Sailing round the Horn in ‘Mizpah’

With an Ebay description like the one below, it was fairly easy to identify that there was a good story associated with this telescope:


“A mid 19th Century English single draw brass and leather telescope, that belonged to Captain B.W. Bagley of Shoreham. He was the captain of the sailing barque ‘Mizpah’. The telescope was made by Blachford & Imray of London and is in very good clean condition, with nice clear optics. It has an integral sun hood with sliding lens protectors, both front and rear. It is engraved in copperplate writing Blackford & Imray London – Day or Night.
Captain Bagley married the daughter of a local shipbuilder William May. With his daughter Jane came the newly built 540 ton sailing barque Mizpah. The 146 foot (44m) Mizpah plied its trade to South America and beyond, rounding Cape Horn several times. Their first son was actually born on board and his name and details had to be written into a Death Certificate, with the word ‘Death’ crossed out and replaced by ‘Birth’.
It is a fine quality telescope with a fascinating history. Originally purchased at auction from the descendants of the Bagleys, the lot includes a copy of Ships Monthly magazine from May 1973, detailing the history of the ship.
Size extended: 6 x 92 cms.
Size retracted: 6 x 52 cms.”

The description came from an antique dealer in Plymouth, close to the port, called Parade Antiques. I found it a little sad to see it sold off through an antique shop, with such a story behind it, but the family still retain the oil painting of the ‘Mizpah‘, as shown on the front cover of the Ships Monthly journal of May 1973 (below).


This is dated 12 February 1881, and shows the Mizpah off Heligoland under full sail. It was signed by two Hamburg artists, Peter Christian Holm and Heinrich Andreas Sophus Petersen, who were skilled in such paintings, normally done on commission by the ship’s owners or Captains.

The Mizpah

Launched in 1874, the Mizpah was the largest barque to be built at Shoreham, and the last to be built in the ‘Old Shipyard’ owned by William May. Subsequently two further barques were built, but they were the last of many that were constructed between about 1840 and 1875. Most of these barques, from 200 to 550 tons, were used for long distance trade, to the Pacific, America or the East Indies. It was estimated that around forty such Shoreham built wooden sailing ships were engaged in oceanic trade in 1874.

Mizpah was a square-rigged sailing barque, 550 tons on the Register, with a 950 ton carrying capacity. It had a length of 147 feet, breadth of 30 feet, and depth of 18 feet. The ship was owned by Mr May, the shipbuilder, with shares in the ship also owned by a Mr Wade and others: Mrs B Wade named and launched the ship on Saturday April 27th, 1874.

Captain B W Bagley had been previously based at Shoreham as his home port, when commanding the barque “Brighton“: this was built by William May, also owned by Mr Wade, and launched in 1871, for the Pacific trade. In sailing this for two years around Cape Horn and back, Capt Bagley had proved his seamanship and also presumably had developed a relationship with William and Jane May. When the Mizpah was launched and sent into this same trade route, Capt Bagley was to be the first commander, as well as the new son-in-law of the owner. He traded to South America and the Pacific for 12 years in the Mizpah, and during that time the ship was inspected by Lloyds, who classed it as in A1 condition.

Jane May, when Jane Bagley, sailed in the Mizpah with her husband: the barque had a crew of about 12. In December 1880, in the South Atlantic, Jane gave birth to their son on board the ship, at 19.33 S and 25.22 W. From 1874 the barques were overtaken as the most economic ships for this trade by iron built sailing ships, which were then superceeded in the 1880’s by larger mild steel sailing ships.

In 1886 the Mizpah  was sold to a German firm, and by 1889 it had been sold to Norwegian owners, renamed as the Norden, had a Captain and owner named as T Jensen, with a home port of Rostock.

The Telescope

DSCN2790aThe telescope is indeed in good condition, and complete with the lens slides etc. Capt Bagley did not go as far as having his name engraved on the telescope, nor the name of the Mizpah, so it just features the maker’s names, Blachford & Imray [Plus London, Day or Night].

Michael Blachford & Joseph Imray operated between 1836 and 1845, from 116 Minories, Tower Hill, London: so it was not new when Captain Bagley took over the Mizpah/married Jane May around 1874 (whichever came first on his ‘To Do’ list!).

Indeed we don’t know when Capt Bagley might have purchased the telescope. Whether he owned it for his voyages round the Horn is not known: it bears quite a few dents, but it is generally well looked after. Plus it works very well: the magnification is good, but not excessive: the field of view is also good, making the telescope easy to use. Whether this is all because it is a good example of Victorian over-engineering or not, is open for discussion.

DSCN2791aThe complete thing weighs 1.25Kg, no lightweight to hold up for a while in a rough sea. OK, so you can balance it on the rigging. The largest diameter, on the barrel and sunshade, is 62mm. Dark brown leather covers the main wooden barrel structure underneath. This is used to support the main lens, the objective, which has a visible operating diameter of 39mm. But if the telescope is used with the end slider in place, and the slide is slid away to allow a view through the lens, the aperture available to accept light in the into the telescope through the slide assembly is only 28mm. So somewhere the aperture available for the optics in a 62 diameter telescope body has been restricted, so that we actually accept the light only coming into an aperture of 28mm, 45% of the telescope OD.


The central lens cartridge

Travel down to the eyepiece and the story is much the same. The drawtube has an OD of 45mm, but the lenses held within are mounted in separate ‘cartridge’ lens asemblies, with all the space these also need to position themselves inside the main body means the largest operating diameter of these lenses is 28mm. These cartridges themselves add significantly to the total weight of the telescope, the central cartridge is 100gms, and the eyepiece barrel 160 gms. The single drawtube, in two sections, is 575gms, because it has a 1.5mm wall thickness – but this means it is strong, and there is little damage from the use on-board ship to this drawtube.

Reference list:

DSCN2794Ships Monthly journal, May 1973.

The Ships and Mariners of Shoreham‘, Henry Cheal Jnr, written 1909, published 2009: ISBN 978-1-906789-20-6.

Kapitansbilder‘, by Werner Timm, Rostock, 1971

BBC TV Flog It! Series 14 number 60.

Postscript 2016: BBC’s Flog It! programme

Admittedly I watch the BBC programmes Antiques Roadshow, Bargain Hunt and Flog It sometimes! The telescopes sold on Bargain Hunt are usually overpriced, when sold in the auction. The Roadshow has not shown any that I have seen, but they haven’t seen any decent ones, maybe.

But imagine my delight when the Flog It! programme, introduced by Paul Martin, on 2 November 2016 (recorded sometime in Summer 2015) showed this Blachford and Imray / Mizpah telescope being sold in a Plymouth auction room (Anthony Eldred’s saleroom). The programme was Series 14, Number 60, with the review of the products at Powderham Castle, in Devon.

dscn4665xThe lady with the nautical antiques was called Betty, and she brought in two sawfish (Carpenter shark) ‘rostrums’, plus the telescope, for sale. The expert, Will Axon, who apparently prefers English furniture, dismissed the telescope as a ‘working model’, and said collectors would not be interested. He obviously does not know anything about antique scientific instruments. Valuation was at first lumped together with the two rostrums (rostra?) at £150 max, but this was later split into two lots, with the scope valued £50-80.

The telescope sold for a hammer price of £85, to a representative of Parade Antiques of Plymouth. It would be good to visit that auction house, if their clients value telescopes so poorly! He also bought the two ‘rostra’ nose extensions for £130.


Betty, Capt Bagley’s Great Grand-daughter, with Paul Martin and Will Axon

The provenance of the telescope is recorded from Betty on the programme, in that it had been in a drawer for 125 years, but had belonged to her Great-Grandfather, presumably Captain Bagley, who had owned the telescope and also, she said, the ship the Mizpah. Plus he had brought back the Rostra. I hope Betty enjoys seeing the telescope shown on here, with its story, for more people to enjoy. I, as a telescope collector, snapped it up, as an excellently collectable piece, from Parade Antiques in Plymouth in September 2015: it is my accession number 246. While Betty sold the telescope for £85, which meant it cost Parade Antiques around £100 after the auction premium, they advertised it for sale at £385. I thought I bought at a fair price, at £300.

The photos below some screenshots taken from the programme, as shown by the BBC: they show the Auctioneer, Anthony Eldred; the winning bidder; the telescope (unpolished, as received after the auction); and one of the auction photos of the engraving –

Spencer Browning & Co scope from the wreck of “The Eagle” in 1859


This 30 inch two-draw telescope started life around 1850, made by Spencer Browning & Co, at either 111 Minories, or 6 Vine Street, in London. For this date, this was an advanced unit, as it was designed under their Patent for ‘Pancratic’ operation, ie providing varying degrees of magnifying power.

This feature also led to very lengthy engraving of complex operating instructions on the two brass draws: Basically relative movement of the two draws lengthens the distance between the two sets of lens cartridges at either end, and moving both draws together backwards and forwards from the objective lens at the front of the telescope, adjusts the focus. The instructions are engraved mainly in a Gothic type of script, which is difficult to reproduce on this web-page:

On the Second, inner Draw:

Spencer Browning & Co



This tube alone to be used for the

purpose of adjusting the

focus to suit the eye


On the First, outer Draw:

High Power

To be drawn out to the double

line and the focus

adjusted by sliding in

the other drawer only

to be used in the daytime

when the weather is clear

The objective itself is very thick, approximately 16mm, which might imply a triple lens combination. It has a diameter of 40mm. Overall operating max length is 77cm, and with the two draws collapsed it would go down to a length of 47cm. The tapered main barrel is brass, currently with no covering.

The owners of the Eagle, a Welsh sloop

screenshot_sloopIt is postulated that this telescope could have been bought from Spencer Browning & Co in the 1850s by a member of the Richards family, which would have been either John Richards the Elder of Borth (seven miles North of Aberystwyth) in Wales, or Evan Richards of Aberystwyth. In January 1845 John Richards the Elder had bought the locally owned ship known as the “Eagle”. This had been built 26 years before that, in 1819, at New Quay in Cardiganshire, now known as Ceredigion: it was a 31 ton sloop, fore and aft rigged with a running bowsprit, with a square stern, and carvel built, apparently with one mast, and one deck. Stem to stern was 38.4 feet, breadth 12.4ft, Depth at mid-ships in the hold 6.7ft. The history of New Quay website advises that 31 ships were built at New Quay during the period 1800-1820, most of which were Sloops- it was the standard vessel built in West Wales for the coastal trade. Similar vessel designs below 30 tons were known as ‘Smacks’.

The average economic life of a Sloop in the coastal trade was 30 years. The Eagle was owned by a consortium of shareholders when new, in 1819, and it is likely that it traded from a base at Llangrannog, 7 miles South of new Quay. They then sold the ship to David and Evan Jones, mariners of Aberystwyth, on 17 January 1838. It was therefore getting old when they sold it on to John Richards in 1845: Richards used a loan from the merchant, Thomas Jones of Aberystwyth, to complete the purchase. Thomas Jones was an importer of Canadian timber, and supplied many of the local shipbuilders with the wood to build their sloops, so was deeply involved in the shipping industry. John subsequently passed ownership of the Eagle to Evan Richards of Aberystwyth, presumably a member of his family.

cargo discharge

Sloops discharging cargo at Aberporth

Evan Richards, we believe, sailed the ship as a coaster in the Irish Sea, around the west coast from Bristol and up to Liverpool. Normal crew for such vessels would be two men and a boy: but it appears that Evan Richards sailed with his wife and child only. It was relatively normal for the Master’s wives to sail with them as crew. Cargoes varied, from general goods, crockery etc and building materials like tiles, brought into West Wales from Bristol, to lime for farmers, and anthracite dust (culm), which was mixed with clay on delivery to Wales, and used as a slow burning fuel. Exports were not high, but would include local farm produce: also manure was shipped to Ireland, and a trade developed in delivering Welsh stone and mined slate to England and Ireland. Most of the loading and unloading took place from the beaches, the sloops had relatively flat bottoms, so were able to beach themselves at high tide and then stay more-or-less upright when the tide went out.

The wreck of the Eagle

In October 1859 Evan Richards was probably sailing to Liverpool, with his wife and child on board, his wife acting as the other crew member. On the night of 25-26 October, a major storm hit the Irish Sea, later to be known as The Royal Charter storm. Around 133 ships were wrecked, and a further 90 badly damaged – around 800 people lost their lives.

One of these wrecks was the Eagle, which foundered off the coast of Abergele in North Wales, in Llandudno Bay. From a report later sent to the local papers by Mr Richards (reproduced below), his wife and child were drowned. The newspaper report thanked the people of Abergele and Rhyl for the many kindnesses Mr Richards had received that night, and in the days after the wreck. The Eagle, its contents and any cargo, was totally lost, and the ship broke up.

The telescope is found

Some 130 years later, this telescope was reported to have been found on the beach at Pensarn, about half a mile from Abergele. It was passed to an antique shop owner in Rhyl, who made the link to ‘The Eagle’, and offered it for sale in his shop in the 1990s. For over 20 years it was left ‘as found’, until a clear-out meant it went up for sale on Ebay in 2016.


Once I received it I did clean the lenses, to see what would be the result. The dirt and deposits meant that there was previously no light transmitted. The objective lens, on the outer face, has suffered a lot of chip damage to the edges, which would be consistent with a battering by small stones in the sea. All the joints were tight, so it is possible there was some air trapped between the various lenses, which might have improved its buoyancy, during maybe 130 years under water.



The brass is now dark brown to black, except where the draws were intimately covered with another brass tube or slider, where they remained bright brass, even polished! This telescope is unusual in having the two draws in intimate contact, one inside the other as a tight fit: there is nothing to stop the inner draw pulling out fully, and this is this one which remained bright and polished where it was still inserted. Note the thread on the eyepiece end of the middle draw: there is on item found to fit on this thread, it was maybe a finger-hold/pull ring to ease the relative movement of the two tubes.


The dirt collected on the internal lens of the eyepiece cartridge

OK, so the view was poor, but the telescope was still useable. It did not take long to identify the problem, one lens was missing from the second cartridge in the middle of the scope. There was no glass debris, so maybe the scope was damaged before the shipwreck? Obviously when it was found, it was in an extended state, so it would have been ready for use before it went into the sea, it was not totally discarded as un-useable.


The ‘missing’ lens from the middle cartridge

The whole cartridge has currently been replaced with a similar one from a George Stebbing (of Portsmouth) scope that pre-dates Browning Spencer & Co. Now the telescope works very well, despite the objective lens edge chips. Also the Pancratic feature works really well, making a very high magnification possible.

What’s next?

The telescope, in its current state, and this story, with Mr Richard’s letter to the local Abergele paper, the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, following the shipwreck (as reproduced below), should really be in a Museum, maybe alongside a properly polished version of a similar model – which will be quite hard to find!

But how much of the above account is wishful thinking? What do you think?

Mr Richards’ Letter

Taken from the website

It is likely that it was Mr Evan Richards who wrote the following letter to the newspaper:

‘Dear Sir, my vessel, THE EAGLE of Aberystwyth having been totally wrecked during the late gales off Llandrillo, and my poor wife and child drowned on the sad occasion, I shall feel extremely obliged if you will allow me through the medium of your paper to communicate my most sincere and heartfelt gratitude to those humane and hospitable people of Abergele and Rhyl, on whose hospitable shore I was cast, for the benevolent and hospitable conduct they manifested, and the assistance they so readily afforded to me in the mournful and distressing condition I was placed in. I was received in the middle of that stormy (and to me and thousands of others sadly memorable night), by Mr Hugh Jones, gardener of Bryndunoedd, from who I received every attention and assistance that my case required and to whom and his kind employer my gratitude is especially due. And those who took such deep interest in my behalf and enabled me to bury my wife and child, and supplied me with food, clothing and the means of returning home, I am especially grateful to Lady Hesketh, Gwrych Castle, the Rev Mr Hughes, Llandrillo, Fosketh esquire, Mr Richards, wine merchant, Abergele, Mr Owen of the Harp, Mr Hughes of the Ship, both of the same place, Captain Edward Roberts , West Parade , Rhyl, and Messers Robert and Rees Rees of the same place, jewellers. These kind and benevolent persons used their utmost influence to solicit subscriptions for me, rendered me every comfort and assistance in their power, and I may add their kind sympathy, and to each of them individually, and all others who assisted me, I return my heartfelt thanks assuring them that their timely aid, and kind sympathy will never be erased from the memory of.

Yours, very true servant Richards, late of the Eagle’.

Sources quoted by The People’s Collection Wales include:
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 19 November 1859, Pg3 Col 1
Campbell-Jones, S, 1974, Shipbuilding at New Quay 1779-1878, Journal of the Ceredigion Antiquarian Society, pg299
Port of Aberystwyth Shipping Register 1832 – 1840, Ceredigion Archive Service AT/SHIP 2, folio 140
Port of Aberystwyth Shipping Register 1840-1853, Ceredigion Archive Service AT/SHIP 3, folios 76 and 279.

Other facts about the Eagle, and the picture at Aberporth, were taken from the book “The Ships and Seamen of Southern Ceredigion” by J Geraint Jenkins, 1982.