GEDDIE, JOHN, clockmaker; b. c. 1778 in Banffshire, Scotland; m. Mary Menzies, and they had one son and three daughters; d. 27 April 1843 in West River (Durham), N.S.
John Geddie, the son of a cooper, apprenticed as a clockmaker and then set up his own business in Scotland. His livelihood was threatened by the economic depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars, and in 1817 he and his family joined the tide of immigrants to Nova Scotia. Settling in Pictou, Geddie opened a shop where he offered his own clocks and watches. He also served as an elder in the Presbyterian congregation of Thomas McCulloch and as an overseer of the poor. When the town council refused to pay for purchases he had made as overseer, a group of merchants secured his arrest in November 1835. Highly emotional letters and editorials, all supporting Geddie, appeared in the Pictou Bee, and an angry citizens’ meeting demanded his release. Eventually Geddie was given his freedom and the council agreed to pay for the purchases.
It is not known how many clocks Geddie made. He was accustomed to paint “John Geddie, Pictou” on each dial, but time and repainting have removed the inscription from several clocks which may be his. At least 16 Geddie clocks can be identified as extant between 1930 and 1979. It is probable that Geddie imported the clock-works from Scotland and then assembled them. The size, material, and design of the clocks varied with the means of the prospective buyers. Some are constructed of beautifully matched mahogany, some of pine, and others of roughly finished local woods. The enamelled dial-plates depict a variety of scenes. These include a brig and small cutter under sail on a foam-capped sea, a portrait of an elegant young lady in a blue gown, and hunting scenes, both rustic and formal, of man, dog, birds, and landscape. One clock has decoration inside the case with bright flowers painted on the weights and pendulum. Another is about seven feet high, made of mahogany with inlays. On either side of the hood is a cylindrical column with brass base and capital. The broken pediment is gracefully designed. In the lunette is a hunting scene and, in each spandrel, a rose and leaves. Below the centre of the dial is a curved opening for a calendar-dial.
Museum curator Harry Piers wrote in 1936 that “Geddie was evidently the most tasteful and skilful professional clockmaker we have ever had in Nova Scotia, his productions very closely approaching those of England and Scotland in beauty of design and decoration and in thorough craftsmanship.” Geddie himself would have expected his family rather than his clocks to give him a recorded niche in history. His son, John*, went to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) to establish what was apparently the first foreign mission sponsored solely by a colonial church, and three of his granddaughters, with their husbands, were also missionaries.
Geddie made no fortune as a clockmaker. His estate assets were debts owed to him of £275 and possessions worth £252. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Pictou. The inscription on his gravestone states: “In the several situations of Elder of the Church, Parent and Member of Society, he displayed a zeal in discharging his duties which gained the best esteem of all who knew him.”
Pictou County Court of Probate (Pictou, N.S.), Letters of administration (including inventory and appraisal) for the estate of John Geddie, 1843. Bee (Pictou), 1835–36. Eastern Chronicle (Pictou), 1843. Guardian (Halifax), 12 May 1843. D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). J. M. Cameron, Pictou County’s history (Kentville, N.S., 1972). Life of Rev. Dr. John and Mrs. Geddie, and early Presbyterian history, 1770–1845, comp. W. E. Johnstone (Summerside, P.E.I., 1975). G. E. G. MacLaren, Antique furniture by Nova Scotian craftsmen, advisory ed. P. R. Blakeley (Toronto, ). J. P. MacPhie, Pictonians at home and abroad: sketches of professional men and women of Pictou County; its history and institutions (Boston, 1914). R. S. Miller, Misi Gete: John Geddie, pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides (Launceston, Australia, 1975). George Patterson, Missionary life among the cannibals: being the life of the Rev. John Geddie, d.d., first missionary to the New Hebrides; with a history of the Nova Scotia Presbyterian Mission on that group (Toronto, 1882). “The Geddie clocks,” Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow, N.S.), 30 Jan. 1933. N.S., Provincial Museum and Science Library, Report (Halifax), 1935–36: 59; 1936–37. R. D. Steeves, “Cuckoos to weights: he found life’s hobby in a maze of cogs and springs,” Chronicle-Herald (Halifax), 22 Dec. 1964: 18. “Two old clocks,” Maclean’s (Toronto), 52 (1939), no.20: 65.