Friday, October 25, 2019

J.E. Robinson, 93 Oxford St, Sydney

Here we are again with another porcelain dial pocket watch that reads:
"J. E. Robinson, 93 Oxford St, Sydney".

This American Waltham pocket watch was imported and retailed by J.E. Robinson around 1900 to 1905. His store was situated on one of the busiest streets in Sydney, 93 Oxford. You would think that finding some information on watchmaker Robinson would be pretty easy given that he ran a business in the heart of Sydney. But unfortunately, that's not the case.

The history of Sydney predates modern times, and Indigenous Australians have inhabited the area for over 30,000 years. Sydney was founded in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet of British ships that laid the foundation of a penal colony by Great Britain.

My research on J.E. Robinson turned up two names to begin with: John Eyre Robinson and John Ernest Robinson. I thought: Surely, they must be related? And surely they were. John Eyre Robinson (father) was married to Katherine Lillian Gladwin, who gave birth to John Ernest Robinson (son) on December 1, 1888.

John Ernest Robinson (son) was born in in Bundaberg, Queensland. He enlisted as a Gunner for the army in January 1916, age 27. On his return to Australia, he received a Distinguished Conduct Medal:

“'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while in charge of a party of 30 men and 60 animals bringing up ammunition to the battery position through deep mud and numerous shell holes, and under incessant bombardment for a distance of 800 yards.”
Commonwealth Gazette No. 110 25th July 1918
Image from National Archives of Australia 
The son's listed next of kin on his war record was John Eyre Robinson, 93 Oxford Street, Sydney – a direct match with the details of our pocket watch. While at first, I faced the question: Who was J. E. Robinson, maker of the pocket watch - father or son? Clearly, he was the father. Also, as the pocket watch was made in the early 1900s, this would make John Ernest far too young to be the maker.

As John Ernest was born in Queensland, I assumed that the Robinson family had relocated from Queensland to Sydney at some point in time. And sure enough, a quick Google search would confirm that Mr J. E. Robinson of Bundaberg, Queensland was ‘a leading watchmaker and jeweller’:

“Our leading watchmaker and jeweller, Mr. J. E. Robinson is now showing the very latest designs in gold brooches, mass chains, pendants, links and bangles, large selection of engagement rings, wedding rings &c. The stock of articles suitable for wedding presents is both large and varied. As a manufacturing watchmaker, J. E. R. can be relied on for the best class of English Lever Watches. The well known ‘Burnett’ Watch is a splendid timekeeper and wonderful value for 20. Alarm clocks 5/6, 8-Day clocks from 15/6. Best quality, largest stock, lowest prices. J. E. Robinson, Watchmaker and Jeweller. Note – This establishment is next John Hunter’s Boot Palace”

The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser, 16th August 1899
Although you would think that finding a pocket watch from a major city such as Sydney would bring up a lot of information, it's been quite the opposite. But even small details can help us understand the bigger picture.

I wonder how the move from Bundaberg to Sydney impacted J.E Robinson's business. Was the move to Sydney for better of for worse? It is not known why Robinson relocated since he was already known as a 'leading watchmaker and jeweller' in Queensland. But what we do know is that he was a direct competitor of J. Macleod & Son who supplied Moeris pocket watches to Queensland Rail.

Since Robinson moved to Sydney, I struggled to find much about him. Maybe business didn't take off. Who knows? It's only a small number of jewellers and watchmakers who survive and prosper. But once again, the porcelain dial has stood the test of time long after Robinson's Oxford Street store closed.

It goes without saying, if you can provide any additional information on J. E. Robinson, I would be more than grateful and will add it to our archives.                           

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