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Victorian Drawing Instrument Set by Elliott Brothers London - Owned by Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson KCB


A superior quality Victorian engineers drawing instrument set by Elliott Brothers of London, once owned by Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson KCB.

This beautiful electrum set is enclosed in a blue velvet lined mahogany case with silver cartouche to the lid, engraved to HF Donaldson. The lift out top section contains numerous dividers including a proportional divider, a pair of Swiss pattern trammels, pens and a rare telescopic turnabout compass. All instruments are marked to Elliott and/or engraved with Donaldson’s initials.

The base section has an ebonised wooden rolling parallel marked to “Elliott Strand London” and with initials HGD engraved to the top, numerous pen attachments including a further bone handled and stamped example, an initialled forty five degree set square and a later sanding block for creating points on pencil leads.

The owner of this superb set of drawing instruments Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson and his life’s works are sadly overshadowed by the unusual cause of his death. He was killed when the HMS Hampshire was struck by a mine off the coast of The Orkney Isles whilst leaving on a secretive mission headed by Lord Kitchener to bolster support from the Russian Tsar during the early part of World War One. Kitchener also died as a result of this event.

Numerous conspiracy theories have abounded for a century around the reasons for the Hampshire’s path through the mine field and a book on the subject, “HMS Hampshire: A Century of Myths and Mysteries Unravelled” has recently sought to correct the long debate. However, his contribution to Engineering industry in both the UK and on a global basis cannot be understated. The 1916 obituary written by the Institution of Civil engineers properly sums up this important character of the Late Victorian and Great War Periods.

Sir HAY FREDERICK DONALDSON, K.C.B., lost his life by the destruction of H.M.S. Hampshire off the Orkneys on the 5th June, 1916, whilst proceeding with Lord Kitchener to Russia. In the calamity which then befell the nation, The Institution suffered a threefold loss in the deaths of Lord Kitchener, Honorary Member, Sir Frederick Donaldson and Leslie S. Robertson.

The subject of this memoir was the second son of Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson, the first Premier of New South Wales, and was born at Sydney on the 7th July, 1856. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, afterwards receiving technical training at Edinburgh University.

From 1875 to 1877 he served a term of pupilage and apprenticeship at the London and North Western Railway Works at Crewe, under the late Mr. F. W. Webb, and afterwards received further technical training, from 1877 to 1879, at Zurich Technical School and at Cambridge.

In 1880 he was employed on Parliamentary work and as engineer in charge of the construction of the Burnley tramways under the late Mr. Joseph Kincaid, being later - in September 1881 - appointed one of the assistant engineers, and shortly after made an executive engineer on the West of India Portuguese Railway and Harbour, under Mr. E. E. Sawyer. During part of his service with this company he held charge of the harbour works at Goa, but was mainly responsible for the construction of sections of the railway, involving much heavy work.

In 1887, on the completion of his duties in India, Mr. Donaldson, as he then was, returned to England, and in the autumn of the same year was appointed by the late Mr. Thomas A. Walker, contractor, as his engineer in charge of No. 1 section of the Manchester Ship Canal, this engagement involving the construction of entrance locks, estuary banks, and heavy piling work of great magnitude and importance. After leaving the Manchester Ship Canal he was engaged in 1891 and 1892 in private engineering practice, and on the 1st January, 1893, he was appointed Engineer-in-Chief to the London and India Docks Joint Committee. He was the Author of a Paper in the Proceedings on “Cold Storage at the London and India Docks,” for which he was awarded a Telford premium. He received the appointment of Deputy Director-General of Ordnance Factories under the late Sir William Anderson.

Sir William Anderson died in 1898, and both during the illness which preceded his decease and after his death, Mr. Donaldson was temporarily in charge of all the Ordnance Factories, and in 1899 he was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer, in charge of all consultative business, the selection and purchase of machinery, and the modernisation of methods of manufacture. Later, in 1903, on the retirement of Sir E. Bainbridge, he was appointed Chief Superintendent of the Royal Ordnance Factories; a position which he held until last year. The work involved vast responsibilities, and much of it was carried on under very trying conditions, which greatly taxed his health and strength. The present war, with the consequent unprecedented demands for guns and munitions of all kinds, necessitated great extensions of the factories and largely increased the work of control. Shortly after the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions, Sir Frederick Donaldson, at the request of Mr. Lloyd-George, temporarily gave up his position as Chief Superintendent of Royal Ordnance Factories in order to act as his technical adviser at the Ministry. His services to the State were recognised in 1909 by the award of the honour of C.B., which was followed by K.C.B. in 1911.

Sir Frederick took an active interest in the work of The Institution. He was elected a member of the Council in 1911, and served on that body, and on various committees, until his death. He was also a member and past-president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and did excellent work on the Engineering Standards committee, both as a member of the main committee and as Chairman of the Committee on Screw Threads and Limit-Gauges. At its meeting on the 20th June, 1916, the Council of The Institution passed the following resolution: “That the Council deeply regret the death of their colleague, Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson, which occurred in the course of public war-service rendered by him, and desire to place on record their high appreciation of the services rendered by him to The Institution and the Engineering profession, and to express to Lady Donaldson and the members of his family sincere condolence in their bereavement.”

It was announced in the London Gazette of the 12th June that he held the rank of Brigadier-General.

Elliott Brothers, the makers of this superior quality drawing set began in the early nineteenth century around 1804 by the founder William Elliott. Following the completion of his apprenticeship to instrument maker, William Blackwell, he began trading under his own name, W. Elliott and plied a successful trade in London. Elliott is considered to have been married three times during his life and early records suggest a number of makers with the same surname working in London at this time. Evidence is not yet complete to confirm just how many of these characters were related at the time but records suggest that William’s son Charles Alfred from his third marriage was apprenticed to him by 1837. William must have been a man of means by this point as his elder son, Frederick Henry had graduated from Christ’s College in Cambridge by 1845.

Four years later in 1849, William took both of his sons into business, changing the name to William Elliott & Sons and in the following year exhibited at The Great Exhibition where they were a recipient of a bronze medal for their work. By this time, the company had moved from their original base in High Holborn to their well known address at 56 The Strand.

William died in 1853 leaving the business to his sons and by 1854, the pair had changed the name to Elliott Brothers and in 1857 subsumed the highly renowned instrument making company, Watkins & Hill after the deaths of the partners. Under the astute business leadership of Frederick, Elliott Brothers worked with a number of leading scientists of the period involved themselves in the production of early electrical instruments, telegraphic equipment and the new aneroid barometer as well as their standard stock. During this time, numerous patents are registered for barometers, telescopes and drawing boards amongst others.

In 1867 the company exhibited at The Paris Exhibition and three years later in 1870, records show that the partnership was dissolved upon Charles’s retirement. Frederick continuing to direct the business until his death in 1877. The business however, was continued as Elliott Brothers under the guidance of William’s wife Susan who took leading telegraph engineer, Willoughby Smith into partnership.

Upon Susan’s death in 1880, the firm finally fell away from family ownership although the Smith family continued to run Elliott’s with Willoughby’s sons, William Oliver and Willoughby Statham taking roles as managers. Under this ownership, the company won a gold medal at the Paris Electrical Exhibition in 1881.

By 1893, Elliott Brothers had merged with Meinrad Theiler & sons but kept the original name and with GKB Elphinstone joining as chairman through this merger, the company gained vital contacts in The Royal Navy. By this time, the company is listed as trading from a new address at 101 & 102 St Martin’s Lane and began to focus business on electrical instruments for the military. Presumably, this more industrial focus led to the company moving out of London in 1898 to Lewisham in Kent but it continued to produce a range of instruments from meteorological to telegraphic whilst also manufacturing naval gunnery tables, it employed 200-300 people by this stage.

In 1902, Elliott Brothers were awarded the Royal Warrant and prior to the Great War, it started to produce aviation equipment for The War Office. Throughout this period, the company profited from its military links and was incorporated as Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd in 1917.

After the World Wars, Elliott’s story is one of specialisation with various subsidiary arms such as Aviation, Automation and Nucleonics being singled off. The company acquired numerous companies throughout the twentieth century before being taken over in 1967 by The English Electric Co and just a year later that company was subsumed under GEC alongside Marconi. However, GEC’s subsidiary arms made reference to both Marconi & Elliott in their names. It was not until 1984 that the Elliott brand was dropped in favour of GEC Avionics, it was renamed again in 1998 as Marconi Electronic Systems and finally absorbed a year later into BAE Systems where the remnants of this prestigious company remain.

This superior drawing instrument set is likely to have been bought during the 1870 or 1880’s as Hay Frederick Donaldson (born in 1856) would have been unlikely to have required such a set until reaching some level of maturity. It may perhaps have been a gift from his father, Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson for his son to use during his time at University. Elliott Brothers seem also to have moved out of The Strand address by 1892 so the set’s manufacture can be identified to within a twenty year period, circa 1870 – 1890.

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