Historical information

James Henry Steward (1817–1896) established J.H. Steward in London in 1852. As “Head Optician” he would have been a qualified oculist but little is known about the founder’s early life and scholastic achievements. However, given the variety of disciplines for which he undertook he was also an accredited instrument maker,he clearly was a gifted scholar and quickly gained professional recognition in a full range of fields for an instrument maker of his day.
J.H Steward became incorporated as J.H. Steward Limited on 1st February,1913. The business grew from modest beginnings. Steward would sell pocket watches and assorted items at the annual competition days of "The National Rifle Association of the United Kingdom(NRA)" from a stall. As the governing body for full bore rifle and pistol shooting sports in the UK. The Association established in 1859 with the aim to improve the shooting skills of the newly formed corps of volunteers to meet the perceived threat of an invasion by the French. J.H. Steward advert first appeared in the NRA competition program of 1865. The NRA meetings were held at first on Wimbledon Common, Surrey until 1889. Then because of pressure by the local community, the NRA along with its buildings and its flourishing meetings moved further south to Brookwood, Surrey. By now the Steward operation had grown from a modest stall into a large marquee selling various optical and scientific instruments at these meetings.
Throughout its long trading history the J.H. Steward company and many members of the family maintained strong ties to the NRA and competition shooting events. The NRA records show that at the end of the 19th century the NRA bestowed a Life Membership on 7 Steward family members. First presented by J. H. Steward Ltd. in 1902 was the “Steward Trophy” that is still an annual competition for teams of four from any rifle club affiliated to the NRA. There is also evidence that many family members were fine shots.


The item was made by a significant instrument manufacturing company that concentrated during the middle 19th century on supplying the British military. This items pattern & design is still available as a reproduction, available on the internet. However this original seems unique as the writer cannot find another for sale or in a collection to date. The assumption is that this type of compass was made for the British artillery units given the sun dial. Further research is ongoing as the writer regards this item as rare and social significant.

Physical description

Brass Compass and Sundial manufactured by J H Steward 407 & 406 West Strand, London. Can be used in both hemispheres.