Victorian Presentation Aneroid Barometer on Stand by Cox & Coombes - HMS Britannia


Vendor: jasonclarkeltd - Antique Vintage Decor

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A rare Victorian presentation aneroid barometer with eight inch open dial on carved golden oak stand by Cox & Coombes of Devonport.

This super looking barometer has a dial registering 25 to 31 inches of barometric pressure with open centre to show off the superbly crafted aneroid mechanism behind. The dial has the standard barometer readings of the period and is signed to Cox & Coombes Devonport to the base of the dial. It has a blue steel indicating hand and a brass pointer that is operating by means of a knurled brass knob to the centre of the bevelled glass plate. The brass bezel is secured onto a graduating brass base, the shape of which is mimicked in the carving of the golden oak base to allow it to sit securely on top. The base is beautifully carved with foliate C scrolls.

The back of the barometer of this presentation barometer is engraved with the following:

“1st Admiralty Prize for Physics. Mr P.S. Watson. HMS Britannia – December 1884.”

The HMS Britannia was the name given to the Royal Navy’s officer training ships during the period, 1859 to 1905. Cadets were housed aboard the vessel and undertook numerous studies which if passed would qualify them to become mid-shipmen. At the date of the inscription, the training vessel (formerly HMS Prince of Wales) was docked at Dartford and just seven years earlier (1877 – 1879) had played host to Edward VII’s children, Princes Albert and George (later George V) for their naval education. George V later wrote of his time on The Britannia:

“It never did me any good to be a Prince. The Britannia was a pretty tough place, and so far from our benefitting, the other cadets made a point of taking it out of us, on the grounds that they would never be able to do it later on. There was a lot of fighting among the cadets, and the rule was if challenged you had to accept. So they used to make me go up and challenge the bigger cadets. I was awfully small then, and I’d get a hiding time and again. But one day I was landed one on the nose that made me bleed. It was the best blow I ever had, as the doctor forbade me to fight any more”.

The training college was renowned for bullying amongst the cadets before the Princes were sent to the establishment and attempts to reduce this seemed to have been futile given that the problem was still bad enough for it to reach the newspapers in 1891. Nevertheless, the college provided a good grounding for Royal Navy Officers where before 1859 there had been none at all and in 1905, the decision was taken to build shore based premises to house the ongoing education of its students.

The winner of this barometer was a Philip Sherard Watson, who entered the training ship in January 1883 alongside 34 other candidates. Born in Southsea, the son of a Colonel WH Watson Royal Artillery, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in January 1892 and was made Captain of the First Class Torpedo Boat TB36 in May of 1894 and was stationed in Hong Kong. In the late 1890’s he served as lieutenant and Commander of two A Class Destroyers, namely HMS Hunter and HMS Hornet. He was later placed on the Retired List at his own request (probably through ill health) in January of 1904 and was promoted to Commander (retired) in August of 1909.

According to his obituary in the Hampshire news, he died on the 7th of January 1936 in Midhurst, East Sussex where his family had a long association with the area. He was married in 1902 to Muriel Gertrude Godman and served as a magistrate both during and after his departure from the Navy, he returned to service with the Navy for a short period during the First World War. It further relates that Watson was a keen huntsman and served as, “whip for the beagles” during his time on HMS Britannia.

The firm of Cox & Coombes from whom this barometer was retailed are worthy of further research as the Cox family were certainly trading as opticians and scientific instrument makers from the beginnings of the nineteenth century, having an establishment date of 1806. Records suggest that a William Cox was trading at this period and later in 1822, a William Charles Cox (who may be one in the same or a son) had premises across Fore Street and Southside Street until 1857. His advertisements from this period, announce him as an “optical and nautical instrument maker”.

Taking advantage of the necessary requirements of a naval station and its inhabitants, Cox was an agent to Robert Bate for admiralty charts and agent to both John Roger Arnold and Edward John Dent (EJ Dent) as a supplier of their “admiralty chronometers”. In addition, his instruments are often found with inscriptions suggesting that he was supplier to The Royal Western Yacht Club founded in 1827.

The partnership of Cox & Coombes is considered to have been formed in 1845 and although some sources suggest an end to the partnership in 1865, it is clear from the inscription on this piece that the partnership was still trading in 1884. Advertisements by a J. Coombes in Fore Street from 1890 would rather suggest that the partnership with Cox had then been severed by either death or dissolution at that point. It is interesting to note that Coombes was advertising his business as having been established since 1806 but I would suggest that he was using the Cox family’s earlier trading dates prior to the partnership to promote the longevity of his business. Early records of the Coombes business are noticeably absent.

With the evidence to hand, it may be more sensible to question the establishment dates for the partnership of Cox & Coombes as Cox as a sole trader has established working dates up until 1857. Unless further evidence comes to light, my view is that the partnership is more likely to have existed from circa 1860 – 1890.

Records for the Coombes business prove that the business was still active in the 1930’s and was at some point between 1930 and 1950 formed into the partnership of Coombes and Jarvis. It is suggested that this firm was finally bought out by Dollond & Aitchison in the 1970’s which itself was finally amalgamated into the Boots Optician brand.