Historical information

Mr John Wilson Gillie was born on the 31st of March 1864. On the 31st of July 1880 he was apprenticed for four years to J.J. Wilson and Sons, Nautical Instrument Makers of Sunderland. Following the apprenticeship he spent six months to a year as an ‘improver’ in Glasgow, and then started a new company ‘Wilson and Gillie’ in North Shields.
At this time sail had just given way to steam and wooden ships to steel, and the railways were competing with colliers for the carrying of coal from the North East of England to London and the South. In 1858 only seven out of 44 shipyards on the Tyne were using iron, but by 1862 there were ten, employing around 4,000 men. These changes had a significant effect on nautical instrument manufacturers, as the magnetic compass for a wooden sailing vessel was very simple and required little in the way of compensation. For steel vessels much more was required and this was a period of great development, both in the compass bowl and the binnacle in which it was housed.
In 1870 Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) designed his dry card standard compass, which completely replaced all previous designs. Wilson and Gillie started as agents for the Thomson compass, but later J.W. Gillie, using similar principles, redesigned the compass suspension and patented the ‘UNIT’ standard compass. It became popular with local shipowners and shipbuilders.
In 1910 the firm of John Lilley and Son (which had been established in London in 1812), found themselves in financial difficulties and were saved with the help of John Wilson Gillie, who established, on the 8th of August 1911, a new firm of John Lilley and Son Limited. John Lilley and Son had been the sole London agents for Sir William Thomson, a very enviable position during this period, when the Thomson compass led the field. Unfortunately, Mr. Lilley had quarreled with the Glasgow company, who withdrew the agency and established their own branch in London (later to become Kelvin White and Hutton).
On November 7th 1913, the firm of John Lilley and Son Limited of London amalgamated with Wilson and Gillie of North Shields, and after this date instruments manufactured by the two companies bore the name John Lilley and Son Limited of London and North Shields.
During the 1930s many of the London nautical instrument makers were in difficulties, including John Lilley and Son Limited and Reynolds and Son, Dobbie and Clyde Limited, and Mr. J.W. Gillie arranged an amalgamation between these two companies. The new firm became Lilley and Reynolds Limited.
In 1943, with estate duties in mind, the North Shields company was reconstituted and took the name of John Lilley and Gillie Limited, although the shareholders, directors and personnel remained unchanged
In the early 1970s Lilley and Gillie developed close links with Observator in Rotterdam, who manufactured one of the first fully reliable transmitting magnetic compass systems. The Observator shareholders, Holland America Line, bought the share capital of John Lilley and Gillie Limited., but retained all the personnel and the directors.

Tug Melbourne:
The barometer was salvaged from a 496-ton tug that had been built in 1952 and had sunk in Port Philip Bay on the 9th of August 1972 after a collision with the SS Nieuw Holland, in 1973 it had been raised and scraped at this time the barometer was salvaged.
The tug had been renamed from the Howard Smith to the “Melbourne” after the Adelaide Steamship Co was taken over by Howard Smith& Co, who were heavily involved in towage, salvage and the stevedoring industries in 1961.


The significance is that the item was on a vessel that was evolved in a serious collision in Port Philip Bay in 1972. It is linked with the activities of the Port at that time and helps to form a picture of what the maritime industries that operated from Port Melbourne were like and the activities that stevedore and towage companies underwent.

Physical description

Ship Barometer, in brass case

Inscriptions & markings

Inscribed "Compensated" , "John Lilley & Gillie Ltd London & North Shields." and "Millibars".