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Out of Africa | Military Compass c.1902

Price R 7,591.00 Sale

 A late Victorian military prismatic marching compass dating from c.1902, retailed by George Lee & Son of Portsea. This compass is almost identical to the one that features in the Oscar winning 1985 film 'Out of Africa', which starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. In the film the compass is given to Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) by Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). The compass used in Out of Africa was Denys Finch Hatton's actual compass, but it was lost during the making of the film.

The compass card design is quite unusual, originating around the time of the Boer War, it was produced for a relatively short time (c.1899-1902), being replaced by Lt-Colonel Verner's later designs, such as the Mk V and Mk VI before 1905. The compass has a mother of pearl card, with a luminous painted centre and black painted cardinal  points. The luminous compound used in this compass was most probably a version of  '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 compass also features a transit lock, operated by a sliding button on the side of the case, and a manual brake. The compass retains almost all of its original bronzed finish, and comes complete with its fitted leather case, which has a small compartment on the front that would have held the magnesium ribbon.

Versions of this compass design are known to have been manufactured by both J. H. Steward and Francis Barker & Son. Those made by Steward usually have the Steward name, date, and serial number engraved on the lid. Francis Barker & Son often supplied their compasses unsigned to the retail trade, with the retailer then adding their own details to the compass card or case. As this compass has no maker's marks, only the retailers details - 'G. Lee, [The] Hard, Portsea' - painted onto the compass card, it seems most likely that this compass was made by Barker. An almost identical compass, signed by Barker, can be seen at

George Lee & Son were nautical instrument makers and 'Marine Opticians' based at The Hard in Portsea and in Southsea from 1847 until 1912. They made sextants and telescopes, and sold many other instruments at their premises. They were known to have undertaken work for the Admiralty, Trinity House and The Royal Naval College.



The compass is in very good condition, full working order, and finds North well. There is some minor wear to the bronzed finish of the lid and to the original lacquered finish of the brass on the lower part of the case. There is a small repair to the painted centre of the compass card near the pivot. The leather case is in very good condition.

Dimensions : 52mm (diameter, 70mm inc. prism)

Denys Finch Hatton (1887-1931)
was an aristocratic big-game hunter and the lover of Baroness Karen Blixen (also known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen), a Danish noblewoman who wrote about him in her autobiographical book Out of Africa, first published in 1937. Finch Hatton met Baroness Blixen at the Muthaiga Club on 5 April 1918. Soon afterwards he was assigned to military service in Egypt. On his return to Kenya after the Armistice he developed a close friendship with Blixen and her Swedish husband, Baron Bror Von Blixen Finecke. He left Africa in 1920 but returned in 1922, investing in a land development company. By this time, Karen Blixen had separated from her husband, and after their divorce in 1925, Finch Hatton moved into her house and began leading safaris for wealthy sportsmen. One of his clients was Edward, Prince of Wales. According to the author Mary Lovell, in 1930 Finch Hatton began a love affair with Beryl Markham, who was working as a race-horse trainer in Nairobi and the surrounding area. Later, she would become known as a pioneer flyer.

On the morning of 14 May 1931, Finch Hatton's Gypsy Moth took off from Voi airport, circled the airport twice, then plunged to the ground and burst into flames. Finch Hatton and his servant Kamau were killed. In accordance with his wishes, Finch Hatton was buried in the  Ngong Hills, overlooking nairobi National Park. Later, his brother erected a memorial at the gravesite upon which he placed a simple brass plaque inscribed with Finch Hatton's name, the dates of his birth and death, and an extract from Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: "He prayeth well, who loveth well both man and bird and beast".

Karen Blixen (1885-1962) was a Danish author who wrote works in Danish and English. She is best known under her pen name Isak Dinesen. She also published works using the aliases Osceola and Pierre Andrézel. Blixen is best known for Out of Africa, an account of her life while living in Kenya. Blixen was considered several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1918, Karen Blixen met the English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton. He often travelled back and forth between Africa and England, and visited her occasionally. After her separation from her husband, Blixen and Finch Hatton developed a close friendship, which eventually became a long-term love affair. In a letter to her brother Thomas in 1924, she wrote: "I believe that for all time and eternity I am bound to Denys, to love the ground he walks upon, to be happy beyond words when he is here, and to suffer worse than death many times when he leaves". Finch Hatton used Blixen's farmhouse as a home base between 1926 and 1931. He died in the crash of his Gipsy Moth biplane in May 1931. At the same time, the failure of the coffee plantation, as a result of mismanagement, the height of the farm, drought, and the falling price of coffee, forced Blixen to abandon her beloved estate. Blixen returned to Denmark in August 1931 to live with her mother and remained in Rungstedlund for the rest of her life.