Royal Mail Steam Packet Company pocket telescope


Not my normal style of telescope, it’s a very small pocket scope, but there are a few redeeming features. First it has six draws, second it is bound in Baleen around the barrel, and third it has a crest on the barrel, in gold on a leather over-binding.

DSCN1649The crest here has the motto “Per Mare Ubique”, which from schoolboy Latin means “Everywhere by the Sea(s)”. This is the motto used by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which operated from 1839 to 1932. They took over the famous White Star Line in 1927, then ran into financial troubles, including some scandals apparently! So that is not a modern problem at all. In 1840 the RM Steam Packet Company undertook to run a twice monthly mail service to the West Indies, using steam powered vessels, rather than sailing ships. These ran from either Southampton or Falmouth.

baleen plate and stripsThe Baleen binding, seen on numbers of 19th Century telescopes, is the filter material from a Baleen whale’s mouth, which is like a tendon, and made of keratin rather than bone – which is fingernail material: but it resembles a strong plastic, using a modern description. The whales use it as a filter material, to pick out the plankton etc from the water they suck in and then discharge through their Baleen screens. All the Baleen bindings I have seen have been black, but when pictured in a Baleen whale’s mouth (otherwise known as the “Right” whale) they do appear to be white. Baleen seems to be the normal material commonly referred to as whalebone in ladies Victorian corsets. The best description found is on, whch is where the photo was shown.

DSCN1654The telescope is small: closed it is 3.5” long, open 14.5” long, and 1.375” in diameter at its largest. All the five standard lenses are present the first four in two separate assemblies: these and the draws are all labelled “VII”. The final picture shows it as the small telescope next to the more standard sized multi-draw telescope from Carpenter. There is no separate maker’s name on the RM Company telescope, but presumably it was used by a ship’s officer at some time before 1932. Actually a better measure of the age is the baleen covering, it was used before plastic strips were invented. So the date is maybe 1850-1900.

I found this little telescope (Item ref 237) on Ebay, and it’s the only one I have ever seen like that.


For more information on the Carpenter telescope, please see


A tale of three telescopes from around 1800


These three telescopes all date from around the turn of the C19th, in other words 1800. I don’t think they can be dated better than that, but there are discussion points that can be used to suggest they are earlier.

  1. A Dollond, from well before 1800

DSC01628aThe first, the smallest and maybe the oldest is a single draw in a French polished wooden – that could be mahogany – round barrel, about an inch and a quarter diameter. The original polishing was badly damaged, so I re-polished it, and the result was really good. Closed it is 10.25” long, the main barrel being 9.5” long. The draw tube itself, without the eyepiece end, is 9” long, so occupies the whole barrel when closed up. Approx 5.5” of this draw is extended at the focus point, and there is a line scribed on the draw to show where to pull it out and stop. Maybe this was needed, because there is no end stop, the draw pulls right out: this is a characteristic of older telescopes, ie before 1800.

Five lenses in the first draw

DSC01624aTwo further aspects of the inscribed line: the focus has a fairly wide tolerance, so it can be easily set up by eye against the marked line. Second, the draw is fairly tight in the barrel (still, after 220 years), so the lack of an end stop does not let the brass section slip out when holding the telescope. There are then four further lines obvious on the draw tube, and these are all screw threads joining short tube sections. So four such break points leads to having four lenses along the body, plus various apertures to restrict the light paths allowed through. Then, under the shaped eyepiece there is a fifth lens, so I need to find out whether this was common, and when five lenses were used – it is possible this leads to an earlier than 1800 date.

DSC01625aThe eyepiece itself has a groove across the top, which would have taken a brass cover, held in place by a small screw that located in the cut-out visible. I guess this was over-engineering, as many of the users of such a telescope would have found this piece of metal sticking out either hit them in the eye when the ship lurched to one side, or maybe was flipped out of the groove when knocked at any time. Actually I’ve never seen one of these flaps in place on any telescope!

The Objective lens assembly

At the objective end the lens cover is the more conventional slide, which is still in place, but shows signs of damage, as most of these do. Such slides are always difficult to polish – unfortunate here, because the objective cover slide, rather than the first draw, carries the maker’s name. Here it is easily read as “Dollond, London”. Seeing this enabled me to identify some “scratches” seen on a similar slide, on another telescope, as a rubbed-out Dollond signature.

DSC01629aDiffering from other telescope designs, the sliding cover does not unscrew and leave the lens in place: if you unscrew the sliding cover assembly, it brings the objective lensassembly (pair?) away with it. The diameter of the glass available to collect the light is 15mm, or around 0.625”, which is very narrow, compared to later ship’s telescopes, which might have had 2” objectives to collect as much light as possible. But to do this they relied on the Dollond patented objective lens combination of crown and flint glasses.

Then, the most frustrating thing with any telescope of this age, the screws holding the brass pieces to the wood are incredibly small, and I have not found a suitable modern source. There are three screws needed at each end of the wooden barrel, and this scope has two of them, the original ones, present at each end.

The Objective lens

This scope was bought in 1997 from the London Scientific Instrument Fair, from Swindon based Tim Collins, who had a Portobello Road stall in London as well: it is my reference 39. He suggested it dated from around 1760. The Dollond patent on the objective lens combination was dated 1758. This objective is lapped into the brass, so cannot be inspected, but is not that thick: it has a convex face facing the outside world and a flat face on the rear side. If you look in the distance there is no colour fringing evident, but looking at the sky and angling to see the edge, maybe this does look yellowed. So maybe the design is using a narrow diameter objective, and small apertures in the lens assembly, to avoid the problems of chromatic aberration at the edges of the view.

  1. Eight sided small telescope

DSC01638aIt took a long time to acquire the next telescope in this family. I just wanted another eight sided one, as typical of the scopes that were used on older sailing ships! That was my impression. Anyway this one came from Ebay as a “Buy it now” in March 2013, for £230, and is number 182. It was quoted as circa 1790. The first comment has to be that this telescope has no name, so it’s a copy of someone else’s design. So its maybe later in date than the design might indicate. Plus maybe two of the screws into the wooden main barrel are original, and there is a dent in the main draw where a new screw has been inserted that was too long – it’s a problem I have met too!

DSC01643aThe barrel appears to be made of oak, shaped from a single piece and then polished. Closed the telescope is 13.5” long, fully open its 22.75”. Again there is a mark on the first draw to show where the main focal point is located: but the brass draw does not pull out of the body, there is a stop provided. The first draw has two splits along its length to insert lenses, plus a third close to the eyepiece.

DSC01633aThere is then an eyepiece lens almost proud of the rear end of the telescope, totally unprotected, and there is no evidence of an earlier cover being attached here to protect it. So it is a more conventional 4 lens system in the first draw.

DSC01640aThe objective lens, however, does have a standard slide for protection. Unscrewing the slide removes the whole lens assembly, which is of two lenses, both very thick: in contrast to other later standard models where the outward facing convex (crown glass) lens is very thin.

This telescope has double the magnification of the Dollond quoted above. It works well, although the draw tube is stiff.

  1. A larger, 10-sided rebuild project

DSC01644aAdded here as a work-in-progress item is another larger scope that is ten sided. I bought it as a wreck on Ebay in September 2012, for around £100: it is number 165. It was bought as a renovation project, as there was no objective lens, and no name. Within a month, never seen before on Ebay, there was a brass objective lens carrier advertised, Dollond named, no lens, in a size that would have fitted fine. Regrettably the winning bid was over £100, just for the brass assembly! I failed to go that high.

DSC01655aSo the pictures here are for record to see where it gets to when treated with TLC. It looks like it was originally French polished and is oak. The main barrel has split, so there is a brass strap to hold it together. It is 18.25” long, and the screws in the one end fitted are not original. The brass draw pulls straight out, and has splits to create a 5 lens construction.

DSC01653aBut there are only three splits in the tube, plus one eyepiece lens: the second tube split has a lens carrier with two lenses, one at each end. When focussed to the mark, the total length of the telescope is approx 29”.

DSC01649aLacking a proper objective carrier, the interim plan is to use an objective doublet from a (trashed/squashed) Dollond WW1 Scout Regiment scope as the objective, right size/focal length, to show the old girl working (See top picture).  Believe me it works, but the focus point has changed a lot, it is much shorter. The magnification is around that of the 1760 scope quoted above, ie not very much, and there is currently some barrel distortion. Possibly the five lenses are in the wrong order, or the wrong way round! There’s a few combinations to try there, as the Dollond lens worked fine in its original, bashed structure.

These Telescopes are For Sale

All of these are for sale, to someone who wants to take them further. Possibly the lenses from the wreck, number 3, might help with a current re-build project on a Ramsden scope! Then it can be polished and cleaned, to make it interesting. So without a working solution it is only worth around £600: a new objective lens carrier without the lens would be around £200 – I’ve only ever seen one sold as a spare..  The other two telescopes, complete, are valued at £1200 each.

A Dollond, with a real Pedigree

DSC01608DSC01610aThis is a large, single draw Dollond telescope. Overall length with sunshade extended is 39.75”. It looks perfect, but the eyepiece sliding lens protector is missing. The eyepiece itself is painted black on the end. The eyepiece brass shape is tapered, perhaps more like a church-bell shape than what I know as the Victorian “bell-end” eyepiece, which tends to be more of a bulbous shape.  The first and only draw has a screwed joint half way along, which is where the second eyepiece lens pair is located.

The engraving on the left of the first draw is shallow, but it is “Dollond London”; “Day or Night”; “5009”. This is all in a Gothic like script. Possibly the 5009 (construction number?) might give a date, but I have no information on that.

There is evidence of soldering to the draw around where the mid-joint is located. The main barrel is covered in good quality soft leather, or maybe some other animal skin, light brown and dappled: this will later be shown to be a replacement in around 1930.

The sunshade is again brass, and this has a push on brass end cover/end-cap. The lenses are all in excellent condition, but the objective lens pair was retained in place with a sort of brass peened rim, which during its 1930s cleaning was pulled back to allow the lenses to be released.

Perhaps needless to say the telescope works really well.

The accessories

DSC01605aThe bits that came with this telescope accelerate it into being one of the most interesting items I have ever seen. I bought it on Ebay in 2011, and decided to collect it in person because of all the extras: luckily it was in Bournemouth relatively close to home. The seller said it had been found in a house clearance in Swansea. He also said he had never had anyone pay him more than the winning bid price on Ebay before – needed because I felt it was worth more.

First it came in a fitted wooden box, which possibly was how the rest of the items had stayed with the telescope for so long.  The box was named on the outside, all in capitals as:

Captain James Bichard


Irrawaddy Flotilla Coy

July 9th 1932

Inside there are several pictures (modern, colour pictures) of sailing ships taken from, for example, the paintings by J.Spurling of the 1866 tea clipper races, specifically of the ships Ariel, and Taeping.

DSC01616aThe box itself is fitted with cut-outs to hold the telescope, and also contained a mounting bracket, which could possibly be fixed to a hand-rail or ship’s structure, which then had a pair of leather straps to hold the telescope in place in a cradle, at its balance point. Whether I would trust that on a ship at sea I doubt, but it might work on an Irrawaddy paddle steamer. It is now in use on our decking in the back garden.

The documentation

First page of the letter from Frank Musgrave

First page of the letter from Frank Musgrave

The documentation that came with the telescope is fantastic. For this we owe a debt of gratitude to the guy who recorded and recounted his relationship with this instrument, over 40 years. He was Frank Musgrave, the retiring Commodore of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC) in around 1932. He had owned and used the telescope since 1891, and he had it cleaned and re-covered (in Burma) to present it to his successor in Rangoon in 1932.

His letter to James Bichard, enclosing the telescope pedigree, is a beautiful document, in black ink on IFC official paper: but, for Google, I will type it here, as a chronology, and show just a little in a scan. He gave the telescope with its pedigree to James Bichard, when he took over the role of Commodore of the IFC in the Summer of 1932.


1880-1889: The telescope was in the Royal Cowes Yacht Club.

1889-1891: In the Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Ryde (which was established as different to the above in that it allowed ladies to enter the premises). Obviously Queen Victoria would not have been amused at the restrictions imposed by the Cowes Yacht Club.

May 1891: Presented to James Bichard by a descendant of Samuel Pepys, John Alfred Pepys. (JA Pepys was born 1838, played cricket for Kent, MCC and Oxford University)

1891: Sailed with Bichard, who was quoted as a “Mate” on the Barque “Helena Mena” of the Elder Line from London to Freemantle, carrying emigrants out, and coming home – with wool fleeces – via the Cape of Good Hope.

1892: London to Freemantle and back, as above.

1893: On the “Oriana”, described as an F.R. ship, from London to South Shields, presumably to pick up a cargo of steel, or machinery, or similar: then to Port Pirie, Adelaide, and Port Augusta, South Australia, and home via Cape Horn.

1894: A repeat, London to South Shields to Port Pirie, and Port Germain this time, then Port Augusta and home via Cape Horn.

1895-96: On the F.R. ship “East Croft” from London to Newport, Monmouthshire, thence to Maryport in Cumbria. Presumably the cargo was picked up at these two places: maybe coal in Newport(?) and chemicals in Maryport(?). Thence to Acajulta in San Salvador (on the Pacific Coast). East Croft spent 6 months transporting cargo, maybe coffee or minerals, between Acajulta and San Fransisco. Then returned from San Fransisco to London, a journey that took them 186 days (round the Horn), of which the last 42 days were spent with limited food-stock, so they were eating only dry biscuit and tea “sans sugar, sans milk”.

1897-1932: After this obviously Bichard had a career rethink, and moved in June 1897 to work for the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar).

Starting as a 2nd Officer he progressed up the ranks to become Commodore.  Bichard was a colleague of Musgrave’s in the IFC, and the letter was addressed to him on board the SS “Ceylon” in Rangoon.



Royal Victoria Yacht Club

The Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Fishbourne, Ryde (R.V.Y.C.) was founded on 24 May 1845 by Prince Albert to give Queen Victoria a Yacht Club which she was entitled to enter as a mere female. The original club location was at Ryde and was one of premier racing clubs in the land, and indeed the world. Members owned some of the finest and most competitive vessels of the time.

Composite construction sailing ships

The Helena Mena, Oriana and East Croft appear similar. They are sailing ships built with a ‘composite’ construction, ie with a wrought iron framework and hardwood planks bolted on as cladding on the ship sides, as was the fashion with tea clippers in the late 1800s. This gave a much larger cargo hold capacity, without any large wooden cross beams. Many of these were then clad with thin sheets of copper, to stop marine growth on the outside of the hull. One of the few ships of this style that still exists is the tea clipper the Cutty Sark, now moored in Greenwich, which was built in 1869. Visitors to the Cutty Sark can see some of the telescopes suggested as used on board that ship. In 2012 there were two other similar composite ships known, the passenger clipper City of Adelaide, and the sloop HMS Gannet.

The Helena Mena

The Helena Mena in London docks

The Helena Mena in London docks

The Helena Mena was a bark of 673 tons, 165 feet long, built in Sunderland for J.Wilson in 1876, with the Captain quoted as O.Wadstrom. The picture found shows it with three masts, metal (copper?) clad, no deck structures. The Maritime Heritage Association of Australia in 1991 advised that Helena Mena’s hull was painted black with a yellow-gold sheer line. The raised poop was white, the deck house white and wood and the mouldings gilded. Her buxom figurehead was referred to as “the blue lady”, and the crew sang a sea shanty about her. She wore a white, high neck blouse with long puffed sleeves beneath a blue, apron style dress, and black shoes.

The Oriana

oriana-03 figurehead dollloond

A picture of the figurehead from a similar freight ship of the late 1800s, also called the Oriana, can be found on the website of the Oriana Kro inn in Northern Norway, at Nusfjord, on the Lofloten Islands, The owner at that time acquired the Oriana as a cargo vessel.

The story from the Oriana Kro Inn at Nusfjord is from the same era, the Oriana was quoted as a three masted sailing ship from England. The vessel was named after the owner’s daughter, and on board as one of the crew there was a young lad from Bodø in Norway. The two of them fell in love, but the ship owner did not like this, so offered to give the boy the ship, if he would sail away and never see his daughter again. This was no movie, so the boy took the ship option, sailed it to Norway, and sold it to the land owner at Nusfjord! Later, the ship was wrecked in a storm near Brønnøysund: sport divers recovered the figurehead and the ship’s bell much later, and both are now on display in the Oriana Kro tavern.

PRG1373_7_19 oriana at port adelaide horizThe Oriana that went to Australia with emigrants in around 1894/5 with Frank Musgrave was built in Greenock by Scott & Co in 1864, was an iron barque with two decks, 1050 tons, 202 feet long and 33 foot beam. Her Captain was R.Mosey from 1887, and D.Davies from 1896. Trinder, Anderson & Co sold her in 1897 to S.Razeto in Italy, and she was re-registered in Genoa under the same name. The ship was then sold to Argentinian owners, and later was dismasted at Corrientes, Argentina. Pablo P. Pesce, an Argentinian shipowner bought the hulk and had her re-rigged again at Astilleros de Badaracco en la Boca. On June 6th, 1917, Oriana was on a voyage from Santa Fé to Genoa with 801 tons of iron, when she was captured and scuttled by the German submarine U-64 (Robert Moraht), 2 miles southeast of Cap Camarat, near Toulon, France, in the Mediterranean.

The pictures of Oriana found show her in dock at Port Adelaide, about to load sheep fleeces for the 6 month voyage back to the UK.

The East Croft

PRG1373_16_43 FR East CroftThe East Croft was also an iron framed, wooden clad ship, around 1367grt, built in 1875 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast, for John Gambles, of Workington. She was commanded first by Capt John Tayler Rimmer, until his retirement in 1895. It was then believed to have sailed under the British flag until 1897, with D. Connack as Master and Trinder, Anderson & Co as the owners: these must have been Musgrave’s bosses. Lloyd’s suggests the owners from 1899-1900 were Trinder, Anderson & Co, with a Capt W Hamond. She was then reported as bought by Norwegian owners at some time later, retained her name, but was quoted as being “reduced from ship to barque rig”.

Irrawaddy Flotilla Company

The IFC was Scottish owned, by P Henderson + Co of Glasgow, and was established in 1865: paddle steamers built in Scotland and shipped out to Burma were re-assembled out there, and provided the only freight and communications channel along the North-South route through Burma. At its peak in the late 1920s, the IFC fleet was the largest fleet of river boats in the world, consisting of over 600 vessels carrying some 9 million passengers a year. Rudyard Kipling writes about the IFC “Flotilla” in his poem “Mandalay”, which was first published in 1892:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,

There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;

For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:

“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,

Where the old Flotilla lay:

Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?

On the road to Mandalay,

Where the flyin’-fishes play,

An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

Later, in WW2 (1939-45), the IFC manager in Rangoon was called John Morton: it is not known whether James Bichard was still there. When it became obvious that the Japanese were going to overwhelm their defences and occupy the whole country, in 1942, it is said that James Morton took the independent (of his bosses in Scotland) decision to scuttle all 600 of the IFC paddle steamers and ships on the Irrawaddy, in the rivers, preventing them being used by the Japanese and blocking the landing stages. This effectively set back the Japanese advance through Burma, as other road transport communications were very limited,and the alternative was to treck through the jungle.

Rangoon Harbour, showing several paddle steamers

Rangoon Harbour, showing several paddle steamers

Up at the top of the river, across from Mandalay towards Imphal, became the main battle zone between the British and Indian armies and the Japanese troops: where both sides were hampered by extended jungle supply routes which used horse and mule trains. This was where my Dad was fighting.

What happened after 1932?

I would guess that James Bichard was not in Rangoon in 1939: if he had been there, the telescope would not have eventually returned to the UK, and would have lost its associated documentation. So Bichard himself must have retired – maybe to somewhere near Swansea – and brought the telescope back with him.

What was the telescope doing before 1880?

Obviously someone presented the telescope to the Cowes Yacht Club, but it was not engraved for them, so it was obviously a used telescope at that time. Presumably they set no great store by it, so it was left in its box, unused maybe: and it was therefore deemed suitable as an item to be presented to the break-away Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Ryde.

It does appear that the telescope was probably manufactured between 1830 and say 1860, to take account of the old scrolling Gothic script in the engraving, but not earlier than that because of the large bore brass tubes used.


Lovely telescope, but very heavy! Not easy to use to lift up and follow aeroplanes. It would find best use overlooking a shipping channel, screwed to a balcony rail.

What is fantastic is the documentation, and the associated history, linking the emigrants to Australia in the late 1800s to the trade in fleeces, providing a link to the Irrawaddy paddle steamers in Burma up to WW2.

It would be even better to link the telescope to the Pepys family: Samuel was Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II, and so effectively in charge of the Navy. He died in 1703, maybe only 40 years after Newton discovered how to make a telescope. Maybe the first naval telescopes dated from 1760.  The John Alfred Pepys that probably presented Musgrave with the telescope, born 1832, is recorded as living on the Isle of Wight at around the 1890s, and no naval links have been found.

Acquisition 155.

This telescope is for sale:

The problem is that there is no other telescope with such a well documented history to compare it with, plus it is in excellent undamaged condition. I have enjoyed researching and using it. Maybe there is another place it would be more appreciated. Offers over GBP £7000 will be considered!



Thos Rubergall, for “Duke of Clarence”


Unfortunately, the engraving on this telescope does not mean that it was owned by the Duke of Clarence (later to become William IV), it just says that Thomas Rubergall in his professional business had been an appointed “Optician to H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence”. Actually, the address then quoted underneath is 24 Coventry Street, London, a location that Gloria Clifton’s book suggests he moved into in 1840, through to 1851.

DSC00189aRubergall had in fact been making optical instruments etc since 1800, but by 1805 he had moved to prestigious premises, in different premises in Coventry Street. William, the youngest son of George III, was appointed Duke of Clarence in 1789, when he was aged 24 and became active in the Royal Navy, mainly in the Caribbean. Effectively the Dukedom ceased when William was crowned William IV in 1830: he then died in 1837, aged 72. But Rubergall had kept his patronage after the Coronation, as he was listed as an appointed supplier to William IV. So the words on the telescope introduce some confusion as to when it was created – the answer must be “around 1830”.

Duke of Clarence

220px-WilliamIVWhileLordHighAdmiralThe Duke was an enthusiastic sailor, and was commanding Royal Naval ships from 1786, under Lord Nelson. He left the Royal Navy in 1790, and was annoyed that he was never asked to take command again in the naval battles of around 1800. Eventually, he was made Lord High Admiral of the fleet from 1827-28, when he was asked to step down after taking a squadron out to sea for 10 days without having notified anyone as to what he was doing or where he was going.  His nickname as William IV was “The Sailor King”. The copy of the print by William James Ward here shows him as Lord High Admiral, with a telescope, but not this style!

His personal life was a little complicated, having fathered ten illegitimate children with an Irish actress called Dorothea Jordan, with whom he cohabited from 1791 to 1811.

The telescope

DSC00195aThe telescope itself is a single (short) draw style, with a leather clad brass body. The external metal fittings at each end are copper or bronze, with the actual threaded parts mainly in brass – most of these threads still work perfectly. All the copper/bronze parts were at one time silver plated: maybe with enthusiastic cleaning over 200 years by servants in a prestigious house, all the plating has worn away on normally exposed surfaces. Notably the screws holding the bezels at each end of the main barrel are original and tiny.

The construction inside is a standard approach of five lenses, one objective which is a two element lens, and two cartridges at either end of the single draw, each containing two lenses. Diameter max is 1.875”, the length is 25” open, 19.5” closed.

What’s it for?

Magnification is not that great, maybe 10x or 12x. Possibly the telescope was as much to assist poor eyesight as to supply a magnified detailed image.

It is certainly intended for naval use, in my view, just from the design and size.

DSC00200aThe main use is to show itself off as a high quality expensive instrument, hence the size, both length and diameter, good leather, and silver plated metal fittings, with the royal appointment quotation in ‘copper plate’ writing near the eyepiece. Given that, it was surprising there was no owner’s name or mark evident: it was at this point that I found a crest and name embossed onto the leather of the barrel, half way down, on the opposite side to the stitching. It can just be read as “Louisa”, with a crown above it. The Crown is gilded, and the name at one time was also picked out with gold letters.

At least between 1829 and 1831, Lord Belfast owned a 129 ton yacht, a racing cutter, called ‘Louisa’, and this is referred to in the Royal Lymington Yacht Club’s archives of history. Their interest was because a racing cutter called “Alarm”, of around 200 tons, one of the largest of its type, was built at Lymington (Inman’s Yard). Alarm beat Lord Belfast’s Louisa in the 1831 King’s Cup Race, but lost a 1000 Guinea match race to Louisa later that year: then Lord Belfast acquired a new yacht in 1833, “Waterwitch”, for future races. What happened to ‘Louisa’ is unknown, he tried to sell it to the Navy. The picture shows the ‘Alarm’ winning the 1831 race ahead of ‘Louisa’.

Alarm-the-first-of-the-great-cuttersIt seems likely this telescope was in use aboard Lord Belfast’s Louisa in around 1830-32, adding some further information about the date. Possibly Gloria Clifton’s book has is not right about the date of moving operations to #24, and it was earlier? The Science museum website suggests he traded from 24 Coventry Street from 1826 onwards, which would solve the problem!

Size: 1.875” diameter, 25” long fully open, 19.5” closed.

Condition – and how well was it made?

Externally it looks well made, and it still works properly, everything screws up properly, but the one criticism might be that the retention of the single draw in the bezel at the eyepiece end of the barrel is not strong enough – it may just be that the internal slider has been damaged inside, where a break in the brass is visible, but the outer diameter of the draw is a little too small for the hole it goes through. Despite layers of soft felting in there to make the draw smooth, the joint still wobbles a little too much, which can make the image seen through the telescope move around a little. Later versions of telescopes have a two point suspension, by moving the thread away from the outer end of the bezel, giving less room for a lateral wobble at this point.

DSC00196aThe leather is original, but the longitudinal stitching is splitting, and I can’t see an easy way of repairing that. It has lasted nearly 200 years around a copper alloy metal barrel, which has some green oxide from the effects of seawater spray, so it has served its time.

The objective lenses themselves will not unscrew from the end assembly, so I cannot really confirm that the lens is just a doublet: presumably this is from bangs on the end, since the glass is right at the extremity, and could easily be damaged or the housing knocked. There was undoubtedly a lens cap on here at some time, certainly when it was made, but this is missing.

Sales Value?

That depends on how impressed any purchaser might be with the pedigree! I bought this telescope on Ebay in November 2003, and bid as much as what I thought it was worth, and that I could afford. I vaguely remember that there were two significantly higher bidders, but eventually the seller contacted me to see if I would still be willing to pay my bid, as the other two had retracted their bids, or changed their minds! When it arrived I too was a little concerned at the state of it, but it cleaned up quite well, and has become quite interesting as more has been discovered – even today!

A purchaser at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, or any other similar or associated yacht club, would maybe appreciate this telescope for this history, and it would be worth the £1500 they would need to pay! It is now time to sell this one to somewhere it will be appreciated.

Acquisition #79.

Troughton and Simms silver plated telescope


The name Troughton and Simms means this telescope came from a good maker. Because it does not have the Cooke name as well, it presumably was made between 1824 and 1922. The previously described presentation scope from Troughton and Simms, engraved for Captain Beattie in 1862, was similarly plated (although that one was not plated on the main covered area of the barrel): as a presentation telescope to a ship’s captain, that was presumably plated with actual silver, and designed for “Officer of the Watch” duty, and was a single draw design, which seemed to be the accepted pattern for naval use. However this two draw telescope also is possibly intended for ship-board or ‘Officer of the Watch’ duty.

Engraved for TF Weisener  of Sydney

Engraved for TF Wiesener of Sydney

In addition this telescope is engraved as supplied by T F Wiesener Ltd of Sydney, Australia, which means it was presumably intended for sale for shipboard use, as in that era Sydney would have been mainly focused on the sea trade. But the two draw design here makes it different to the single draw design of the Capt Beattie telescope, and not the classic design adopted later (1900+) as a naval or ship’s officer’s scope, that had a single draw, but a shorter body length than Capt Beattie’s.

Notably the T. Cooke + Sons telescopes, that I have not yet recorded, are of the classic single pull design for ‘Officer of the Watch’ duty. These must have been built and supplied before the merger with Troughton and Simms, which was in 1922, so were possibly dating from 1900-1920.


The whole body of this telescope is plated, in what could be silver or chrome – or possibly nickel. Inside the main body and the other tubes is blackened, after the end of the internal screw threads on each section, which are also plated. The barrel is missing a body cover, for where the left hand would hold it: this part of the body has a fairly rough machined surface at the moment. This would presumably have been covered with either leather, or a wooden veneer, or webbing/string. I think it was probably leather covered, and will plan to replace this.

Sunshade detached to show objective lens mount

Sunshade detached to show objective lens mount

There are two draws, and a flat eyepiece design. This eyepiece was a typical Troughton and Simms style, as can be seen on other models from them – they did not use the bell shaped eyepiece common to other makers in Victorian times. There is a sunshade on the objective, and a flap cover over the eyepiece hole, which uses a typically large screw. The main barrel is very small in diameter, compared to the objective lens. The lens has a special adaptor to join it to the main body/barrel. This caused me a lot of confusion when it was first dismantled for cleaning, as the adaptor seems to be there to increase the thread size available at the end of the main body, to accept the objective lens assembly – it really seems like a design afterthought. So I spent a long time trying to fit the lens to the end of the main body itself, which it just did not quite fit!

Total length fully open is 25”, and closed it is 10.5”. The objective lens is 1.375” dia, and the lens hood 1.75”, but the barrel is 1.375”.

T F Wiesener Ltd

T F Wiesener is quoted in Sydney newspapers between 1888 and 1913, as a scientific instrument maker, jeweller and optician. He was located at 334 George Street, between the GPO and Hunter Street. One press cutting from 1889 actually mentions the sale of telescopes. Wiesener was presumably an authorised reseller of Troughton and Simms instruments. What this does show, is that the shop was a major store aimed at the general public, not just a marine chandler. So there is the possibility that the telescope might have been on sale to offer it to passengers or tourists voyaging back to the UK, rather than ship’s crew.

The TF stands for Theodore Frederick, who was born near Hannover in around 1854. He died in 1897. The shop traded in his name from 1870-1918, but he was appointed an agent for Troughton and Simms only in 1890.

Rough machined main body of the telescope

Rough machined main body of the telescope

Found on Ebay

The telescope was found on Ebay in July 2008, and supplied by Alison Otterbeck from Chaffcombe in Somerset. In fact it was sent because of my error to my daughter in Cornwall. It did not work well on receipt, but by reversing the lenses in the eyepiece assembly, the view was significantly improved. The air pressure inside the scope when closing it was noted as significant, making it difficult to close. The telescope seems to work best with the flint (convex) glass on the rear side of the objective doublet, which is not normally the case.

Where does it fit?

I think this is intended as an expensive looking telescope for a Gentleman traveller, rather than a member of the ship’s crew – unless of course the crew was an officer on the equivalent of an Ocean liner, but in the 1890-1905 sort of era. The telescope is similar in design to the Ross two draw telescope that will be described later, which was more modern, and was maybe designed as a sporting scope, for spotting deer or whatever.

What is it worth?

Not sure.  It’s a good maker, well made, and works well. It is difficult to polish up, but does not tarnish significantly, so it is a good display item. I could clad the barrel in a modern leather covering, but have resisted doing that for several years, as a change too far.

It’s still a good presentable, quality, named example, 120 years old, traceable to Australia. So it must be worth £450, to anyone with an Australian connection. It is now for sale to anyone interested.

 Accession number 121.

C18th Dollond, with tapered body

Dollond tapered mahogany barrel telescope, with the draw tube split at each lens mount joint. Flooring squares are 12cms each.

Dollond tapered mahogany barrel telescope, with the draw tube split at each lens mount joint. Flooring squares are 12cms each.


This Dollond telescope has an apparently mahogany, tapered and polished wooden barrel, and a single brass draw. It is fairly big, the wooden section is 24.5”, the single pull extends to 14”. The wooden taper has an OD of 1.675” at the narrowest, and 2” near the objective lens. Interestingly, the internal bore of this barrel is drilled out in two sections, a narrow bore towards the eyepiece, and a larger bore close to the objective: between the two there is a narrow orifice, which is a fairly normal feature in telescope design. But the wood inside the barrel looks more porous and fibrous than a hardwood, and lighter in colour.

Eyepiece cover detached from the bell end eyepiece. Also the tube is unscrewed partially at the mounting point for the second eyepiece lens.

Eyepiece cover detached from the bell end eyepiece. Also the tube is unscrewed partially at the mounting point for the second eyepiece lens.

At the objective the OD is 2.5”, with the lens showing 1.675” of glass. The objective has a sliding brass plate as a lens cover, as does the eyepiece. In fact if the eyepiece lens cover is unscrewed, ie removed, the eyepiece is a classic bell shape, much more attractive, and much more easy to use – otherwise the slider frequently pokes the user in the nose.

The construction of the single draw is in four separate sections, all the same diameter. Each joint has a support for one of the four lens elements of the eyepiece construction. The separation of the third and fourth lenses is larger than normal, maybe they were just optimising the spacings in the late 1700s. Because this is a telescope dating from the end of the 18th Century.


The French polish is worn away at the finger hold points: also the eyepiece lens cover is removed here, to make for easier use.

The French polish is worn away at the finger hold points: also the eyepiece lens cover is removed here, to make for easier use.

The engraving of the name, Dollond, and London, here is on the left side of the telescope, on the first draw. When the naming moved from the telescope end to the side of the first draw, I believe at first it was on the right hand side, ie with the D at the start of Dollond closest to the eyepiece. But the engraving is small and neat, with swirls, perhaps paralleling what was originally done on the end covers. It looks older in style than the later telescopes used.

Intended users and history

The telescope was bought from R W Robinson, compass adjuster, from his shop/premises in Hamble, in March 2000. He quoted it as 1770-1780 in date, because of the style of the eyepiece and objective, and of the type used by ship’s Masters. The reason for this I think goes back to the light body, making such a long telescope easy to use when freely hand-supported on the rolling bridge. It is certainly well balanced in use, so a pleasure to work with, particularly for spotting aircraft.

Telescope for Sale…

This was number 58, bought many years ago, so the collection was accelerating. Purchase price was very high for me at the time. What is it actually worth on the market? Probably it would need the French Polish redoing, to smarten up the barrel, which would put the retail value up to above £2000. My selling price would be £1200.DSC03863

In this photo, of the objective end of the Dollond, the  cover slide is open as it would be in use, and sticks out to the side. If you are looking at aeroplanes in the sky, you can use the slide as a marker on the aircraft with your other, non-telescope eye, to locate it through the scope in the telescope view.  I have used that technique since 1961!

John Hewitson, circa 1850

…………a telescope from Newcastle upon Tyne

After a lot of searching, this was the first telescope I eventually found on sale, and bought, in an antique shop on Jewry Street in Winchester, called Pine Antiques, in May 1992. It was quoted as having belonged to the shop owner and his family: when sold it was brass only, with the barrel, where normally a leather or some other form of covering would be, bare and discoloured with verdigris. But as the first decent brass telescope found, with an engraved maker’s name, I had to buy it.

Hewitson scope

Engraving on the first draw

The telescope is a 3 draw brass model, 23” long with a 1.5” dia objective. On the first draw it is engraved “J. Hewitson” and “Newcastle-on-Tyne”. It has a sliding lens cover on both ends, and a sun shade on the objective end.

Hewitson in Newcastle

I wrote to the Local Studies Librarian in Newcastle to ask about J Hewitson. They responded that from trade directories he was John Hewitson, an Optician and Instrument Maker, operating there between 1841 and 1858. He had business premises initially in 1841 at 29 Market Street, and in 1847 at 20 Grey Street and 16 Quayside. In later years he traded from 21 and 16 Grey Street.

Later, in The Directory of Scientific Instruments by Gloria Clifton, I found Hewitson similarly listed, but as a manufacturer of level instruments and tide gauges, said probably to be the son of John of Rotherhithe, a Mariner. It was also quoted that earlier, in 1828, there was a J Hewitson apprenticed to Joseph Fairey, an instrument maker in London Docks. Since John was said to be the son of a mariner, it is perfectly possible he gained the post with Fairey when visiting London with his father, learned the necessary skills as an apprentice, and then established his business near the docks in Newcastle, where presumably he knew there was an opening amongst the seafarers there.

A Google search more recently, in 2017, shows there is an expensive barometer made by Hewitson in Newcastle currently for sale, and also a surveyor’s compass, carrying his name. In a Newcastle Guide book dating from 1846, the Hewitson advert claims to supply Transits, Theodolites, Levels, Surveying & Drawing instruments, Sextants, Quadrants, Compasses, Telescopes, Microscopes and Spectacles & eyeglasses! So possibly he was an agent for various manufacturers.


Apart from polishing, the main change made to this telescope was the replacement of the leather cover on the brass barrel. The black leather came from a really good pair of my wife’s boots, with her permission, once they were worn out.

The objective is a dual element achromatic pair, and the eyepiece is a 4 lens system, as in the Schyrle-Huygens arrangement, with both sets of lenses in a separate internal cartridge.

Hewitson scope (centre)

The Hewitson scope is the smaller, second one down: this photograph shows my first three significant purchases, back in 1992

Where does the telescope fit?

Well given his location in Newcastle, and his possible link to the marine industry, the telescope must have been targeted for use on ships and by ship’s masters. Relatively it is quite small, when closed up, but the performance is fine once extended. It is quite unusual compared to many naval telescopes of this early Victorian era, because it is 3 draws, and the eyepiece is a squared-off flat end, similar to the telescope designs of 1790-1820.

What is it worth?

While it is not anything exceptional, it is still a good, neat telescope from around 1850. It is Accession number 2 in my collection, because I previously bought some binoculars (#1), and my original Enbeeco aluminium telescope bought new in 1960 doesn’t count! The Hewitson is now on sale for £250.

Troughton and Simms presentation telescope for Capt Robert Beattie in 1862

Troughton and Simms Naval telescope

Troughton and Simms Naval telescope

Edward Troughton and William Simms formed a partnership in London, both of them having come from established families of mathematical instrument makers. Two Troughton brothers seem to have established themselves in this profession in London at the end of the 18th Century, having come from Cumberland, where their father was a farmer. Possibly Edward Troughton developed the interest in optical instruments from around 1804, when their offices were located in ‘The Orrery’ at 136 Fleet Street.

Troughton and Simms Naval telescope

Troughton and Simms Naval telescope

The Simms family had a similar history, but several branches of optical and mathematical instrument makers were operating in the early 1800s, and it was only William Simms who entered a partnership with Edward Troughton in 1826, to form Troughton and Simms. William seemed to do quite well, and from 1851-60 he was quoted as having a residence with its own Observatory in Brambleshaw, near Carshalton, Surrey. The partnership was successful, possibly with a lot of naval and Government work.

From 1826-43 the partnership operated from 136 Fleet Street, then moved to 138, and added other premises at the rear of 138, at 2&4 Peterborough Court: they stayed there until 1915, but added a factory at 340 Woolwich Road, Charlton, SE London. Then the company was absorbed into Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

The Presentation inscriptions

Because of the long inscription on this telescope, we have a record of when it was made, and why it was presented to the first owner. Such presentation units were popular in the 19th Century, sometimes from grateful passengers recognizing the skill of the ship’s Captain after a perilous voyage, sometimes, as in this case, from the Government, recognizing a humanitarian act in saving people or crew from a sinking ship.

Inscription on the first draw

Inscription on the first draw

Here the inscription reads: ‘Presented by Her Majesty’s Government to Captain Robert Beattie of the Schooner “Kelton”of Dumfries in acknowledgement of his humanity to the survivors of the Crew of the Schooner “Elizabeth and Jane” of St Andrews N.B [New Brunswick] whom he rescued from their waterlogged Vessel on the 23rd of August 1862’. The word ‘Vessel’ is written with an ‘f’ for the double ‘s’, as was common at the time.

Also on the single draw the makers name is engraved, ‘Troughton and Simms – London’.

The ships  

The Canadian ship involved, the Elizabeth and Jane, was a wooden Schooner of 108 tons, built in 1860 at St George [New Brunswick] on the east coast of Canada, then registered in New Brunswick.

The Kelton was built at the Kelton Yard on the River Nith (which flows into the Solway Firth south of Dumfries on the west coast of Scotland) at the premises of G & R Thompson in the village of Glencaple. It was quoted as an outstanding vessel, three masted, launched in around 1860 for the Sloan Brothers of Dumfries, and always commanded by Capt Beattie. The Schooner traded normally from the Dumfries area to Liverpool and the Cumberland coastal towns of Whitehaven and Maryport.

So it seems the rescue quoted on the inscription must have been made in the northern part of the Irish Sea: the Elizabeth and Jane could itself have been headed for Maryport or Whitehaven, which were major export ports for chemicals etc.

The Telescope

The telescope is totally brass bodied, but both ends of the main barrel and the first draw are silver plated. It was presumably manufactured in around 1860-62 by Troughton and Simms, and is 35” long when fully open, and 27” when closed up: the objective housing is 2″ OD. There is a sliding cover over the eyepiece lens, but no cover exists for the objective lens. The main body/barrel is slightly tapered, and retains its bare brass colour, ie is not plated: it would have been covered with canvas or a string binding when supplied. To simulate this and improve the hand grip on the barrel I have bound it with a natural jute string.

Where does this fit with other contemporary telescopes?

This is definitely a naval telescope, similar to the ‘Officer of the Watch models’ introduced later by manufacturers such as Ross, but it follows the pattern of other naval scopes from Dollond and others. It is easy and quick to focus so can be brought into use very fast.  It has a good magnification and field of view. It also has the flat eyepiece end of the 18th Century style of scope – it does not have the Victorian ‘bell-end’ shape of eyepiece. The sunshade is fairly standard, presumably to act as the words imply.

The sun shade

The sun shade

Return to the Family

This telescope was acquired in 2005 from an Ebay listing, and was my Accession Number 101. I have used it with the jute string binding I applied, which is fine, but this could be improved by someone more competent. It works well, as you would expect from a Presentation scope, silver plated, and from a reputable maker. It is a fine example of the Victorian approach, to honour someone who showed human compassion, when called upon. It is a fine example of this approach, with the presence of the inscription: there are not many more like this! In 2018 the telescope was returned to the descendants of Robert Beattie, as a family heirloom.

Lt. Rolfe’s Bianchi telescope from the Peninsular War, 1807-1814

Bianchi telescope fully extended

Bianchi telescope fully extended

This telescope is a 3-draw model with a wooden (veneered?) main barrel, the veneer appears to be a mahogany, but the whole main barrel is a wooden tube, possibly of a different, rougher wood. The main barrel has an OD of 1.75”. Overall length is 32”, and closed it is 9.25” – i.e. fairly compact. It has a slider to cover the eyepiece, which is better than average because it does not stick out of the side, when in use (as is fairly common, and uncomfortable). The eyepiece is a flat faced design. The sunshade covers half the closed telescope length, and has a very solid end cap which is a push fit.

Lt Rolfe engraved on first draw

Lt Rolfe engraved on first draw

The first draw has engraving showing the maker’s name as Bianchi of Ipswich, and on the opposite side “Lieutenant Rolfe – 9th Light Dragoons” all in script. The first draw contains all four eyepiece lenses. The brass looks to be lacquered. The brass connections to the wooden barrel appear to be made with copper pins, three at either end: because these pins are slightly proud the sunshade does not fully ‘home’ into the objective end of the barrel.

Made by George Bianchi

Maker's name engraved on first draw

Maker’s name engraved on first draw

George Bianchi was working in Ipswich 1805-1816, and seems to have been followed by Gaettano Bianchi, who was an optician there in 1830, and then George Henry, working there in 1844.

Because of the other inscription, this is probably by George Bianchi, and made in around 1806-7. He worked from St Clements Street at that time, and in 1816 at Westgate Street.

The 9th Light Dragoons

The following history of the 9th Lancers is taken from the Nottingham Journal + Nottingham Review: Mansfield in the News 1807-8,

“The 9th Dragoons remained in Ireland until 1803, and did not again embark for foreign service until 1806, when it formed part of Sir Samuel Auchmuty’s expedition to the River Plate, which they reached in seven weeks from England.  They shared in the occupation of Montevideo, on the River Plate, though not in its storm.  But no effort was made to replace the dead and useless horses, so that after a while the regiment ceased to be effective as cavalry, and were used, for the first and last time in their history, as foot soldiers, in the brigade formed by the dismounted troops of the 6th Dragoon Guards and the 40th and 45th Regiments of the Line, under Colonel the Hon Thomas Mahon.  To the dismounted cavalry was given the honour of attacking one of the central streets, with three troops of 9th Light Dragoons and four of the Carabiniers in the first line, and the other five troops of the former in reserve, and supported by two six-pounders.  They behaved with the greatest bravery, but the attack was, on the whole, a failure, and General Whitelocke abandoned the place.

An officer from the 9th Light Dragoons

An officer from the 9th Light Dragoons

They next shared in the ill-fated Walcheren expedition (Walcheren was a place in Holland, from where an attack on France was launched from the northeast). Here they lost 152 men from fever, and in 1811 embarked for Portugal, to join the other front in the Peninsular War.  At Aroyo de Molino they surprised General Girard, capturing 1,000 prisoners, the artillery, baggage, and stores of the force and taking General Brune prisoner. They took part in all the numerous skirmishes that occurred between 1811 and 1813, when they returned home with the permission to bear “Peninsula” on their appointments.  In 1816 they were renamed and constituted as Lancers, with, in 1830, the distinguished title of “Queen’s Royal”, in honour of Queen Adelaide, consort of William IV.”

Lt Joseph Rolfe

Lt Joseph Rolfe is listed on

which shows the card index system published naming all the soldiers involved in the Peninsular war in Spain. This war was from 1807-1814, a conflict between France and the allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal, for control of the Iberian peninsula, as a part of the Napoleonic Wars. It started when French and Spanish armies occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, its ally until then.

Lt Rolfe joined the 9th Light Dragoons on 9th October 1806, and was in Spain for the Peninsular War from July 1811 to April 1813. Another reference suggests that Lt Rolfe came from Mansfield near Nottingham (

Where does this fit with other contemporary telescopes?

Compact when folded shut

Compact when folded shut

This telescope is different to the others made around 1800-1810. It still has the flat end of the 18th Century style of scope, but it is a very short unit compared to the larger single draw scopes, that were made for naval use. So the conclusion is that it was built as a compact unit specifically for use by mounted troops, carrying such for use on the battlefield, to see the enemy troop disposition. I suppose it makes full use of the fact that it has three draws to achieve this. Another comment is that this telescope was not meant for instant deployment – the officer would get off the horse, presumably lie down in the grass and peep over some cover or parapet at the enemy, so the time taken to remove the very solid objective cap, and open the slide in the eyepiece, and pull out the draws, did not allow for a quick look! Equally the lens covers would protect the glass components from dirt and dust. The sunshade would also protect the user from reflecting the sun’s rays from the objective lens and giving his position away – although I don’t know if they knew of this problem!

Collection History

This telescope was acquired in 2010 from an Ebay listing, and is accession number 134.  It came from a house clearance sale in Jersey. It is complete with a leather case, quoted to be the original.

I think it is a really unique item, with a traceable history linked to the Peninsula wars. It would have a value of £1200-1500.