The most historically interesting entry in Bonhams’ clock sale held in their New Bond Street rooms came from the ten-lot section devoted to marine chronometers.
This was a mahogany cased example dated 1825 made by William
Edward Frodsham of the famous clockmaking family (he was the son of
William James and younger brother of Henry). Tragically drowned at
the age of 20, his horological output is scarce.
The chronometer was signed to the dial and numbered 2 and
additionally inscribed to the backplate, William Edward
Frodsham, AD 1825, London. It also bore an inlaid brass X mark
and its ordnance arrow had been removed, showing that it had been
de-accessioned from Government use.
The vendor had acquired the piece around 30-40 years ago and
knew that Frodsham was a significant chronometer maker, but it was
Bonhams' specialist Charles Crisford who researched the records and
pieced together the rest of the background to uncover the
fascinating history of this instrument.
Like many marine chronometers, and as indicated by the
de-accession marks, this instrument (Frodsham 2) was purchased by
the Admiralty after being entered in the Greenwich trials in
1829-30. The Admiralty kept detailed records of their chronometers
which allowed its history to be traced. Ledger entries showed that
it had served in 15 ships between 1831 and 1911 when it was
acquired by Dent and Co.
Two of those voyages are particularly high-profile. Firstly, it
was one of 22 chronometers that accompanied Robert Fitzroy on his
second voyage in the Beagle in 1831. Today this
voyage is best known because Charles Darwin volunteered to travel
as ship's naturalist and made his famous trip to the Galapagos
Islands and much more.
But Fitzroy's and the Beagle's main task was to
survey the coast of South America and to take a series of
chronometric measurements on a global circumnavigation to establish
longitude. It required a bank of chronometers to ensure accuracy
and of the 22 taken (11 of which were Government property) only two
are known to have survived, so the appearance of Frodsham 2 adds a
The chronometer's other significant journey, this time in 1843,
was as one of the four box and seven pocket chronometers used on
the arduous North American Boundary expedition to accurately map
the frontier between the United States of America and British North
As a Frodsham chronometer alone, Bonhams' James Stratton said
the value of this instrument would be around £5000-10,000, but the
Beagle associations added significantly to the attraction
and the auctioneers guided the piece at £30,000-50,000 for the sale
on July 9.
In the event it sold for £60,000, going to a buyer in the room
who purchased it for its Beagle connections against an underbidder
on the phone.
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