Mr Rose’s Watch

Mr W.H. Rose 1860-1941

Research work in an Archives is always interesting and varied, but every now and then along comes a query which piques the interest more than most.

This one began with an email from Italy, from a gentleman who wished to know more of the history of a gold pocket watch he had purchased from an antique shop in a small village near Rome.

The watch was made by Rotherhams of London, and inscribed on the back of its inner case were the words “Presented to Mr W.H. Rose – St. Andrew’s Congregation – Dunedin – 1879”.

The first question which immediately springs to mind is, how did the watch get to Italy? An obituary for Mr Rose in the Presbyterian church journal The Outlook in 1941 gives a full description of Mr Rose’s career in business, and his extensive work for the church, but does not mention any trips to Italy. There is no reason why it should however, and it is possible that Mr Rose and his wife visited Europe as communications between New Zealand and the rest of the world became easier through the years.

The same obituary records that the deep sympathy of the church went out to Mr Rose’s sister, Miss Burns, and to other sorrowing relatives. If Mr and Mrs Rose had any children, they apparently predeceased him and his wife, who died in 1937. So the watch did not pass down to any immediate descendents of Mr Rose. Nor could it have been bequeathed to children of his two half-sisters (Mr Rose’s mother married again after being widowed sometime between 1860 and 1862), as they both remained spinsters. One sister died in 1914, and the Miss Burns referred to in the obituary died in 1946, five years after her brother.

I am presuming that if Mr Rose had a brother who was living he would have been mentioned in the obituary. So we are left with the ‘sorrowing relatives’ who could have been members from any branch of the family, any one of whom might have inherited the watch and thus started it on its odyssey.  The travels of Mr Rose’s watch might well be as thrilling as the tale told in Talbot Baines Reed 1883 novel, The Adventures of a Three-Guinea Watch. It is a pity that we will never know.

As to why Mr Rose was presented with the pocket watch by St. Andrew’s congregation in 1879, parish records do not provide a definitive answer, though they might provide a clue. During that year Mr Rose was acting as Honorary Precentor, which means that he led the congregation in unaccompanied singing. He undertook that task when the former Precentor fell ill. Mr Rose is recorded as possessing a fine baritone, so the congregation was obviously confident of his abilities even at the comparatively young age of nineteen. The session minutes note that Mr Rose should be thanked for his extra efforts in that field, and since he left Dunedin for Christchurch sometime in 1879, it is feasible to speculate that the watch was presented to him as a parting gift. 

Mr Rose returned to Dunedin some years later and continued his association with St. Andrew’s congregation. He acted as Honorary Conductor from 1883 to November 1885, and served as the Clerk of the Deacon’s Court from 1884-1887. His work took him further north again in 1887, and minutes of the Deacons’ Court for that year record that the ladies of the congregation were collecting for a testimonial for his departure. Mr Rose died in Christchurch on the 20 February 1941, and is buried in the Bromley Cemetery there.

 By Jane Bloore, Research Archivist

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