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The Risby clock

The Risby clock

c. 1860

Mechanism: Archibald Gray (Glasgow, Scotland)

Cabinet-maker: Unknown (Hobart, Tasmania)

wood (Huon pine, Tasmanian blackwood, Australian red cedar); metal (brass, steel, cast iron, lead); miscellaneous (paint, monofilament)

196 h x 50 w x 22 d cm

Presented by T Gaffney, 2006



The clock case was made for Joseph Edward Risby (1826–89), the founder of Risby Brothers Timber Merchants of Hobart, Tasmania. It passed by inheritance to Joseph Risby’s daughter Florence Johnston (who married Hugh Johnston, 1896, no issue). The clock was then given as a wedding present to the donor’s parents, Florence’s nephew, Jack Risby (1892–1960) and Jean Isabell Johnston (unrelated to Hugh Johnston). It then passed to the donor, Theia Gaffney (nee Risby) who donated it to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 2006.


The case of this clock was made in the 1860s for the Hobart timber merchant, Joseph Risby (1826–89). Risby Brothers Timber Merchants was founded in 1844 and passed through the family until it closed in the early 1990s. It was one of Tasmania’s longest running family-owned businesses.

Though little is known of its maker, the dial of the clock mechanism suggests a date around the early nineteenth century—some 50 years before the case was made. It has a simple, austere design characteristic of Scottish-made clocks, of which the broken arch hood is particularly indicative. It is highly probable that it was based on the original case for the extant Archibald Gray mechanism.

Joseph Risby’s new case was made from Australian red cedar veneered with richly figured bird’s-eye Huon pine and fiddleback Tasmanian blackwood. The contrasting colours and patterns of these woods produces a highly decorative effect in an otherwise very restrained design. As a timber merchant, Joseph Risby had access to timber from both the Huon Valley and the west coast of Tasmania. The finest flitches would have been available to him for making the veneers for this clock case.


Long case clock with a Scottish-made movement and a Tasmanian-made case. Case is made predominantly from Australian red cedar and is veneered with highly figured blackwood and Huon pine. The painted and gilded clock face has Roman numerals for the hours and two smaller dials for seconds and the day-of-the-month. The clock face is framed in a circular cedar moulding set onto a plain, shaped door veneered in highly figured Huon pine. The upper part, or hood, of the clock has a broken-arch dial framed with a projecting cedar moulding set in Huon pine veneered to the front in bird’s-eye Huon pine. The arch is carried on plain pilasters veneered with fiddleback blackwood. Two holes in the top of the upper moulding of the hood suggest missing decorative elements, possibly brass urn finials from the original case.

There is a substantial cavetto moulding at the transition from the hood to the body of the clock case, the front section of which is veneered with highly figured Huon pine. The pendulum door is solid cedar veneered with Huon pine framed by mitred strips of blackwood. There is a substantial cavetto moulding veneered in highly figured Huon pine, again, at the transition to the plinth. The plinth is a simple box structure with a panel of highly figured, book-matched Huon pine veneer framed by mitred strips of fiddleback blackwood. The whole rests on shaped and scrolled, bracket feet in eighteenth-century style.

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of decorative arts made in Tasmania throughout the colonial period. This includes objects made between 1803 and 1901. While many of these objects are similar to contemporaneous objects made in Britain, they are distinguished by an idiosyncratic inflection derived from the colonial context of their production. The case of the Risby clock exploits the decorative qualities of the Tasmanian timbers, Huon pine and blackwood to great effect. Made for a timber merchant, it would have clearly demonstrated these qualities to visiting cabinet-makers and their customers, as well as to a broader public. The older mechanism and the distinctive design of the case strongly suggest the existence of an earlier case upon which the design of this one was modelled.


No Inscriptions or marks visible on the clock case. A painted inscription on the clock face reads: ‘ARCH D GRAY / GLASGOW’. Inscribed in white paint on the pendulum bob is: ‘T. GAFFNEY’.

This website was made possible through the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation, which provided funds for research, equipment and website design.

© 2009 Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
This page was last modified on : 28 July, 2011