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Watch presented to intrepid Scot, first man to cross Australia, to be sold at Bonhams
John McDouall Stuart was one of the many intrepid Scottish explorers responsible for forging routes into the unknown and often inhospitable Australian interior. Photo: Bonhams.

SYDNEY.- A watch presented to John McDouall Stuart by The Royal Geographical Society in 1859 in recognition of his expeditions into the desert wilderness of central Australia is to be auctioned at Bonhams Colonial Sale in Sydney on 25 November. It carries an estimate of £25,000-35,000 (AUD 40,000-60,000).

The James Brock pocket watch was brought into Bonhams Edinburgh by its Scottish owner. According to the Head of the Jewellery and Silver Department in Scotland, Clare Blatherwick, its significance for Australia was immediately obvious. “I recommended to the client that we offer the watch in one of Bonhams Sydney sales where the market for it was likely to be strongest,” she said. “Scots played key roles in the development of Australia during the Colonial era and there must be many Scottish families with fascinating objects from that time.”

John McDouall Stuart was one of the many intrepid Scottish explorers responsible for forging routes into the unknown and often inhospitable Australian interior. His expeditions from the fledgling communities of Adelaide and Port Augusta in South Australia in the 1850s in search of pastoral lands have left an invaluable legacy.

In 1861, McDouall Stuart became the first settler to cross the continent from Adelaide to the Indian Ocean, a feat he achieved despite almost dying from the ravages of scurvy and near blindness. His return to Adelaide in December of that year without the loss of a single member of his team was a triumph of early exploration. Accompanying John McDouall Stuart’s watch are twelve testimonies to the value of his explorations, the most significant resulting in the building of the Adelaide –Darwin Overland Telegraph and the route from Port Augusta to Darwin which is marked today by the Stuart Highway.

Australia’s links to Scotland stretch back to The First Expedition of Lieutenant James Cook, the son of a Scottish ploughman. Scottish settlers to Australia arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 including William Balmain who became the settlement’s principal surgeon. In the early colonial period Scottish convicts comprised 5% of the total population of 150,000 transported to Australia. Most Scots arriving in the late 18th century were free settlers, many of whom were literate with professional, commercial, financial and agricultural skills. Of the first six Governors of New South Wales, three were Scottish; Governor John Hunter, governing from 1795-1800, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, often referred to as the father of Australia who governed from 1810-1821 and Thomas Makdougall Brisbane who succeeded him from 1821-1825.

Brisbane was born at Brisbane House in Noddsdale, near Largs in Ayrshire and educated in astronomy and mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. A rare portrait miniature of Governor Brisbane (1773-1860) attributed to Nathaniel Plimer is one of the other most notable item in the sale. It is estimated at £30,000-40,000 (AUD50,000-70,000). The miniature of Brisbane as a young officer was probably painted between 1803 -1805 when he spent time serving in England and later in Scotland before taking up the governorship of New South Wales succeeding Lachlan Macquarie in 1821. Early 18th century Colonial portraits miniatures are exceedingly rare and those of very significant figures of Australia’s history by a recognised miniaturist are almost unknown.

The sale also includes a charming silver Quaich which belonged to the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun, later First Marquess of Linlithgow, who served as Governor of Victoria between 1889 – 1895.

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