"John McGarvie Smith (1844-1918), watchmaker, metallurgist and bacteriologist, was born on 8 February 1844 in Sydney, eldest surviving of thirteen children of Scots parents David Milne Smith, tailor of Old South Head Road, and his wife Isabella née Young. Baptized John by Rev. John McGarvie, he later added McGarvie to his names. Aged 13 he was apprenticed to a jeweller and watchmaker and by 1867 he had set up as a jeweller and watch and chronometer maker—in George Street in the 1870s, then in Hunter Street until 1882. His precision training and commercial sense stood him in
good stead." And this is just the first paragraph of J M Smith's biography, as recorded by Kamoya Peterson (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-john-mcgarvie-8477)
However, Smith will be remembered as a founder of McGarvie institute. After watchmaking, he took up the study of bacteriology and did a large amount of research endeavouring to find a vaccine against the effects of a snake bite. He was successful in developing a vaccine for Anthrax.
John Smith was avaricious and secretive, and reputed to have amassed a fortune. His estate was valued for probate at £28,739. But he was also "deeply patriotic and convivial with a wide circle of friends. A 'Big Man'in every sense". He died 6 September 1918 at his Woollahra home and was buried in Waverley cemetery.
A person of repute, a skilful watchmaker and academic, born and buried in Sydney.
And today, I have in front of me a J M Smith gold pocket watch. A watch of mysterious origin; a piece of historical and horological value that is yet to be researched. Judging by the quality of workmanship, the 18K gold case as well as mechanism itself, the watch could have been made in England. Yet we know that in the mid-1880s Smith set up himself as an assayer and metallurgist and continued to record his occupation as assayer until 1914. He developed a successful treatment for refractory ores at Sunny Corner mine and Broken Hill, and refined the chlorine process of extracting gold at Mount Morgan, Queensland. Would a gold assayer and a chronometer maker of repute simply import an English pocket watch and engrave his name on the movement and dial? This would be highly unlikely and would make no sense. The construction of the pocket watch is bit unusual - it is a single pusher chronograph capable of recoding up to 60 seconds, but with no minute counter. A kind of watch that he could have at least partially built or made himself. A watch perfect for quick pulse measurement - or what we call a doctor's watch'; a kind of timepiece that would be extremely handy to a scientist or physician. If indeed McGarvie made at least some of the watch components himself, then this pocket watch would certainly have significant importance to Australian horology.
Exciting times ahead - I wish I could jump straight into J M Smith, but for next few weeks the watch will be safely put aside until the bench is cleared.
Note: a watch of this importance always generate fair bit of interest. At this stage it is not for sale. And if decision is made to be sold, then I have no other option but to insist that the watch stays in Sydney. A special thank you to Mr Trent Firth, President of the WCA for help with the research.