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J. H. Steward Verner's Patent Marching Compass

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A rare Verner's Patent marching compass, serial number 1709, made by J. H. Steward c.1899. The compass originally belonged to Lieutenant William Esme Kelly M.C., 3rd Border Regiment, who was mentioned in despatches in May 1917, and also awarded the Military Cross and Croix de Guerre. The compass has Lt Kelly's surname, initials, and regiment written in ink inside the fitted leather case. W. E. Kelly, a former student at Glasgow University, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Border Regiment in December 1915. The London Gazette of 17th May 1919 lists him as 'Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) William Esme Kelly, MC, Border Regiment, Special Reserve'. Lt Kelly's medal card also notes him as being a temporary Captain in the 20th Infantry Brigade. This unit included the 2nd Battalion of the Border Regiment, and at some point Lt Kelly was attached to the 2nd battalion, probably early in 1916, to replace casualties suffered by the battalion during the battle of Loos. From 1916-1917 the 20th Infantry Brigade was heavily involved in the Battles of the Somme, Ancre, and Hindenburg Line, with many officers becoming casualties. In November 1917 Lt Kelly embarked with the 2nd Battalion for the Italian Front, and he was mentioned in the battalion war diary at that time as a member of Brigade Headquarters staff.

The compass has a brass case, marked with J. H. Steward's details, Verner patent markings, and the serial number 1709. It features a hand-painted compass card with a a large black North marker, and a central area treated with a luminous compound, possibly 'Balmain's Luminous Paint' (patented by William Balmain in 1877). This type of luminous paint was activated by exposure to very bright light, often created by burning a strip of magnesium ribbon. The leather case has a small pocket on the front which was used to hold a small roll of magnesium ribbon. The compass has a transit lock operated by a sliding button, and another small button on the side of the case operates a manual brake.

This compass is identical to one (serial no. 711) carried by Lieutenant C. J. Clerk during the famous charge of the 21st Lancers at the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898 (see the blog pages for further details of this compass). Another example of the Verner patent marching compass can be seen at

J. H. Steward Ltd: James Henry Steward (1817-1896) established his business in London in 1852 as a maker and retailer of optical, scientific, military and surveying instruments. J.H. Steward was the head optician of the company and had businesses at 406 Strand, 457 West Strand and 54 Cornhill in London. In the mid 1800s he became the optician to Her Majesty's Government and the National Rifle, and National Artillery Associations. James Henry Steward died in 1896. J. H. Steward Ltd was incorporated in 1912 and continued in business in London until 1973. The main London office was sold in 1971, and from 1971-1973 the company rented premises in Catherine Street. All the remaining stock and long serving staff member George Goble (c.1916-1975) were moved to Catherine Street. The business finally moved to 154a Church Road, Hove, Sussex in 1973, before finally ceasing trading in 1975.

Lt-Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner (1852-1922) served on the staff in the Egyptian campaign of 1884-85 and during the Boer War. He retired as a Lt-Colonel in May 1904. The earliest Verner designs were simple pocket compasses, with the various models of the Service Pattern, MK III to MK VII, appearing between c.1895-1918. His prismatic service compasses were essentially a development of the Schmalcalder patent design of the early 19th century, but they remained the standard service compass of the British Army until the start of WW2. As well as designing compasses, Verner was a prolific author, military historian, and chronicler of the Rifle Brigade.


In very good original condition, full working order, and finds North well. The compass case, card, glass, and leather case are all in very good condition. Signed inside the flap of the leather case by 'W. E. Kelly, 3rd Border Reg'. The writing is faded and indistinct, but is still legible.

Dimensions : 55mm (75mm inc. loop)