French, Royal Exchange: A One-Day Chronometer

French London One day mahogany ships chronometer detent escapement antique HMS Resolute Franklin Northwest North west passage

A small mahogany marine chronometer by French of Royal Exchange.

The one-day duration chain-fusee movement has a detent escapement with compensating balance and is signed in script on the backplate French, Royal Exchange, London, No.3239, being for Santiago James Moore French, and is set within a brass bowl and gimbal. The signature is repeated to the 3¼ inch round silvered dial which is engraved with black Roman numerals and a subsidiary second’s dial and has blued steel spade hands. The brass bound, three tier mahogany case has brass carrying handles, a bone maker’s roundel to the front and two repair labels pasted within stating Royal Observatory, Greenwich, French 3239, Repaired 1905, Sept. and H. Hughes & Son Limited, 59 Fenchurch St, London E.C. 3, 1931 for Mr. R.L. Wakefield.

Dimensions: 16.5 cm x 16 cm x 16 cm


Santiago James Moore French worked at various addresses in and around the Royal Exchange in London, including Sweetings Alley from 1811 having been admitted to the Clockmakers Company in 1810 and then 86, Cornhill until 1840, the year it is recorded he died and the business was taken over by the Spanish clockmaker de Losada, with the address being 80, Royal Exchange before finally settling at 16, Northampton Square Clerkenwell until at least 1865. He was a fine clockmaker who advertised in Spanish and also sold a fair number of clocks in New York and watches to the Admiralty. de Losada supplied many chronometers to the Spanish admiralty, in one year it is believed thirty-eight went to them from the London workshops.


The serial number of this chronometer would indicate a date of manufacture as circa 1824.

In summary: The first ledgers for 3239 show it to be placed on Bonito in January 1826 until three years later being placed onboard the Athol under the command of Captain. A. Gordon. In July of 1842 it was returned to the workshops for repair before resuming service in June 1843. In 1850 it was placed onboard H.M.S. Resolute for the polar expedition to try and locate the exploration party looking for the famed Northwest Passage led by Sir John Franklin aboard H.M.S. Terror that had been lost in 1846, Resolute having been refitted in readiness for the conditions it would encounter, including having extra strong timbers fitted and an internal heating system installed, and with a polar bear as a figurehead.

A second expedition in 1852, with a different chronometer now onboard, searched the Eastern Canadian Arctic but again failed to find Franklin, although the Resolute did manage to locate Captain McClure and his crew of H.M.S. Investigature which was ice-bound. A short time later Resolute herself became trapped in an ice-flow and abandoned before being located by the whaler George Henry captained by James Buddington, whose crew split sailing the Resolute to America. After a refit Captain Hartstene sailed her back to England whereupon H.M.S. Resolute was handed over to Queen Victoria on the 13th of December 1856.

After being broken up in 1879 the British government ordered three desks be made from her timbers with one The Resolute Desk being presented to the President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes as a thank you for returning her in 1856. The desk was placed in the Oval Office where the majority of US Presidents have used it since.

After a varied life aboard several vessels 3239 was taken out of commission in 1907 whereupon it was sold to a Mr. Roberts and thence to a Mr Wakefield.


Footnote: H.M.S. Terror was finally discovered sitting on the bottom of the Artic Bowl in 2017 and was described as being in near-perfect condition. The second ship involved in that ill-fated expedition, H.M.S. Erebus, was also located. James Moore French chronometer 4214, supplied new in 1828, was taken aboard H.M.S. Erebus in 1845 with remains of the mahogany box found in the possession of Eskimo’s living at Shepard’s Bay, on the 17th of May 1869; their story being that it had been washed ashore at Ook-goo-lik near King William Island following the sinking of Sir John Franklin’s ship.

This box was given to Franklin’s niece who passed it on to the Royal Naval Museum, Greenwich in June 1892 and thence to the National Maritime Museum in April 1936.


Jonathan Betts: Marine Chronometers at Greenwich. (Pub: Oxford and The National Maritime Museum 2017)


Sherard Osborn and George F. McDougall, editors: Facsimile of the Illustrated Arctic News published onboard H.M.S. Resolute.


Captain Horatio T. Austin, C.B, In Search for the Expedition under Sir John Franklin (Pub: Ackerman 1852) Sandler, Martin W.: Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin and the Discovery of the Queen’s Ghost Ship. (Pub: 2006)

Price: Sold

Ref: SRR167

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