Historical information

This magnetic compass is a good size to fit easily into a person's pocket or personal luggage and is protected from knocks by its wooden case. It could have been used for reference when travelling on land or sea. There is no visible manufacturer's mark, which may mean that it was not of high monetary value. Leith is a district of Edinburgh in the country of Scotland, the U.K. It was once the Port of Edinburgh and many migrant ships departed from here bound for the Australian colony. It had a busy shipbuilding industry, with wet and dry docks. It appears from the inscription on the case "Chas Gray, LEITH, 1839" that this pocket compass once belonged to Charles M. Gray (Chas is a common abbreviation for the name Charles). The inscription coincides with the name, place and date that the Western Victorian pioneer Charles M. Gray left Scotland and arrived in Australia. Charles Gray was born in Anstruther, Scotland, in 1818. His family was connected with the Royal Marines, which may have created his in nautical instruments such as this pocket compass. Charles Gray arrived in Hobsons Bay on 15 June 1839 in the ship “Midlothian”. That same ship had departed from Leith, Scotland on February 15th 1839. Did Charles Gray acquire the pocket compass in Leith, perhaps as a gift or a souvenir of his motherland? Charles Gray was an early squatter and went on to become a very successful settler as a sheep pastoralist in the Western District of what is now Victoria (originally the colony of New South Wales). He and his wife had a large property called “Nareeb Nareeb”, Green Hill Creek District (now Glenthompson), Victoria, from 1840-1886. He was also a local Councillor and Justice of the Peace, and had an interest in the local aboriginal people; he named his property after their tribe. Charles returned to England in 1890 and died there in 1905. Charles Gray had written an account in 1890 of his life at Nareeb Nareeb, called Western Victoria in the forties: reminiscences of a pioneer, a valuable historical reference to colonial Victoria. His book was published by the Hamilton Spectator in 1932. Charles Grays photograph is one of 713 historical photographs of early Victorian settlers, created as a montage by Thomas Foster Chuck in 1872. The State Library of Victoria holds the framed montage titled “The Explorers and Early Colonists of Victoria”. To qualify for inclusion on this montage the Settlers must have arrived in Victoria before 1843. Charles Grays photograph is number 349!


The pocket compass is associated with Charles Gray, one of the early squatters and settlers in Western Victoria, possibly given to him as a parting gift on his emigration to Van Diemans land in 1839. The item is very significant as it's connection with one of Victoria's early pioneers is well provenanced by the inscriptions on the wooden case.

Physical description

Pocket compass, brass, set into a square wooden case with hinged lid and small hook catch. Compass is marked with 360 degrees and compass points and has two pointers; one to show magnetic north and one to set the direction of travel. Hinges are triangular and inset into the wood. The lid has an attached brass plaque with the inscription "Chas Gray, Leith, 1839" (It likely belonged to Charles Gray, Leith, UK, who migrated to Port Philip Australia in 1839 and became a successful pastoralist.)

Inscriptions & markings

“Chas Gray / LEITH / 1839” engraved on brass plaque on lid.