St Anne's Anglican Church
cnr Victoria Road and Church St, Ryde

William Davidson c.1890, partially restored 1973 Ian Brown,
resited in west gallery with further restoration J W Walker & Sons (Australia) Pty Ltd 1984/1985
(2/16 mechanical)

Peter Jewkes writes (SOJ April/May 1985):

The recent restoration of the organ at St Anne's Anglican Church Ryde, has revealed several interesting facts about its own history and that of the local organ building industry last century, as well as posing several unanswered questions.

The church at Ryde began in a barn between the present St Anne's and the Parramatta River, when the Rev. James Fleet Cover and Rev. William Henry of the London Missionary Society conducted the first Christian service in this district on 26 August 1798. From this event the third religious settlement in Australia was developed, with the erection in 1826 of the original building which was to become St Anne's Church.

This chapel was a simple rectangular building, the walls of which form the present nave of St Anne's today. Originally the walls were to have been of brick, but the walls were finally built of stone. No evidence is shown in church records for the existence of a pipe organ prior to 1870, when the church was consecrated and the title of its land established. Reference is made, however, in the Parish's monthly paper, prior to the purchase of the present organ, that '...the instrument will be larger than the one in present use, and would, if placed in the same position in the Church, obscure too much of the Chancel". Possibly the "one in present use'' was a harmonium.

In 1878 the Rector of St Paul's Church of England, Burwood contracted with William Davidson, then residing in Neutral Bay, to build a suitable organ for that church. The building was considerably shorter than its present length. Davidson designed a two manual instrument to be built over a period of nine years at a total cost of £300. A ''section of the organ'' was to be ''almost immediately available'' for £150.

In 1889 the Rector of Burwood wrote that the organ needed to be improved, and enlarged by the addition of a third manual. Later that year the contract was again awarded to Davidson at a cost of £351. The completion of this contract was delayed, finally taking three years, due to "lack of skilled labour", Davidson's illness and his decision to build a virtually new instrument, using only the pipework from the original.

Meanwhile at Ryde, the need was being felt for a new instrument which Davidson was contracted to provide in 1890, using the soundboards and casework left over from the installation at Burwood. Evidently the size problem quoted above resulted in the following entry in the church accounts for a new organ chamber:

March 1891 Arthur Blackett, Architect's fees £16-10-0

The organ case was modified by the addition of a cantilevered section overhanging the console, bringing the facade pipes in line with the chamber arch, and the specification was:

Open Diapason
Hohl Flute
Harmonic Flute

Open Diapason
Stop Diapason
Picolo (sic)

Open Bass

Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great




replaced by a Trumpet stop in 1979

An additional stop knob, long since inoperable, marked "BLOW", was evidently to encourage errant organ blowers, one of whom is mentioned in the church accounts as:

£l-5-0 Fee for organ blowing 1892 S. Young

Subsequently very little work was carried out on the instrument other than maintenance until 1973, when some restoration work was performed by Ian Brown, who also added a Trumpet in 1979, replacing the Clarionet.

Early in 1983 it was decided to thoroughly restore the church, enlarging the added vestries and west gallery. In order to provide additional seating space in the church, it was decided to relocate the organ in the gallery, whilst taking the opportunity to restore it. The casework was also to be restored to its conjectured original design, with a new northern side case provided to match the remaining southern case.

In July 1983 the contract for restoration and re-siting was let to J. W. Walker & Sons (Aust.) Pty Ltd, and the organ was dismantled in September. The action and soundboards were carefully restored, with particular attention being paid to the use of authentic materials and techniques. The pipework was returned to Walker's Sydney works, where some revoicing was necessary to recreate a tonal concept as near as possible to Davidson's original scheme, correcting the previous "brightening'' of upperwork stops some years before. A new full length bass was fitted to the Trumpet stop (1979), replacing its half length resonators in the bottom octave, in accordance with other examples of Davidson's work. A bottom octave was fitted to the Harmonic Flute to complete its compass. The work was completed in January 1984.

During restoration the followlng inscriptions were found deep within the Great soundboard, which was also found to have originally extended to GG compass:

Repaired by W. B. Brock
William Davidson's Organ Manufactury
Harris Street, Pyrmont. Feb.(l8)82
Repaired by A Dyer
for C. Richardson Organ Builder, Church Hill
2nd February 1905
F. H. Baker

The above inscriptions combined with the soundboard's previous compass, seem to indicate that the section of the organ available for immediate use at Burwood was in fact a much older instrument, converted into a Great organ, and to which a Swell was added in the ensuing nine years. Accurate judgement is made difficult by the pipework having been entirely replaced when the organ was moved in 1890 and its original pipework dispersed tbroughout the present Burwood instrument. In addition, the Swell Picolo rank stands on a slide originally designed for a Mixture II.

By coincidence, the organ's front case design and the lines of the church ceiling are remarkably well-suited, and one's first sighting of the organ in its new position gives the impression that it has indeed always been an that location. It also speaks very well into the nave. Tonally and mechanically, tbe organ must now function very much as Davidson left it.

For the historian (from which class the writer definitely excludes himself) the instrument provides a fascinating challenge, and a glimpse into the vagaries of nineteenth century Australian organ building.

All photos above: Alan Caradus (October 2021)

2 photos aobve: Trevor Bunning (Dec 2008)