Thomas Gaunt established Melbourne's leading watchmaking, optical and jewellery business during the second half of the 19th century. Gaunt arrived in Melbourne in 1852, and by 1858 had established his own business in Little Bourke Street. Around 1869 he moved to new premises in Bourke Street on the corner of Royal Arcade, and Gaunt's shop quickly became a Melbourne institution.
Gaunt proudly advertised that he was 'The only watch manufacturer in the Australian colonies'. While many watches and clocks may have had Gaunt's name on the dial, few would have been made locally. Gaunt did make some watches for exhibitions, and perhaps a few expensive watches for wealthy individuals. Gaunt's received a telegraph signal from Melbourne Observatory each day to correct his main clock, and used this signal to rate and repair ship's chronometers and good quality watches.
His main horological manufacturing was directed at turret clocks for town halls, churches and post offices. These tended to be specific commissions requiring individualised design and construction. He made the clock for the Melbourne Post Office lobby, to a design by Government Astronomer Robert Ellery, and won an award at the 1880-81 Melbourne International Exhibition for his turret clock for the Emerald Hill Town Hall. He became well known for his installation of a chronograph at Flemington Racecourse in 1876, which showed the time for the race, accurate to a quarter of a second. The firm also installed the clockwork and figures for Gog and Magog in the Royal Arcade.
Thomas Gaunt also developed a department that focussed on scientific instrumentation, making thermometers and barometers (from imported glass tubes), telescopes, surveying instruments and microscopes. Another department specialised in electroplating for trophies, awards and silverware, and the firm manufactured large amounts of ecclesiastical goldware and silverware, including for St Patrick's Cathedral.
There are no records that disclose the number of employees in the firm, but it was large enough for Gaunt to hold an annual picnic for the watchmakers and apprentices at Mordialloc from 1876; two years previously they had successfully lobbied Gaunt to win the eight hour day. Gaunt's workforce was reportedly very stable, with many workers remaining in the business for 15 to 30 years.
Gaunt died in 1890, leaving a substantial estate of 41,453 pounds. The firm continued to operate under the name of T. Gaunt & Co.
The Argus (24 July 1875), p.10.
The Argus (3 Nov 1876), p.5.
Bolton H.C. & Williams, N.H. (1998). 'Scientific instrument makers and dealers in Victoria, 1840-1914', Historical Records of Australian Science, 12: pp.15-82.
M>Cyclopedia of Victoria (1904). 'T. Gaunt & Co.' 2: pp.166-167.
Table Talk (18 July 1890), pp.16-17.