Visitors play historic organs

MEMBERS of the Organ Society of Queensland were delighted to be able to tour Gympie churches last Saturday to visit, inspect and play the four renowned and historic pipe organs in the churches on the hilltops of the Golden City.

Organ Australia's Queensland contributing editor David Vann said it was a rare occurrence for four organs of impeccable quality from four English builders, three of them based in London, to be found in a regional centre in Australia.

"This must all be brought down to the prosperity that came with the discovery of gold by James Nash," Mr Vann said.

"The Henry Willis organ at the Gympie Uniting Church was built for a Brisbane businessman and, when it was found to be too large for his home, it was installed in St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Brisbane.

"It was then sold to St Andrew's Gympie in 1905 and installed in the old church building."

Mr Vann said Henry Willis was one of the greatest of English organ builders.

"He built a number of instruments for Australia, the largest of which was the five-manual instrument in the Brisbane City Hall.

"The Gympie organ, although a great deal smaller, is very impressive and an asset to the musical life of Gympie."

Henry Jones & Sons of South Kensington were lesser known builders but the instrument they built for St Peter's Anglican Church in 1902 is another interesting instrument that is "enjoyable to play and interesting to hear".

"The Jones instrument, being of 12 speaking stops, is the second largest organ of Gympie," Mr Vann said.

"The instrument at St Patrick's Catholic Church, having one more playing stop, is the largest."

Built in London in 1897 by Richard Heslop, it was opened and blessed at the 11 o'clock mass on March 27, 1898. Brisbane organist S. G. Benson gave the opening recital.

"This organ, with the restoration that has been carried out on it, is in excellent condition, beautifully in tune, and a delight for the organist to play," Mr Vann said.

The society's final visit was to the Surface hill Uniting Church which houses the smallest of the organs of Gympie.

It was built by George Benson of Manchester in 1888 for the residence of James Lord in Brisbane but his wife and son died in the sinking of the S.S. Quetta and he became depressed and put the organ on the market at the time. It came to Surface Hill in 1890.

Benson built two organs for Queensland, the other being in the Albert Street Uniting Church in Brisbane.

Mr Vann said the Surface Hill instrument had benefitted from some sympathetic conservation works in the late 1990s by noted Brisbane organ builder and conservator Simon Pierce, which restored it to what Benson originally created.

"Gympie is so fortunate to possess four unique, high quality and basically unaltered pipe organs that would be the envy of many towns around Australia," he said.

"These instruments should be kept playing in the future and a project for the council and people of Gympie could be to arrange for an organisation such as the Organ Society of Queensland to arrange the production of a CD which could be available to lovers of organ music in places far away to hear and enjoy these most unique instruments."

Mr Vann said the society thanked to the church authorities, the National Trust, Gympie Regional Council and local musician Barry Mason for their assistance in making the tour possible.

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