Strasburg clock model and parts, made by Richard Bartholomew Smith, wood / paint / metal / paper, Australia, 1887-1889
The Strasburg Clock model has been associated with the Museum for over a century and has become one of its most important icons. 25-year old Sydney clockmaker Richard Bartholomew Smith began building the clock on Anniversary Day (Australia Day) in 1887 and completed it in 1889. Smith sold the clock to the NSW Government later that year or early 1890 for the sum of 700 pounds. It was initially housed in the old Technological Museum in the Domain, but was transferred to the Museum in Harris Street Ultimo in 1893.
The model is based on the astronomical clock in Strasbourg Cathedral in France. Although the origins of this famous clock go back to the middle of the 14th century, Jean Baptiste Schwilgue built the version that inspired Smith between 1838 and 1842. Smith adopted the German spelling of Strasburg/Strassburg for his clock, as during some periods in the past the town was part of Germany.
The highlight of the clock's performance is the procession of the 12 Apostles that takes place on the hour in the top alcove of the central tower. Each hour, in the alcove immediately below, the four ages of man are enacted starting with the figure of a child and ending with that of an old man.
There are numerous dials and functions on the clock. One dial is the orrery that shows the position of the planets out to Neptune with respect to the Sun. The other main dial is the grand astronomical clock that shows what stars are visible from Sydney at any time together with the position of the Sun and the Moon. An ingenious gearing arrangement indicates the phase of the Moon. Another dial shows the time in Sydney while a series of dials show times in major cities throughout the world. Three sliding indicators show the 28-year cycle of the Sun, the equation of time and the 19-year cycle of the Moon, all quantities needed for the calculation of Easter.
A local woodcarver, James Cunningham, is believed to have constructed the wooden case of the clock. Paintings on the case include Urania who is the muse of astronomy, the Polish astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus and Jean Baptiste Schwilgue, the maker of the last clock in Strasbourg Cathedral. Other portraits on the clock include Premier Sir Henry Parkes and political colleagues and contemporaries, scenes of Strasbourg and early Sydney, the three fates, patrons of the arts, death and the resurrection, and a number of artists who assisted Smith with the clock's decorations.
The Strasburg Clock is perhaps the best known iconic object in the Museum's collection. It is, largely, a faithful representation of the nineteenth-century refurbished Strasbourg Clock, and its maker had a long and controversial relationship with generations of Museum directors and curators.
The Strasburg Clock model was made by Richard Bartholomew Smith (with help from many other persons) between 1887 and 1889 in Australia.
Richard Bartholomew Smith (1862-1942) sold the clock to the New South Wales Government in late 1889 or early 1890 for the sum of 700 pounds. The clock was initially housed in the Technological Museum in the Domain, but was transferred to Ultimo when the Museum was opened in new premises on Harris Street on 4 August 1893.
The clock remained in the old Harris Street Museum for about 90 years, enthralling and disappointing generations of visitors, with its stop/start mechanisms until it was dismantled in the early 1980s and refurbished for inclusion in the new Powerhouse Museum, which opened in the restored Ultimo Power Station in March 1988.
The clock was on display when the Museum first opened in March 1988. It was placed on display at the western end of the Wran Building, and was officially 'launched' on 27 January 1989 by Rear Admiral Sir David Martin, Governor of New South Wales.
After a short period, it was found that the clock was ill-suited to this location, as it was thought that vibrations from heavy-vehicle traffic in Harris Street affected the clock's timing mechanisms and hence the various automata either did not work or were delayed. A solution to these difficulties was had by relocating the clock to the southern end of the Wran Building in the early 1990s, and it remained there throughout this decade, until the clock was again dismantled and removed into storage for repair. This was necessary because the clock was due for another major refurbishment and it was also decided to build a cafe in the location where the Strasburg Clock was located.
Between 2002-2005 the clock remained in the Museum's workshop and Conservation Laboratory, where it was dismantled and repaired. The clock was put back on display near the Boulton and Watt engine and opened to the public on 4 October 2005.