Robert Daws

The life span of 85 years allotted to Robert Daws was to be blighted by periods of joy and grief. A carpenter and organist, he claimed six years experience as an organbuilder prior to immigrating to South Australia. Though he aspired to build instruments, either his skill was lacking or the situation was not propitious as only two organs were built, for Hindmarsh Square Congregational Church and Dr Curtis. His main contribution lay with the sale of pianos and involvement with the installation and maintenance of a limited number of organs including that at the Adelaide Town Hall. Daws was married five times and had a large family. He was a member of the Congregational church and was clearly well respected in colonial society.

Little is known of Daws’ early life and training. His parents were John and Ann (née Pywell) and he had been christened on 27 February 1825. Robert had married Jane Phillips at St George’s Church, Southwark in September of 1847 and had daughters Jane (1848) and Emma (1850). Because he later advertised specialisation in tuning and repairing “organs, pianofortes and harmoniums” it may be speculated he had experience with a firm such as Clementi or Broadwood.

The first tragedy of his life came with the death of his wife and infant daughter in July 1851. Daws married again in February 1853 and immediately embarked from Southampton as a Government immigrant on the William Stewart with his new wife and children bound for South Australia. The family arrived on 14 July after a storm-laden passage of 87 days.1

The reasons for emigration are not clear. The interchange of surname spelling, Dawes for Daws, might suggest other family members had arrived previously; though this does not seem to be the case. In 1849 a J. Dawes advertised as a “manufacturer of pianofortes, seraphines, and harmoniums”, the owners of which could expect them to be “tuned repaired or exchanged.” In 1850, a barrel organ by Flight & Robson playing 60 tunes had been advertised. This was Jesse Dawes, no relation, who moved on to Victoria where he became insolvent at St Arnaud in 1866.2

Shortly after his arrival Robert Daws advertised that he also specialised in tuning and repairing “organs pianofortes and harmoniums”. He set up house in Franklin Street where Maria Agnes (1853) and Emily Ann (1855,) were born. The Daws family joined the worshipping congregation at Ebenezer Chapel in Rundle Street rather than that in Flinders street.

1854 Christ Church North Adelaide

In January of 1854 the occupiers of Prospect House, Mr and Mrs John Adams, announced their intention to proceed to England. Their furniture and effects were to be sold at auction Excluded was a handsomely carved Rosewood church organ with swell etc. to be sold by private contract.3 Marshall McDermott purchased the instrument. McDermott was a member of the provisional committee enquiring as to the construction of an Anglican church in North Adelaide. Subsequently the organ was purchased for Christ Church, erected by Robert Daws with G.L. Light, and opened by George Bennett.4

1855 Ebenezer Chapel

Ebenezer chapel had opened in December 1843 and 12 years later, imported an organ of six stops by Thomas Goodwin of Maidstone, Kent. Why Goodwin was chosen remains unknown. As Daws had family connections to Hastings through his first wife, it may have been at his suggestion. William Peacock, with whom Daws was to have a brief partnership in 1863, may also have been involved. The organ arrived in Adelaide on the Adolf von Nassan and after a very rough voyage,5 was opened on Saturday 4 August 1855 by Daws.6 It had a compass of GG – F in alt and an octave and half of pedals and was regarded as having an unusual volume of sound. The diapason was said to be very rich and full in tone and the dulciana exceedingly sweet. The chapel proved too small and the congregation moved to the new Hindmarsh Square building in September 1862. The organ was placed with Daws for sale, its future unknown.

Pirie Street Methodist

Robert Daws was yet to emigrate when the Pirie Street Wesleyan Church opened in October 1851 with a pipe organ about which little is known. Mr Marshall and Mr Dawes were requested to tender for its erection and Mr Maguire’s offer to play was accepted.7 Note this would have to have been Jesse Dawes, not Robert. In 1854, it was resolved to return the organ to its owner and, with an harmonium for the interim, acquire a new instrument. This result saw the importation of the Eagles organ which was erected by Mr Joseph Shakespeare.8 Daws tendered for the position of organist but on this occasion was unsuccessful. Carl Linger was the initial organist. However, Robert was to become involved and as organist of Pirie Street was reported as accompanying their choir on a harmonium at a bazaar in support of Archer Street Methodist in October 1856. He undertook some repairs, unspecified, to the Eagles instrument during 1860 for which he received £5.10.0. Daws was appointed as organist and choirmaster of the North Adelaide Congregational Church in April 1862, on the resignation of Thomas King.9 This church had yet to purchase a pipe organ.

1857 Holy Trinity Organ

A brief paragraph in 1872 suggested Daws had originally installed an organ in Holy Trinity Church on North Terrace 15 years previously. The article suggested that the building was gradually sinking under the weight of a new roof and the ceiling was resting on the organ. Daws had taken the instrument down and repaired it. This was countered as false the next day. The Revd R. Reid wrote saying the building was sound and although there had been some pressure on the organ it was easily remedied by a suggestion from Mr Charles Farr.10 Little is known of this organ and further research is warranted

Maria was tragically killed in February 1857 leaving Daws with four children less than 10 years of age.11 His plight, coupled with the esteem with which he was held, led to his receiving a complimentary benefit concert. The North and South Adelaide Choral Society’s combined for the event with Carl Linger as pianist. Held at White’s Rooms the programme included items from Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others. Tickets were three shillings each and there was a large attendance.12

In August 1858 Daws aged 33 married 24-year-old Mary Ann Wilcock (born 1834).13

1859 article on musical instrument makers

In December 1859, the Register newspaper ran an article covering the manufactories of Daws, Clisby, and Marshall. Daws and Clisby were seen as the only tradesmen exclusively employed in making and repairing musical instruments and their expertise was comparable to that of Broadwood and Stoddart in London. Daws was making a single manual five-stop pipe organ with pedals and a compass to GG. The keyboard was made to slide horizontally into a level with the front, the bellows operated by performer or helper to the back. The case was to be of polished cedar, Saxon Gothic in style, with towers at the side each containing five pipes, and a centre of fluted silk.14 What became of this organ is not clear. As will be discussed it may wholly, or in part, become the organ at Hindmarsh Square or perhaps have been acquired by Dr Curtis.

1862 St Paul’s Anglican Church, Pulteney Street

St Paul’s in Pulteney Street was the fourth Anglican church in the Adelaide city square mile, opened in 1860. Two years later, an organ by Bishop was erected in place of the harmonium. It apparently had a rough voyage out as it was repaired and erected from the Franklin Street Repository. Even so, by December 1862, Daws had it for sale. The organ had been replaced by another harmonium imported by Marshall at a cost of £107. In 1864 the redundant Bishop was still not sold.15

1864 Mack organ at St Paul’s Port Adelaide

Daws was responsible for the organ at St Paul’s Port Adelaide from its importation until its reconstruction by Fincham & Hobday in 1878. The move to acquire a pipe organ was made during 1864. At the first of a series of entertainments to raise funds it was stated:

…that a member of the congregation [later identified as Matthew Turton] had purchased an organ, which was now on its way from England, and would be erected in the church on the understanding that he would retain a lien on it if not paid for within a certain period.16

The organ duly arrived, was erected by Robert Daws17 and duly paid for. In 1870 the organ was shifted from the gallery at the end of the building to the old chancel where it was found the choir had more room and the organ was heard to better effect. The newspaper also mentioned Daws had made some important alterations though these were not stated.18

Tragedy again visits Daws with the death of Mary Ann 10 days after giving birth to daughter Alice Rhoda in August 1867. Previously she had born four sons, two of whom had died Robert Oliver (1859-1939), Alfred John (1861-1864), Frederick George (1863-1863) and Alfred George (1865-1945). By now his eldest daughters are old enough to care for the younger members of the family. In February 1869, Robert marries Eliza Gerner and moves to Rundle Street East in Kent Town.

Daws’ eldest daughters Jane, and Emma soon marry. In 1870 Jane, now aged 27, married Edmund Scrymgour, conductor of the Philharmonic Society and passionate advocate of an organ for Adelaide Town Hall. The following year Emma married James Sparkie Buick an Adelaide City Councillor in favour of the organ’s purchase. These connections may have helped their father in his bid to “take control” of the organ in 1876? Unfortunately, Jane died on 9 December 1875, the year the organ was ordered and two years prior to its installation.

1871 Daws erects a barrel organ in Clare

In September 1871 we find Daws travelling north to install a barrel organ by Zabinger of Baden (sic) in Smith’s Clare Hotel. Said to be the largest of its kind in Australia, the tone of most of the pipes was described as very rich and that of the two reeds, clarion and trumpet, were regarded as good as many finger organs. It played overtures to Zampa , Italian in Algiers, and several other first-class pieces.19

1872 Hindmarsh Square Congregational Church

When the Ebenezer Congregation dispersed, Robert Daws took his membership with them to the Hindmarsh Square Congregational Church built in 1865. Music was initially provided by a harmonium and Robert Daws became organist and Choirmaster. 10 years after its opening the members replaced the harmonium with an organ built by Daws.

The organ was regarded as an exceedingly rich-toned instrument and a great improvement to the church. However, the full specification was not listed. It was described as a single-manual organ with pedal organ consisting of a full octave of large open diapason pipes with a coupler connecting the pedal action to the great organ. The great organ comprised eight stops of both metal and wood. A hint is given here that material was used from a much earlier organ (1854) that possibly remained unsold.

The wooden pipes have the flute and stop diapason, and having been made 18 years ago, have been rendered capable of producing an exceedingly sweet and mellow tone. … The organ also had a great coupler, an “admirable contrivance” whereby “in pressing down the keys on the lower octave, corresponding keys in the upper octave are also effected.”20

In April 1899, it was rumoured the church was to have a new two-manual instrument. The old organ was to be incorporated in the new. J.E. Dodd was instructed to undertake the rebuilding. This instrument, as reconstructed, is to be found in the Catholic Church of St Patrick in Grote Street, Adelaide. How much of the original material was reused is unknown.

1876 St Margaret’s Anglican Church Woodville cnr Port and Woodville Roads

In April 1876 Mr Turton, choir conductor of St Margaret’s Woodville, reported that “sufficient subscriptions were in to warrant an organ being ordered by the last mail from England”. Six months later, Daws had erected a very fine toned organ, builder un-named. Mrs T Newman officiated at the opening of an instrument with Open diapason, stop diapason, dulciana, fifteenth, principal, bourdon (pedal) 16 feet, and coupler.21 Like that at Hindmarsh Square it was to be rebuilt by Dodd in 1905 and further extended in later years.

1877-1879 The Adelaide Town Hall organ

The saga of erecting the Hill & Son Grand Organ of the Adelaide Town Hall has been written elsewhere.22 Robert Daws is the only person who is known to have been involved, of the seven requested to assist by organ builder Mackenzie. Once the installation of the organ was complete it appears no arrangements had been made for its ongoing tuning and maintenance. Daws applied but local builder J.W. Wolff, nearing retirement, agreed to look after the organ for a year. Daws wrote again seeking the long term maintenance of the instrument. He was contracted for 1879 only and faced winding problems that he attempted to correct to no avail. (The leather had cracked throughout the instrument owing to the dry climate).23 He was replaced by J.J. Broad with no more skill or success!

The Curtis organ

Apart from the Hindmarsh Square organ, Daws built a second organ about which very little is known. Briefly mentioned in his obituary, it was for the late Dr Curtis, chief medical officer for Port Adelaide, a staunch member of St Paul’s Church, Port Adelaide and a gentleman of artistic tastes. 24 His youngest daughter Blanche was organist at St Margaret’s, Woodville, had learnt from J.H. Fray passing university exams in performance (1892) and advertised she taught piano and organ from her home ‘Holmwood’25 in Semaphore and also St Margaret’s up to her father’s death in 1899. It is assumed the organ referred to was in the house, though when it was acquired, its specification or future after 1899 is unclear. Blanche moved to North Adelaide and continued as an accompanist. Nothing further is heard of her as an organist. She died in 1932 at the age of 60. What became of the organ is not known.

We hear little of Daws over the following decades. His fourth wife Eliza Gerner died in 1882 after a long and painful illness. Robert, then aged 62 married Mary Leitch, a widow 24 years his junior, in 24 May 1887. Mary died in 1928 aged 99.

Robert Daws lived a long life punctuated by tragedy. Throughout he maintained a business making and repairing keyboard instruments. A competent enough musician he was organist at several of the larger Adelaide churches though he was not a recitalist. He was responsible for erecting a number of imported organs and their maintenance. He built two organs neither of which survive. His life as a married man was both blessed with children and cursed with the tragedy of death. A member of the Congregational Church he was well respected in Adelaide Society.

1  Daws was listed as Davies in the passenger lists Register 16/7/1853 p.2. The voyage was generally favourable 
   after being becalmed in the English Channel and experiencing two hurricanes with the ship losing sails shortly 
   before arrival Adelaide Times 15/7/1853 p.2. Daws signed testimonials to both Captain Riches and Surgeon Thomas 
   Bickerton giving thanks for safe passage Register 20/7/1853 p.2
2  Register 27/6/1849 p.1; Naylor B.A. Organ Building in South Australia unpub.Thesis, University of Adelaide 1973, pp.78/9
3  Register 2/1/1854, p.2
4  Register 14/4/1854 p. 2; ibid. 2/5/1854 p.3. Daws seems to have had no further contact with this instrument. 
   J. Shakespeare and S. C. Lohrmann were to make additions. It is currently to be found at Sunset Rock 
   Uniting Church, Spencer Street Stirling
5  The Von Nassau reached Adelaide from London after an “unusually protracted and unfortunate voyage” of 172 days. 
   The ship sustained severe damage from storms on three occasions requiring safe harbour and repair before proceeding. 
   Register 9/7/1855 p.2; for William Peacock see Pascoe J.J. ed., History of Adelaide & Vicinity (1901),  p.522
6  Observer 4/8/1855, p.3
7  Shield, D., Another Organ for Pirie St. Methodist? OHTA News (January 1986), pp.13-15
8  Register 5/11/1855, p.3; Joseph Shakespeare, father of James (1840-1912) who was to be the 
   organist for Stow Congregational Church for 45 years.
9  Advertiser, 26 Nov 1860, p.4; Register, 15/4/1862, p.2
10 Register,  29/3/1872, p.5; ibid. 30/3/1872, p.5
11 Mrs Daws was run over by a bullock dray after being tipped out from a spring cart while passing 
   them at John Dunn’s Lion Flour Mill Bridgewater. Adelaide Times, 3/31857, p.2
12 Register, 1/5/1857, p.1; Adelaide Times, 8/5/1857, p.1
13 Advertiser,  4/8/1858, p.2
14 Register,  2/12/1859, p.3
15 Register,  3/12/1862,  p.1; ibid. 19/2/1864,  p.1
16 Register,  5/12/1864, p.2. Colin Fenn, in an article published in the Norfolk Guild of Organists 
   Journal of August 1992, gives the purchaser as Matthew Turton
17 Advertiser, 18/2/1865, p.2
18 Observer, 13/8/1878, p.8
19 Northern Argus,  22/9/1871, p.2
20 Advertiser,  24/9/1872, p.2; Chronicle,  28/9/1872,  p.11
21 Register, 24/4/1876, p.6; Express & Telegraph, 19/10/1876, p.2
22 Shield D., ‘Erecting the Hill with Robert Mackenzie’, OHTA News (October 2009),  pp.15-19
23 Letters to Adelaide Town Clerk from Robert Daws no.2539 6/10/1877, no.2710 15/10/1878, no.3378 28/10/1878, 
   no.195 20/1/1879, no.527 15/2/1879, no.608 25/2/79, no.1445 16/5/1879. 
   Having to work through committees was tedious requiring a lot of correspondence.
24 Advertiser, 17/2/1899,  p.6
25 Holmwood became the Dominican School at Semaphore established in 1899.

David Shield