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Sir Herbert’s travel blog and Empire Clock

Wall mounted electric 'Empire Clock' with circular 12 and 24 hour dials, with letters and symbols for each country. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker
The 'Empire Clock', designed by Sir Herbert Baker | © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

For anyone thinking 'blogging' is a relatively recent phenomenon, Sir Herbert Baker actually produced his own visual ‘blog’ of his journey back from India in 1914. His watercolour painting at Owletts charts the entire passage, highlighting his travels through different countries. Discover more about this fascinating early form of blogging, plus the unique ‘Empire Clock’ he invented to enable him to tell the time around the world.

The pictorial travel blog

Sir Herbert’s visual journey begins with the iconic Taj Mahal, at Agra, near New Delhi in India. Overhead you can see the magnificent peacocks – the national bird of India – which symbolise grace, beauty and love.

From here he travelled along The Ridge, part of the fertile Aravalli Range, illustrating the tents in the camp and the elephant transport. Upon reaching the ancient city of Nashik, you can see Sir Herbert's fascination with the use of oxen to haul water from the well and the women carrying the water on their heads back home. 

Leaving India

The last stop in India was Bombay (now Mumbai), whose port was originally built on seven islands. From here he sailed across the Arabian Sea, arriving at Aden, a port city in the Yemen. Behind the city you can see the first of three volcanoes that Sir Herbert encountered.

Afterwards he journeyed up the Red Sea, past Mount Sinai and onto the Suez Canal where you can observe the canal being dredged. In Egypt, you can see the iconic Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in Cairo, with camels alongside. 

Watercolour, Sir Herbert Baker 1914 souvenir drawing 'India to England - Sights on the voyage'
Watercolour, Sir Herbert Baker 1914 souvenir drawing 'India to England - Sights on the voyage' | © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston


Sailing across the Mediterranean, past Crete and then onto Sicily, you can see Mt. Etna with a small cloud of smoke. At Messina are the Greek mythological sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis. They were believed to live on opposite sides of the strait, meaning sailors had to choose between two dangers. Upon leaving Sicily, you can see another volcano, Mt. Stromboli, spewing out smoke. 

Passing Corsica, the next stop was Marseille in France, illustrated by the Transporter Bridge, which was built in 1905 and destroyed in 1944. Afterwards he journeyed to Paris, where you can see the Sacré-Cœr and the Léna bridge.

Overhead appears an early form of flight – the airship – which was soon to be used during the war for aerial warfare.

Homeward bound

After Sir Herbert crosses the English Channel, the White Cliffs of Dover stand proud, with a line of railway wagons waiting to be loaded onto a ship.

Upon arrival in London, you can see Nelson’s column and St Paul’s Cathedral, flanked by an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington.

The Empire Clock

From his Kent home Owletts, Sir Herbert also invented a unique clock allowing him to tell the time all around the world.

The electrical workings were co-designed with his son, Henry, and built on a mechanical arm that allows the clock to be pulled out of the wall for ease of maintenance. The front of the clock and its surrounds show Herbert’s love of symbolism.

Close-up of the 'Empire Clock', designed by Sir Herbert Baker
Empire Clock, close-up | © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

The idea behind it

The clock depicts major locations ruled by the British, encircled by masted ships: a reminder of the long history and wide reach of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, and just before its rapid decline in the second half of 20th century, was described as one on which ‘the sun never sets’.

It was his work across Africa and India that provided opportunities, developed his architect skills, and gave him the name and wealth to take on the family home.

So the clock was his way of bringing the world into his front room, uniting this Kentish yeoman’s house with the global connections that allowed it to still be standing.

The workings

Made in Medway College in 1933 with help from students, the clock was designed to run on ball bearings, with the dial geared to rotate once every 24 hours.

The electrical motor makes a gentle whirring noise and has a clever pull-out system meaning the back of the clock swings out on a mechanical arm to allow access to the workings.

The symbolism (clockwise)

  • The lion standing atop with a crown and no initials is the UK.

  • S*AK - South Africa and Kenya are represented by an anchor combined with the astral constellation the Southern Cross (the first place Sir Herbert would have seen this constellation).

  • IOC - Indian Ocean, with a boat resembling a dhow (a sailing vessel distinctive to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean). The crescent moon perhaps is a nod to the Sultans and Zanzibari naval power and history.

  • IND - The star of India is 4.5 hours ahead.

  • B - Burma's symbols is at present unknown – could be representative of the peacock?

  • SHK - Singapore and Hong Kong are squeezed in.

  • AUS - Covering three time zones for Australia; you can see the Southern Cross encased with wattle flowers.

  • NZ - New Zealand shows the Southern Cross, an icon still representative to this day.

  • Pacific - Spanning four time zones, the mighty Pacific Ocean is symbolised by a ship.

  • Canada - The symbols represent the fish for Vancouver, corn for Saskatchewan, the English rose for Ontario and the fleur-de-lys for Quebec.

  • NF - Newfoundland was a separate country until 1949, when it became a province of Canada.

  • Atlantic - With the last ship crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean, the voyage finishes back in the UK.

Pen and wash ink drawing of Sir Herbert Baker by Alfred Kingsley Lawrence, RA

Owletts' collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Owletts on the National Trust Collections website.

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