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2008/9/1 Theodolite, 4.5 inch vernier, No.17449, with box and case, brass / glass / wood / leather, made by Cooke, Troughton and Simms Ltd, York, England, c. 1925, used by NSW Surveyor George Davison, Australia, 1922-1976. Click to enlarge.

George Davison’s theodolite

Made by Cooke Troughten and Simms in York, England, c. 1925.
When George Emanuel Davison died in 1983, at the age of 94, he was the oldest Registered Surveyor in New South Wales, Australia. He purchased this theodolite some time in the late 1920s and used it for the rest of his surveying career. While the theodolite is not remarkable in its own right, being a standard instrument of the time, it is part of a collection of surveying equipment and an archive of papers and photographs illustrating the working life of a surveyor across much of the twentieth century.

Born in 1889 at Arncliffe, Davison joined the NSW Lands Department in 1908 as a cadet surveyor, served articles with surveyors Alcock and Harnett, and qualified on 14 April 1914 (certificate 1222). Davison rejoined the Lands Department and worked there until March 1950. He continued to work as a freelance surveyor and did his last work in Kangaroo Valley on behalf of the Sydney Bush Walking Club when he was 88 years old.

During his time in the field with the Lands Department, Davison usually lived under canvas and travelled by horseback. He would be away for months, and sometimes his wife would accompany him. Some of the photographs show the tent and their personal effects.

Davison worked in many areas of New South Wales including the areas around Hay and Wagga Wagga, the Snowy Mountains, Armidale, Grafton, Forbes and Condoblin. His topographic work in the Snowy Mountains was commended at the opening of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The engineers were very impressed at the accuracy of the maps produced from his measurements, which were done without the aid of stereometric equipment and aeroplanes.

The significance of this equipment lies primarily in its being a collection of tools and associated ephemera which provide a wonderful illustration of George Davison and the working life of a surveyor over a period of almost 70 years.

Damian McDonald
October 2007


Object No.


Object Statement

Theodolite, 4.5 inch vernier, No.17449, with box and case, brass / glass / wood / leather, made by Cooke, Troughton and Simms Ltd, York, England, c. 1925, used by NSW Surveyor George Davison, Australia, 1922-1976

Physical Description

This is a 4.5 inch vernier theodolite made of brass. The theodolite has a black painted surface which is well worn with use, especially where the lid of the box meets parts of the theodolite. It is complete with its major components and a wooden box. The box also contains accessories including a plumb bob and spanner. The box has a hinged lid, a lock, and catches to hold the lid shut. The rectangular leather case is well worn and shows signs of water damage. The theodolite box fits inside the case for transportation.


Serial no stamped on theodolite, '17449'.
Sticker, adhered to inside of lid, 'PRECISION INSTRUMENT CO. / 26 HUNTER STREET, SYDNEY'.



200 mm


480 mm


200 mm



The theodolite is a standard model produced by the company Cooke Troughton and Simms. It must have been produced sometime after 1922 when T Cooke and Sons Ltd merged with Troughton and Simms Ltd. It would have been produced in one of the CTS factories in York, England.

In 1782 John Troughton purchased Benjamin Cole's shop in Fleet Street, London, enabling him to sell his own signed products. His instrument making business supported several generations of Troughtons before becoming Troughton and Simms and later still Cooke Troughton & Simms. This was one of the most well respected firms of instrument makers of the 1800s.

While his brother enjoyed some early success, the business really expanded once Edward Troughton (1756-1835) took over in 1807. Edward and his brother John were both designers and manufacturers of instruments, and the quality of their work won them contracts with the leading government bodies of the time. These included the Royal Society, the Greenwich Royal Observatory, the Board of Longitude, the Board of Ordnance and the East India Company.

One of the main factors in the success of the business was the use of a dividing engine which could speed up the labourious process of marking the small divisions of measurement necessary for scientific instruments. This machine was based on that designed by Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) which had won a prize from the British Board of Longitude in 1775. As a result of this the Board of Longitude instructed Ramsden to allow up to ten other instrument makers to copy his machine. One of these was John Troughton, and the new machines established both Ramsden's and Troughton's reputations. The dividing engine sped up both accuracy and production: rather than spending 12 weeks, six days a week and eight hours a day graduating two meridian circles, this machine enabled the same job to be completed in around 10 hours.

The workshop produced a broad range of instruments from large telescopes and theodolites to small mathematical instruments. Before 1835 most of the optics appear to have been supplied by Dollond as Edward Troughton was reputed to be colour blind. It is also important to note that from the early years the precision engineering of castings and turnings of their instruments was mainly outsourced to Maudslay Field & Donkin or Ransomes & May.

One of Edward Troughton's apprentices, William Simms, was taken into partnership in 1826, and after Edward died in 1835 Simms became the manager of the establishment and the company became Troughton & Simms. Under Simms the company continued to expand and produced instruments for Britain and its colonies as well as for markets in Europe and America. When William Simms died in 1860 the estate was worth around 80,000 pounds.

The company was next managed by William Simms (junior) and his cousin James. In the 1860s they moved from Fleet St to two acres of land at Charlton on Woolwich Road. By 1866 the factory employed 61 men and 20 boys. For the 1874 transit of Venus, Troughton & Simms made only five transits and four portable azimuths and refurbished some older telescopes lent for the occasion. Telescopes and transits of the period were often hybrids, with the structure ordered from Grubb or Troughton & Simms and the lenses from Cooke.

By 1887 the company was able to produce all the parts necessary for its instruments and employed nearly 200 people. James Simms died in 1915, and the company was turned into a limited liability company by his sons William and James. Things however were not so easy for the sons, and in 1922 the business was bought out by rival T Cooke & Sons, becoming Cooke, Troughton & Simms.

Todd, David, P., Stars and Telescopes, Sampson Low, Marston, and Co., 1900
Chaldecott, J., 'Printed Ephemera of Some Nineteenth Century Instrument Makers', in Blondel, C., Parot, F., Turner, A., Williams, M., (eds), Studies in the History of Scientific Instruments, Rogers Turner Books, London, 1989
King, H., C., The History of the Telescope, Dover Publications, New York, 1955
McConnell, A., Instrument Makers to the World: a History of Cooke, Troughton and Simms, William Sessions, York, England, 1992



The theodolite was purchased by George Davison around 1927 for 220 pounds. This is assumed from the catalogue (see object 2008/9/8), which has the model marked and the price written in pencil next to it. Davison used the theodolite for the rest of his surveying career, which finished in 1976.


Credit Line

Gift of Mrs Jane Gray, 2008

Acquisition Date

21 January 2008

Cite this Object


George Davison's theodolite 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=George Davison's theodolite |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Collection Gallery 4 at the Museums Discovery Centre.

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