Sold! Rare gold watch in safe hands
In a story that reads like a movie script, a rare 200 year old gold watch found on a victim of the ill-fated Loch Ard shipwreck of 1878 is being preserved in perpetuity after being purchased at a Sotheby’s auction following just one minute of bidding.
The watch was salvaged from the body of shipwreck victim Rebecca Carmichael, who was killed when the Loch Ard, carrying 54 people, sank off the Otway coast of Victoria. Her daughter, Eva Carmichael, was one of only two survivors.
The watch was found on her body after she drowned. Eva later gave the watch to her husband as a wedding gift.
The watch, with solid 18ct dial and gold decorated glass case, remained remarkably intact. It was originally made in 1814 by the firm of notable Irish watchmaker James McCabe for Prince Regent, the future King George. When the gavel fell, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, with funding assistance of $5,700 from the Australian Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account, had successfully purchased the second of only two items to have survived the shipwreck, the other being the Minton Loch Ard Peacock, Australia’s most valuable shipwreck artefact, valued at around $4 million.
The Loch Ard Watch is now securely housed in a special electronic display room at the Museum, along with the Peacock.
The Shipwreck Coast has a rich, if tragic, maritime history. The spectacular coastline is the final resting place of over 180 wrecks.
The Museum, appropriately located in the Lady Bay Lighthouse precinct, holds Australia’s most significant shipwreck artefact collection.
Peter Abbott, Manager Tourism Services Warrnambool City Council - Flagstaff Hill, said the acquisition of the Carmichael Gold Watch was a significant purchase for the regional-based Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and reinforced the heritage significance of its collection.
“As we hold Victoria's largest publically accessible shipwreck collection, the watch had a high level of regional and state significance, and complemented our already strong collection of the 1878 Loch Ard wreck items,” Peter said.
“The Loch Ard Peacock was purchased by the Warrnambool community in 1974 so it was fitting that we were able to purchase the 2nd most significant item to come from the wreck using funds from our community and the Cultural Heritage Account contribution.
“This funding has helped allow this wonderful piece to be placed on permanent display alongside the Loch Ard Peacock,” Peter said.
Arts Minister Simon Crean said the Loch Ard Watch is nationally significant because of its strong connection to Australia's immigration and maritime history. "We are proud to have assisted Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in bringing this historically significant item to the heart of Victoria's Shipwreck Coast," he said.
The Australian Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account supports eligible organisations that cannot raise the full purchase price, to purchase nationally significant objects that they could not otherwise afford, with the intention that they be preserved and made available to the public in Australia.
These acquisitions ensure that rare and important pieces of Australian history are made available to the communities for which they have special significance.
Flagstaff Hill Museum