return to Journal index

return to home page

The following article appeared in "The Organ", No. 11, Vol III, January, 1924, pp. 169-172

The Adventures of an Organ



The visitor to St. Cyprian's Cathedral, Kimberley, will, if he is interested in organs, be disappointed; for he will find nothing resembling the cathedral organ familiar to him at home. He will find a rather commonplace two-manual organ. If he be still enthusiastic enough to try it, he again will find nothing remarkable about it; there is not even a name plate of any firm upon the organ. The visitor will dismiss it from his mind as totally uninteresting. But if he were to meet some of the older members of the congregation of St. Cyprian's, and were to express surprise that a cathedral church should have nothing better than that, he would at once be told "well, the organ is nothing to boast about, and when the cathedral is complete the question of a new organ will have to be faced; but if you knew what that organ had been through, you would be surprised at its being played at all."

It may be doubted whether any organ now standing has been through as many adventures as this, and the readers of The Organ may be interested to have the story. The organ was ordered from England when Bishop Gaul was rector of Kimberley. The St. Cyprian's of those days was an iron church in the middle of the town, so that a moderate sized two manual organ was sufficient, and was indeed a luxury as things went in South Africa at that time. As it bears no name plate it is impossible to say with certainty who the builder was. It was certainly not built by Walker nor, in the opinion of the writer, by Willis or Hill. It bears certain resemblances in tone to some of Messrs. Nicholson's work, but a friend recently told me that he remembered the name "Davidson" in connection with it. - Perhaps this means the firm "Gray & Davison". The writer has not much experience of that firm's work, but can detect little resemblance between our organ and the fine Gray & Davison organ in St.Pancras Church, built for Henry Smart. It would be interesting if any information as to its origin could be learnt through this magazine.

The organ was duly dispatched to South Africa, and was consigned to Port Elizabeth, - the nearest port to Kimberley. (Proximity is a serious financial consideration when an extra three hundred miles is involved in a journey, much of which had to be done in an ox waggon.) The ship on which it was travelling was wrecked, and some, at any rate, of the cases containing the organ were washed up on the beach near Port Elizabeth. There they lay for months until they were claimed. The people in those parts left them severely alone, as they were not familiar with the parts of an organ, and did not think they were worth troubling about. This was pre-eminently true of the 16ft. wooden pipes of the pedal open diapason (which is quite the best thing in the organ to-day). It is known for certain that these lay on the beach for months exposed to the South African sun, the sea air, and the danger of being chopped up for firewood by natives. At length steps were taken to salve the cargo; the various cases were assembled and sent on to Kimberley. In those days the railway had not reached Kimberley, and went no farther than De Aar. The rest of the journey had to be done by ox waggon, - one hundred and fortysix miles. The route includes the crossing of the Orange River, which cannot be forded. The crossing is done by means of a pont. This is a pontoon secured by a cable. Waggons with their teams are drawn on to it, and then native labourers pull at the cable until the river is crossed. The transport drivers in charge of the waggons bearing the organ were quite unaware of the weight of organ pipes (the oxen doubtless were fu1ly aware of it), and instead of unloading some of the cases to lighten the waggons, they went straight on to the pont as though they were taking a load of hay. The pont sank in mid-stream, and for many days part of our organ lay at the bottom of the river. The fate of the unhappy oxen is not recorded.

In time the organ was erected in the iron St. Cyprian's. But its adventures were not yet over. In 1898 a fire occurred, which destroyed a great part of the church. The fire itself did not touch the organ, but the water from the fire engines soaked it through. In 1899 the South African war broke out and Kimberley was besieged. St. Cyprian's was hit by a shell and partly destroyed by a fire which the shell started, but the organ was undamaged. In 1908 another fire occurred, this time in the roof directly over the organ. No less than a thousand gallons of water must have been pumped into it.

After the advent of Canon Robson as rector (since there has been a Bishop of Kimberley, the rector has been dean), the building of a new church in the residential part of the town was begun. The materials of the old St. Cyprian's were sold, and the organ was taken to pieces and put up for sale by an auctioneer. But no bids reached the reserve price (thirty-five pounds) and for nearly a year the parts lay in the auctioneer's yard.

During this time the yard was visited by various amateur organists, who were allowed to help themselves to what they fancied, - a pipe or so to fill in the places of defective or worn out pipes in their own organs. It is believed that all the cornopean pipes were thus taken, and are now in another organ in South Africa.

Then it was suggested that as the organ could not be sold, it had better be removed to the new church, and perhaps a stop or two could be used until a new organ was forthcoming. The pieces were brought from the yard and lay in one of the aisles for some time. At length Mr. Vincent Teychenne, principal of the Perseverance School, and assistant organist, thought he would try and rebuild the organ with the help of a master builder who sang in the choir, and of a mechanic. They set to work and the organ was slowly re-erected. One may imagine the slowness of the work when it was done - by men who had to feel their way and work only in their spare time. Trackers were missing, pieces of wire were bent and broken off, the bellows were worn out, the ivory was off many of the keys, and the sound-boards were warped. The stoppers of the " stopped " pipes were missing. Some pipes were missing altogether , others were bent, and some wooden ones were totally ruined. To replace what was missing everything that could be was extemporised. Single parts were bought from a firm in Cape Town. The pipes of the waldflote were stopped with pieces of biscuit tin. A new set of trumpet pipes was bought, also oboe and cornopean stops for the swell.

At length the organ was playable, but it was many months before the voicing was complete. Mr. Teychenne could only work experimentally, and used to work day after day to get a stop even. Professional builders may be entertained to know what Mr. Teychenne admits with some amusement, that he did not know how the celeste effect was got, and tuned the "celeste" pipes in unison with the keraulophon. He could not understand then why there were two stops of similar quality on the swell, and treated the "celeste" as a dulciana. It was only subsequently, when a professional tuner turned up, that he learned about tuning out of tune to get the "wave". The organ is now in charge of Messrs. Price & Sons, of Cape Town.

On the whole, it is as reliable as many old organs in Great Britain, and that is saying a good deal in its praise. The temperature in Kimberley is very high in summer, often well over 100 degrees in the shade, and very low at night in winter. There are frequently jumps of over 5° degrees within t\venty-four hours, and the day temperature is always very different from the night temperature at all times of the year. The air is so dry that when rain comes the organs are all very much the worse. Glue never holds, so that the ivories have to be screwed on to the keys. I append the specification.




Double Open Diapason     16

Double Diapaspn       16

Open Diapason                   8

Open Diapason          8

Gamba                                8

Lieblich Gedackt        8

Dulciana                              8

Keraulophon              8

Clarinet Flute                       8

Céleste                      8

Principal                              4

Gemshorn                  4

Waldflöte                            4

Mixture                     II rks

Piccolo                               2

*Cornopean              8

* Trumpet                           8

*Hautboy                  8





Bourdon                           16

Pedal to Great (sic)

Double Open Diapason     16

Swell to Great

*Violoncello                       8

Swell to Pedal

* Replaced by new pipes or stops added subsequently

The pedal organ is quite good, especially the open diapason. It has now electro-pneumatic action and R.C.O. proportions. The great organ is of unequal merit. The open diapason is medium and insufficient. The gamba is quite good. The clarinet flute is very good. The principal is useless. The waldflote is too much like a penny tin whistle, especially in the trebles. The trumpet is fair. The swell organ as a whole is colourles. The oboe is a useful stop, but is not a true oboe in quality. it is more like a reduced trumpet. The cornopean is fairly good. The piccolo is said to have been originally on the swell. There is now a Discus electric blower.

The present organist is Mr. W. Wyllie Turnbull, formerly conductor of the Glasgow Symphony Orchestra. The organ, which could not be sold for £35, is now insured for £500.

NOTE.-Since the above was written I have discovered that the oboe is a pipe short. The place of CCC is taken by CCC# tuned down, and so on, until the top note, which is filled by a flue pipe. The pitch of the organ is very high, as any baritone who tries to help tenors may discover!

 return to Journal index

return to home page

This page brought to you by:
VintageHammond.Com - We Buy-Sell-Trade Vintage Hammond Organs and Roll or Kari Organ/Vending Machine Moving Dollies Order Roll or Kari Dollies Here