McClean spectroscope

Made by W Watson & Sons Ltd in London, England, 1908-1917.

Spectroscopes are devices that take the light emitted from objects and split it up into their component colours. Every element has a different signature spectrum, and thus the spectroscope allows the observer to define what elements the object is composed of.

Spectroscopy was first used in astronomy in the early 1860s. One of its first uses was to determine the elements that comprise the sun. Star spectroscopes can allow a user to determine the composition of a celestial object, its motion, de...


Object No.


Physical Description

Spectroscope, McClean type, in case, glass / metal / leather, made by W Watson and Sons Limited, London, England, 1908-1917, used by Sydney Observatory, New South Wales, Australia, [1908-1930]

A spectroscope consisting of a brass tube with an attachable spectroscopic slit and a lens. The main body of the spectroscope is missing. The spectroscope is stored in a box with a hinged lid. The lid of the box is lined with blue silk fabric while the base of the box has been moulded to fit the parts of the spectroscope and covered in blue velvet.

Observatory stock number 209.



The spectroscope was made by W Watson and Sons Limited in London, England between 1908 and 1917.

The company W. Watson & Son was established as an opticians and camera makers in 1837 in London. They became one of Britain's leading producers of photographic equipment, magic lanterns, binoculars, microscopes, and movie projectors. The company completed all their own woodwork, brass working and lens grinding.

In 1900, W. Watson & Son took over the significant scientific instrument maker John Browning & Co, and from 1908 the company became known as Watson & Sons Ltd.

As well as selling quality microscopes, they also sold pre prepared microscope slides. The company purchased the entire collection of Edmund Wheeler, who was a well known professional slide mounter in 1884, his collection consisted of over 40, 000 slides.

The W. Watson & Son company was also represented in Australia. The grandson of W. Watson, Henry Baker (1867-1940), had apprenticed to the company in London in the mid 1800s. Baker travelled to Australia to represent the firm in the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition. While he was in Australia he saw the opportunity to open a branch of the firm, and supplies were sent to start the colonial branch of the business. Henry's uncle, T. P. Watson, was in charge of the branch until his death in 1903.

Henry Baker became a valuable member of the scientific community. He was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1919 and later of the Microscopical Society, he was also a member of the British Astronomical Association from 1932.

Henry and his brother Frank acquired the Australian branch of the Watson business upon their uncles death in 1903. The business was registered as a proprietary company in 1916 and as a public company in 1919, all under the name W. Watson & Sons Ltd. The business ceased trading in 1956.

The following is a list of dates and corresponding workshop addresses, found inscribed on Watson & Sons instruments in museum collections. (please note this list may not be totally accurate but can be used as a rough guide):

Watson & Son:
1837-1860s= 71 City Road, London
1860s= 313 High Holburn, London.

13 forest Road Edinburgh

Watson & Sons Ltd
1908-onwards=313 High Holburn, London.

Australian Dictionary of Bibliography:
Webster's signature database:

Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, February 2008.


W Watson & Sons Ltd 1908-1917



This spectroscope was used with the 6" telescope (H9887) at Sydney Observatory, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia between approximately 1908 and 1930.


Sydney Observatory


Credit Line

Source unknown

Acquisition Date

14 November 1983

Cite this Object


McClean spectroscope 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 November 2018, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=McClean spectroscope |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=19 November 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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