The timepiece will be one of the featured exhibits at the new exhibit on the search for the Northwest Passage at the National Maritime Museum, which opens this week -- but in the meantime, perhaps those of us who post here at Visions of the North can do some footwork to solve this singular mystery.
The case, as Holmes might remark, presents many "singular points of interest." Let's enumerate what we know:
1. The timepiece was made in London by John Arnold. Like all such naval chronometers, it was given a number -- Arnold 294 -- and sent to the Admiralty stores at the Observatory (the very room which now serves as Betts's workshop). From there, its movements were carefully tracked, and the tracks end with its being assigned to HMS "Erebus" in 1845.
2. An examination of the present casing shows, according to Betts, that the chronometer was altered in ways which strongly suggest an attempt to disguise its origins. Apparently, the "Arnold" name on the faceplate was "hammered flat" and another maker's name (made up, and not that of any actual clockmaker) substituted. At some later date, when the interior name was discovered, the "Arnold" on the faceplate was restored. This strongly suggests that, in the first instance, the clock was disguised in order to make its provenance less notable, and the second instance, restored when its value was recognized. The second instance can be dated to 30 years ago, and began the course of events by which the timepiece was acquired by the Observatory and returned to its original home.
3. No known reference exists to the timepiece between the sailing of HMS "Erebus" and 26 June, 1886, when an entry was made in the Observatory's official ledger: "