MARSTERS, RICHARD UPHAM, clock- and watchmaker, jeweller, silversmith, and inventor; b. 1787 in Onslow, N.S., son of Nathaniel Marsters and Mary Upham; m. 7 March 1819, in Halifax, Ann McKay, widow of a Scottish merchant, and they had at least one daughter; d. 25 Jan. 1845 in Falmouth, N.S.
According to a genealogical record compiled by William Marsters Brown, a cousin of Richard Upham Marsters, the Marsters family were English Jews who emigrated to Massachusetts. Richard’s paternal grandparents left Salem, Mass., to settle in Falmouth soon after 1760. The family was probably related to that of William Marsters, clock- and watchmakers of Holborn, London, who removed to St John’s in 1787 and thence to the United States in 1818. Through the marriage of his father’s sister Deborah, Marsters was cousin not only to William Marsters Brown but to Michael Septimus Brown*, the noted silversmith.
At the age of 14 Marsters was apprenticed to David Page, a silversmith and watchmaker of Onslow, N.S. By 31 May 1817 he had opened a business in Halifax as a clock- and watchmaker, offering as well the repair of jewellery and of compasses and quadrants. He noted that he had had “many years of practical knowledge in the line of his profession.” This experience had likely been acquired in Falmouth, for there is some evidence to suggest that after completing his apprenticeship he had moved to his grandfather’s home. An advertisement of October 1819 promoted his regular services and also informed fellow watchmakers that “any kind of Watch Wheels will be made and gilded agreeably to order, upon short notice.” That year he engraved a silver medal, now in the Wolfville Historical Society Museum, for presentation by the Central Board of Agriculture. Soon afterwards he produced for the 1st Regiment of Halifax militia a splendidly inscribed gold medal which was awarded on 20 June 1820 as a prize for accuracy in shooting; this piece is now in the Nova Scotia Museum.
Marsters was an inventor of note, described by historian Beamish Murdoch* as “of great scientific genius.” In April 1819 he announced that he had invented, for the use of steamboats and floating mills, a “Water or Propelling Wheel” that was to function completely underwater. “By this construction,” he maintained, “the largest Ship may be navigated over the roughest seas . . . [and mills] may be built in any harbour or bay where there is the smallest current without assistance of any kind of dam.” Seven years later, on 16 February, Marsters petitioned the House of Assembly for help in purchasing a transit instrument to aid in improving chronometers, and that April he was granted £98 by the legislature. In his advertisements as a watch- and clockmaker in the Halifax Journal through February 1828 he noted that he had set up “a temporary observatory” which enabled him “to rate all time-pieces with great exactness.” On 22 Aug. 1831 his announcement in the same newspaper included testimonials from the master and lieutenant of the government brig Chebucto affirming the accuracy, on voyages to Bermuda from 1825 to 1830, of a small chronometer made by Marsters. His was reportedly the first chronometer to be manufactured in North America.
Marsters had visited Great Britain in the 1820s and in 1832 he was living in New York. By 1838 he was resident in Windsor, N.S. An estrangement from his wife occurred around this time and in June 1838 he published a notice disclaiming responsibility for her debts. Nothing is known about the last seven years of his life. By his will, dated 9 Dec. 1844, he left his entire estate to his daughter Ruth; his executors were unable to locate her, however, and “could not say if she were living or dead.”
PANS, MG 1, 160A; 1642, nos.89–133, 187; RG 1, 443, no.8; 449, no.158; RG 36, 57, no.1503, esp. item 1. Acadian Recorder, 31 May, 16 Oct. 1817. Halifax Journal, February 1828, 22 Aug. 1831, 19 Dec. 1832. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 14 June 1838. Times (Halifax), 11 Feb. 1845. D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). Brooks Palmer, The book of American clocks (New York, 1950). Murdoch, Hist. of N.S., 3: 548. R. C. Brooks, “Nautical instrument-makers in Atlantic Canada,” Nova Scotia Hist. Rev. (Halifax), 6 (1986), no.2: 45–48.