St Patrick's Catholic Church

Morgan Street, Fortitude Valley

T.C. Christmas, Brisbane, for W. Horatio Wilson, Brisbane, c.1881
Installed in this location, 1882
3 manuals, 13 speaking stops, mechanical action

St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fortitude Valley
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

Historical and Technical Documentation by Geoffrey Cox
© OHTA 1989, 2011, 2014 (last updated October 2014)

The first St Patrick's Church in Fortitude Valley was a wooden structure built around 1860 with a frontage in Wickham Street, opposite where Duncan Street now adjoins it.1 The foundation stone of the present church, in Morgan Street, was laid by Bishop O'Quinn in September 1880, and the building was consecrated on 3 December 1882 by Archbishop Dunne. A Victorian Gothic church comprising a nave and two wide side-aisles, it is constructed of local porphyry, faced with Murphy's Creek stone.2 The building was designed by the Italian architect, Andrea Stombuco, who had settled in Brisbane in the 1870s.3

The triple-gabled west front of St Patrick's Catholic Church
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

The interior of St Patrick's Catholic Church
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

The ornate casework of the organ, with its non-speaking (though real) façade pipes, together with the size and layout over three manuals, suggests strongly that it was designed as a residence instrument. It has been conjectured that Stombuco, the architect of the church, may also have been responsible for the casework, which is unusual in its mannered clutter of classical detail.4

The organ of St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fortitude Valley
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

The ornate casework, possibly designed by Stombuco
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (September 2014)]

Detail of the casework
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

E.J.T. Barton's Jubilee History of Queensland (c.1910) records that the organ 'was originally built to the order of the Hon. W.H. Wilson, a musician of no mean order, from whom it was purchased.'5 The Welsh-born solicitor, Walter Horatio Wilson (1839-1902) had migrated with his family to Melbourne in 1853, and moved with his wife to Brisbane in 1865. After a period of ill health, he left in 1880 for the USA and England, but returned to Brisbane in 1881. He was organist at St Thomas' Anglican Church, Toowong, for twelve years.6

Wilson's name is associated also with the Willis organ now at the Uniting (formerly St Andrew's Presbyterian) Church, Gympie, which he purchased in 1884 for his own residence, but disposed of it in 1887 to the Wickham Terrace Presbyterian Church, Brisbane. Graeme Rushworth's conjecture that the Fortitude Valley instrument dates from c.1888 is presumably based on the assumption that Wilson acquired it after disposing of the Willis instrument.7 This can now be shown to be incorrect.

The identity of the builder of the organ and the date of its installation at St Patrick's have long been the subject of conjecture.8 A newspaper report of the opening and consecration of St Patrick's Church in December 1882 reveals, however, that the organ was installed at this time. The builder of the organ is named, both in the church records,9 and in the newspaper report of the consecration, as Thomas Christmas:


The Roman Catholic Church of St. Patrick, Fortitude Valley, was consecrated yesterday by his Lordship the Right Rev. Dr. Dunne, and dedicated to the purposes of divine worship. The church is situated in Ann-street, Valley, on the site of what was formerly called the Paragon Nursery. The foundation stone was laid by the late Bishop O'Quinn about two years ago, and the edifice as it now stands reflects great credit on the architect, Mr. Stombuco, and Mr. O'Keeffe, the contractor. The building - a handsome one of Gothic architecture - is of the best description of dressed rock-work, faced with stone from Murphy's Creek. It is composed of a centre and two side aisles with chancel and vestry.

. . . A gallery for the organ and choir is placed opposite the high altar at the east end of the building, and the instrument, which cost about £360, and was built almost entirely by Mr. Christmas, of Petrie's Bight, seems, both in tone and power, to be very suitable.10

Now that the date of the organ's installation at St Patrick's is known, it appears that it may have been built for W.H. Wilson around 1881, when he returned to Brisbane.

Thomas C. Christmas was born in Stoke Newington, London, in 1849, and emigrated to South Australia in 1855 before moving to Melbourne in 1856.11 In Melbourne he was listed in 1877 as an organbuilder working in partnership with John Abbott as 'Abbott & Christmas, Clarendon Street, Emerald Hill.'12

[Photograph of Thomas C. Christmas by P&B Thompson, reproduced in
G. Rushworth, A Supplement to Historic Organs of New South Wales
(OHTA, 2006), p. 102]

Christmas's involvement in 1882 at St Patrick's, Fortitude Valley, is the earliest record of his activities in Queensland, and this is the only instrument he is reported to have built. He was responsible for installing a number of organs in Brisbane, Rockhampton and Townsville between 1883 and 1885, and was listed in the Queensland Post Office Directory from at least 1883 until as late as 1902. Christmas described himself in advertisements in 1893 as 'Pianoforte Maker, Wickham-street.'13 A few years later his 'Pianoforte, Organ, and Musical Instrument Warehouse' was located at 174 Queen Street.14


[The Queensland [Wise's] Official Directory 1896-1897]

Christmas's work as an organbuilder seems to have been eclipsed after the arrival of Mr B.B. Whitehouse in the mid-1880s. He is reported to have completed Edward Waldron's organ at the Wesleyan Church, Fortitude Valley, in late 1888 or early 1889 after Waldron had died of typhoid fever.15 In 1896, Christmas tendered (unsuccessfully) to move the organ at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley, from the gallery to the chancel.16 He died in Brisbane in May 1905.17

Work of cleaning and maintaining the St Patrick's organ was undertaken by Messrs Brown and Arkley of Sydney in the late 1980s,18 and again in 1995 by Ian D. Brown and Associates, when Ian Brown noted that the name 'W. Davidson' is stamped on some of the Clarionet pipes.19 It would appear, therefore, that Christmas obtained at least some of his pipework from William Davidson of Sydney.

The Swell and Choir, which are both enclosed, are on a common chest with the Choir opening to the back of the organ. The bottom pipes of the Open Diapason, of spotted metal, are tubed off to the rear of the organ, and sit on the same chest as the Pedal Bourdon.

Stop action for the Swell and Choir Organs
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

Spotted metal pipes of the Open Diapason
on the Pedal Bourdon chest at the rear of the organ
[Photograph by John Maidment (September 2014)]

Bottom pipes of the Pedal Bourdon
at the rear of the organ
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (September 2014)]

The timbers in the organ suggest a mixture of Australian and imported materials. The case panels and console are of Australian red cedar, but the key cheeks (and entire key sets) are of imported oak. The building frame is of pine.20

The console of the organ
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

Lever pedals for the Swell and Choir
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (September 2014)]

Building frame, lever Swell and Choir action and bellows
[Photograph by John Maidment (September 2014)]

As will be evident by comparison with the organ at Christ Church Anglican Church, Lavender Bay, NSW, several constructional features are reminiscent of William Davidson. These include the open metal flue pipes, the stop jamb profiles, the stop knob shapes and possibly even the maroon felt bushings.21

The Great pipework
[Photograph by Trevor Bunning (September 2014)]

The Swell shutters
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (September 2014)]

This is clearly an instrument that deserves further investigation and, ultimately, restoration. If it was 'built almost entirely' by Christmas, as was claimed in 1882, this was arguably the first organ built in Queensland! It is clear, however, that Christmas imported much of the material from William Davidson of Sydney.

The names on some of the stop knobs, most of which bear no pitch indication, appear to have been subjected to 'adjustment' over the years. Several stop heads have obviously been replaced, and some appear to have been moved around. There are differences between the specifications recorded variously by Brohan (c.1952), Cox (1973 and 2014) and Cook (1988), and these are indicated below.

The stop jambs
[Photographs by John Maidment (September 2014)]


[Open Diapason]
Stop Diapason

Open Diapason
Stop Diapason
[Cornopean] (Tenor C)

CHOIR (enclosed)
Keraulophone [sic]
[Lieblich Gedact]
Clarionet (Tenor C)


Swell to Great
Swell to Choir
Choir to Great
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Choir to Pedal





[labeled 'Principal']
[gvd bass]

[labeled 'Vox Celeste']*

[gvd bass]

[labeled 'Oboe']**

[gvd bass]
[labeled 'Gamba']***

Drawstop console
Compass: 56/30
Trigger swell and choir levers
Pedalboard: radiating and concave
Mechanical action.22

* Bernie Brohan (c.1952) recorded that this stop (Vox Celeste) drew automatically with it the Dulciana. Christopher Cook (1988) recorded that the pipes were cut in half to produce the present 4-ft stop, but they may merely have been transposed.

** Recorded as Oboe by Geoffrey Cox (1973) and Bernie Brohan (c.1952), but as Horn (Cornopean) by Christopher Cook (1988).

*** Recorded as Lieblich Gedact by Bernie Brohan (c.1952). It is possible that the labels for this stop and the Keraulophon have been swapped at some stage. Both Geoffrey Cox (1973) and Christopher Cook (1988) noted that the stop labeled 'Keraulophon' was actually a Gedact or Stop Diapason.


The pedalboard
[Photograph by Howard Baker (September 1989)]

The organ in an earlier state of disrepair
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (c.1973)]


1 Denis W. Martin, The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland (Toowoomba: Church Archivists' Society, 1988), pp. 139, 142.

2 Queensland Heritage Council, Queensland Heritage Register, location 600210; E.J.T. Barton (ed.), Jubilee History of Queensland: a Record of Political, Industrial, and Social Development, from the Landing of the First Explorers to the Close of 1909 (Brisbane: H. J. Diddams, [c.1910]), p. 138.

3 The Heritage of Australia: The Illustrated Register of the National Estate (South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1981), 4/18.

4 John Maidment, Letter to the Editor, Organ Society of Queensland Newsletter, vol. 15, no. 8 (October 1988), p. 41.

5 E.J.T. Barton, op. cit., p. 138.

6 J.C.H. Gill, 'Wilson, Walter Horatio (1839-1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 12 (Melbourne University Press, 1990), p. 531. Online version at, accessed March 2011.

7 Graeme Rushworth, A Supplement to Historic Organs of New South Wales: The Instruments, Their Makers and Players, 1791-1940 (OHTA, 2006), p. 103. Rushworth's address for Wilson is based on an unpublished revised draft of the present author's Gazetteer of Queensland Pipe Organs, in which W.H. Wilson had been temporarily confused with the Hon William Wilson, who lived at Wilston House, 42 Watson Street, Wilston. W.H. Wilson lived at Toowong.

8 Geoffrey Cox, Letter to the Editor, Organ Society of Queensland Newsletter, vol. 16, no. 3 (December 1988), pp. 39-41.

9 St Patrick's Church Fortitude Valley: The Early Years, cited in Christopher Cook, 'St Patrick's, Fortitude Valley,' Organ Society of Queensland Newsletter, vol. 15, no. 5 (April 1988), p. 5.

10 The Brisbane Courier (4 December 1882), p. 5.

11 Rushworth, op. cit, pp. 102-04.

12 Sands & McDougall Directory (1877), p. 231.

13 The Brisbane Courier (19 April 1893), p. 2; The Brisbane Courier (17 July 1893), p. 4.

14 The Queensland [Wise's] Official Directory 1896-97.

15 Personal communication to G. Cox from Mr E.R. Salisbury (organist of the Fortitude Valley Methodist Church, 1935-42.

16 Minutes of the Parochial Council Meeting, Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley (February 1896), cited in Charles Clark & Geoffrey Cox, 'The Organs of Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley, 1874-1974,' Organ Society of Queensland Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 2 (May 1974), pp. 2-4.

17 Rushworth, op. cit., p. 104.

18 Christopher Cook, op. cit., p. 7.

19 Noted by Ian Brown in The Sydney Organ Journal, vol. 26, no. 4 (Spring 1995), pp. 6-7.

20 Observations by David Cahill and John Maidment, September 2014.

21 Observations by Kelvin Hastie, September 2014.

22 Specification noted by G. Cox, 1973 and 2014; additional information from Christopher Cook, op. cit. (1988), and from the Collected Organ Specifications of Bernie Brohan (c.1952).