Important and Rare Ottoman Gold Pocket-Watch Signed Mehmet Sukri, Made for Mehmed Rasim Pasha, Presented to Sir Austen Henry Layard by Sultan Abdülhamid II
Turkey, 19th century
Signed in Ottoman Turkish: "Eser-i Mehmed Sükri min telamiz-i Ahmed Dede" (Work of Mehmed Sükri, one of Ahmed Dede's disciples).
Owner's name inscribed in Ottoman Turkish: "Sahibi Mehmed Rasim (Pasha)" (Owned by Mehmed Rasim Pasha).
The dedicatory on the rim in English reads: "Presented to Sir Henry Layard by the Sultan, 1879".
Mehmed Sükri Efendi was one of the leading Turkish clockmakers of the 19th century and was said to be the favoured student of the master clockmaker Eflaki Ahmed Dede, who was clockmaker to Sultan Mahmud II (r.1808-39). An identical gold pocket watch by Mehmed Sükri is in the Topkapi Palace Museum [Inv. No.2/7659]. The Topkapi watch was produced in 1874, for Amir al-Sharif Ali al-Jabir, grandfather of Al-Sharif Abdulmajid Khayadar, whose wife Rukiye Sultan, daughter of Sultan Abdülmecid (r.1839-61), presented it to the museum. One of six clocks produced by him is in the Dolmabahçe Palace [Inv. no. 49/5] and the other four in the Topkapi Palace Museum [Inv. 16/1543, 2/6540, 2/6533, 2/7147].
The first owner of this watch "Mehmed Rasim" could be Dr. Mehmed Rasim Pasha, one of the founders of the Turkish Medical School (Tibbiye) and father of renowned painter Mihri Müsfik (d.1954). It is certain that Mehmed Rasim Pasha, the first owner of the pocket-watch , and Sultan Abdülhamid II both agreed in presenting the watch to Sir Henry Layard as a souvenir.
As stated on the rim of the pocket-watch, Sultan Abdülhamid II (r.1876-1909) presented it to Sir Henry Layard in 1879, two years after he was appointed ambassador in Istanbul. Layard was born in Paris, France, to a family of Huguenot descent. His father, Henry PJ Layard, of the Ceylon Civil Service, was the son of Charles Peter Layard, dean of Bristol, and grandson of Daniel Peter Layard, the physician. Through his mother, a daughter of Nathaniel Austen, banker, of Ramsgate, he was partly of Spanish descent. Much of Layard's boyhood was spent in Italy, where he received part of his schooling, and aquired a taste for the fine arts. After spending nearly six years in the office of his uncle, Benjamin Layard, he left for Ceylon with the prospect of obtaining an appointment in the civil service. After wandering for many months, chiefly in Persia, and having abandoned his intention of proceeding to Ceylon, he returned in 1842 to Constantinople, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Stratford Canning, the British Ambassador, who employed him in various unofficial diplomatic missions in European Turkey. In 1845, encouraged and assisted by Canning, Layard left Constantinople to make explorations among the ruins of Assyria with which his name is cheifly associated. During his former travels in the East, his curiosity had been greatly excited by the ruins of Nimrud on the Tigris, and by the great mound of Kuyunjik, near Mosul, already partly excavated by Paul-Emile Botta. Layard remained in the neighbourhood of Mosul, carrying on excavations at Kuyunjik and Nimrud, and investigating the condition of various peoples until 1847. He returned to England in 1848, where he published Nineveh and its Remains (2 vols., 1848-9).
After spending a few months in England, and receiving the degree of D.C.L from the University of Oxford, Layard returned to Constantinople as attaché to the British Embassy, and, in August 1849, started on a second expedition, in the course of which he extended his investigations to the ruins of Babylon and the mounds of southern Mesopotamia. He is credited with discovering the Library of Ashurbanipal during this period. His record of this expedition, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, was illustrated by another folio volume, called A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh, published in 1853. During these expeditions Layard dispatched to England the splendid specimens which now form the greater part of the collection of Assyrian antiquities in the British Museum.
During 1866 Layard founded "Compagnia Venezia Murano" and opened a Venetian glass showroom in London at 431 Oxford Street. Today Pauly & C.-Compagnia Venezia Murano is one of the most important brands of Venetian art glass production. In 1866 Layard was appointed a trustee of the British Museum before turning to politics. Elected as a Liberal member for Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire in 1852, he was for a few weeks Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but afterwards freely criticised the government, especially in connection with army administration. He was present in the Crimea during the war, and was a member of the committee appointed to inquire into the conduct of the expedition. In 1855 he refused from Lord Palmerston an office not connected with foreign affairs, was elected lord rector of Aberdeen University, and on June 15 moved a resolution in the House of Commons (defeated by a large majority) declaring that in public appointments merit had been sacrificed to private influence and an adherence to routine. After being defeated at Aylesbury in 1857, he visited India to investigate the causes of Mutiny. He unsuccessfully contested York in 1859, but was elected for Southwark in 1860, and from 1861 to 1866 was Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the successive administrations of Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell. After the Liberals returned to office in 1868 under William Ewart Gladstone, Layard was made First Commissioner of Works and sworn of the Privy Council.
Layard resigned from office in 1869, on being sent as envoy extraordinary to Madrid. In 1877 he was appointed by Lord Beaconsfield Ambassador at Constantinople, where he remained until Gladstone's return to power in 1880, and where he finally retired from public life. In 1878, on the occasion of the Berlin Congress, he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Layard retired to Venice, where he devoted much of his time to collecting pictures of the Venetian school, and to writing on Italian art. In 1887 he published, from notes taken at the time, a record of his first journey to the East, entitled Early Adventures In Persia, Susiana and Babylonia. An abbreviation of this work was published in 1894, shortly after the author's death, with a brief introductory notice by Lord Aberdare. He died in London.