Chamber organ by an unknown builder,
the property of Mr Brown, North Ward, Townsville (c.1901)
[Photograph supplied by Tom Gray
from the Archives of St James' Cathedral, Townsville]
Historical and Technical Documentation by Geoffrey Cox
© OHTA 2012 (last updated June 2012)
Details of this instrument have emerged from the Archives of St James' Cathedral, Townsville. When the Brindley & Foster organ (1884) was moved from the old St James' Church into the new Cathedral in 1892, it must have proven inadequate for the new building. Letters survive from 1903 outlining proposals to enlarge the organ, although this did not eventuate until a few years later.
In the meantime, there appears to have been at least one proposal around the turn of the century to purchase another organ that existed in Townsville at the time. Writing in the centenary book of the Diocese of North Queensland (1978), Mr Eric Field, organist of St James' Cathedral, Townsville, c.1952- Sept. 1966, mentions that an organ was offered for sale to the Cathedral:
Between 1900 and 1902 a letter was received by the then Bishop Barlow advising him there was an organ in North Ward for sale and offering it to him.1
Mr Field's account in the centenary book of 1978 goes on to state his belief that this organ was purchased and installed alongside the original organ in the Cathedral with a view to coupling the two together. The subsequent history of the organ at St James' Cathedral shows, however, that this never happened.
Further details of the 'mystery organ' from North Ward have emerged in the Cathedral Archives, thanks to the enquiries of Tom Gray, who was posted to Townsville in the early 1970s with the Australian Army, and who became associated with St James' Cathedral as sub-organist.
The organ was a single-manual instrument with an ornate Gothic case. It is of unknown origin and by an unknown builder, though a photograph suggests that it dated from the early nineteenth century. The organ was the property of a Mr Brown. The manual compass appears from the photograph to have been either 54 or 56 notes.
This organ was inspected in 1901 by Mr Weston, organist of St James' Cathedral, with a view to purchase or hire, perhaps while the cathedral organ was being enlarged or replaced. The specification was as follows:
Two more stops could be accommodated:
Open Diapason (to Ten.C)
available from Richardson of Sydney.
Cost £10.00, for additional stops
Total Cost: £45.00
Front pipes Gilt front Dummy Pipes (wood?)
Dimensions: 6ft wide; 4ft 6in deep; 8ft in height
Bellows could be pumped by foot or by hand.2
There is no record or other evidence that this organ was ever purchased by the Cathedral, and there appears to be no other reference to it before or after 1901.
It seems likely that the Mr Brown of North Ward who owned the organ in 1901 was the same person as Thomas James Brown of Flinders Street, Townsville, with whom George Fincham had corresponded in 1887 and 1889. The following entries in the Fincham Letter Books suggest that Brown was enquiring at this time about purchasing an organ, or purchasing parts with which to build one:
GF Letter Book 5, p. 186 (10 February 1887) T. J. Brown, Flinders Street, Townsville. I have no small organs in stock. If you write me what stops you require I will forward prices of same. I have no price list.
GF Letter Book 5, p. 318 (20 June 1887) T. J. Brown, Townsville. ….yours from which I learn that you desire a change from Keraulophon to Dulciana, also Flute to Clarabella. The price of the Dulciana, spotted metal, voiced and cut to tune would be £7. As I learn from your letter that funds are a consideration, I would advise that the Flute be taken up an octave, that is take away top octave and turn CC to Tenor C and Ten C to Mid.C, and so on, you will then be deficient of the double octave CC to B, 12 notes, which will cost £3. I see the name Doub. Dia 17 pipes and Stop Dia 37, this should be, if built by an organ builder, instead of Doub. Dia, should be St Dia Bass, otherwise there would be a drop between the Ten E Doub. Dia and the Ten F Stop Dia of an octave. You must consider this in giving instructions to us for the engraver. Six knobs engraved with draw rod attached 30/-. …
GF Letter Book 6, p. 465 (9 Nov 1889) Thos Jas. Brown, Townsville. Quotes for 5 stops, voiced, totalling £36-5-0. …send pressure, pitch, Bank Draft …3
Whether or not Brown finally purchased pipes or parts from Fincham is not recorded. Indeed, the reference to 'Richardson of Sydney' in the organ description of c.1901 suggests that Brown's organ may have been obtained from Charles Richardson, who established himself in Sydney from the 1890s, but it was certainly not built by him. It may nevertheless have been traded by Richardson from amongst the many early nineteenth-century instruments that arrived in New South Wales between 1791 and 1855.4
1 Eric Field, 'The Cathedral Organ,' in Centenary Book The Diocese of North Queensland 1878-1978 (Townsville: Diocese of North Queensland, 1978), p. 60, cited by Stephen Baldwin (Co-Director of Music, 1995-2003, and Choir Director, 2005-08), October 2011.
2 Description and details from the Archives of St James' Cathedral, Townsville, cited by Tom Gray in a personal communication to Stephen Baldwin, November 2011.
3 George Fincham Letter Book 5 (1886) and Book 6 (1889) – transcribed by E.N. Matthews in Fincham/Matthews Collection (State Library of Victoria, MS 9423).
4 Graeme Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales: The Instruments, Their Makers and Players, 1791-1940 (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1988), pp. 45-47, 122-24.