History of the Project

My interest in clocks started in approximately 1981-1982, not long after getting married. My father-in-law had three mechanical clocks he cherished, wound weekly, and were an essential part of his life. He was blind, so he relied on the clocks striking the hours and often opened the glass door to feel the position of the hands to ascertain the time. It made me think of times past, even before electrical power to the home, and the importance of clocks and timepieces in our lives.

We also needed a mechanical clock in the house. The ticking and sound of the strike added more life to our home; it was the beginning of an interest in all things horological. So, I started to collect a few clocks and wondered how they all worked. For our first wedding anniversary, my wife, Sallie, bought me a book on clock repair by Donald De Carle, which at the time probably didn’t interest me that much because it was a technical book on repairing. I was more interested in the history of clocks and watches and their makers. When one of my clocks stopped working, I became interested in the workings of clocks out of necessity. I started reading more about how to rectify the problem. Visiting the Launceston Library, I borrowed all the books about repairing clocks I could find.

The only people I knew repairing clocks at this time were a few working from home; Robin White was one. He was asked from time to time to service my father-in-law’s clocks and was the first person I went to when I pulled my first clock apart and could not get it back together again. Over the next few years, my skills and knowledge increased to the point where I fixed a few clocks for other people.

After a short time, I advertised to buy clocks in any condition. One of the first calls I received was from a repairer who repaired clocks for F & W Stewarts in Launceston. I purchased about six clocks in various states of disrepair and fixed them over the next six months. The first one completed was taken to an antique store to sell to fund more purchases from my ad.

A few years later, a clock repairer offered me a complete workshop to purchase. He was giving up repairing and moving to Adelaide. The workshop comprised a few machine tools, many hand tools, and many spare parts. He told me he had bought the workshop several years before from Launceston watchmakers, Eastburns. Some hand tools looked very old, probably dating back to the late 1800s. This workshop set me up with most things I needed to start my own business in clock repairs.

One of the first clocks I encountered with a local connection was a cottage clock marked on the dial Henri Issell & Co Launceston and Hobart. At first, I thought it was made in Tasmania, but on closer inspection, I found the movement was marked Ansonia, made in New York, USA. Who was Henry Issell? When there was no internet to look things up, it was off to the local Launceston Library to search the archives. It turned out that Henri wasn’t a clockmaker; he was an importer and retailer of various items, including clocks and watches.

Not long after the Henri Issell clock, I purchased a nice inlaid wall clock with the name M Allen Launceston marked on the dial and remembered I had a pocket watch with W H Allen Launceston on the dial. Father and son? I started thinking about their history. My father-in-law also gave me a pocket watch that had E A Joyce Burnie on the dial, and as I undertook more repairs, I came across more and more local names. One local auction house sold a large wall clock removed from Customs House with W H Allen Launceston on the dial. I purchased and restored the clock for a local collector. Among some spare parts I bought, I found a small box with dozens of new pocket watch dials marked F & W Stewarts Launceston; then I found an old watch movement marked Jas. Parker Launceston Tasmania. I started to wonder about the history of clocks and watches in Tasmania. Were any clocks locally made? Who was the first clock or watchmaker in Tasmania? Who was the first in Launceston?

I decided to photograph clocks I bought or repaired that had links to Tasmania. Also, if I found the name of a watch, clockmaker, or any information, I recorded it. Watchmakers and clockmakers often scratched their names or initials and dates onto the brass movement or the back of the dial of clocks and watches they repaired. This was a remarkable history of past repairs; it would be good to be able to look up the marks and find out who the people were and their stories, so I started photographing the markings. One of the first clocks I purchased at auction was a round wall clock in terrible condition. The timber was painted a cream colour, the dial very rusty, and about a quarter of the paint had flaked off, but the name, W H Fletcher, was still legible. Over time, I restored the clock and sold it at an antique fair. I wished I could have given the new owners some history of the clock and its maker.

Now, with over 30 years of experience and research, I realise that most clocks and watches with names on the dials were not made in Tasmania but merely marked with the watchmaker’s name and place as advertising for their business. So it was my wish to have a Tasmanian clock and watchmakers database so information could be easily accessed and history read. That is now possible through my passion for horology and Sallie’s skills and love of history and research. The result is a vast database launched in December 2022 to commemorate thirty years in business.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our business and the many individuals and organisations contributing to this project.

Graham Mulligan 2022