A second clock made by Selkirk’s mason-astronomer James Scott has been found in museum storage, thanks to an Australian relative.
Tanya Reid (nee Scott) travelled from Queensland to visit Scottish Borders Council’s museum HQ in Selkirk, to hunt for any surviving clocks created by her great, great grandfather James Scott, fabled in the tales of her father Bruce Thomas Scott, and passed down to him from his father, William Forester Scott, and his father William Scott, son of James Scott.
Mrs Reid told us: “Growing up, I was told the story of my great-great grandfather, that he was a stone mason and went on to become a self-taught clock maker, due to his interest in the celestial.”
The self-taught astronomer and mathematical genius, who was born in Midlem in 1844, built a total of five clocks, which showed the movements of the moon, sun and planets, in his Selkirk workshed, including the 8ft-high Jupiter Clock, which showed at a glance the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury.
One face showed Jupiter’s four first-known satellites, as seen through a telescope, revolving in their proper positions and velocities, in periods from 42 hours, 27 minutes to 16 days, 16 hours. A second disc showed Jupiter surrounded by the planets, and a third its rising, setting and southing in the Earth’s sky.
The modest genius achieved his life’s work despite leaving school aged 14, teaching himself mathematics and astronomy, and using only the simple tools of his trade, plus old bits, such as toilet cisterns and toothbrushes – but all his clocks were said to keep perfect time.
After Scott died in 1928, the timepieces were entrusted to Selkirk Town Council, and displayed for many years in the Royal Burgh’s Town Hall.
Then, after the reorganisation of local government in 1975, all trace of Scott’s time machines, described by Scotland’s present Astronomer Royal as national treasures, was lost.
Following The Wee Paper’s article about James Scott last December, many of his descendants contacted us with the results of their own investigations, but most had hit a brick wall in the mid 1970s.
One relative, Isobel Blair of Peebles, was told by museum staff at the time that Scott’s clocks had been mysteriously misplaced (which she took to mean destroyed). After her decades of searching, she still sounded a hopeful note: “They must be in somebody’s house somewhere”.
Council museum curators revealed at least one of Scott’s clocks, the Equation of Time machine had survived in storage at their Selkirk HQ.
But they knew little about it, or how it got there.
Mrs Blair said: “The clock pictured in the paper was the first one I’ve seen. We didn’t know that any of the clocks still existed. It was out of the blue.”
Mystery still surrounded the fate of Scott’s four other astronomical clocks created over 100 years ago. Another of his descendants, Dave Bunyan of Selkirk, heard the masterpieces were tragically skipped or burned.
But now, thanks to Mrs Reid, a second clock has been discovered.
She explained:“My husband and I, with our two children, decided to travel to Scotland and Ireland to visit the places that we originated from.
“I contacted the museum staff to see if I could see the clocks and they informed me that they were in storage at the municipal buildings in Selkirk and a very helpful man by the name of Derek Stewart was able to locate them and arrange for us to view them.”
Mrs Reid’s emailed photographs showed Scott’s Equation of Time Machine, and tantalisingly a second, as yet unidentified, clock.
When we emailed her pictures to museum curators, distant bells began ringing, and they quickly confirmed it also lay in storage. Reading the historical records, it is likely it is Scott’s fifth and final clock, described in Bowmont Weddell’s book as “a timepiece pure and simple, but curious in that it had only two wheels.”
Both this clock and the Equation of Time Machine have yet to be studied.
The Equation of Time Machine showed the difference between solar time and Greenwich meantime – the ‘equation of time’ vital for navigators or explorers to determine their longitude.
A witness noted in 1905: “Mr Scott so designed it that despite conditions, it will tell the time, and even lying at the bottom of a ship would continue to work unaffected.” Atop sat a disc showing the phases of the moon.
But Scott’s three biggest clocks are still missing, including the Jupiter Clock. Another clock focused on the Earth itself. A calendar dial, turned to any date, rotated the globe to show the sun’s path, the hemispheres in day and night, and the time anywhere in the world when it was noon at Greenwich.
Simultaneously, viewers could perceive why night and day were equal at the spring and autumn equinoxes, and why the day’s length increases or decreases with the changing seasons.
His masterpiece, the ornately decorated Great Clock, described by a Weekly News reporter in 1905 as the most remarkable clock in existence, stood 8ft high, 5ft wide, and took five winters to build. Five dials captured the movement of much of the then known Universe. The great dial showed Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolving around the Sun from day to day.
Above, a timepiece kept Greenwich meantime, while, higher up, every day the moon rose and fell over a landscape at the correct time, phase and altitude.
A painted globe of the Earth crowned the tower, revolving every 24 hours, and girded with a brass circle to simultaneously show the position of the sun in the sky, the hemispheres in night and day, while also explaining the cause of the changing seasons and unequal lengths of day and night.
On the right hand side, a dial showed the sun and moon’s paths around the Earth, enabling Scott to predict when a lunar or solar eclipse would occur, while on the left hand side, a window gave a view of the constellations visible at the hour and date on the great dial.
Spectacularly, these stars were pinpricks on dark paper, illuminated by a lit match Scott inserted in the workings – which alone proved his mechanical genius.