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The story of the Bristol UK clockmaker Henry Lane.

I will be looking at the start of clockmaking in Australia. The interesting story of the 18th century antique clock specialist Henry Lane. I need to pay special thanks to John Houstone, Kevin Fahy and Bill Bradshaw. The Australian Antique Collector and the Power House Museum in Australia for their help.

From Bristol to Australia making Clocks

I have been associated with antique clocks all my life and I learnt about the story of Henry Lane from one of our clients. Many years ago we had for sale a stunning Bristol antique clock by this maker at our retail antique clock shop in London, Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd. The power of the internet made it possible for a client in Australia to notice this clock and travel all the way from Australia to London, UK. He viewed and eventually purchase this magnificent clock. The clock itself is pictured below.

I hope you will agree it is a fantastic and rare 3 train musical mahogany Longcase clock of ‘8-day’ duration. Lovely typical high quality Bristol cabinet with fretwork beneath swan neck pediments to hood. Reeded chamfered sides with brass stringing to trunk and base.  The dial with high quality matted centre, chapter ring/spandrels, recessed polished and engraved seconds and calendar, strike/silent to arch. Movement of high quality playing 6 different possible tunes every hour.

Henry Lane Started Clockmaking in Australia

As many of my readers are aware there are literally thousands of antique clockmakers. Some you know and some you don’t. Henry Lane was one I did not know anything about, clearly he was not a prolific clockmaker. You could tell though from the quality of this clock, he was a fantastic maker.  The workmanship was of the highest order, and it included some very unusual features. It is rare for one to get a genuine 18th century musical example. Anyone capable of such work, had to be of the highest order. There is nothing really listed in the main clock reference books about him, other than he worked in Bristol and London.  Our client opened my eyes to this interesting story though and I give him special thanks.

Henry Lane Arrested

Saturday, 4th Jan 1800 was the day when Henry Lane’s life changed for ever. He arrived with his companion Mrs Charlotte Holland in Chipping Sodbury on the morning coach from Bristol. Henry paid the fare with a one pound Bank of England bill. He paid another bill with a five pound bill, on both occasions he received change. His companion Charlotte went on a shopping trip, she made payments with similar five pound bills in three different shops. Likewise receiving change in each shop. It was in the last shop that the husband of the last shopkeeper noticed something strange about the bill and correctly deduced it to be a forgery.

Forged Five Pound Notes

She seemed ‘all in a tremor’ , Charlotte was put in custody of a policeman who escorted her to the Swan Inn. Henry walked past this place and was recognized as Charlotte’s companion on the coach. He decided to run but he was caught. Henry tried to dispose of other bills by eating them. One pursuer forced Henry to open his mouth, he found two more forged bills inside. Henry was taken to the inn where Charlotte was kept.

Henry stood trial on the 5th April 1800 and Charlotte on the 30th July 1800. Interest in the trial was large in Bristol at the time and a full transcript of the trial is on public records. This will be given as a reference at the end of this piece. At his trial Henry gave a statement that he had received these notes as a settlement of a debt and he did not know they were forged. His evidence was weakened by the fact he booked the coach in a false name and he had tried to eat the notes when caught, and the fact he had tried to flee.


The judge adjourned and returned by pronouncing a sentence of death.  The Bristol Journal of 19th April 1800 announced ‘the execution of Henry Lane will take place at St Michael’s Hill on Friday next’. The issue of the 26th April reported the sentence had been commuted to transportation for life by Royal clemency. I am not sure what connection Henry Lane had to the Royal family but a crown is engraved to the centre of the arch to this dial !

At Charlotte’s trial in Gloucester on the 30th July 1800 she was also sentenced for transportation for life. Henry left Spithead on the Perseus with 112 other male prisoners on the 12th February 1802 and he arrived in Sydney cove on the 4th August. Charlotte left on the Glatton on the 23rd September, 1802 and arrived on the 11th March, 1803.

Journey To Australia

Henry who at his trial was 50 years of age and had a wife and family. Not much was known about the relationship with Charlotte but it is clear by 1806 Charlotte was living with Henry in Sydney. Charlotte is described to the Governor in 1810 as a ‘housekeeper’. In Rev Samuel Marsden’s Female Muster of 1806, she is described as a ‘concubine’. That is  a woman in an ongoing, marriage-like relationship with a man to whom she cannot be married for a specific reason! Eventually on the 27th October 1813, they married at St John’s Parramatta. The assumption is made Henry’s wife in Bristol, England had died by that time.

I will look at Henry work and life in Australia in my next blog. This is a compelling story I hope you agree. More can be found about the trial by reading the following.

1.The Only Genuine Trial of Henry Lane taken by a Short Hand Writer – Rosser and Co., Bristol 1800