This page features public clocks in NSW & Victoria - click on any underlined heading. Latest posts in red.
NSW - Newcastle (Customs House, City Hall, Old Railway station, Garside Sundial, Morning Herald, Museum, Clock Cafe), Coffs Harbour, Grace Bros. Sydney, Glenn Innes Town Hall, Forbes PO, Parkes Sundial, Bogan Gate War Memorial, Tenterfield PO, Armidale Courthouse.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Newcastle Customs House – has an operational time ball. Built in 1877, this 32m. high tower with a weathervane & time ball on top, worked in tandem with the time gun set up at Fort Scratchley (650m away) – both operating at 1pm daily. This enabled sailors to check & reset their chronometers. In foggy weather the time ball drop was concealed so a time gun was very necessary for the sailors.
The first Time Ball (a 1m. diameter, painted black & made of wicker) was on the Telegraph Office & operated from 1870 – 1887 (can be viewed at the Maritime Museum). The new time ball (136kg. of steel & copper, 1.8m in diameter, dropping 2m.) from 1888 was operated by a telegraphed time signal from Sydney Observatory. It was retired in 1941 when radio became the main navigation tool. In 1988 the time ball was restored to celebrate Australia’s Bicentennial.
Time Ball top of mast
Time Gun fired
The clock installed in 1878 was made by Angelo Tornaghi of Sydney, a scientific instrument & clock maker. He imported clock mechanisms, installing, repairing them & making the glass faces. Today this building is a hotel with a restaurant & function rooms.
City Hall Newcastle – this 58m tower is an impressive landmark for the city’s skyline. The 4-dial clock & bell on the Hall was opened in 1929. The clock was supplied by Prouds of Sydney together with 15 slave clocks costing £850. The building had become almost derelict until a $5million, 18months restoration work in 2015/16 returned it to its former glory. The clock is fully automated with LED lighting allowing the faces to change colour. The building is now used as a concert hall with function rooms.
Other Newcastle Clocks of interest –
The Old Railway Station – on the corner of Scott & Watt St. This historic rail station within sight of the Customs House still has the original 1878 platforms & seats & operates today as an open area for markets. Found here is the time board for the 4 platforms, two of which were allocated for the Central Coast & Newcastle line & the other two for the Hunter line. All four lines were electrified in 1984. Note that the time board used a foot pad to change the clock hands!
Garside Sun Dial in King Edward Park Newcastle - was presented to the Council in 1909. It sits in the rose gardens in honour of Bob Garside who was the superintendent of the cities Parks & Gardens. His ashes rest under the sun dial. The very aged brass dial has lost its gnomon but is still legible with a quality equation of time for accuracy.
The Morning Herald Newcastle – has an electric clock over its entrance. The building is dated 1858 - 1929 & has had a $42million renovation in 2015/16 with apartments created & a penthouse to the top. A 2018 picture shows an empty hole above the main door – so this may be a recent addition.
The Newcastle Museum – has on display some very interesting items, especially the International Time Recording Co. Bundy clock. It was one of 4 that were used by employees to log on & off every day. In the 1960’s the Bundy clocks were used by over 700 workers at the rail yards. Thanks Fran for all these snaps from Newcastle.
The W R Alexander Tower at 111 Beaumont St. Newcastle. This 2dial clock tower was added to the building in 1928 & the electric clock in 1930 to honour WR Alexander a local councillor & mayor who died in 1928. In 1989 the Newcastle earthquake badly damaged the tower & a new building was erected in 1991. It was able to reuse the original roof, clock mechanism & faces. Today the Clock Tower Café sits under the Tower.
Sawtell, Coffs Harbour Rotary Clock –
This triangular 5m. clock tower with an electric clock on 3 sides was unveiled in 2008 to commemorate 100years of Rotary International for the Sawtell club. The semi-transparent backlit glass panels reflect 3 themes – Sawtell Surf culture, the Natural Environment and Community & Heritage with graphics, overlaid text & photos. Local school students, businesses & Southern Cross University all contributed to its design.
Grace Bros Broadway in Sydney with Clock Towers.
Two English brothers, Joseph and Albert Grace migrated from England to Sydney in 1883. They soon began to build what was to become a highly successful Australian Company. After setting up several small retail businesses, they erected a new five-storey building with a clock tower and on top a glass and steel globe bearing the company name.
In 1926 another building with a duplicate clock tower was added. These stores were vacated in 1992, restored, and now are used for a retail and cinema complex and for student accommodation. Visible from most parts of Sydney, these globes became famous for promoting the Grace name.
They were 4.2m in diameter, made of opal glass and supported by bronze griffens - illuminated at night by the firms privately owned and operated electricity plant. This power source also operated the large clocks. Originally the globes were filled with water to drive the hydraulic lifts. The current globes without the Grace name replaced the original ones in 1998.
The Glen Innes Town Hall
A charming NSW country town 360km SW of Brisbane. It was the centre of a mining boom in the late 19th century based on nearby tin deposits. Today the main street has 30 heritage listed buildings including the Town Hall built in 1887 by a local – Henry Kendrick. His was the lowest of five tenders at £2975, but with plans altered during construction costing more, he went broke. He was finally paid £2761.
The clock is a real treasure. Made in England by the renowned Dent clockmaking company famous for London’s Big Ben, it was installed in 1890. Not surprisingly it has run without any major issues for over 120 years. In August this year (2019), the Council decided the mechanism needed its first complete overhaul. The two options were – to computerise it for $28,800 or retain it in original form at a cost of $49,650.
With history so valued here, it is not surprising the second option was voted for. Over 4 months, horologist Tim Tracey will remove the entire mechanism, fix the chimes, re-hang the bells, replace cables, and clean the mechanism. The clock will then need winding every 10 days and manually reset for daylight savings. The dial has two hairline cracks which hopefully will be repaired.
Inside the main office, Paul found this elegant Ansonia c1885 ‘Kobe’ model wall clock. The name on the dial reads E J Marcus, Glen Innes. Research reveals he was a local watchmaker and jeweller in the late 19thC. The clock has had the original decorated lower glass replaced with clear glass possibly to show off the pendulum.
The Forbes Post Office.
The historic town of Forbes is just 32km from Parkes. Paul noted that this was “one of the most attractive Post Office buildings I have ever seen” – also one of the few still owned and operated by Australia Post.
The town today has a population of just over 8500 – a far cry from the 30,000+ residents during the gold rush times of the 1860’s. This might explain the grandeur of the building, designed by James Barnet and built from 1879 to 1881 by P. Vaughan. It was added to the NSW Heritage Register in 2000 and to the Commonwealth Heritage Register in 2004. Interestingly J Barnet, the Colonial Architect, was responsible for building 169 Post and Telegraph Offices in NSW in a variety of architectural styles. This Post Office was featured on a stamp series in 1982 which depicted one PO from each State in Australia. It was also
portrayed as the “Parkes PO” in the
2000 movie “The Dish”.
This PO was costed at £3000, but after much debate it was decided to add the clock tower, so a further £1500 was needed. The tower has a French styled copper roof topped with a wrought iron weather vane. Housed within this is a white background 4 dial clock with a bell below striking on the hour. The clock mechanism was electrified in 1982 which eliminated the manual winding. As with most clocks of this age, maintenance and sourcing parts can be challenging. The latest repair job on the clock was in 2017 where a new controller was shipped from Belgium allowing the time to be set via a GPS remote. The article in the link below, “Clock rings out” has a video playing the striking bell at 9 o’clock.
The Precision Sundial at Parkes NSW.
At Parkes, just 40km East of Bogan Gate, is a rather complex sundial. Paul discovered this in the garden near the famous CSIRO Radio Telescope, ‘the Dish’ (which helped distribute TV images to the world of the moon landing in 1969).
Sundials are the oldest known devices used to measure time. There are many types – the most common being the vertical, equatorial and horizontal. The horizontal (often called garden sundial), has a flat plate or dial that has been marked with the hours of the day, and a gnomon or raised straight edge that casts a shadow onto the dial to read the time.
The Parkes horizontal sundial was designed to eliminate the errors found with most sundials (which can err as much as 16 mins) by using wavy time markers set at 10minute intervals for each month of the year. Astronomers call this “the Equation of Time”. Paul photographed this in August – so the time shown is 10.55am.
Bogan Gate War Memorial Clock Tower
Bogan Gate is a small NSW town 1000km SW of Brisbane with about 200 people. The origin of the towns name dates back to the 1880’s when it was the ‘gateway’ between two large sheep and cattle stations. The word ‘Bogan’ is derived from the Aboriginal word meaning the birthplace of a great leader from the local tribe.
In the middle of the main street a 6.6m. clock tower dedicated to the memory of those who served in WW1. Built in 1922, at a cost of £590, the sandstone tower with a lightning conductor on top, sits on a pedestal of granite. The 4-dial, 60cm diameter clocks were built by Synchronome Electrical Co. of Australasia Ltd. for an extra £150. They were originally controlled by a master in the Commercial Bank next door and Illuminated by a gas lamp. After installation, Prouds Ltd. of Sydney had to send a mechanic for £25/10/- to correct some early teething problems. Under each dial in order is written - The Great War, 1914-18, Liberty and Australia. Today the dials have had protective perspex covers added and a solar panel for lighting. Paul reports that though the clock was operational one dial was out of sync with the others.
The Tenterfield Post Office Clock
This snap from Paul's collection shows a beautiful two-storied Victorian Italianate Post Office building in Tenterfield, NSW, 275 km SW of Brisbane. Built in 1881/92 and designed by James Barnett it was heritage listed in 1999. Except for the bells the 4-dial clock with 1.2m diameter dials was built by R Smith of Oxford St. Sydney. The clock features a double three-legged gravity escapement (after Sir E. Beckett) with a 11 second beat - the maintaining power being identical with that of the great clock at Parliament Buildings, Westminster, London. The total cost was only £300 – that was £50 less than that of an imported one!
Smith’s work on clocks is worth mentioning as his projects were an outstanding achievement for the colony. He constructed turret clocks for 4 Post Offices - Tenterfield, Redfern, Ballina and Kempsey. Each clock weighed round 5cwt. with varied width dials (5 to 6 ft). The frame was of cast iron with steel pinions and arbours, the going train driven by a 3cwt weight, the striking train a 6cwt weight and a compensated pendulum weighing 3cwt. Only the 4cwt bells were imported. He also built a model of the Strasburg clock, a 2½ year job, on display today in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
The Armidale Court House Clock.
This elegant building boasts a 140 year old 4-dial clock. The Classical Revival styled structure has its origins in 1860 as a simple brick building. In 1870, architect J Barnett added wings, a portico and then in 1878 a bell tower with clock. In 1897 new alterations by W Vernon moved the portico forward and erected over it a new tower for the clock to be placed costing £140.
As with most of these early public clocks frequent complaints re accurate time keeping was always an issue. In 1917 the Council proposed plans for a new clock and tower to be erected as a WW1 soldiers memorial. In 1919 local jewellers Himmelboch Bros checked the clock out and diagnosed a badly worn escapement. Prouds from Sydney suggested a £50 solution - a synchronome clock with the master in the Council Chamber.
However the clock had to wait to 1927 when J B Waterhouse a jeweller in Singleton 300 km away was given the job of full restoration (cost £21) after he had repaired a similar clock in Singleton built by Thwaites and Reed of London. Forward to 2018 - the Council planned to auction this historic building. But local anger over this decision cancelled the sale and in 2019 it was nominated for State Heritage listing. Today (June 2019) it stands unoccupied and fenced off. The clock and chimes still operate. Thanks to Paul for sending in these snaps.
The Seiko Marionette Watch – Central Plaza (Corner LaTrobe and Swanston Streets).
A definite must see, this giant ‘fob watch’ was a gift to the people of Melbourne. It can be found in the 55storey shopping center built by Japanese firm Kumagai Gumi between 1986 and 1991 at a cost of $1.2 billion. This structure also encases the historic shot tower in a 20-storey glass cone.
The watch originally hung on a 12m chain but since renovation has now been attached to the 3rd level side wall. On the hour a marionette display drops down from the bottom of the watch with 4 galahs, 3 cockatoos & 2 minstrels performing Waltzing Matilda. The show lasts for round 3 minutes.
The back of this watch allows you to see the internals where two koalas swinging from side to side acting as the escapement lever pallets. It has a 60second impulse.
View this watch on 'You Tube'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kebl2UaW2MU
Lead Pipe & Shot Factory
Flinders Street Station Clocks -
Flinders was built in 1910 and had nine Gent & Co. of Leicester electric clocks under the dome. These were removed from service in 1983 & replaced with digital displays, but a public outcry resulted in the old clocks restored & put back! They show the departure times of trains that date back to the 1860’s, manually operated by an officer using a long pole. There was a total of 60 Bathgate indicators bought from England & when the station was demolished in 1904, they were put into storage. 28 were placed back into the new station in 1910 with 9 of these put at the entrance. A digital board beneath them gives the platform number. Today these clocks have become part of the Melburnian dialect “meet under the clocks”.
The main clock in the tower at the Elizabeth St entrance was made by F Ziegeler & installed in 1908. It stands 37m above road level & has a 3.35m diameter illuminated dial. Originally it needed a daily wind but is now electrically operated.
Gog & Magog bell ringers, Royal Arcade, Bourke St. Melbourne.
This historic shopping arcade, built in 1870, is the home of a special automata clock – the Gog & Magog bell ringers made by Thomas Gaunt in 1892. Thomas built some amazing clocks (mainly turret clocks for town halls, churches & post offices) & as reported in Snapshots ‘Did You Know’ the 1876 chronograph accurate to a quarter of a second at Flemington Racecourse.
At this Arcade are two giant 2m. figures modelled on those at Guildhall, London (1708). They have long beards, staring eyes, are painted in bright colours & carved out of pine. They strike the bells every hour, standing either side of a large 1.5m. diameter clock with Gaunt’s name on it. This clock was originally hanging above his shop at the Southern end of the arcade. It was made by one of his workers Fritz Ziegeler.
The Town Hall Melbourne – 90-130 Swanston St.
Opened in 1870, the Tower includes a 2.4m diameter clock operating from late 1874. It was made by Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell London, costing about £400. The minute hand is made of copper & measures 1.19m in length weighing 8.85kg. Today the Hall is a venue for special events, concerts & theatre performances.
This interesting clock dates from 1887 when the sandstone clock tower was added to the PO building (the first level was built in 1859, the second between 1858-67). The clock was made in Williamstown with parts from Glasgow. The clock had 12 fixed bells able to play 28 tunes using 4 drums with 7 tunes. At first a tune was played every 15minutes all day and night! Today it plays for only 3hours during daytime. The GPO was closed in 1992 & plans to redesign it to a shopping centre, then a Five Star Hotel in 1997, fell through. In 2001 the GPO was badly burnt by fire forcing restoration. In 2004 it reopened as a shopping centre.
The Forum Theatre Melbourne (formerly the State Theatre)
On the corner of Flinders & Russel St. is an Arabic inspired building with a 49m clock tower. Built in 1928 it was then the biggest theatre in Australia with a seating capacity of 3371 people. Today it hosts live music, theatre & events. The copper domed clock tower features a replica minaret of the Cairo Mosque with smaller minarets with ornate windows. The clock is electric (as was most clocks made from the 1930’s) & has a dial 25ft (7.62m) in diameter.
Thanks Tom for sending these interesting pictures of the public clocks you found in the Melbourne CBD.
The Echuca Post Office. A town of 13,000 on the Murray river, was in the late 1800’s a key inland river port and rail junction. Today, Echuca is famous for having the world’s largest fleet of operating paddle steamers.
This is an outstanding two-storey PO, built in 1879 for £12,000, with a 20.7m bell tower. The bell weighing about 250kg, was cast by Harwood’s at Echuca and was then the largest ever cast in the Colony. The four-dial clock was made by the Joseph Brothers in Melbourne. This clock has needed attention over the years leading to its conversion to electric in the 1970’s. In 2000, the clock dials were not in sync. The problem was found to be birds nesting on the clock hands!
In 2012 major work was carried out by Stephen Young with a new drive system powered by a 12-volt battery to ensure the clock continued during power stoppages. Also the time can be changed with a remote control and the bell is linked to the clock which now strikes the correct number on the hour (previously it struck 3 times every hour).
Australia Post sold the building in 2001 - now luxury apartments with a café & restaurant. The clock still functions though it was not striking.
Original movement still resides in the tower.
Thanks Paul for these snaps.