Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Re: Two 19th century octants
    From: Stephen N.G. Davies
    Date: 2017 Mar 24, 13:57 +0800
    Nothing of use to say about the octant qua navigational instrument that others better versed than I will not say more fully. Adding to Bill Morris’ posting, about Lewis Woolf there is indeed little known. The majority of the watches and instruments under his name seem to have been sold when his business premises were at 35 South Castle Street, Liverpool and over quite a tight time period (c.1851 (or possibly later)-1862). Bill's date brackets for Woolf seem to come from horological sites, rather than navigational instrument ones and are, I suspect, a muddle.

    In 1829 an early partnership between Lewis Woolf and Henry Lyon, engravers and watchmakers which appears to have been operating in Birmingham UK is dissolved. Such records as there are then go silent until November 1834 when a Lewis Woolf advertises himself as selling Whitby Jet (a popular mid-19th century jewellery material) and is clearly a jeweller. The shop advertises spasmodically in the Liverpool Mercury in 1835 as an “Engraver, chronometer, patent lever watch and clock manufacturer” with a manufactory at 10 Bold St., Liverpool (the only premises in 1834) and the opening of a new retail premises at 19, Church St. There is then a very long silence as of April 1835 suggesting either insufficient business to advertise or some other problem. 

    The name next emerges in November 1851 when Lewis Woolf of 35 South Castle St is looking for a watch examiner to employ. At this time, we learn the next year (May 1852), the company is still a jewellers or has reopened as one, since a large, silver ornamental presentation inkstand was made by Woolf’s for presentation to A.W. Corbet, Esq., of Sundorne Castle, Shropshire by the local worthies. But it is not until 1857 that the Liverpool Daily Post advertises Woolf as a vendor of ‘marine chronometers, charts and nautical instruments of every description”. These advertisements continue through the last years of the 1850s with the range of instruments increasing somewhat to include things like barometers and sympiesometers until, in February 1862, a closing down sale is announced because Mr Lewis Woolf is “leaving Liverpool”. The inventory of which the auctioneer notes a catalogue was available (J.F. Griffith of 44 Church St) covers the whole stock, revealing that Woolf had continued as a “Chronometer and watchmaker, jeweller and optician” revealing, inter alia, that the nautical instruments were “of the very best make” and that of them at least the sextants were NOT made by Woolf, but by Crichton (John Crichton began his business as an optical, philosophical, mathematical and nautical instrument maker at 32 Fore Street, Limehouse, London in 1831. He moved to 112 Leadenhall Street in 1834 where he remained in business until 1865 (Gloria Clifton, Dictionary of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851, London: The National Maritime Museum, 1991)), so the Woolf label does not necessarily mean a Woolf design and manufacture (all a bit like chronometers and the Mercers).

    The closing down sale did not seem to have gone too brilliantly because an auction was still being advertised in June, and even that couldn’t have worked too well since Lot 2 of J & W Jeffery of Compton House, Liverpool’s sale on 13th December 1862 was “the entire stock” of Lewis Woolf of 35 South Castle Street.

    My hunch here is that we have two generations of Lewis Woolfs, a father, the jeweller, engraver and watch and clock maker, who founded the concern and who gives us the 1829 (and by inference earlier) to 1835 dates and, with perhaps a commercial hiatus, perhaps none, a son who gives us the 1851 to 1862 dates and who as of c.1855 or so dealt in navigational instruments. 

    Horologist websites argue for one person starting in c.1829 and working through primarily as a chronometer maker until the 1860s. The possible counter to this and in support of two generations are British death records that have a Lewis Woolf (of unknown age) dying in 1851 and c.69 year old Lewis Wolf (two actually) dying in 1880/81 (birth 1811-1812) - though in all cases the deaths are in the (relatively posh) west end of London (Westminster/Kensington).
    Stephen D
    Dr Stephen Davies
    c/o Department of Real Estate and Construction
    EH103, Eliot Hall
    University of Hong Kong

    Office: (852) 2219 4089
    Mobile: (852) 6683 3754 


    On 24 Mar 2017, at 7:13 AM, Brad Morris <NoReply_Morris@fer3.com> wrote:


    There is a small picture of one on the Land And Sea site, with information similar to Steven's email.  

    Just google "lewis woolf octant".  It was the first listing in my Google return


    View and reply to this message

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site