Mary Street, Hawthorn

John Renton, Edinburgh, circa 1850 (attributed);
altered circa 1872 unknown builder
Previous locations unknown
Stored at present location after early 1940s
Restored and installed in house 2020 Hargraves Pipe Organs Pty Ltd
One manual, three speaking stops, mechanical action


'Alverno' - exterior showing colonnade and tower
[photograph by John Maidment (20 January 2016)]

Historical and Technical Documentation by John Maidment
© OHTA, 2020 (last updated June 2020)

The mansion 'Alverno' (later known as 'Yarrock House') was constructed in 1889 for William Henry Archer, Victorian Registrar-General.1 The architect is unknown except that the design appears to have come from the office of John Beswicke,2 prominent architect in Hawthorn and it bears stylistic similarities to other houses in the area. The building is constructed in polychrome brickwork, with arcades at the ground and first floor level, the whole being capped by a splendid tower, rising two storeys above. It incorporates some notable stained glass windows, possibly the work of Charles Rogers & Co.3

'Alverno' – case of the Renton organ following restoration
[photograph by John Maidment (12 June 2020)]

The origins of the organ are unknown at this stage. It has a highly distinctive Gothic style oak case, the central flat surmounted by an ogee canopy and the side flats by pinnacles. This is very typical of the work of the notable Edinburgh organbuilder John Renton, whose son Douglas Renton worked in Victoria as an organbuilder in the first half of the 1870s.4 It seems possible that Douglas Renton may have brought the organ to Victoria, although interestingly, a cottage chamber pipe organ was advertised for sale in Melbourne in 1856 built by "Prenton of Edinburgh" [i.e. Renton] which still survives in private ownership at Elwood.

It seems likely that the organ may have been used in some sort of public venue as the very elaborate façade pipe decoration was overpainted and the pipework extremely filthy, pointing to a well-occupied place. The keyboard has also been fitted with an oak cover and lock. It is vaguely possible this may have been placed at the Chinese Mission Hall in Ballarat where Geo.Fincham & Sons identified a small pipe organ in 1923.5

'Alverno', then known as 'Yarrock House', was acquired in 1910 by Mrs Alice McGinnis, an artist, who decorated some of the doors in the house.6 Mrs McGinnis sold the house in the early 1940s to the Walter family, and they and their descendants have remained in the house ever since. Mrs Walter owned a number of properties, including that of a former organbuilder in Stawell Street, Burnley (number 97?), surely that of Alfred Siede (trained with Geo.Fincham & Sons), and some old correspondence implies that the organ was acquired in settlement of rent arrears. The organ appears to have been stored but dissembled around 1935 (when the Siede property was sold) as the metal pipework had been wrapped in The Argus newspaper from 23 November that year and placed in professionally made pipe boxes.7

'Alverno' – organ parts recovered from storage
[photograph by John Maidment (20 January 2016)]

In 2016 the parts of the organ, stored in a rear workshop in the property, although previously crated and placed in an upstairs hallway, were examined by John Maidment at the invitation of the present owners, who have occupied the property since 2007. The organ was identified as being very old, built around 1850, and of Scottish pedigree. It was packed up and moved to the workshop of Hargraves Pipe Organs Pty Ltd, in Mt Evelyn, and it has since been restored to full playability.

Closer examination of the organ revealed many perplexing details. The windchest is clearly of later origin than the organ case. The case and console had to be widened to accommodate the windchest through the insertion of oak fillets. The bars of the windchest are papered with Victorian government documents dating from the time that Thomas Viscount Canterbury was Governor of Victoria 1866-1873, but after 1869 when he became a Viscount. The stop action had to be laterally extended and the wind system adapted. The drawstop heads and labels have been replaced with Fincham substitutes although placed on the original square shanks. The metal pipework appears to be partially second hand. The treble of the Stopd Diapason appears to survive from the original Renton organ.8 There is no evidence in the Fincham letter books to suggest that this firm carried out the alterations, so they may well have been done by Douglas Renton at the time he was in Victoria, 1872-1875. Possibly the organ had been damaged during its sea trip to Melbourne – this was not an unusual occurrence.

The current restoration has included the following:

• Releathering of the wind reservoir and feeders
• Installation of a small internally placed Ventus blower linked directly to one of the feeders
• Repair of the slider windchest
• Repair of the metal and wooden pipework and tuning to Young's temperament
• Repair of the key and stop actions (12 note pedal pulldowns were not reconnected)
• Cleaning back, careful repair and repolishing of the oak casework and reconstruction of wooden finials that had vanished
• Repair of the ivory keyboard with boxwood fronts
• Reconstruction of the upwards opening wooden horizontal swell shutters and lever pedal
• Fitting of period brass Gothic candle sconces
• Cleaning of the dummy wooden façade pipes and their decoration, carefully conserving the remnants of the original decoration surviving beneath later overpainting9

The organ was moved back to 'Alverno' in June 2020 and placed within an alcove in the drawing room, looking as if it had been intended for that position.

Open Diapason
Stopd Diapason [bass]
Stopd Diapason [treble]




Compass: 54 notes
Lever swell pedal
Mechanical key and stop action10

1. Meredith Gould, Hawthorn Heritage Study (1992)

2. Personal communication Jacqui Myers to John Maidment 12 June 2020

3. Personal communication Bronwyn Hughes to John Maidment April 2020 in reference to the mansion 'Linda' in Camberwell with which this glass is comparable

4. Alan Buchan, 'Early Nineteenth-Century Scottish Chamber Organs: Pipe Markings and Other Identifiers', BIOS Journal, vol 21 (1997), pp.136-149

5. Geo. Fincham & Sons letter to Rev R.F. Parry, The Manse, Carngham, 10 April 1923

6. Gould, op.cit.

7. Personal communication Jacqui Myers to John Maidment 12 June 2020

8. Observations made by Campbell Hargraves and John Maidment

9. Details provided by Campbell Hargraves June 2020

10. Specification noted by John Maidment June 2020

'Alverno' – pipework placed on voicing machine at Hargraves workshop
[photograph by John Maidment (18 February 2016)]

'Alverno' – console
[photograph by John Maidment (12 June 2020)]

'Alverno' – drawstops
[photograph by John Maidment (12 June 2020)]

'Alverno' – façade pipe decoration
[photograph by John Maidment (12 June 2020)]