The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
B1992 Surveyors chain or Gunter's chain and bag, steel / calico, made by James Chesterman & Co, Sheffield, England, date unknown. Click to enlarge.

Surveyor’s or gunter’s chain made by James Chesterman & Co

Made by James Chesterman & Co in Sheffield, England
This is a surveyor's chain or Gunter's chain, an instrument used for measuring length. It comprises 100 pieces of straight metal wire, looped together end to end, and fitted with swivel handles. Its overall length is one chain (22 yards or 66 feet).

The Gunter's chain was named after its inventor, Edmund Gunter (1581-1626), an English clergyman, mathematician, and astronomer.

In the 16th century the mile was redefined and divided into eight furlongs, each of 625 feet. Following this an Act of Parliament in 1593 introduced a shorter English foot so that the furlong, divided into 4 rods, became 660 feet. The mile measurement consequently gained 280 feet and became 5,280 feet.

Measuring distance was problematic but into this mayhem came Edmund Gunter who in 1620 divided a furlong into 10 equal parts which he called chains. An area of one chain by one chain was one hundredth of an acre, while a square with 10 chains each side made up one acre. So it can be said that Gunter was a "metric visionary". To undertake ease of measurements, Gunter made an actual chain of 100 links that surveyors could easily carry to measure and survey ground accurately for both legal and commercial purposes.

This Gunter's chain, of 100 links (22 yards or 66 feet), features handles at each end with tally marks every ten links. These assisted the chain man to quickly count the number of links. It was made in England by James Chesterman & Co, of the Bow Works, Sheffield, which had been established in 1829. The chain was used in Australia for all types of land survey work and to peg railway centre lines. The Gunter's chain was eventually superseded by the steel tape measure.

Engineer's chains were used in the construction of works and differed from surveyor's chains in that they were 100 feet in length with each link being one foot long.

Dyson, James and Robert Uhlig (edits), "Mammoth Book of Great Inventions", Robinson, London, 2004, p.154.

Margaret Simpson, Curator,
September 2018


Object No.


Object Statement

Surveyors chain or Gunter's chain and bag, steel / calico, made by James Chesterman & Co, Sheffield, England, date unknown

Physical Description

Surveyor's chain or Gunter's chain and bag, 22 yards or 1 chain in length, steel, black/dark brown, made by James Chesterman & Co., Bow Works, Sheffield, England

Surveyor's chain and bag, consisting of 100 lengths of wire, each 6 inches long, with three forged links between each wire. The chain is divided by serrated metal tags at 10 link intervals, with serrations increasing from 1 to 4 from the end of the chain to the centre tag which is rounded. The chain is further divided into rods. The chain is stored in a white calico bag with a string tie.


Centre tag: "Chesterman / Jc / Sheffield"; "4P" on handle at each end.



360 mm


230 mm



Made by James Chesterman & Co


Credit Line

Gift of J Chatfield, 1973

Acquisition Date

13 March 1973

Cite this Object


Surveyor's or gunter's chain made by James Chesterman & Co 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 August 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Surveyor's or gunter's chain made by James Chesterman & Co |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Locomotive No. 1 at the Powerhouse Museum.

Know more about this object?


Have a question about this object?