This page celebrates the work of three generations of the Jackson family in electrical engineering and horology. It stems from a research project of the First Queensland Chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors which was supported by a grant from the Australian heritage Commission under the National Estate Grants program in conjunction with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage. A booklet will appear in 1997.
Albert George Jackson founded the Synchronome Electrical Company of Australia in 1904. It dealt with a range of electrical engineering matters including electroplating, but as the name implies, a major part of the business involved the Synchronome electrical clock system developed in the UK by Frank Hope-Jones and associates, from whom full rights were purchased, so that independent production of the master/slave clock systems could be carried on in Brisbane . An early highlight of the company's activities was the installation of a mechanically driven but electrically controlled tower clock in South Brisbane Town Hall. In 1929, an electrically controlled and driven clock with electrically driven striking was designed and installed in the new Brisbane City Hall by his son, Arthur Appleton Jackson. Both clocks are still operating today.
In 1935, with the death of A.G.Jackson, the management of the firm passed to A. A. Jackson, who was in turn succeeded by two of his sons, William and John. William formed "Australian Clocks" in 1953 which took over the manufacturing activities, but in 1973 the operations were brought together in West End, only to be flooded in 1974. In 1991, with no family members wishing to carry on the business, it was sold, bringing the clockmaking activities to an end.
Other parts of the NAWCC project have involved oral history interviews with
Bill and Jock Jackson, now deposited with the Oxley Library in Brisbane, and
the compilation of a register of Synchronome installations in Queensland and
Synchronomes at the end of the world PART 1
Synchronomes at the end of the world PART 2
List of letters
List of letters
1896 Jackson and Harris formed. George St., Brisbane
1904 Harris bought out.
Rights to name "Synchronome Co." purchased (maybe earlier?)
Moved to Ann St (65-69?)
Name "Synchronome Electrical Company of Australia"
(or Synchronome Company of Australasia Pty Ltd?)
South Brisbane Town Hall clock built.
1905c Electric Time Service (This is the House that Jack Built)
1909 Fire alarm demonstrated by A.G.Jackson
1909 Australian patent 16017/09
1920 A.A.Jackson joined firm
1927 Moved to 195 Elizabeth St., Brisbane
Exhibition photo, 16p brochure from Brisbane
1929 Built Brisbane City Hall clock
1933 English brochure "Instructions for Erection and Management"
1934 Frank Hope-Jones visited Australia
1935 A.G.Jackson died. A.A.Jackson became Manager and Director.
William indentured as Electrical Fitter and Mechanic.
1946c RAAF photo
1947 Staff photo
1953 Wholesale trade sesction sold to H.Rowe and Co.
"Jackson's Clock House"(included plating works) = Synchronome Pty. Ltd
(also "Synchronome Sales and Service" for a time)
Office at 40 Charlotte St., repairs at 16 Melbourne St.
"Australian Clocks" established at 146 Leichhardt St.,
1973 Moved to 288 Montague Rd., West End
1991 Firm sold to Tony Klee.
This early controllling pendulum is in a silky oak case. It is unusual in having an all-brass construction, and has a pendulum crutch., as well
as a mother-of-pearl button for rapid advance of slave dials.
South Brisbane Town Hall, in Vulture Street, was built in 1892 with an impressive tower with provision for four six foot diameter clock dials but it was not until 1904 that the council could afford the £100 for a clock. This was the eleventh installation, and the first tower clock built by the company. In December 1904, the Courier reported:
A short time ago the South Brisbane Municipal Council entered into a contract with the Synchronome Company of Australasia for the installation of a synchronome clock in the turret of the South Brisbane Town Hall. The work, which was carried out under the supervision of the manager of the company (Mr. A. G. Jackson), was successfully completed a few days ago, and the appearance of the Town hall is considerably improved as the result of its latest acquisition. The clock is fitted with four dials 6ft. 10in. in diameter, which work in conjunction with six smaller ones in the other offices from a seconds beat controlling pendulum placed in the town clerk's office. The mechanism of the clock is of a very simple character, and there is a total absence of the heavy swinging pendulum usually connected with other large timepieces. The dials are illuminated by ten incandescent electric lights, the current for which is supplied by the Brisbane Tramways Company. The lighting has been so arranged that the electric current can be switched on and off automatically. The whole of the mechanism in conjunction with the clock has been designed by Mr. Jackson, and manufactured at the company's workshop in Ann Street. Much interest has been taken in the installation of the clock, which is the first of its kind fixed up in Australia.
Although the clock was described elsewhere as the 'first electrically driven tower clock erected in Australia', it is in fact electrically controlled, but driven by a weight which has been manually wound up each week for nearly one hundred years. For many years, including during World War `II when the building was taken over by the American Military Police and Prison Administration, this was the particular responsibility of Jock Jackson, but in 1978 the job was taken over by Government Horologist, Greg Baker. The original installation is still in operation, with a simple weight-driven mechanism to move the hands on each half-minute when released by the electrical impulse from the controlling pendulum. The photograph, taken by A.G.Jackson before installation, shows the winding square, and the weight at the right which maintains power to the clock during winding. A fly to limit the speed is mounted on the top of a worm originally taken from a cream separator. The controlling pendulum is of the original deadbeat type, in a cedar case, and was originally powered by 'carporous cells'.
Since the dissolution of the City of South Brisbane in 1925, the building has had many different occupants but the clock , which may actually be the world's first electrically controlled tower clock, has continued to tick on in tribute to its maker.
The clock and bell installation at St. Andrew's was presented
to the Church by the Jones family in memory of their parents.
In August 1926 a 3' dial in the tower, and a 12" dial in
the church were installed. In 1927 a chime of eight bells was
added together with the necessary mechanism to ring out the Westminster
quarters, and strike the hours on the largest bell. In 1929 another
bell was added, and in 1938 four more. The bells can be played
by hand from a clavier, or struck by the clock hammers. The bells
were cast by John Taylor and Co., of Loughborough, England and
are tuned to the Simpson five-toned system. Unfortunately the
chime has been switched off for many years.
Gympie Courthouse was built in 1901-2 but the tower clock was
not installed until 1954. The clock is weight driven but electrically
rewound every one-and-a-half hours.
In October 1927 Synchronome gained the contract to supply Brisbane's new City Hall with a tower clock. The following description is taken from a brochure c.1930.
'THE CITY HALL is equipped with the most modern and complete Electrical Time-keeping system in Australia at the present time. The whole installation is automatic. Neither the Master Clock nor any of the dials require any winding up.
The Clock in the Tower is the largest in Australia, and has four dials each 16 feet in diameter, approximately 180 feet above the ground, and strikes the hours and chimes the quarters on five bells situated another 50 feet higher.
The Dials are of cast iron, the patterns and castings being made in Brisbane, and weigh, without glass and fittings, approximately three tons. The design provides the maximum visibility, there being an entire absence of any ornament which would interfere with the purpose of the dial - that is, to indicate the time. The openings in the skeleton framework are filled with white opal, the weight of which is estimated at one ton. To hold this glass in place, three cwt. of putty, and over 1000 screws were required. The hands are built up of sheet copper, and run on ball and roller bearings. The minute hand is ten feet long, and the hour hand five feet six inches long. The strokes on the dial indicating the hours are two feet three inches long and ten inches wide. On account of the lift running through the clock room, it was necessary to provide a separate movement for each face. The hands are driven by a small motor through gearing, which is very ingenious in its design, and in a very compact unit the tremendous reduction of 43,000 to 1 is obtained. The control device is mounted at the opposite side to the motor, and the outstanding feature of the whole clock is its simplicity and absence of complicated parts.
The Time Keeping is controlled by a master pendulum, which is a duplicate of the Slave Clock at Greenwich Observatory, from which the world's standard time is controlled. Every half minute the hands of the big dials are moved slowly until they have covered the correct space, and then they are held stationary until the master clock allows them to again progress around the dial.
The Chiming and Striking Parts have for convenience been made in two units, each comprising a motor, with levers to lift the bell hammers and the necessary switching device.
In the Hour Striking, the lifting of the hammer of the big bell is done by a cam on the shaft of a worm reduction gear, and the number of strokes is counted by a mechanism on the side of the machine. This mechanism contains several features which are a distinct advance on previous practice in large Tower Clocks. The number of strokes struck by the hammer is controlled by the master clock, and thus the current for the motors may be cut off for any period without interfering with the working of the clock.
The Chime Part is controlled in a similar way to the strike part. The clock can be silenced at any time and there is no necessity to go to the clock to set the silencing device, as it can be done either automatically, at pre-arranged times, or manually, by the pressing of a push button in the office 12 floors below the clock. Provision is made to prevent the operation of the silencing device while the clock is striking.
The Whole of the Dials, Hands, and Mechanisms were built in Brisbane to the design of Mr. Arthur A. Jackson, AMIE (Aust.), MBHI, of the Synchronome Electrical Coy. of Australasia Ltd., in whose workshops were also made the clocks at Lutwyche Church, South Brisbane Town Hall, Brisbane Post Office, and a very large number of other Public Clocks in Australia and New Zealand.
The Electric Supply is taken from the mains through a rectifier with an automatic change-over to the storage battery originally installed for the emergency lighting of the Concert Hall.
The Bells are by Messrs. John Taylor & Co., who were the first to adopt the Simpson 5 Tone System of tuning bells. The large Bell used for sounding the hours is 6ft.4inches in diameter, weighs four and a quarter tons, and has the note A flat.
The Four Smaller Bells comprise the Westminster, or more correctly, the Cambridge Chime. The notes are C-A sharp -G sharp -D sharp, and the weght is approximately three tons.
In addition to the Tower Clock there are 60 Dials of various sizes in the different department offices, many of which are of especial design, and also Watchman's Clocks and Time Switches, all controlled from the Master Clock.'
A circuit was also run back to Clock House where comparison could be made with signals from the Queensland Observatory. In 1931, the Courier reported that the clock had set a World record among big clocks by losing only five seconds in two years. Later, a PMG line was used to monitor the sound of the bells. It was necessary to go up to the clock only once a month for maintenance.
The master clock was imported from England, perhaps to impress the Council. It is similar to the slave of a Shortt-Synchronome free pendulum system, and was in fact originally synchronised to another controlling pendulum which was then in the basement, but is now in the Lord Mayor's Conference Room. This was disconnected in the 1950s, since when the clock has been controlled solely by the pendulum in the tower. It also has a seconds counter and an eight inch diameter seconds dial, which were never used, as well as a nicely carved mahogany case, and an invar pendulum.
Since the sale of the company in 1991, the clock has been maintained by Tony
(as told to Norman Heckenberg and John Gardiner by Bill and Jock
Jackson , 25/2/1996)
In addition to the tower clocks and installations of Synchronome controllers and slaves, the Synchronome Electrical Company of Australia sold a range of other clocks, both wholesale and retail.
Although they were able to repair all sorts of clocks they never dealt with any of the classic battery domestic clocks like Bulle, Eureka, or Tiffany Neverwind.
From the thirties on, however, they sold large numbers of AC synchronous motor clocks. Along with Lawrence and Hanson, they sold Smiths clocks complete, as also the well made Mauthé clocks from Germany. The latter included chiming versions and one with a 'carryover' reserve spring which would keep the clock going during a blackout.
There was also a range of clocks assembled from imported motors and locally made cases. In some cases this meant made in the Synchronome workshops. Bill Jackson remembers his first job was turning 12" diameter cases for synchronous wall clocks out of beautiful solid lumps of silky oak. Like many others with locally made dials, they were marked SYNCHRONOME BRISBANE. Smiths motors were used. They had a 'bijoux' motor, and also a heavy duty one which would drive a 2' dial. Later the bijoux was replaced by the QGEM, which was lighter with more plastic. When David Smith visited Australia, Bill asked why they had made the change and was told that the earlier ones lasted too long.
There was a simple wall clock model called "Austin" with a spun aluminium case made in the workshops. This was like a bowl with the numerals screen printed on the outside and the three hands unprotected with no glass r bezel. With a SYNCHRONOME BRISBANE transfer on the dial, they sold for three pounds in 1946. The first batch of three hundred sold well and it wasn't until one came back for repair three years later that it was realised that there were only three minute marks between each hour mark!
Another interesting line was custom-made clocks , built-in, especially in suburbs like Clayfield. For example a sportsman would want a clock with the hour marks in the form of bats, or a café like the Piccadilly would want its name spelled out instead of numbers. The best one was in a bedroom ceiling where the rosette was removed and replaced by a clock! There were also synchronous public clocks with dials up to 2' using the heavy duty Smiths motor. Of course in Brisbane the electric clocks only became popular around 1930 when the mains frequency was maintained accurately. This involved the installation (by Synchronome) of frequency master clocks at New Farm Powerhouse and at the City Electric Light Company.
After World War II and the setting up of the Spring Hill operation, the company also made good profits installing imported 8-day spring driven movements, both striking and chiming, into Australian made wooden cases. The movements came from Smiths, Junghans, Mauthé, Darvelle (not good quality, according to Jock), and Elliott. The cases were made in Brisbane by Woodland Woodworks (Mr. Wayper), and in Sydney by the Oxford Case Company. They came finished and lacquered and care had to be taken to avoid damage while the movements were fitted. There were six or seven styles of mantel clocks- one was called "DEVON" and another particularly ugly style was called "YERONGA" to annoy one of the staff who lived there. The dials and bezels and hands came with the movements and the clocks are not named on the dials. On some the case style name was rubber-stamped on the wood at the back. Synchronome also marketed a completely imported clock from Wilson and Wilson, but because there were substantial import duties on complete clocks the casing of imported movements was able to generate a good profit.
Synchronome also assembled grandfather clocks using cases by Bell
Brothers and movements from Smiths, Keinzle, and Junghans. We
have photographs of a number of styles including a rather elegant
one with a red cedar case. They had three train weight driven
movements and although they are not marked on the dials some have
Synchronome stickers inside the case. Many were sold.
Bill Jackson has supplied some further information to round out the account in the June newsletter.
'Smiths and Son England Ltd made three different types of movements, self-starting, manual start, and a heavy duty model which was self-starting. They also made small geared motors with output speeds of 1rpm and 4rpm. These were used in process timers, football timers and industrial equipment. We converted to 110V and 12V AC. Smiths also made an electric chiming and striking movement.'
'We used many other types of movements, some of which were:
Mauthe self-start, carry-over and chiming and striking, and "Neufa", a self-start time-only movement. Some people preferred the manual start to the self-start type as they would remain stopped after a power failure whereas the self-start would restart being the length of the duration of the stoppage slow. Some had indicators to show they had stopped.'
'To overcome this problem of failure a carry-over type was made using a spring and balance wheel to drive the movement. The spring was wound by the synchronous motor and switched off when fully wound with a pair of contacts on a slipping clutch or ratchet and pawl, where the driving pawl would lift off the ratchet wheel. "Venner"
had an arrangement with a collar which would move up a threadshaft or worm, then open a pair of contacts. There was also an AC/DC movement of the non-synchronous type. The time-keeping using a balance wheel and powered by a weighted arm and a mercury switch to operate the power to lift the arm with the weight. There were troubles with the 'carry-over' type as some would not start as required. To overcome this "Mauthe" kept their balance wheel rocking by a cam from the driving motor. These are only some as many firms had their own movements in their equipment. Another type used mainly on American clocks was the "Warren" high speed motor.'