Perhaps because I’m a writer, I’ve always had a passion for desks, especially roll top models, and those with secret compartments. Unfortunately I have never owned either type.

My passion for history led to me discovering portable desks, also known as  campaign desks. Some even had fittings for candles, such as that owned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie used this desk while serving in the army in India, and subsequently brought it to New South Wales. In the 1860s the desk was ‘spirited away’ by Robert Porter, a farm manager on the Macquarie estate on the Isle of Mull. It only recently found its way back to Australia and is now held in the City of Sydney Museum.

Governor Mcquarie's campaign desk
Close image of the desk and its fittings.

And here is Sir Joseph Banks’ portable desk. The bottles for ink and blotting sand are still intact. I had the privilege of viewing this at the NSW State Library.

Removable writing table with it's bottles for ink and blotting sand.
Banks’ desk has a removable writing table with its bottles for ink and blotting sand.

My partner Rob and I walked the Thames Path some years ago, and when we were at Eton College I recalled the impression the school left on an Australian army nurse who had visited in 1919. A letter home to her mother revealed a cultural divide as wide as the Gulf of Carpentaria. Completely unimpressed by the famous school’s five hundred year history, she scathingly described its ‘tiny classrooms’. However, it was the condition of the desks in particular that shocked her’;

Old oak desks that are chipped and names that are cut everywhere by penknives. We would not own such schools in Australia‘. There might have been a few members of The House of Lords among those name.


I am about to move into my new study here in the Blue Mountains, and below is the desk I have bought in preparation. Yes, very small, but my laptop will fit on it nicely. Alas, no hidden compartments….unless I just haven’t found them yet. 😎

Writing/sewing desk.
Bought in readiness for my study.

I don’t do much sewing, but even I have to sew on buttons.

I even have a couple of miniature desks purchased on my travels. My favourite is this metal one, which I found in a French gift shop. I love the removeable quill and inkwell. The lid lifts as well, to reveal a tiny slingshot inside.

Look at the patina on Vita Sackville-West’s wonderful desk at Sissinghurst.

The desk in the Writing Room in the tower ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

For the interesting story behind Governor Macquarie’s campaign desk. CLICK HERE.

And here is a wonderful video of my heart’s desire; a desk with multiple SECRET DRAWERS.

  1. haha, half the joy of history is what’s left behind from graffiti and carvings on wooden desks, especially of somewhere as prestigious as Eton. A wealth of stories at the finger tips of whoever is subsequently sitting there. Long may these little gems survive.
    May you create much happiness and history sitting at your own ‘new’ desk.

    • Pauline

      Well I know you have a special appreciation of historical graffiti Marcia. 😊

    Thank you, Chris

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