The pocket watch of Australian explorer William Wills has been sold to the National Museum of Australia for $122,000 at a Sydney auction.
Setting a new Australian auction record for a pocket watch, the inscribed timepiece was carried by Wills as a navigational tool on his ill-fated expedition with Robert Burke in 1860 and was referred to regularly by its serial number in his journal.
After Wills died at Coopers Creek in 1861, fellow explorer and the only survivor of the expedition, John King, presented the watch, along with a letter, to Wills’ father.
Isabelle Quinn, head of jewellery at the Sydney office of auctioneers Bohnams & Goodman, said the relic came to light when the vendor, the widow of a watch collector, brought it in to the auctioneers as part of a routine valuation.
“When it was first opened for examination by a specialist watchmaker grains of desert sand could be seen in the movement,” she said.
Quinn said it had been one of the highlights of her career to be entrusted with the sale of this most significant piece.
“I am thrilled that such an important piece of Australian history will go to the National Museum of Australia and is now available to the Nation.”
Manufactured by James Murray (London and Melbourne), the 18 carat gold open face pocket watch with gold chain is hallmarked ‘London 1859’.
Key features include a white enamel dial with black Roman hour numerals, blued steel spade hands and subsidiary seconds dial with blued steel seconds hand, a gilt three-quarter plate keywind movement with fusee lever escapement and a compensation bi-metallic balance with gold timing screws.
The back of the case is engraved Wm. John Wills Explorer Melbourne 1860 R.O.H.B. Wills.
Prior to the auction, the pocket watch was expected to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000.