Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Victorian Aneroid Barometer on Stand by Troughton & Simms & Engraved to George Sibley


For sale, an early aneroid barometer on oak stand by Troughton & Simms engraved to the owner George Sibley.

This quality example is comprised of a four and a half inch double level silvered dial with the upper section circumference containing a scale measuring a huge 14 to 32 inches of barometric pressure and divided to tenths of an inch. The lower central scale containing a semi-circular Centigrade thermometer to the base and the upper section expertly engraved to the maker, “Troughton & Simms, London”. The blue steel indicator hand finished with a crescent moon design and the brass setting hand with an unusually refined double stem. The reverse of the barometer case is further engrave to the owner, a “George Sibley”.

The elegantly sized oak base is superbly executed with floral scroll motifs emanating from either side of the barometer and it retains its original velvet lining intended to cushion the instrument whilst it rests upon it.

The original owner of this instrument is likely to be George Sibley (1824 – 1891), a celebrated Victorian engineer. Educated at UCL, London, he initially undertook an apprenticeship with his father after which Sibley gained employment as an assistant engineer on the Bristol to Exeter under Isambard Kingdom Brunel and later Sir Charles Hutton Gregory.

With such solid credentials, he received an appointment in 1851 as assistant engineer on the East India railway and was put in charge of the Chandernagore district, rising to resident engineer of Beerbhoom district in 1853. He was made deputy chief engineer in 1857 and chief engineer of the North-West Provinces Division in 1859. Following the death of Samuel Power in 1868, Sibley was made Chief Engineer in charge of the entire line.

His obituary in The Engineer reads:

“While these works will always attest to his engineering ability and skill, his services to the East Indian Railway Company were of the greatest importance, however, in his administrative capacity as a Member of the Board of Agency in Calcutta from 1868 to 1875. He then had control of the engineering, the locomotive, the carriage and wagon, and the telegraph departments, and only those who were intimately connected with him in his work knew how largely the success of the company was due to his powers of organization and hard work, and to the initiation of important reforms which in later years added materially to the prosperity of the line.

In 1869 the honour of the profession was unjustifiably assailed by the Government of India in a Notification, the intention of which was plainly to charge Civil Engineers with recognizing as legitimate the receipt of commissions from others than their immediate employers. Mr. Sibley, with his usual energy, immediately took steps to protest against this insinuation, and, in conjunction with other prominent engineers in India, addressed to the Government a remonstrance couched in the strongest and most indignant terms. The Institution took the matter up, and some correspondence passed with the Secretary of State for India which was printed in full as an Appendix to the Report of the Council for that year.

Mr. Sibley left India in January, 1875, on twelve months’ furlough, and retired from the service of the East Indian Railway Company on the 14th of January, 1876. (His son Robert Knowsley Sibley drowned in the Thames in 1875 and may have contributed to his early retirement).

After his retirement he built a house on the top of Whitehill, near Caterham, one of the highest hills in Surrey; it was constructed of concrete, and was one of the largest private houses in this country for which that material was used. There he spent the greater part of the summer months.

Every winter he went abroad; in recent years always to Tenerife. He had been a great traveller, having visited many remote and uncivilized regions, and to the last he kept up the habit of constant out-door exercise by taking daily walks. Most of his time was now devoted to literary and scientific pursuits, the outcome of which were various contributions to technical journals. He was very musical, and during his travels acquired a good colloquial knowledge of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindostani - a man of remarkable individuality, holding views on most subjects of a decided and rather advanced nature, and in politics a republican. He was clever at making complicated mental calculations, and in working out mathematical problems.

He rarely made notes when inspecting works, but on returning to the office, after several days’ absence, he would write a report of the inspection, quoting facts and figures from memory.

His reports were invariably sent out in his own handwriting, as a rule without alterations or corrections, and it was no doubt partly due to this facility that he was able to get through so much original work. Perhaps his individuality was most marked by his vegetarian habits. At the age of nineteen he became a total abstainer and a strict vegetarian, acting upon the principle that it was not right to destroy animal life or even that which might become animal life.

Mr. Sibley enjoyed perfect health up to the winter of 1890-91, when he had, while in Tenerife, one or two attacks of shortness of breath, which he attributed to asthma. On returning to England in the spring it was discovered that he was suffering from a pronounced form of heart disease, from which he died on the 25th of October, 1891, at the age of sixty-seven years.

In recognition of his services in India, Mr. Sibley was created a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. He left a considerable legacy, for the purpose of founding engineering scholarships and of encouraging native engineering students, to the University of Calcutta, of which he had been appointed a Fellow by the Governor-General in Council on the 19th of January, 1872.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 5th of February, 1850, and was transferred to the class of Member on the 13th of April, 1858.”

The makers of the this fine instrument, Troughton & Simms, were arguably, the most famous of British scientific instrument making firms from the period, the firm was created in 1826 by a merger of the Troughton business and that of William Simms and it company continued to trade until just after the Great War. In 1922 it merged with T Cooke & Sons to become, Cooke Troughton & Simms. The company still exists today and now trades as Cooke Optics Limited with a focus on cinematography lenses. 

Prior to their merger, Edward Troughton was responsible for considerably expanding the Troughton family’s reputation for quality (the dynasty had begun in the 1750’s). He was apprenticed to his brother John in 1770 and later formed a partnership with him named J&E Troughton. Following John’s retirement in 1804, he maintained the business in his own right and was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society in 1810. He was considered a peer of the great Jesse Ramsden, responsible for numerous developments in surveying and navigational instruments.

William Simms was born in Birmingham but moved with his family to London where his father was employed in making marine compasses. He was apprenticed to a goldsmith, William Penstone but turned over to his father (also William) two years before completion. In 1815, he emerged and went into business as a Freeman of the Goldsmiths Company of London. Soon after, he submitted his plans for an ‘improved protractor’ to The Royal Society and was supported by Thomas Jones, the famous instrument maker from Charing Cross and originally one of Jesse Ramsden’s workmen. His work and ideas on the development of dividing engines brought him into close contact with Edward Troughton as Simms, re-divided an engine that had been made by Troughton some years earlier and required an overhaul but the relationship with Troughton is considered to have been formed after working together on a commission for Sir James South for the East India Company.

Circa 1860

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