier and its lens are the only parts identified by a number, 6905: this does not occur anywhere else. It gives rise to the question as to whether this could be a later replacement? The single draw and end fittings on the barrel are nicely silvered. The leather cover on the barrel is glued in place, and is a very thin skin.

DSCN2333All the lenses and carriers are in perfect condition, but there is no pin in the eyepiece metal cover to move it across the lens, and no objective cap/cover. The objective mounting ring is badly dented on one side, trapping the sunshade, so the lens will not unscrew. It could be a criticism of the design that the sunshade retracts behind the position of the objective lens ring, not protecting the latter. [But on other telescope models this sunshade edge can be very sharp, when it does stick out].

The owner: RD Graham

51XDBM9ZV5L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_The owner is identified by the engraving on the shoulder on the main barrel of the telescope, as RD Graham. In 1934, RD Graham decided to sail the Atlantic single handed, from the UK (Falmouth) to Labrador, in his 30 foot 7 ton cutter Emanuel. He made the crossing safely, despite having no self steering gear, in 24 days, between Mizzen Head and St John’s in Newfoundland. I am not sure if this was the first single handed crossing of the Atlantic by sail, but the journey was much discussed, particularly as to whether it was an irresponsible act, or showed a spirit of true adventure. So it sounds like he set the scene to encourage single handed yachtsmen everywhere, at least!

The story of his journey, and his eventual return via Bermuda and the Azores (with a colleague), after suffering from some form of blood poisoning, is recorded in his book, titled “Rough Passage”. A copy of the book, 2nd edition, came with the telescope, from someone in Warrington, Cheshire, via Ebay – it was purchased in 2004. Naturally I read through the whole account, but nowhere could I find any reference to the use of a telescope to aid this journey, so it is uncertain whether the scope pre-dates the voyage, or was acquired on his return.

Graham’s daughter Helen (Tew) also was an adventurous sailor, and made other single handed voyages, even in her 80s. Helen died in 2004.


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