Launceston’s first watchmaker


An advertisement appeared in the Launceston Advertiser in March 1830 announcing that “M. Phillips, Watchmaker”, was setting up business at the White Conduit House hotel on the corner of Brisbane and Charles streets in Launceston.

Moses Phillips was almost certainly Launceston’s first resident clock and watchmaker and the White Conduit House hotel, later the Bull’s Head Inn, was more recently the site of Cleavers Hardware and now Country Road store.

Moses Phillips had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in March 1821 as a convict after being sentenced to transportation for life in Surrey for receiving stolen goods.

He was born in London in 1786 and gave his occupation as watchmaker and baker on his convict record. A short, a thickset man with dark brown hair and light grey eyes, his religion was listed as Jewish.

By 1823 he had married and was working as a baker. On earning his ticket-of-leave he entered into a partnership with publican Joseph Withers of the Druid Hotel in Argyle Street, Hobart.

The partnership was dissolved in1828 and Moses and Mary Ann Phillips moved to Launceston where he advertised that watches and clocks could be repaired “on the shortest notice.”

In a young town where the majority of the residents were convicts, or ex-convicts, the demand for watches and watch repairs was probably limited. By 1836, Moses Phillips was operating from premises in Paterson Street where he also repaired shoes and leather goods.

Even this business was struggling because in December 1836 he was unable to pay his rent.

His landlord advised in the Launceston Advertiser of 22 December that there would be a public auction at Moses Phillip’s premises, Paterson St, of his stock-in-trade and household goods unless the rent was paid.

Despite his financial problems he continued to trade as a shoemaker and was granted a conditional pardon in 1839 and in 1843 was licenced as a “hawker and carrier” in Launceston.

There are mentions of altercations and financial disputes involving Moses Phillips in the newspapers but he and members of his family also gave generously to public causes such as fund-raising for the purchase of land and construction of Launceston’s synagogue.

Moses Phillips was granted an unconditional pardon in 1849 and immediately left Van Diemen’s Land for Victoria. Although in his 60s, he continued to work as a hawker and carrier in Melbourne. He died in country Victoria in December 1862.

Moses Phillips is one of more than 500 Tasmanian clock and watchmakers being researched by Launceston horologist Graham Mulligan for a book to be published later this year.

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