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'Out of Africa' J. H. Steward Verner's Military compass (1900)

Out of Africa | J. H. Steward Verner's Compass (1900)

Price £455.00 Sale

A rare early version of the Verner's Service Pattern prismatic military compass, serial number 239, signed by J. H. Steward and dated 1900. It is almost identical to the compass 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.

This compass originally belonged to 2/Lt A. D. Chanter of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Arthur Douglas Chanter was educated at Radley College, before entering the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1900. From 1901-1907 he served with the RGA. In 1907-8 he was with the Indian Army in the 119th Infantry (Mooltan Regiment). He was present at the Delhi Durbar in 1911. During WW1, by now a Major, Chanter served on the North West Frontier in 1915, in Mesopotamia in 1916-18, and was mentioned in despatches. He retired from the army in 1922.

The compass card design is quite unusual, originating around the time of the Boer War and being replaced by the more common later versions, such as the Mk VI and Mk VII,  before the outbreak of WW1. The compass has an aluminium card with a transit lock and brake. The base of the compass is engraved with A. D. Chanter's name, and there is also a tiny 'IV', which suggests that this may have been Steward's Mark IV version of Verner's design. (The Mark III was a simple, non-prismatic, pocket compass). The compass comes complete with its original fitted leather case. The case is marked 'S. Colebrook, Woolwich, 1900' and also features the British Army broad arrow symbol alongside a capital letter 'I', denoting that it was used by an officer serving in India.

It seems likely that this particular Verner's design was manufactured by both J. H. Steward and Francis Barker & Son. A virtually identical compass, signed by Francis Barker, can be seen at compassmuseum.com.

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.1900-1918. 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.

Condition:

The compass is in very good condition and finds North well. There is just some minor wear to the original oxidised finish and most of the original laquered finish to the brass is still present. The loop is slightly distorted, but in all other respects the compass is in very good condition and full working order. The original leather case is in good condition. Both the compass and case are dated 1900 and marked with the name of A. D. Chanter.


Dimensions : 52mm (case 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 altitude 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.