Frank Simpson, the first timekeeper of the Launceston Town Clock

KEEPER OF THE CLOCK   –  The Mercury (Hobart) 3 February 1944

Behind an unpretentious shop front in the Quadrant, Launceston works septuagenarian Frank Simpson, tall, lean, greyish, and of much good humour. By trade, Frank Simpson is a watchmaker, but it is as a keeper of the town clock and timekeeper for Northern racing clubs that his name will always be associated with clocks and watches in Launceston.

Frank Simpson is 75. He has looked after the town clock in the Post Office since it was installed in 1909. Six days a week he climbs the 106 steps to the clock tower. Six days a week he turns the outsize handle that winds the huge weights, which provide the motive power for striker, chimes, and clock. But let us tell his story from the beginning.

Frank Simpson was born in Hokitika (NZ). He has lived in Launceston since 1880, serving his watchmaking apprenticeship with Sparrow’s in Brisbane Street, remained with them for 21 years, went over to F. and W. Stewart’s in Charles St. for two years, and then set up in business on his own account.

He succeeded Mr Sparrow as timekeeper for Northern racing clubs. He has been timekeeper for the Tasmanian Turf Club for 50 years, for the Northern Tasmanian Trotting Club since its foundation, for the Danbury Park Club since it started to race at Elphin. He resigned as timekeeper for the Newnham Racing Club in 1931. Frank Simpson is one of, if not the oldest racing official in Tasmania, and everyone will tell you that he is an exceptionally good timekeeper.

As keeper of the town clock, Frank Simpson has a remarkable record. The clock was installed in 1909 to commemorate the centenary of the foundation of the city. The dials are 8ft. 6in. in diameter, each of the big hands more than 4ft. long, the pendulum 14ft. long. It is the job of Frank Simpson to see that the pendulum keeps swinging, the hands moving across the face. The original wooden staircase leading to the tower has been worn thinly, largely by the regular tread of the keeper of the clock.

Drama and comedy are woven into the history of clock and keeper. It was Frank Simpson who tolled the bells in the tower when the deaths of King Edward VII and King George V were announced. It was Frank Simpson who, on the occasion of the great flood in April 1929, caused the clock to strike for 30 minutes as a prearranged warning to residents of Invermay to evacuate the danger areas. It was Frank Simpson who rushed from his home to the tower when, not so long ago the clock struck 150 times because of a fracture in the mechanism.

Frank Simpson lives in the first house in Cimitiere St., a substantial place built of freestone quarried at Ross. There is a clock in every room and one overhanging the twisty stairway. It is from here that he goes to his shop each day. And if you poked about his little shop – “The Mercury” picture-story unit has a bad habit of poking about in dark corners and niches – you would find a miniature cabinet filled with watchmaker’s tools, some of them made by Frank Simpson. They are interesting, but not nearly as much as the diary which Frank has kept on the backs of the small drawers in the cabinet. Here, he has jotted down some of the more memorable incidents in his life. Some entries make good reading. Others are not intended for anyone but the author. He displayed the entry on the back of one small drawer – “Friday night, August 7th, 1891,” There’s a story behind that entry. It still brings a smile to the face of Frank Simpson. It is probably known to a few of Frank’s cronies in Launceston. It is not for this page.

Frank has treated Time kindly. Time has treated Frank Simpson kindly. Taking time off from his job as keeper of the clock and watchmaker, he enjoys a game of euchre or crib. He likes his “glass,” and the only time he cannot master or correct is the familiar 10 pm call, “Time, gentlemen.”


SEE Hands of Time Listing for Frank Simpson

Source: Story and images, The Mercury (Hobart) 3 February 1944