Thursday, October 24, 2019

The King of Narrabri

This pocket watch which landed on my desk yesterday morning.

The pocket watch dates from around 1930s and has white porcelain dial with the label: “Commander” H.G. King Narrabri. Of course, it is a Swiss-made watch, but back in 1930s, the Swiss were more than happy to make custom porcelain dials with retailers' labels. Naturally, I thought this would be a good place to start.

Here’s what I’ve go so far:

Narrabri is a town in New South Wales, located on the Namoi River over 500km northwest of Sydney. Its proclamation as a town in 1860 led to the development of several buildings, such as the District Hospital which opened in 1864.

As it turns out, H.G King was one of Narrabri’s most prominent public figures. Born in 1888, he lived through two wars reaching the end of his life in 1950, aged 62. Throughout his life, King was closely associated with the District Hospital, acting as chairman of the board for a number of years. He was president of the Narrabri Rotary Club, a qualified optician, but even more relevant, a jeweller and watchmaker by trade.

King’s Jewellery store in Narrabri carried “a great variety of exclusive articles most suitable for presents for all occasions” according to The North Western Courier, April 1939. They said of King:

“One has only to look through the stock to learn that great care and discrimination have been given to its selection and to realise that the proprietor takes a great pride in giving clients quality and value for money. Mr. King has become famous throughout Narrabri and district for his large assortment of jewellery and watches of various designs.”
In 1926, King joined the Narrabri War Memorial Committee to establish a monument in memory of soldiers killed in the Great War. His clock design tender for the Memorial was accepted in 1930 and unveiled later that year. The plaque which currently exists on the memorial says “HG King of Narrabri supplied this electrically operated clock which was at that time a new technology” - it still stands today.

But back to the pocket watch. The remaining question is why “Commander”? Was H. G. King referring to himself? Was he a commander in the Great War? Or was he referring to the watch? Was Commander the name of the watch and if so, how many were sold?

The most likely answer is that "Commander" refers to his rank as a soldier, but these are questions I feel I can’t answer without your help. As for the watch, it is undergoing restoration as we speak. I’ll keep you informed of the outcome.

I love preserving watch dials with watchmakers' names on them, for two reasons. Firstly, its so bloody cool! Secondly, I think of myself as an amateur historian, and maybe a slightly delusional one at that.

What fascinates me is that someone's entire life can be found on a watch dial. Would we have ever known about the life of H. G. King if we didn't happen to find his watch? In a world of billions of people, its unlikely that all of us will be remembered. But perhaps if we leave something behind, the chances are in our favour.                          

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