Liverpool telescope


This telescope is engraved ‘Wood, Liverpool’ – obviously a maker aiming at customers in the naval market therefore, and a good neat size suitable for a deck officer on-board ship. As such it is the typical size used by ‘Officers of the Watch’ (OOW), at 22” open, but uses three draws, compared to the classic single draw OOW telescope. The advantage of this is that when closed the scope is only 7.25”.

However the design shows that it predates the classic OOW telescope, and was built in the 1800s, ie C19th. First, it uses a wooden barrel, which looks like oak, and this is in very good condition. The brass fittings at the ends of the oak barrel are both secured with three screws, which are modern replacement screws, round headed, but they suit the scope. The originals were probably tiny countersunk screws: obviously these were not quite up to the job, which was fairly normal in the C19th.

The other design feature of note is that the eyepiece is a very square style, fixed to the first draw with three tiny grub-screws. In my opinion this moves the manufacturing date back to around the 1820s.



The three draws are in perfect condition, as is the oak barrel. The only real problem in terms of condition is that the fourth lens in the first draw has a crack straight across the diameter, which is visible as you look through, but it does not offset the image seen at all, between the two halves.


The maker?

The ‘Wood of Liverpool’ is presumed to relate to Benjamin Wood, who worked from 1819 till 1835 in Wapping, next to the docks in Liverpool, and then from 1829 onwards also in Bath Street, further along the dockside. Possibly the business was passed to his son, Benjamin Jasper Wood, who continued working until 1865. From 1847 to 1897 there was a different business that sold telescopes, believed unrelated, run by George Smart Wood, in Prescot Street, Lord St and London Road, amongst other places.



Another large Berge, from 1800

I seem to have an affinity for Berge and his telescopes, probably because they are ‘almost as good as’ Ramsden scopes, but much cheaper! Nevertheless this one was really really cheap, because it has no objective lens, nor the metalwork that wraps round the objective pair. After cleaning it up, and re-polishing the wood, it makes a good display item, and even has the original brass objective lens cap, to make it look complete!


Four draws, creating a 35″ long telescope

Engraved as “Berge London”, and “Late Ramsden” on the next line, the initial letters of these two lines are next to the eyepiece, ie on the opposite side to the standard format that was mostly used after about 1790. But Matthew Berge was just a bit of a traditionalist, and stuck to the old format, because he took over from Ramsden in 1800. He worked at 199 Piccadilly, maybe until 1817 – he died in 1819: but we don’t know for how long he leveraged off the Ramsden name and quoted “Late Ramsden” on his scopes. Then the business was taken over by a further two ex-Ramsden employees who had also worked for Berge, called Worthington & Allan: Nathaniel Worthington continued this business until 1851.


So the scope is around 200 years old at least, is an impressive size, and a modern design for the era in which it was built: leading the field in design, as Ramsden also did!



This is a four draw mahogany barrelled brass telescope, measuring 10” when closed up, and 35” when opened out. The outer diameter at the objective, 2.25”, makes it a fairly hefty instrument. The objective lens thread is around 2” OD, and when fitted with the objective lens from telescope #271, a similarly sized unit from Spencer & Co (see the story posted 30 Dec 2016), the combination works and focuses very well. So I just need a 2” OD objective with a focal length of around 27” to bring it back into operation!


What is the future for this?

Accession number 292: it will probably end up on the wall at the Goonhilly Visitor Centre in Cornwall, where the original trans-Atlantic radio telescopes are being brought back into operation for space research. That is, unless someone wants a lovely 200 year old talking point for about £100, which is what I think it’s worth. Unless I find a good spare lens assembly!


The barrel has little damage, and polishes well: the brass draws have some stiffness from bangs!

Accession number 292: acquired in October 2016, from an Ebay supplier, based in Ashford, Kent.

George Willson telescope, ~1800

dscn4842-smI left this telescope languishing in a box for ten years (after buying it in 2005 on Ebay), not quite understanding why it would not work. In addition it had a problem with one of the mounting rings, the top “flange” edge had come away from the cylindrical slider. Obviously I had not spent enough time looking at it, as I hadn’t noticed the name stamped on the flat face of the eyepiece, under the grime, which turned out to be “Willson G, London”.

George Willson was apprenticed to James Moulding in 1797, and joined the Guild of Stationers. However by 1798 he was working as an optician, and had several apprentices, one of which was George Dixey. From 1799-1802 they worked in Wardrobe Place, Doctors Common, London – and from 1802-1809 they worked as a partnership, as Willson & Dixey, opposite St James’s Church, on Piccadilly, London. Willson & Dixey was a more prolific telescope maker.

This telescope, labelled just as Willson, is likely to date from between 1798 and 1802.



The telescope is a fairly standard design, with three draws, a mahogany barrel, two lens cartridges in the first draw, and a flat faced eyepiece. All the screws into the barrel are original, and everything unscrews well. Total length when fully extended is around 29”, and when folded it is just over 9” long, with an OD of 1.9”. It could have been intended for Naval use, or for use by an Army or Cavalry officer.

How to make it work!

The problem was fairly obvious in retrospect! The lens cartridge near the eyepiece did not fit properly, it was too small in diameter to achieve a tight fit inside the draw, but was held in place by the eyepiece cover. The mounting thread on the eyepiece did not attach anywhere. At the other end of the first draw, there was no cartridge, one lens screwed into the thread at the end, and another lens was positioned 2” inside the draw, apparently as a push-fit. Eventually I realised this was in fact at the end of the cartridge which should have been next to the eyepiece, it had just been pushed down along the draw. The eyepiece lens which should have fitted this cartridge was in fact the lens that was screwed into the objective end of the first draw.

So move everything back to where it should be, and of course it all works perfectly!

Slider Repair


Hopefully the slider on the second draw can be soldered back into place, and still slide along the draw-tube. I later solder tacked it into position, then sanded down the solder inside just enough to get it back fitting the second draw tube, so its in position, at least.

The sliders holding the draws in line have the threads at the outer edge, so this is just an average quality telescope of its day, unlike the next example which is the same date, ie 1800, but super quality, from a maker with a long pedigree……

This Willson is Accession Number 110

A Della Torre, London, telescope


Lovely name, Della Torre, but how come someone with an Italian sounding name was in London making telescopes in the early 1800s? Anthony Della Torre was working as an Optician in London from 1805 to 1823: he was sometimes known as ‘de la Torre’. He was located at 12 Leigh Street, in Red Lion Square, from 1805-11, and 4 Leigh Street, Red Lion Square, from 1815-23. There’s not a lot known, indeed Leigh Street has disappeared, but if the houses were actually the ones now on Red Lion Square, they were expensive addresses. However not quite in the Strand/High Holborn normal area for telescope makers and traders.


Italian immigrants to London over the last thousand years are discussed on, which points out that they were concentrated in the early 1800s in this northern part of London. Amongst their number were various instrument makers – such as Negretti, eventually founding Negretti and Zambra; and Martinelli, who made barometers. There are still many people of this name in the UK, and the USA.

The Telescope

dscn4347So the telescope dates from the very first 20 years of the 1800s: it is engraved on the first draw, “Della Torre & Co, London”. It is an elegant, narrow bodied, two draw telescope, with a mahogany barrel and lens protectors at each end. The screws that are present mostly  look original: one on the objective carrier does look like a replacement. The telescope gives a nice image with an easy focus.

The objective is again a triple lens combination, but compared to the Lincoln this time the Crown glass convex lenses that sandwich the flint glass concave lens (the central lens on the pic with the slight pinkish tint) are very clear of colour, with only the slightest green tint. All are held in place with a screw in ring, much easier to deal with than a peened structure. The objective is small in diameter, with only 18mm of visible glass, within the total telescope OD of 37mm: this is reminiscent of much older Italian (and Dollond C18th) designs. The lens carrier incorporates a sideways sliding cover to protect the objective. As you see, all the screw-threads work well.

dscn4343   dscn4342

Overall length is 49cm (19.4″) extended, and 21.4cm (8.4″) when closed. The eyepiece lenses are in two standard cartridges, but the final connection to the viewing eyepiece cap is novel, in that the shoulder is not part of the cap, it is attached to the first draw permanently.


Altogether a pleasing 200 year old telescope. It was acquisition #167 in 2012. Value now? Difficult to say, as there are very few about, and I’ve never seen another for sale. After listing this here, and receiving some enquiries, I have decided it should be sold, and the price listed on is £300.

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

20160925_201905     20160925_201925

20160925_201834    20160925_204642

Solomon 6-draw Pocket Telescope

This telescope was a nice surprise for me, as I bought it as a multi-draw with an interesting covering on the barrel, reminiscent of the baleen covering used in Victorian times. It was advertised on Ebay as a five draw pocket-sized scope in a cardboard case, lacking an objective cover.


Recovering the end-cap


French text and the lost end cap

The impression on first inspection was that the objective end of the scope had a cylindrical ring round the lens carrier brass section, with four expansion slots – the type used on a slip-over end-cap. It looked like the end-cap sliding side section was stuck on there, with no actual end-cap. Sure enough with some force the side cylindrical section pushed off the objective lens mount.

Looking inside the telescope case the end cap appeared to be stuck down at the bottom of the case. It did not take too much to push this out of the case, and it was then ‘Super-glued’ (rather than soldered) onto the side cylindrical section, to reconstruct the end-cap.

DSCN4012Also inside the case was a soft cushioned end piece, which fitted the eyepiece end of the telescope – so obviously this part of the case was meant to accept the eyepiece, rather than the objective. On the back of the cushioning the words forming the remains of some writing were in French, so along with the appearance of the scope this convinced me that the telescope was actually a French design, probably sold in England. Because it is such a small pocket telescope version, you assume it was sold to a country gent, to be carried in his pocket.

Operational problems?

The disappointment was that the telescope did not work properly, so it needed to be dismantled to see the problem. As with any multi-draw scope, say with 5 draws or more, the focusing eyepiece covers the lengths of the first two draws: so there is one cartridge in the first draw, mounted from under the eyepiece cover, plus a second cartridge carrying one lens at each end, mounted in the objective end of the second draw tube.

DSCN4020.JPGThe cartridge in the first draw was fine, but the second cartridge appeared to be at the end of the first draw. It became obvious that the telescope in fact had a sixth draw, and this draw was very stiff, possibly because it had been distorted. Withdrawing the second cartridge showed that the second, inner lens was missing. This lens was located – it was jammed up the first draw tube, held in place because its own over-sized knurled mounting ring was too big to slide easily inside the first draw, when the scope was fully collapsed. This had possibly led to the distortion of the first draw, and it does appear to be a design fault.

I now have to decide whether to file down the knurling on the lens assembly to sort out this problem. It seems a valid adjustment, and the protruding shoulder (at the right hand end of the left hand lens cartridge in the above picture) has no function. The inner lens mount of the opposing cartridge is the same as the OD of the cartridge: this one is a sliding fit inside the first draw.

Engraved on the sixth draw!

DSCN4013Even more interesting was that there was a supplier name engraved on the first draw, which was “S & B Solomons, 39 Albemarle St, London”. The Solomons were opticians and spectacle makers, and accepted London suppliers of telescopes and microscopes: it is possible that this was an imported French-made pocket telescope, brought in to provide their ‘Landed Gentry’ customers with impressive pocket-sized devices. Albemarle Street is off the Strand in Central London, and Samuel and Benjamin Solomons were operating there from 1840 to 1875, throughout the early Victorian period.


Once this lens is repositioned, the telescope works extremely well, particularly for such a small device. The OD at the objective is 1.125”, the fully open length 15.5” and the closed length only 4”.


Albermarle Street29 albermarle st

The premises of S&B Solomon are now sited next to Browns Hotel, in a fashionable part of Mayfair. The picture is from Google, with the house behind the Chelsea tractor.

What about the barrel covering?

The basic original query – as to what the barrel is covered with – remains unexplained. It looks and feels like plastic moulded basket weave. Indeed its construction appears to be that of a woven cane, treated with some black varnish or resin.


The ring covers the ends of the weave, this one held in place by the retaining flange at the end of the sixth draw.

Accession Number 286. This telescope is now for sale, fully working, priced at £185 sterling.

A pristine Dolland, still in a tin

s1600This is a classic telescope as sold in an Ebay sale of antiques, a Dolland three draw leather covered brass telescope. Run of the mill, lots about, not a high value product, mass produced in the early 1800s.

So why did I buy it, at a very inflated price compared to any others? Because this one is different.

s-l1600Readers of this site will be aware that the name Dolland possibly became a generic name for telescopes with an achromatic objective lens, giving the better performance of the telescopes originally patented by Dollond in the 1760s. So Dolland telescopes became cheap copies of the Dollond standard. However, while this telescope might be a lower cost version of the real thing, it has been kept in an air-tight tin (metal) case for over 150 years, I would guess.

The telescope is pristine, it has no corrosion to the brass, and the leather is looking healthy, and with no stretch to the stitches. What is more the edges of the sliders on the objective and the eyepiece feel sharp, they have not been worn smooth by use or wear. It looks like the telescope has never been used. No old polish secreted in the corners either.

s-l1600 (3)

Dimensions are: opened length 34.5″ without sunshade extended, or 37″ total: 12″ closed. Overall diameter 2+3/8″, container diameter 2.5″. Came from a house clearance in Bury St Edmunds.

So perhaps it should be put in a glass case in a Museum? I may be one of the few people who have looked thru it, and it works really well: the lenses have no dust and have never been cleaned, they have never needed it.

s-l1600 (5)The screw threads are not as good as they could be, ie not as good as the Dollond versions, but this is what characterises the Dolland units. The tube walls are probably thinner than the Dollonds, so will not be as robust in use, but in this example are looking good!

There is no way I am going to touch it further, except for trying to wipe off some recent fingermarks: it is to stay bottled up. Even the photos used here are from the Ebay sale page. One day there will be some Museum that needs such a brilliant specimen!

s-l1600 (2)

Accession number 281.

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 Frank Musgrave 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 Musgrave, 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 Musgrave 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 worked for Musgrave in the IFC, and Musgrave’s letter was addressed to him, located 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 trek 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!