A Rare Barclay Clock and the Tapestry Footstool

During a recent visit to a local northern Tasmanian market, a rare Barclay wall clock from the 1830s-1840s came to light. It was in the guise of a tapestry footstool, but to a keen horological eye, was unmistakably a clock. Beneath the tapestry top was an extra treasure, not a plain old clock dial, but one marked ‘Jas. Barclay Launceston.’

James Barclay’s time in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was short, eleven years from his arrival in 1834 to his premature death at 39 in September 1845. Because of his brief residence, only a few James Barclay clocks still exist.

James Barclay hailed from Montrose, Scotland, the son of watchmaker Thomas Barclay and his wife, Agnes. His older brother David had emigrated a few years earlier and established a clock and watchmaking business in Hobart. James settled at the opposite end of the colony, commencing business in September 1836 in Brisbane Street, Launceston. He married Anne Stevenson in March 1840 at Franklin Cottage in Launceston and, by March 1841, relocated the business to the opposite side of Brisbane Street. In 1842 he was experiencing financial problems; premises and land in Lyttleton Street and St George’s Square were advertised for sale by auction as part of his insolvent estate. The shop and residence in Brisbane Street were up for rent in March 1845, only six months before his death.

Back to the footstool that probably had many feet rest on it for about 100 years – it was originally a 12” inch Fusee 8-day time only wall clock, most likely manufactured in Launceston. If only it could talk, we could know its complete story. We can only imagine James Barclay may have sold it to a customer, and it became a timekeeper in a home. Did it become irreparable at some point, and the owner decided to salvage the dial, bezel, and timber surround and convert it into a tapestry footstool?

In 2023, one hundred and seventy-eight years after James Barclay’s death, its restoration to a fully working timepiece is underway, with the missing parts manufactured in Launceston. It will once again become a unique and functional Tasmanian James Barclay clock.

See Hands of Time listing for James Barclay.

© Sallie Mulligan, August 2023