The Story of Adelaide Town Hall’s Organs

No sooner had the Town Hall opened than the campaign to get a pipe organ began.

Amateur musicians from the city campaigned for two concerts. They raised £120 for the Organ Fund – only to see it used to settle the
account for the Albert Bells.

In 1869, the Adelaide Philharmonic Society formed. They too took up the campaign. In six years, they staged 25 concerts and raised
over £500 for the Organ Fund. The estimated cost of the organ was £1,200, with Council promising to invest £600.

In 1875, their efforts were rewarded. Council ordered an organ from London manufacturers William Hill & Son. To compromise on the cost, William Hill & Son constructed the organ so that it could be added to in later years.

The organ arrived by ship at Port Adelaide in April 1877. The Town Hall Auditorium was painted and redecorated for installation. Architect Edmund Wright added a platform and an orchestra to accommodate the organ. 

The organ had its opening concert on 2 October 1877 starring Melbourne City organist David Lee. It also featured a choir conducted by Adelaide’s own organist, George Oughton. The total bill for the organ was £2,106.16s.9d. ($4,213.69).

In 1885, Professor Joshua Ives replaced Oughton as city organist. That same year, local firm Fincham & Hobday began adding solo stops to complete the organ. Professor Ives played an opening concert for the updated organ in October 1886. Following this, J.E. Dodd kept it in tune for over 50 years.

Over time, the organ attracted criticism for not being up to date. In 1923, council replaced its hydraulic engine with an electric motor. Council voted to replace the now century-old pipe organ in 1989.

J.W. Walker & Sons built the new Town Hall organ in Brandon (Suffolk, England). It was the largest mechanical-action instrument built in the United Kingdom for 100 years. It has 61 stops distributed over four keyboards and 4,500 handmade pipes. The organ was installed in 1990.

On Friday 30 March 1990, before an audience of 1,000 people, the $1.3m organ thundered into life at a Gala Concert hosted by the Lord Mayor Steve Condous.

The Advertiser reported that the organ filled the Auditorium with sound “so well, in fact, the floor rumbled under our feet … the ceiling shivered … and everything in between shook from the blasts”.

The old organ is in Tanunda at the Soldiers’ Memorial Hall and was restored by volunteers over 14 years.

About the New Organ

Installed in 1990, the 'new' organ is ornately designed. It features contrasting shades of light (maple) and dark (American red oak) timber. The red silk-back pipe shades are hand carved and use Australian native flora as motifs. These include the wattle, native hibiscus and Sturt’s Desert Pea.

The organ’s forte is the English and French repertoire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The clarity of its voicing is also well suited to the contrapuntal styles associated with Bach and his contemporaries.

The key action for the organ is mechanical. It uses an electrical system to couple the keyboards. It also uses micro-chip technology to program combinations of stops and effects.

The organist can pre-select pistons and store stopping combinations in an electronic memory. They can operate these via a hand-held key pad.