Monday, August 17, 2020

Apprentice Book Review - Chloe


Mr Oatley- The Celebrated Watchmaker

A review of the book Mr Oatley- The Celebrated Watchmaker, a book filled with the wins and losses of early Australian convict life and the path to working as a free man of the country. Small drawings depict the referenced material throughout and there is no dull moment in the story of this mans life, as this review explores just a small facet of his life.

'At least twelve have survived, each dial engraved 'Oatley, Sydney' , and most are numbered and dated with the year. They date between 1820 and 1827, and are numbered between 7 and 31. All but one have cedar cases. Clock No.19 is now in the Mint Museum, the restored south wing of the Rum Hospital, which stands next to Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie St, Sydney. It is dated 1822 and has an eight day weight driven movement with a thirty inch long seconds pendulum. It strikes on the hour, and on the face there is a seconds dial above the figure 6. The dial is silvered copper and the clock case of Australian cedar is 8feet 7 inches high. '

Mr Oatley, or James Oatley may not be names that ring a bell for some, however after reading this book and it's descriptions of the township of Sydney in its youth, to the history of Oatley himself, it is clear that he has left a mark on Sydney today, if you only know where to look. Oatley was a watch and clockmaker by trade and was born in England, but much like many men of England, he stole and paid the price in transportation to Australia. Once there, his previous occupation was noted in the muster and he rose to prominence as the townships official government clock maintainer, however he was superseded by Mr Robertson in 1822. Oatley then moved to open his own business and later was given the challenge of the clock in Hyde Park Barracks.

The clock of Hyde Park Barracks and it's maker is highly disputed, as parts resemble that of those made in England by parts makers, however certain other parts show the skill of Oatley making from the junk metals around him. The dial itself is an example of this as it appears to have been made from copper sheathing plates off of the ships as metals such as copper were expensive and hard to source, so he turned to the most viable source available, ships. The dire need for this clock also pushed this turret clock into creation as an Act of Parliament passed in 1799, placed a tax on watches, thereby forcing many to rely on publicly displayed clocks, thus Oatley's need to complete the clock with the resources around him. The clock slowly has been added to, with the bell coming later as the township gained more income to fund such a project.

The Oatley property in George St was bought by Oatley himself and granted by the governing body, to open his watch and clockmaking workshop. He occupied it throughout his lifetime and his son continued the workshop after his death. Later a jeweller by the name of William Kerr moved into the Oatley premises of 544 George St. This being a place of proximity to the wealthy and leading citizens allowed Kerr to secure a commission to make the gold mounted trowel and mallet for laying the foundation stone of the Great Hall of Sydney Town Hall in November of 1883. These premises then passed to the Kerr brothers from 1922 to 1938, where it now stands as the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. 

Oatley has many more stories and incidences throughout his life and much more is explored throughout the book, it is almost impossible to describe the book in a single way other than this: a life history of one man and many others sprinkled throughout, and such a short history of a time of Sydney in its youth. A very good read whilst small it has many images and many stories and facts of the city of Sydney that truly connects the past with the now.                          

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