Negretti & Zambra telescopes

Negretti & Zambra has always been a name to conjure with, to aspire to, for me. Maybe because of the exotic name, maybe because they also made aircraft instruments. But regrettably most of their telescope models I have managed to purchase have resulted in disappointment! The first four models have not made it into these pages, mainly because they had problems functioning, ie they did not work well. So, in one last effort, I recently acquired a further N&Z model, of relatively conventional military design: this one also had a good traceable history.


This new N&Z scope is a relatively standard design in the style of the Telescope Scout Regiment spotting scope of around WW1. It is a three draw all-metal construction, with the barrel being significantly tapered to house a large 2.25” diameter objective lens pair, covered with a sunshade. Whilst the scope is made of brass, this one, made in the 1890s, obviously needed a little bit of ostentation, or bling, so they plated the brass in silver, or a similar coloured coating. That way the scope would appeal to the landed gentry, the officers, who wanted to be seen in the field – and did not want the benefit of any camouflage!

And this telescope did appeal to one such officer and gentleman, his name is engraved on the first draw, and his initials are on the leather case. He was H B Smith-Bingham, and his chosen Regiment was that of the Wiltshire Imperial Yeomanry.


The Boer War

In one week known as ‘Black Week’ in December 1899, British armed forces suffered three defeats against the Boers in South Africa, which led to the Government calling for troop volunteers to reinforce the regular Army in the campaign. The Yeomanry were supposed to be reserve forces, stationed at home, but a Royal Warrant asked standing Yeomanry regiments to provide service companies of approximately 115 men each for the Imperial Yeomanry, which was formed in South Africa. The Wiltshire Yeomanry provided two companies, which became the First and Second Companies of the First Imperial Yeomanry Battalion: with HB Smith-Bingham they arrived in March 1900.

There were various reports of his activities in South Africa during 1900, and then he was given a passage home in July 1901 on the ship the “Templemore”: he was then quoted to be a Lieutenant, serving with the 13th Imperial Yeomanry.

So the telescope probably saw service during the Boer War in South Africa.

The Wiltshire Yeomanry were formed originally in 1794, and was the first regiment in the British Army to be awarded the title of ‘Prince of Wales’s Own’ (entitling it to wear the Prince of Wales’s feathers as a badge). In 1884, it was placed at the head of the newly formed Yeomanry Order of Precedence by Queen Victoria.

The telescope

The telescope is 81 cms long fully extended, and 26 cms when all closed up. The sliders between the draws have felt linings, to run smoothly on the silver coating. Internally the first draw has two conventional cartridges, with two lenses in each. There are interesting minimal intrusion orifices in the barrel and the first draw, with black lining inside the tubes, to reduce reflections from the walls. There is a winking slider over the eyepiece lens, and the objective lens cap is riveted into the lid of the leather case, which is an interesting approach to not dropping or losing the cap!


Above all, this one works, and works well. Quite a hefty lump to carry around on a belt, but better on a shoulder strap, or attached to the saddle of a horse. However with the limited field of view it would not be easy to use from horseback….


This scope was Accession Number 316: bought December 2017, via Ebay. It seemed the supplier had not done any searches on the engraved name history, did not know what era it was from, and listed it in the Ebay section of “Barometers”. So they did not really do the unit justice.

N+Z History

Henry Negretti started work in 1840: he was born in 1818 in Italy, attended the London Mechanics Institute 1834-35, and seems to have been a glassblower and barometer maker, in various partnerships until 1850. Then he teamed up with Joseph Warren Zambra, and was in business at many different London locations, as an optical instrument maker,  until 1879, when he died: but the company continued into the C20th. It closed maybe in 1999, according to Wikipedia. The whole Wikipedia site shows examples of N+Z telescopes, predominantly these show black Japanned draws (the tubes that pull out), as this was their main style.

Watkins & Hill “Customs” scope

This telescope has all the features that you would seek for in a vintage instrument. Apart from that it is a classic design of three draw, mahogany barrel telescope, medium sized at 23” long extended, and complete with leather case – and it works well.

The first major good feature is that the maker is engraved on the first draw as Watkins & Hill, located at 5 Charing Cross, London – with the engraving being “Crofs”, in the old style of script. This Francis Watkins was the grandson of the Francis Watkins who partnered with John Dollond in taking out the original patent on the achromatic doublet, and indeed his Grandfather had run his business from these same premises, at 5 Charing Cross. In partnership with William Hill they operated from 1822 until 1856, when the business was taken over by the Elliott Brothers.

There is another engraving on the first draw, and also on the brass sleeve at the end of the wooden barrel, which is “CUSTOMS 1827”. Not only does this tell us that the telescope was made in 1827, it does indicate that it was bought by the Customs authorities for issue to their officials, presumably for use in ports or lookout towers. So just this engraving confirms the date and the first use made of the telescope.

Smaller features

The telescope has some further interesting features, first all the screws into the wooden barrel are the original screws, very neat and flush with the brass sleeves. Second the first draw has a mark around the brass to indicate the focal point for distance viewing, to assist the different users. Finally, as an antique it is good that all the screw threads run freely, so the lenses are easy to clean. The exception to this is that one of the lenses in the second cartridge, at the end of the first draw, seems to be cross threaded, and is not going to move. A possible reason for this is that while all the draws are labelled with an assembly ID of “II”, this cartridge is labelled “VI”, so possibly this has been accidentally swapped from another telescope, during a Customs cleaning session. Nevertheless the assembly works fine.

When closed the scope is 7.5” long, and it is 1.5” OD. The slider that would close the eyepiece has been removed. The mahogany of the wooden barrel is still well polished, and has a lovely colour.

Recent history

Bought on Ebay in 2017, this scope was offered earlier on Ebay but the buyer failed to pay up. On the second round I managed to win the scope – at over 20% more than the previous winning bid! It came from the estate of an antiques dealer in Nairn, Scotland, and he had owned it for at least 30 years. So possibly the scope was used by the Customs in Scotland somewhere!

Watkins & Hill

This firm was a well established supplier of good quality telescopes, and worked “By Appointment to” the Dukes of York and Clarence in the early 1800s. They were also suppliers to the East India Company and to London University. At some time they  worked in co-operation with Negretti & Zambra, according to Gloria Clifton.


Telescope with the possibly original case

Accession number 314, bought October 2017.

Robert Maxwell’s Naval Telescope


Continuing the theme of telescopes that could have had celebrity owners, or even notorious owners, this is a whopper. It is certainly a naval telescope, bought for use on board ship. The owner’s name, engraved on the first draw, is confirmed to be Robert Maxwell. In fact the engraving says that it was “Made for Robert Maxwell”, and the maker was “W J Cannon (of) 177 Shadwell, London”.



Since Gloria Clifton’s Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers has date limits of 1550 to 1851, there is no mention of W J Cannon, he was only active after 1851. In fact, the engraving also tells us that this telescope was made in 1863. So while dated beautifully, the Robert Maxwell who used it was long before the Maxwell of Pergamon Press fame. He eventually was disgraced by mis-appropriating the funds from the Mirror Newspaper Group Pension Fund, fell off the back of his yacht apparently (maybe while using a telescope?) and was eventually found drowned, floating in the sea. That was in 1991, He wasn’t really called Robert Maxwell, he adopted that name after arriving in Britain from Czechoslovakia, fleeing from Hitler.

The Telescope itself


dscn5032It is very large: indeed it seems to be a little on the ostentatious side. The eyepiece has the Victorian bell shape, and is gilded on top of the brass, as is the sunshade and the objective lens cap, on the far end of the scope. Then surprisingly the cartridge housing, located in the central split of the single draw, is also gilded, as is the one at the eyepiece. The eyepiece has had a knock, and the slider that protected the lens is now missing.


Closed up, the telescope is 21”, and has an OD of 2.5”. When fully extended the length is 38”. The brass barrel is covered with a sheet of leather, that was once stitched along the seam, but has shrunk significantly, so the seam has split over half the body length, and has left a 0.25” gap over the length of the 15” barrel. This is a shrinkage of only 1.6%, so although it is very noticeable, the shrinkage is very small!

Bought on Ebay in September 2012, accession number 166.


Andy Macnab’s Ross telescope

I was quite surprised to find Andy Macnab’s telescope in an antiques saleroom: this was way back in 1995, in Beacon Marine Antiques, in Swanwick, near Hamble, UK. In fact the saleroom was in a barge, called the ”Bernadette de Lourdes”, moored on the Hamble River near Moody’s boatyard.


The telescope was made by Ross, and is engraved “Ross, London” and gives the serial Number 58140. I don’t know whether there is any reference book to find more data about these Ross serial numbers, maybe someone can tell me? Ross became part of Avimo in Taunton in 1975. It looks and feels like a 1930s built telescope. The feel is also just right, it’s relatively small, solid, easy to focus, light and easy to carry.




It is a two draw brass telescope, 24” long when extended, 10.5” closed, nearly 1.75” diameter. The barrel has a stitched leather covering, with a sunshade, and the objective lens cap has two holes to allow it to be retained with a leather thong or cord. The eyepiece has a sliding shutter to cover the lens. Inside, the lens cartridges are well engineered, and conventional. Bothe sliders are lined with felt, to give a very tight joint: the air inside is able to escape through an air exhaust hole under the sunshade.


The telescope came with its own leather case, which carries the initials AJM for AJ Macnab.

A J Macnab, the owner



Well, I wonder who AJ Macnab was? At least we know he was the owner, probably the first owner, as the telescope is engraved “A.J.Macnab, From A & J”. Presumably A & J were his parents, and it is reasonable to postulate that this was a gift maybe when AJM left home to join either his first ship or his first Regiment.

I have not found him as yet. It is not really likely that this was Andy McNab, the well-known author of “Bravo Two Zero”, and other stories about a Sargeant in the SAS in the Gulf War, as first this was just a pen-name, second, if he had this telescope when he joined the Army in 1930, he would have been about 80 years old in the Gulf War, and thirdly, he spelled his name in a different way! Plus if he was in the SAS, he surely would not have used a bright polished brass telescope when trying to hide in the desert sand!


Current use

This telescope has been one of the first choice units for me to take away on holiday, or on any leisure trip, for the past twenty years – usually accompanied by the Carpenter multi-draw, which fits better into an anorak pocket. It has also been to lots of air displays and events. It was acquired in 1995, and is Accession number 26.


Not a telescope I am going to part with!

N&B Petrel 1960: where it all started!


When I was 13/14, we moved home back to Leeds, and my bedroom, at 53 Cookridge Lane, overlooked Yeadon aerodrome – or at least it was on the top of the next hill. This started me off as an aeroplane spotter, particularly as the approach to the main runway at the time, runway 28, came straight past our house.

I tried using my Dad’s ex-Army binoculars, but could not get on with those, so decided I needed a telescope, to identify any interesting aeroplane (mainly light aircraft) visitors. My favourite photographic shop in Leeds was Beckett’s in “The Headrow”: I think we went there: and without much other choice I bought this N&B “Petrel”, a pancratic x25 – x40 aluminium bodied telescope. I honestly don’t know how much it cost, but when I worked full time at the airport five years later, in the holidays, I earned an enormous wage every week, of £12/10/0: to me that was a fortune, so it could have cost as ‘little’ as that!


Long range spying

Google maps are now able to tell me that it was 1.75 miles, or 9000 feet, from my bedroom window to the main apron at Yeadon: at x40 trying to use the scope hand-held was impossible, even if the aircraft was parked on this apron. But the small window with hinges at the top could wedge the scope while it was pointing in the right direction: and standing on a little chair I could get my eye up at the other end. Given reasonable climatic conditions, and no heat haze from the airport tarmac, I could just read the registrations on the airliners, like the BKS Dakotas and similar: you could certainly read the airline names. So, if when you come home from school there is something interesting sitting there, the procedure was to jump on a bike and cycle the 5 miles or so to the airport – a lot further than the crows or aeroplanes would have to fly!

Spotting light aircraft ‘on approach’!

The next problem with a narrow angle/field of view of a telescope was finding the aeroplane in the sky – something that had caused a problem with Dad’s binoculars too. But with a telescope and a Meccano set the problem was soon solved. I used my right eye to look thru the telescope, so the left eye was still available and sort of looking in the same direction. The simple instructions are:

Strap a Meccano right angle bracket to a rubber/eraser (the thing you use to remove unwanted pencil marks) using elastic bands, align the Meccano bracket in the same plane as your eyes, and use the left eye to point the telescope so that the aeroplane is in the hole at the end of the Meccano strip – ‘hey presto!’ the aeroplane appears thru the scope view in the right eye. After training your brain/eyes for a while, they work independently, and later, you can throw away the Meccano, as the left eye knows where to put the end of the scope.


dscn4906The  pictures show the nearest I can reproduce to the original location system these days: I lost the Meccano set when my parents moved house and I was at University – by the way, if you live at 53 Cookridge Lane, you’ll find it by crawling under the floor of the lounge!

The telescope

Nowadays I know that N&B Ltd stands for Newbold and Bulford. The scope is black anodised aluminium – which on occasions got very hot sitting on the bedroom windowsill, with two sections extended and focussed, ready for action. After 60 years the anodising has worn off the main draw: there are three draws in all, one for magnification and the second for the focus, with a knurled finger grip. Closed it is just over 12”, open fully it is 28”: the objective is 1.5” OD. The sliders are all felt covered, to keep them tight. While the knurled ring releases the first draw, the second and third draws have to be removed thru the objective end.


Many years ago I replaced the plastic type cover on the barrel with some green leather. It was then that I started in a quest to find a decently built brass telescope, to replace this well used unit – but mainly well used at airports and on aeroplanes! You can find all my aeroplane pictures from the 1960s era in the FlickR albums on

Accession Number had to be #0 (zero).

A 6 foot Dollond from 1820s

Note: This telescope was put up for Auction at Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in Maryland on 27th October 2017, estimated at only $500! Here is the Auctioneers description:

detail corner scope“Dollond 4-inch Brass Refracting Telescope, London, c. 1825, Bywater & Co., 58-in. main tube, ocular collar engraved “Dollond London/Sold thru Bywater & Co. Liverpool,” mounting collar, and dual tapered column mount.

Provenance: Descended in the family of Captain Theodore Corner and used at Corner’s Wharf in Baltimore by the shipping firm James Corner & Son’s in the mid 19th century. Family research accompanies the lot.
Estimate $400-500″

The condition report was not as positive, as it suggested one unspecified lens was missing. Inevitably this explained the low estimate of value, and the scope sold for around the $400 suggested.


The original text for the Telescopecollector story was as follows:

Another interesting and traceable telescope has been described by a correspondent in Maryland, USA, who has just resurrected it from her brother’s basement after 30 years in storage. It is an approx 6 foot long Dollond, which fairly unusually can be dated to the 1820s, using the minimal supplier info engraved on the flange on the eyepiece end of the main barrel.


This is a composite image, the tubes are NOT bent!

The engraving on the telescope says “DOLLOND * LONDON”, at the top, in capitals, and then underneath it adds “Sold Thru Bywater & Co, Liverpool”. Gloria Clifton’s Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers suggests John Bywater & Co was the trading name used by this firm between 1822 and 1831 only. They traded from premises at various addresses in Pool Lane, Liverpool, in this period, and also from 42 Seymour Street from 1825-27. Further, Clifton confirms that during this period he was known to have sold telescopes made by Dollond: this comment was not made in relation to previous or subsequent identities used by this firm. In 1831 the company became known as Bywater, Dawson & Co. So the telescope appears to date from the 1820s.

img_0477-small    img_0518-small

This telescope belonged to the correspondent’s great-great-grandfather, Ted (or Theodore) Corner, born 1826, and one of ten children of Sarah and James Corner: Ted became a ship’s Captain in the company James Corner & Sons, who were trading from Baltimore in the 1840s through to the 1860s.

Telescope description

The main barrel is 5 feet long: the objective lens diameter is 4” (100mm). The single draw has a total length of 26”, and is approx. 1.625” diameter. This has another engraving, stating “Sold by Bywater & Co, Liverpool”. The second lens pair in the eyepiece tube is situated about 12-14” down the tube. These lenses are in a long cartridge, which itself is a tube around 4.5” long. This screws into the split joint in the single draw. The eyepiece unscrews from the near end of this draw and contains one lens, the second lens of this pair is mounted inside this tube. The telescope has been cleaned and assembled, but because of the size and weight (and the lack of a suitable ship and/or crew), it has not been possible to prove whether the assembled telescope functions correctly.


Around the main barrel there is a clamp ring, whose position looks to be adjustable, but would appear to be associated with a similar large screw hole in the barrel. The clamp ring and the hole in the barrel look to be adaptations for mounting the telescope on-board ship. The stand, consisting of two prongs, has a top plate, which attaches to this screw hole: it is presumed that the threaded pins at the bottom of the two prongs that make up the stand would attach to a wooden or other stanchion provided as a part of the ship structure. The mounting plate allows sideways rotational movement. A separate attachment point on the barrel is provided, presumably for a handle or rod to control the elevation of the scope, rotating round the axis of the mounting screws located onto the stanchion (See the top photo, next to, and on the left of the clamp).

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It is surprising to me that such a large telescope (ie 6 feet long and deck mounted) was used on-board a Clipper like the Carrier Dove, but this certainly seems probable.

James Corner & Sons

Based in Baltimore, James Corner & Sons employed all six sons of James Corner at various times, but possibly Ted’s main role was as a captain of one or other of their ships. These included the Carrier Dove, the barque Huntington, bought by Ted Corner in 1854 and used as late as 1860, the Maria, and, all in 1859, the North Carolina, the Birchhead and the bark Seneca.

Most of their trading activity involved voyages from Baltimore to Valparaiso, near Santiago in central Chile, via Cape Horn. Normal cargoes on the way out were pig iron, or in one case at least, a locomotive steam engine was delivered to San Francisco for the young railway there. The return journeys usually involved a cargo of guano, from the droppings of seabirds, seals, or cave-dwelling bats in Chile/Peru: this was valuable as a fertiliser. (Similar freight was possibly carried by James Bichard on the East Croft in 1895, from San Salvador, see the story published on on 25 Aug 2014).

Ted Corner’s Voyages

Ted Corner started his sailing career in 1846, when the Baltimore Historical Society quote that he opened first transatlantic packet line, from Baltimore to Liverpool. Maybe he purchased the telescope (possibly second hand) on one of these voyages? Or the telescope might even have been bought by his father James, on an earlier voyage to Liverpool, to fit with the 1822-31 dating of the first sale of the telescope.

300px-carrierdoveclipperOne of Ted Corner’s later, regular ships was the Carrier Dove. It seems this was a relatively famous medium Clipper, 1694 tons, launched from Baltimore in 1855: on her maiden voyage to San Fransisco under Captain Corner, Carrier Dove was dis-masted in a hurricane just eight days out from New York. Nevertheless, she made it to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil by November 9, in 55 days, and then remained in Rio for two months for repairs. In 1856 Captain Corner was in Australia: presumably travelling from there to Peru, in 1857 he sailed the Carrier Dove from the Chincha Islands, off Peru, to Liverpool, with 1094 tons of guano: it was delivered to Anthony Gibbs & Sons.

Carrier Dove was fast, in 1858, presumably on the return journey, Captain Corner sailed from Liverpool (UK) to Melbourne Australia in 78 days, and then on to Valparaiso in Chile in a near record 30 or 32 days (Wikipedia).


The Carrier Dove, from the Noble Maritime Museum

A painting of the Carrier Dove exists in the Noble Maritime Museum, in Staten Island, New York. Later, in 1876, when no longer a part of the James Corner fleet, Carrier Dove was wrecked three miles off Tybee Island, Georgia, en route from Liverpool. See for extensive further info.

Further information

For anyone interested in further information about Ted Corner and his Baltimore Company, or in researching this telescope further, please make contact with the owner via this website.

1860 Presentation Dollond – For US Sale

A correspondent in the Milwaukee/Chicago area has an interesting Dollond telescope for sale, which dates from at least 1860. This is a classic single draw, large “Day or Night” naval unit, measuring 39” open, and 21” closed, with a sliding lens cover on the eyepiece. The sunshade is still present on the objective end.


Presentation Engraving

The draw is engraved with the normal “Dollond London” and “Day or Night”, but also has an elaborate explanation as to why it was presented to Captain G.V. Argles. This reads:



Captain G V Argles

of I G S N Co’s steamer “Agra”

for services rendered to the

Ganges Co steamer MIRZAPORE

while aground in the Chokah Channel off Kaunsul

October 1860

Singh McCardy


Ganges S N Co Ltd


This is a fairly typical reason for a presentation to a ship’s Captain, from another ship that was either foundering or in difficulties, when he offered and provided assistance. The exact place is difficult to locate now, as the area is no longer part of India, but is in Bangladesh, and many town and place names in India have been changed or the spelling adjusted.

20160925_205931It has been possible to determine that “IGSN” is the India General Steam Navigation Company (established 1844), and similarly “Ganges SN Co” is probably the Ganges Steam Navigation Company. References also show that there were many steam boats travelling up the Ganges, typically from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Benares (now known as Varanasi, 600km NW of Calcutta in Northern India): these boats would need to stop to load more coal maybe three times during this journey. In 1849 there were 15 privately owned steamers travelling this route, three of which were 1000 ton P&O liners. The Indian Government, who supplied the coal to the intermediate coaling points, itself used ten riverboats. In fact one of the coaling stops was at a location/town called ‘Mirzapur’, close to Benares.

20160925_202125The only reference found relating to ‘Chokah’, was for the town of Choka, near Patna, on this route up the Ganges (238 miles from Calcutta), where the channel was said only to be passable by steam boats from July to October. So this could have been where the Mirzapore steamer came to grief: it is significant that the date on the telescope is for October that year!

Enquiries, please, via this website.

Photos of the telescope

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John Jervis scope, in Alresford!

Whatever you collect, it is always of particular interest to find an item that has a particular relationship with the village or area where you live. For me this was slightly more difficult than usual, I thought, as I collect terrestrial telescopes, ie the sort of hand-held telescopes that were used on ships. So living inland, in Alresford, there would be quite a limited number of naval telescopes linked to here.

My one real hope was Lord Rodney, George Brydges Rodney, who was brought up by his godfather, George Brydges of Avington Park. After winning some prize money at the battle of Finisterre in 1747, when in command of the 60 gun “Eagle”, Rodney purchased land near Alresford Church, and built Alresford House. His life is described in the 1991 Alresford Displayed story by John Adams, see Lord Rodney died in 1791, at Alresford House.

Admiral Lord Rodney

1744-beare-poss-capt-g-b-rodneyRegrettably Rodney was at sea only up to the 1780s, which is right at the start of the boom in telescope production, which started following the Dollond patent of 1760, a development that made them far more efficient. So any telescope he might have used would these days be very expensive, where they have survived, and they would probably out of my price range! Incidentally, none of the later portraits of Lord Rodney show him with a telescope, which is unusual, for paintings of Admirals in those days. But surprisingly, I’ve found a portrait of him as a young man, with a telescope that looks like a 1730/40 model – very expensive now!

However, I did find a bit of Lord Rodney’s past, on a visit to see my daughter in Cornwall. If you walk down the main streets of Helston, near Porthleven (the nearest decent harbour) you will find the The Rodney Inn, with apparently a picture of Lord Rodney hanging outside! The picture does look like the many portraits of him, painted in around 1791.


The Rodney Inn sign, with a copy of a standard portrait of Lord Rodney, with seagull adornment. Below are some views of  the exterior of the pub.

DSCN3396  DSCN3397

Hinton Ampner House

Mary Ricketts

Portrait of Mary Ricketts

This week I visited the National Trust at Hinton Ampner, and read about the ghost stories that relate to the original house on that site. In 1765, Captain William Henry Ricketts and his wife Mary rented the original Tudor house on that site. Captain Ricketts had estates in Jamaica, and was presumably in the Navy: his time in the West Indies was coincident with that of Admiral Rodney, and his wife Mary was the sister of Admiral John Jervis, who was also in the Royal Navy, and active in the West Indies at that time. So presumably there were frequent visits between Hinton Ampner and Alresford House.

Indeed in 1770, John Jervis came to stay at the house in Hinton Ampner, with a friend, Captain Luttrell, when Captain Ricketts was away in Jamaica. The two of them tried to keep guard over the house one night, to find an explanation for the ghostly noises and appearances that were regularly disturbing the household. Unable to explain the happenings, and thoroughly frightened, John Jervis advised his sister to move out.

The John Jervis Tucker telescope


The link to a telescope results, although it does turn out to be tenuous: a year or so ago I acquired a telescope signed Captain J. Jervis Tucker, believing it to be linked to Admiral Jervis (later known as Earl St Vincent, and commanding officer in charge of one Commander Nelson at the battle of Cape St Vincent: Nelson was as a result of this battle appointed an Admiral). But for John Jervis to be the rank of Captain, the telescope would be dated around 1760, and this telescope was younger than that, it looked early 1800s.

Admiral Jervis had a personal secretary (or ADC, or Batman, or whatever a PA is known as) called Benjamin Tucker, who went on to be Second Secretary to the Admiralty. He christened his son, born 1802, John Jervis Tucker: JJT joined the Navy in 1815, and became Captain of HMS Royal William in 1838: and that is about the right date for this telescope, which is unique in that it is over 4 feet long!


So John Jervis Tucker probably never brought this telescope to Hinton Ampner, nor Alresford. Never mind, the search goes on!

This story is a straight copy of another story written for the website in 2016.

Other Lord Rodney pubs!

There are several!

The first one is in the middle of the British Isles, nowhere near the sea: an ‘Admiral Rodney’ is situated near Martley, Worcestershire

Then all the others:

  • The Admiral Rodney, 592 Loxley Road, Loxley, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S6 6RU; The Admiral Rodney was built during the 1950’s, next to the site of another pub called The Rodney, which was demolished at the time. The pub is named after an old local hero, George Brydges Rodney who as an admiral defeated a Spanish fleet in 1780 and a French fleet at the Battle of the Saints in 1782.
  • Admiral Rodney Hotel, Eatery & Coffee House – Horncastle, LN9 5DX 01507 523131.
  • Admiral Rodney, Wollaton Road, Wollaton, Nottingham, NG82AF: Historically, Admiral Rodney was one of Nelson’s right hand men and a good friend of the owners of Wollaton Hall which is just down the road. Hence the naval name so far from the sea! Inside is open plan with stone floors, wood panelling and a really nice fireplace which is lit during the winter. This genuine pub has avoided loud music, sports and the like, opting to encourage a relaxed, comfortable environment where visitors can enjoy a quality drink or have a tasty meal with friends. We have Cask Marque status which means this is ‘the’ place to come for that choice real ale. The clientele are a good mix of ages with students, professionals and retired people all coming here. Why not see for yourself what a great place this is.
  • The Admiral Rodney Hotel, King Street, Southwell, Nottinghamshire NG25 0EH
  • The Admiral Rodney, Main Street, Calverton, Notts NG14 6FB:  The Inn dates back to the mid 1700’s and is an unmodernised country pub. Named after Admiral Rodney who harvested local oak from this area for his ships and who was subsequently honoured by a pillar which was built on the adjacent hill. Indeed the pub is used as a base for walkers exploring this area to see the pillar and the Breidden Hills.
  • Admiral Rodney, Criggion, Shrewsbury, Wales: The Inn dates back to the mid 1700’s and is an unmodernised country pub. Named after Admiral Rodney who harvested local oak from this area for his ships and who was subsequently honoured by a pillar which was built on the adjacent hill. Indeed the pub is used as a base for walkers exploring this area to see the pillar and the breidden hills.
  • Ye Old Admiral Rodney, New Road, Prestbury, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK10 4HP.



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.