The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175

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Lot 26*
The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle
Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175
Sold for £ 100,900 (US$ 131,976) inc. premium

Fine Clocks

10 Dec 2014, 14:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175 The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175 The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175
The property of Captain Robert FitzRoy, an historically important second quarter of the 19th century two day marine chronometer present on the second and third voyages of HMS Beagle
Robert Molyneux, 44 Devonshire Street, London, No.1175
The brass bound mahogany box mounted with shaped key escutcheon (the covers and handles lacking), the gimbals supporting the ring turned bowl with moulded lip and plain bezel with silvered sight ring, the base with sprung dust cover to the winding hole.

The signed and numbered silvered 4 inch Roman dial with blued steel beetle and poker hands, subsidiary state of wind and seconds dials.

The single chain fusee movement with maintaining power and Earnshaw type detent escapement with blued steel helical spring and bi-metallic 'Z' balance with diamond endstone and keystone weights, the polished plates united by four finned cylindrical pillars secured by blued screws. 8.5cm tall by 16cm wide and 16cm deep (3.25in x 6.25in x 6.25in)


  • Robert Molyneux was a well respected chronometer maker, originally a pupil of Thomas Earnshaw. He invented an auxiliary compensation to address middle temperature error which was presented to Sir George Airy (the Astronomer Royal) in hope of receiving a reward for the design from the Admiralty, but found that John Eiffe had submitted a near identical version.

    A comparable example, No.987 (once used by Herschel), dated to 1828 is exhibited in the Royal Observatory, Greenwhich. Although this is a sidereal chronometer the movement and box share many similarities with chronometer 'N'. The box has the same distinctive shaped escutcheon and furniture, fitted with brass bindings to the lower corners and two short hinges for the lid (now lacking).

    The dial, although differing in layout exhibits a signature and hands that compare well in scale, style and execution to that of chronometer 'N'.

    The bezel is different, No.987 having the earlier round glass, while chronometer 'N' is fitted with the more developed flat glass and sight ring, a feature that started to appear around this time, this being an early example.

    The movements on the other hand are almost indistinguishable, having near identical sized and laid out plates, balances, spotting to the plates (only visible in parts on chronometer 'N') and the clicks on the barrel bridge.

    The records: In the 'Narrative of the of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle' of 1839, Fitzroy's chart of the chronometers designates Molyneaux 1175 as 'N' and is noted to be 'Rather good' in the remarks. It is also noted as being Fitzroy's personal property.

    Not all the chronometers were supplied by the Admiralty, in fact only ten of the twenty two were listed as owned by the Government, 6 were supplied by Fitzroy, one by Lord Ashburnham and the remaining four by the clockmakers Molyneaux (1), Murray (2), Arnold and Dent (1) whose inclusion in the voyage was of great advantage when advertising the quality and accuracy of their chronometers.

    Chronometer 'N' was recorded as being used on 29 of the 31 stages, including Callao to the Galapagos Islands (Chatham Island), from there to Charles Island (Galapagos) and from Charles Island to Otaheite. It is the only known example in private hands to have completed the journey on board the Beagle.

    It was also used on the Third Voyage of the Beagle, one of three to do so.

    In 1837 the Government purchased the chronometer from Fitzroy and it subsequently had a long career serving on numerous ships, the last being of particular interest.

    The date of transfer is not mentioned in the ledgers, but the final entry reads 'Lost in "Irresistible" [illegible] 1916 July 3'. This refers to the sinking of HMS Irresistible (a 'Formidable' class battleship) by Turkish mines and shore batteries at Canakkale and Kilitbahir at the mouth of the Dardanelles.

    The chronometer is then absent from the records. The chronometer re-appears during the Second World War, where by repute it was issued to a Liberty Ship used by the Russians on the Pacific Route between the US and Vladivostok under the command of Anna Shetinina (the first female commander of an ocean going ship). The vendor's uncle served as a Radio Operator and was given the chronometer at the end of the war, in turn, he presented it to the current owner on his entry to the Vladivostok Marine School of Engineering in 1975.

    HMS Beagle and 'Chronometer N'

    HMS Beagle is remembered as the vessel which between 1831 and 1836 carried the young Charles Darwin on a voyage around the world: from Plymouth across the Atlantic to South America; down, up and away westward across the Pacific and Indian oceans, via the Galapagos, Tahiti, Sydney and the Cocos Islands, to Cape Town; back across the Atlantic to Bahia in Brazil; and thence homeward
    to Falmouth and Woolwich. The image conjured up by any mention of the voyage is most likely to involve Darwin wielding his geological hammer among the rocks of Patagonia, in search of fossils, or gazing with wonder at the variety of species he encountered in the Galapagos. Darwin's collections and observations formed the basis for much of his subsequent work, and led in time to the development and publication of his views on the origin of species.

    The story of the Beagle's most famous voyage is best known from the record which Darwin kept of his own experiences, and sent home in installments to his sisters; for his diary was worked up into his Journal of Researches, first published as a part of the official account of the voyage, in 1839, but re-issued in 1845, with further revisions, becoming a best-seller in its own right. Captain Fitzroy's own account of the voyage, accompanied by an important volume of supplementary material, was left in the shade. In fact a quantity of
    material survives which allows a better understanding of the voyage, in all its aspects: journals and other records kept by less well known members of the ship's company; letters written home to family and friends; sketches and watercolours made by the ship's official (and unofficial) artists; scrimshaw whale's teeth, carved by one of the marines apparently for distribution to his friends, as keepsakes; even the desiccated remains of a flying fish, which flew into the hands of one of the ship's company when going about his business in the
    harbour at Rio. Nor should one forget the rest of the ship's company, whose names are recorded in the official records, but who left precious few records of their own, and whose voices are thus so much the harder to hear.

    It is inevitable, of course, that the Beagle should be remembered primarily for her association with Darwin, working as naturalist on the ship's second voyage. However, one should not forget the Beagle's first voyage, to South America (1827–30), and her third, to Australia (1837–43), for the second arose directly from the first, and the third was in various respects an extension of the second. Robert Fitzroy took over command of the Beagle, in difficult circumstances, on her first voyage; took her back to South America and onward around the world, on her second voyage; and followed a difficult path thereafter, briefly as Governor of New Zealand, and most notably as a pioneer in the science of weather forecasting. Among the others, John Lort Stokes served on all three voyages of the Beagle, rising from midshipman on the first, by way of surveyor on the second, to commander on the third. Perhaps such continuities were commonplace; certainly, they contribute much to the interest of the Beagle's record.

    A historian might turn by instinct to the power of the written word, supplemented in important respects by the pictorial dimension; yet no-one would underestimate the power of an associated object to evoke its own associations. It is a pity, of course, that we cannot board a 10-gun brig, and sail in her round Cape Horn. Following her return from Australia, in 1843, the Beagle served as a coast guard watch vessel, stationed at Paglesham, in Essex, from 1846 to 1870. Then she was sold, and broken up where she lay. Little now survives: some traces in the mud, which await further investigation; but beyond
    that, barely any more than a wooden box made from the main tressel-trees, after the masts were removed in 1843, and a decorative carving (featuring a beagle), perhaps removed at the same time from above a door, or from over the stern, and displayed for many years thereafter as a part of Admiral Stokes's collection of Beagle relics, installed in the front hall of his home in south-west Wales.

    Yet if there is one type of object which best symbolizes the intended purpose of the Beagle's second voyage (as opposed to its unintended outcome), it would be a marine chronometer. The Admiralty's main purpose in sending the Beagle back to sea in 1831 was to complete the survey of South America; but it was also
    to return home, across the Pacific and Indian oceans, and then across the Atlantic back to Brazil, in order to complete a chain of chronometric measurements around the globe, for the purposes of establishing longitude. The underlying aim, of course, was to improve safety at sea, and in that way to serve the agenda of a nation eager to develop and to secure its interests around the world.

    In a memorandum written in November 1831, Francis Beaufort stated: 'Few vessels will have ever left this country with a better set of chronometers, both public and private, than the Beagle.' (Fitzroy 1839, ii, p. 24.) No fewer than 22 were carried on board, of which 11 belonged to the Government; of the rest, six belonged to FitzRoy, four to their respective makers, and one to Bertram, 4th Earl of Ashburnham. All are listed in the published record, tabulated letter
    by letter, giving details for each instrument of its type, maker, and owner, with a very brief assessment in each case of its operational record (on a scale from 'Bad' to 'Very good'). The chronometers were stowed carefully in a part of the captain's cabin, and most of them were never moved from where they were first placed at the start of the voyage. As FitzRoy explained: 'Suspended in gimbals, as usual, within a wooden box, each was placed in sawdust,
    divided and retained by partitions, upon one of two wide shelves. The sawdust was about three inches thick below, as well as at the sides of each box, and formed a bed for it which rose rather above the centre of gravity of the box and watch; so that they could not be displaced unless the ship were upset.' He explains further how, when the Beagle was vibrating to a jar or shock, he
    would scatter powder on the glass faces of the chronometers, and observe it under a magnifying glass, in order to satisfy himself that the instruments were not affected. (FitzRoy 1839, ii, Appendix, pp. 325–6.)

    The chronometers were looked after by Mr George James Stebbing, instrument maker, of Portsmouth, who had been engaged by FitzRoy to keep the chronometers in good repair, to look after the books in the ship's library, and to assist in magnetic and other observations. (Holland 2013.) In March 1833, Stebbing also
    took over as FitzRoy's secretary, when Edward Hellyer, who had been employed for that purpose, was drowned in the Falklands, attempting to recover a bird he had shot for the captain's collection. FitzRoy was acutely conscious of the importance of Stebbing's work on the Beagle. As he put it: 'This person ... was of invaluable assistance; and, I may well say, contributed largely to whatever was obtained by the Beagle's voyage.' In the Captain's Orders for the second voyage, a copy of which is preserved among the papers of John Lort Stokes, FitzRoy states that the chronometers were to be wound daily, between half-past-eight and nine in the forenoon, and to be compared at noon. He continues: 'The daily winding and comparison of the chronometers is to be reported to me or in my absence the commanding officer by one of the following officers: 2nd Lieutenant [Sulivan]; Assistant Surveyor [Stokes]; Master [Chaffers]; Master's Assistant [Usborne].' In short, the chronometers were at the heart of the whole operation.

    The chronometer known on the Beagle's second voyage by its letter 'N' had an impeccable service record. It was one of five made by Molyneux (A, C, N, T, W), and one of the six recorded as FitzRoy's own property (A, G, H, L, N, T). It was said by Fitzroy himself to be 'rather good'. Indeed, it can be seen to have provided measurements for all but two of the 31 reported links in the chain, missing only the eighth, from Port Desire (Patagonia) to Port Famine, and the eleventh, from Valparaiso to Callao (up the west coast of
    South America). It provided measurements for the whole of the homeward part of the voyage, from the twelfth link in the chain (Callao to Chatham Island, in the Galapagos) to the thirty-first (from Portsmouth to Greenwich). (FitzRoy 1839, ii, Appendix, pp. 331–44.)

    'Chronometer N' was thus doing its job, on its shelf in the Captain's cabin, from the beginning to the end of the voyage. For much of the same period (except when ashore), Charles Darwin was at work, at
    the chart table in the poop cabin, on his specimens and notes, on his diary, and on his letters home. In May 1837, a few months after the Beagle's return to England, 'Chronometer N' was purchased from Captain FitzRoy by the Government, and was promptly reissued to Commander Wickham, for use in Australia on the Beagle's third voyage. The chronometer was returned in October 1843, and
    after some attention from its maker continued in the Government's service for many more years. It was by any standards a very distinguished service record.

    FitzRoy, Robert, ed., Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His
    Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, 3 vols. (London, 1839).
    Holland, Julian, 'George James Stebbing: Captain FitzRoy's
    Instrument Maker', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society 116
    (2013), 22–9 and 117 (2013), 29–40.

    Simon Keynes
    Trinity College, Cambridge
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