Henry Husbands, ca. 1824 – 1900
William Clarke, ca. 1810 – 1873
Thomas D. King,
King and Coombs,
J. King and Son,
by Brian Stevenson
last updated January, 2017
Henry Husbands and William Clarke operated an optician and scientific instruments shop in Bristol, England, as partners between 1858 and 1870, then Husbands alone or with his sons until that man’s death in 1900. Three of Henry’s sons maintained the Husbands and Sons’ shop for 10 additional years. Two other of Henry’s sons opened branches in Melbourne, Australia, in 1875. Alison Morrison-Low wrote that Husbands and Clarke / Husbands “appear to have been the main suppliers of instruments locally (i.e. Bristol) in the latter part of the nineteenth century,” and that many of their instruments have survived to this day. In contrast, microscope slides from the firm are relatively uncommon.
Figure 1. Microscope slides retailed by Husbands and Clarke (A) and by Husbands (B, C, and D). A. Two paper-wrapped “Husbands and Clarke” slides. The slide on the right has a date of December, 1873 written in pencil. B. A later, unpapered slide. Brian Bracegirdle’s ‘Microscopical Mounts and Mounters’ Plate 21-R illustrates a similarly labeled slide, with the same handwriting on the label. Presumably, these slides were brought in from outside professional/semi-professional slide makers, or produced by junior employees, since skilled opticians such as Husbands and Clarke could more profitably spend their time producing lenses and other high-skill apparatus. C. A slide made by London-based mounter John Norman, with a retail label from Husbands. D. A slide produced by G.F. Kent, with a retail label from Husbands.
Figure 2. An uncut sheet of Husbands and Clarke microscope slide-cover papers. Even after 140+ years, such items occasionally pop up in auctions.
Figure 3. A microscope engraved “Husbands and Clarke Bristol”. Image from the Museum of the History of Science.
Figure 4. Another Husbands and Clarke microscope, probably dating from after that shown in Figure 4. Image adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 5. Other scientific instruments produced by Husbands and Clarke or Husbands alone: a reflecting telescope and tripod engraved “Husbands Bristol”, a wood-frame camera labeled “Husbands Bristol” and a cased Sikes hydrometer labeled “Husbands and Clarke Bristol”. Screenshot images from internet auctions.
Figure 6. Three smaller products: ivory set-square and parallel rule engraved “Husbands and Clarke Bristol”, folding tortoiseshell eyeglasses and case labeled “Husbands Bristol”, and a parallel rule engraved “Husbands Bristol”. Screenshot images from internet auctions.
Both Husbands and Clarke were senior journeymen for Thomas Davies King (1819-1884). T.D. King exhibited three microscopes (at least one of which was of his own design), and an illuminator, at the 1851 Great Exhibition of London. These were described as, “Compound achromatic microscope mounted on a pyramidal tripod, with mechanical stage, traversing in rectangular planes by micrometer screws, achromatic condenser, polariscope, double refracting goniometer, cobweb micrometer and other eye-pieces, insect forceps, and various accessories. In this microscope the weight is equally distributed over the base, and when inclined at its working angle the chief portion is brought below the point of suspension; the traversing stage has divided scales and verniers, whereby admeasurements can be accurately determined”, a “Student's compound achromatic and single microscope”, and an “Improved spherical prismatic illuminator, for transparent and opaque microscopic objects, enabling the rays of light to be thrown either obliquely or vertically”. He was awarded an Honourable Mention for “workmanship . . of the first order”. At that time, his business was located at 2 Clare Street, Bristol, which was also his family’s home. Sometime thereafter, another shop was opened on the corner of Denmark Street and St. Augustine’s Parade. Both premises appear to have been operated simultaneously. Some examples of instruments produced by Thomas D. King are illustrated at the end of this essay.
T.D. King briefly formed a partnership with Henry Payne Coombs (1826-1908), operating as King and Coombs. The partnership was dissolved in February, 1853. In that only King was listed as exhibiting at London in 1851, the partnership appears to have existed for less than two years. Coombs then established an independent cutlery and ironmonger business in nearby Frome. Examples of work by King and Coombs are shown at the end of this essay.
King exhibited two models of achromatic microscopes and a photographic chamber at the 1855 Paris International Exhibition.
Shortly thereafter, Husbands and Clarke took over T.D. King’s business, although the date is obscure. Most references cite 1858, the same year that King emigrated to Canada. Yet King filed for bankruptcy in 1856. The following appeared in the London Gazette in March of that year: “Notice is hereby given, that Thomas Davies King, of the city of Bristol, Optician and Mathematical Instrument Maker, did by deed, bearing date the 18th day of February, 1856, assign unto Henry Reed, of High-street, in the said city of Bristol, Accountant, and Charles McMillan, of Wine-street, in the said city of Bristol, Tailor, all the estate and effects of him the said Thomas Davies King, upon the trusts therein mentioned, for the benefit of all the creditors of the said Thomas Davies King; and the said deed was duly executed by the said Thomas Davies King, Henry Reed, and Charles McMillan, on the said 18th day of February, 1856; and the execution of the said deed by the said. Thomas Davies King, Henry Reed, and Charles McMillan, was attested by Peregrine Hammonds, of No. 30, Broad-street, in the said city of Bristol, Attorney-at- Law; and the said indenture now lies at the office of the said Peregrine Hammonds, at Bristol aforesaid, for the perusal and execution by the creditors of the said Thomas Davies King; and who will be excluded from all benefit under the said deed unless they execute the same within two months from the date thereof”. Perhaps King’s business recovered sufficiently well for him to hang on for two more years.
His obituary in Shakespeariana stated that “Thomas Davies King was born in Bristol, England, in 1819. His youth and early manhood were passed in his native town. He came to Canada in 1858, in connection with the Victoria Bridge, on which he was employed in a scientific capacityy. He took up his residence in Montreal and has since then been one of its best known citizens. His death took place at his residence in Montreal upon November 8th, 1884. Mr. King was well known in Canada as an ardent Shakespearian scholar”. Morrison-Low reported that King’s father’s will described Thomas as being a “journalist”. Among the books and pamphlets King is known to have published are Bacon Versus Shakespeare: a Plea for the Defendant (1875, still available today in reprint), Meteorology and its Professors (1872), and Photographic Selections: With Descriptive Letter Press (1863, co-written with Canadian photographer W. Notman).
Thomas D. King was a son of John King, whose father’s name was also John. John King, Senior, established an optical and scientific instruments business in Bristol in 1821, taking over the business of his former employers, Charles and Richard Beilby. Although the Kings’ was a family business, tensions often ran high between the elder and younger Johns, apparently due, in part, to John Jr. abandoning his wife and children for another woman in 1831. Some examples of instruments made by John King and by King and Son are shown at the end of this essay. Further information on the Kings and another business successor can be read on this site in the biography of James Blake Gardiner.
John King, senior, had been foreman to Charles Beilby, who operated a scientific instrument business from 2 Clare Street with his brother, Richard. The Beilby’s business opened in 1808, taking over the business of Joshua Springer. Husbands and Clarke / Husbands often noted in advertisements that their business was established in 1762, a reference to their predecessor Springer. Examples of instruments produced by Springer and the Beilbys are shown at the end of this essay.
Figure 7. Trade card from Henry Husbands, from 1870. This is attached to the case of a telescope that had been repaired by Husbands. The pencil writing implies that the work cost £15 and was performed on October 3, 1870. That was when Husbands and Clarke dissolved their partnership. Courtesy of Chris Lord.
Figure 8. An advertisement for Husbands, showing the shop on the corner of Denmark and St. Augustine. Husbands took credit for Thomas D. King’s 1851 Honourable Mention, as his was successor to King’s business. It is also likely that Husbands contributed to the production of instruments shown by King in 1851. The Melbourne and Dundee medals were earned by Husbands outright. Taken from the 1884 ‘Arrowsmith's Dictionary of Bristol’.
Henry Husbands was born in the St. Augustine parish of Bristol. Census records suggest a birth date of 1824. His parents appear to have died early on, as the 1841 census recorded that the Husbands’ household consisted of only ca. 20 year old James (engineer), ca. 15 year old Ellen Husbands (dress maker), ca. 15 year old Henry (optician apprentice) and ca. 15 year old William (woolen draper) (the 1841 census rounded off ages). In 1846, Henry married Emma Hooper, also of Bristol. The couple had 8 children, 6 sons and 2 daughters.
William Clarke was born in Tiverton, Devonshire, circa 1810. He may have been the boy of that name christened in Tiverton on January 21, 1810, son of William and Agnes Clark(e). The 1841 and 1851 censuses located Clarke in Bristol, employed as a “cabinet maker”. If Clarke was then working for the Kings, his job description suggests that he made the wooden components of their instruments. Clarke and his wife, Matilda, had 6 children, 2 sons and 4 daughters.
As noted above, Husbands and Clarke probably opened their business in 1858, at the same site as King’s shop. The corner building is numbered both 1 Denmark Street and 8 St. Augustine’s Parade (see Figure 8). Several months of advertisements from Husbands and Clarke appeared weekly in the Bristol Mercury, beginning April 24, 1858, which may mark their opening. Those advertisements were for Field and Son’s “Society of Arts Prize” microscopes, and remarked that Husband and Clarke were Field’s “sole agents”. That may have been to provide income to the new partnership while they constructed items of their own for sale.
By August, 1860, the partners were doing well enough to donate one of their barometers to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. This was excellent advertising for the new firm, with an announcement of the gift in the Medical Times and Gazette stating that “It has been placed in the entrance hall of the Infirmary, and is much admired”.
Husbands and Clarke exhibited some of their productions at the 1862 International Exposition in London. Entry 3003 was their “optical instruments”, and entry 3009 was a “traversing theodolite and portable equatorial”. Coincidentally, the London Microscopical Society exhibited Peters’ machine for microscopic writing next to Husbands and Clarkes’ optical instruments, in booth 3004.
An idea of the diversity of Husbands and Clarkes’ productions is provided by the following account of the 1867 Clifton Industrial Exhibition, “Messrs. Husbands and Clarke contributed a valuable collection of microscopes and other scientific instruments, together with some galvanic batteries, and a miniature locomotive worked by electricity, an ingenious and interesting piece of mechanism”.
Husbands and Clarke dissolved their partnership on October 4, 1870, with Husbands taking over the debts. William Clarke died February 25, 1873. That raises the possibility that failing health may have forced Clarke’s retirement.
Writing on “the microscope in pharmacy” in 1872, Henry Pocklington gave high praise to Husbands’ microscopes, “an instrument, with the addition of a polariscope and fittings, will suffice for the ordinary work of either the pharmacist or the medical man, and may be purchased for £7 of any of half-a-dozen good makers in town and country. There are so many makers whose instruments answer the requirements of students, and are sold within the limits we have given, that we hesitate to particularize any; but in common justice I am bound to say that I have received from Messrs. Swift, of London, and Winspear, of Hull, the utmost courtesy and assistance in my many microscopical emergencies. The latter maker has especially been always ready to carry into effect any economical ‘dodge’ to which fancy or the force of circumstances may have impelled me, and his ‘Student’ strikes me as being so pre-eminently a student's instrument, that it affords me much pleasure to mention it in this place. I have seen and used the Student's or other cheap instruments of Messrs. Beck, Wheeler, Collins and others, of London; Dancer, of Manchester; and Husbands, of Bristol; and have no hesitation in recommending my readers to their very ‘tender mercies’, in common with the not less worthy brethren for whose names I have no space”.
In 1875, two of Henry Husband’s sons, William Samuel and Charles Frederick, emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. William bought the optical manufacturing and importing business of John Grimoldi at 81 Queen Street. Charles business was at 454 Bourke Street. Records of the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney) indicate that Henry and his sons engaged in legal disputes over the ownership of the Bourke Street shop. An 1889 advertisement implies that William ultimately acquired ownership (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Advertisements for William S. Husbands’ optical shop in Melbourne, Australia, from 1886 (A) and 1889 (B). The establishment date of 1862 for this branch is the date when Husbands’ predecessor, Grimoldi, opened his business. The establishment date of 1762 for the Bristol branch is the date when their predecessor Springer opened for business.
Henry Husbands traveled to Australia in 1881 for the Melbourne International Exhibition, where he won a Gold Medal for his improved version of the Metford theodolite, developed by William Ellis Metford (1824-1899). He again traveled to Australia in 1883-84, to settle business matters with his sons.
In 1883, Husbands advertised that he was distributor for Eduard Hartnack’s microscopes and lenses (Figure 10). Other ads from that period indicated that he supplied instruments from London makers (Figure 11).
The business became “Husbands and Sons” in 1893. Henry Husbands died in 1900. His sons Henry James, James Wessen and Alfred Witchell Husbands continued the business until 1910, formally dissolving the partnership on March 1 of that year.
Figure 10. 1883 advertisement.
Figure 11. Advertisement from the 1889-1890 University College of Bristol Calendar.
Figure 12. Instruments produced by Thomas D. King, predecessor to Husbands and Clarke. (A) Ca. 1850 Society of Arts-pattern microscope, (B) Cased telescope, (C) Large and solid microscope, marked "Paris 1855". That implies that this model is one of those shown by King at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. From internet auction screenshots.
Figure 13. A microscope made circa 1852 by King and Coombs, predecessors to Husbands and Clarke. It bears serial number 167, presumably a continuation of King’s numbering system. From internet auction screenshots.
Figure 14. Two ca. 1852 instruments made by King and Coombs, predecessors to Husbands and Clarke: A barometer (shown full length and enlarged to show details) and an ivory ruler. From internet auction screenshots.
Figure 15. A ca. 1840 microscope engraved “improved compound achromatic microscope John King & Son 2 Clare Street Bristol”, predecessors to T.D. King. This unique microscope is mounted on a mahogany base. From internet auction screenshots.
Figure 16. Theodolite and cased telescope by John King, predecessor to J. King and Son, ca. 1825. From the Bath Preservation Trust and an internet auction screenshot.
Figure 17. A ca. 1810 barometer by Richard and Charles Beilby, predecessors to John King. The whole instrument is shown on the left, and an enlargement of the dial is on the right. From internet auction screenshots.
Figure 18. A ca. 1790 reflecting telescope by Joshua Springer, predecessor to Richard and Charles Beilby. An enlargement of the eyepiece is on the right. From internet auction screenshots.
Many thanks to Steve Gill for generously sharing information on the history of Husbands and Clarke, and Chris Lord for sharing pictures of a Husbands trade card and telescope.
Arrowsmith’s Dictionary of Bristol (1884) Optical works, J.W. Arrowsmith, Bristol, page 149 and advertisement in front pages
Bath Preservation Society (accessed January 2012) Picture and information on theodolite made by John King, <>http://www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk/index.php?id=123
Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 55 and 146, plate 21
Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal (1883) Advertisement from Husbands, Vol. 1, December issue
British Journal of Photography (1882) Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society Jubilee Meeting, Vol. 29, page 535
The Bristol Mercury (1858) Advertisements from Husbands and Clarke, beginning April 24 and running weekly for at least three months
The Bristol Mercury (1863) Advertisements for magic lanterns, microscopes, etc. from Husbands and Clarke, December 19
The Bristol Mercury (1867) The Clifton Industrial Exhibition, April 27
The Bristol Mercury (1870) Dissolution of the partnership between Henry Husbands and William Clarke, October 8
Christening record of William Clark(e) (1810) accessed through familysearch.org
England census, birth, marriage and death records, and public trees, accessed through ancestry.co.uk
Exposition Universelle, 1855. Catalogue des Objets Exposes dans la Section Britannique de l’Exposition (1855) "402 KING, T.D., a Bristol, A. - Microscope achromatique; microscope achromatique portatif. Chambre obscure poui’ la photographie", Chapman and Hall, London, page 23
Hallmarks Database and Silver Research, Early Australian Silversmiths (accessed Jan. 2012) http://www.925-1000.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=18484&start=70
King, Thomas D. (1875) Bacon Versus Shakespeare: a Plea for the Defendant, Lovell, Montreal
London Gazette (1853) Dissolution of the partnership between Thomas D. King and Henry P. Coombs, February 11
London Gazette (1856) Settlement of accounts of Thomas D. King, March 11
London Gazette (1910) Dissolution of the partnership between Henry James Husbands, James Wessen Husbands and Alfred Witchell Husbands, February 25
Medical Times and Gazette (1860) Bristol Royal Infirmary, Vol. 2, page 208
Morrison-Low, Alison D. (2007) Making Scientific Instruments in the Industrial Revolution, Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire, pages 52-53 and 60
Museum of the History of Science (accessed January, 2012) Pictures and information on a microscope by Husbands and Clarke, http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/collections/search/displayrecord/?mode=displaymixed&module=ecatalogue&invnumber=43929&query=microscope
Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition (1851) entry 287. King, Thomas D., Bristol
Official Catalogue: Industrial Department (1862) Class 13, Philosophical Instruments, entries 3003 and 3009, Her Majesty’s Commissioners, London
Pocklington, Henry (1872) The microscope in pharmacy, The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transaction, Third series, Vol. 2, pages 621-622
The Post Office Directory of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire and the City of Bristol (1863), Husbands and Clarke, Opticians, page 21
Powerhouse Museum Collection (accessed Jan. 2012) Henry Husbands archive, http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=161530
Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (1865) British Association, Bath, Vol. 5, pages 74-75
Shakespeariana (1883) Obituary of Thomas D. King, Vol. 2, pages 35-36
Trevor Philip & Sons Newsletter (accessed January 2012) Pictures and information on a microscope by Husbands and Clarke, Issue 4, http://www.trevorphilip.com/media/TrevorPhilipTremedia/newsletter/4/news4.htm
University College of Bristol, Calendar for 1889-1890 (1889) Advertisement from Husbands, unnumbered page at front
Victoria and its Metropolis, Past and Present, Vol. II, The Colony and its People in 1888 (1888) McCarron, Bird and Co, Melbourne, pages 606-607Webster and Co.’s Directory of Bristol and Glamorganshire (1865) Husbands and Clarke, opticians, surveying and nautical instruments and spectacle makers, 7 St Augustine’s parade, and Denmark street, page 134