Burke and Wills Watch at Bonhams & Goodman

Bonhams & Goodman has been asked to sell an extraordinary Burke and Wills relic by the widow of local watch collector. Isabelle Quinn, Head of Jewellery at Bonhams & Goodman, received an email seeking information about an antique pocket watch with an inscription relating to William John Wills, Burke’s partner in the ill-fated 1860 expedition into the Australian outback. The gold pocket watch was inscribed, ‘Wm. John Wills Explorer Melbourne 1860 R.O.H.B. Wills’ [Wills’ grand-nephew was named after Robert O’Hara Burke].

Ms Quinn was very excited with the enquiry and requested that the watch be immediately sent to Bonhams & Goodman’s premises at Double Bay, Sydney, where she undertook extensive research. Dave Phoenix, President of the Burke and Wills Historical Society was contacted. Phoenix could not conceal his excitement when he identified the serial number on the watch as one featured regularly in the Wills’ expedition journals. Three watches had been taken on the expedition to help with navigation and as was custom each was referred to by its individual serial number. Ms Quinn took the watch to Double Bay watchmaker Nash White who opened the back and in true legendary style, grains of desert sand fell out of the movement. The watchmaker was to return the sand to the workings of the watch.

After the ill-fated expedition the party returned to base camp at Cooper Creek, both Wills and Burke succumbed to starvation. Wills’ dying wish was that his last letter and his watch be returned to his father in Melbourne. John King, the sole survivor of the expedition handed over the watch in November 1861. After moving down the Wills family by descent, the watch has been in the possession of the late vendor, a watch collector, for the past 20 years. It will be auctioned in Sydney on 22 September. The auction of Fine Jewellery will also include a priceless pink diamond from the Argyle mine valued at a quarter of a million dollars in a ring made by Asprey of London.

Perth Viewing
Saturday 13 September 11am to 5pm
Sunday 14 September 11am to 5pm
Hyatt Regency Perth
99 Adelaide Terrace Perth WA 6000

Sydney Viewing
Saturday 20 September 11am to 5pm
Sunday 21 September 11am to 5pm
Monday 22 September 11am to 4pm
Bonhams & Goodman
7 Anderson Street Double Bay NSW 2028

Fine Jewellery
Monday 22 September at 6pm
Bonhams & Goodman
7 Anderson Street Double Bay NSW 2028

Lot 195: The Important and Historic Burke & Wills Expedition watch of William John Wills, Explorer, 1834-1861
Estimate $60,000 – 80,000

Lot 133: A magnificent and rare natural 1.02ct Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink diamond ring by Asprey from the Argyle mine
Estimate $265,000 – $295,000