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J. H. Steward, London, Verners Patent compass, c.1895

J. H. Steward Verner's Patent Marching Compass

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“A lull seemed to settle over all the earth . . . [until] the spell of comparative calm is broken by the enemy shelling the North end of Thiepval Wood. The shells were falling all around us [and] the candles in Battalion headquarters kept going out”.
Francis Bowen’s War Diary, Somme, 1st July 1916

A rare Verner's Patent marching compass, serial number 1353, made by J. H. Steward and dating from c.1895. The compass originally belonged to Lieut-Colonel Francis Osborne Bowen D.S.O., commanding officer of of the 14th Royal Irish Rifles and 4th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment during WW1. The compass has Bowen's name, initials, and regiment written on the paper strip inside the lid, and his surname is also faintly visible on the top of the lid, just above the maker's details.

The compass has a brass case, marked with J. H. Steward's details, Verner patent markings, and the serial number 1353. It features a hand-painted compass card with a central area treated with 'Balmain's Luminous Paint' (patented by William Balmain in 1877), and a large black North marker. There is a transit lock operated by a sliding button, but this is no longer working. Another small button on the case operates a brake and this is working just as it should.

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. Another example of the Verner patent marching compass can be seen at


the compass is in very good condition and finds North well. The transit lock is no longer working, but in all other respects the compass is in full working order. The compass card, glass, and case are all in very good condition.

Dimensions : 55mm (75mm inc. loop)

Francis Osborne Bowen D.S.O. (1877-1948) was born at Hollymount, County Mayo, Ireland. In 1902 he was serving as an officer in the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. By 1908 he was a Captain in the Royal Irish Regiment. In 1911 he was stationed in Jersey with the Royal Irish Regiment. He went out to France with the regiment in December 1914. During WW1 Francis Bowen served as the commanding officer of the 14th (Young Citizens) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of the Somme, before commanding the 4th Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment from March 1918 to the end of the war. After WW1 he continued to serve in the army, going out to India in October 1924. Francis Bowen died at Clones, Ireland in June 1948. His war diaries and other papers are held at The National Archives at Kew (ref: CAB 45/188).

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.