Alfred Fuller, Melbourne 19th century organ builder - his life and work

Graeme Rushworth
Contents Life and work
Stop lists
Stop knob & key cheek profiles

a paper delivered at the O.H.T.A. 5th Annual Conference, Melbourne, on 28 August, 1982.

Alfred Fuller, 1885

St John's Lutheran Church, Pella, South Australia, Alfred Fuller, 1885. Originally built for the Congregational Church, South Melbourne, Victoria, installed at Pella in 1970. Drawing by Graeme Rushworth.

Brewer, organ builder and real estate agent, Alfred Fuller was a vital and important personality in the Australian organ scene last century. Although he left but little evidence of his brewing and real estate activities, many of the splendid organs that came from his hands between 1880 and 1900 remain today to bear lasting testimony to the dedication and craftsmanship he applied to his art. While it is doubtful that he ever obtained much more than a living from any of his three career paths, his organ work displays the soul of the artist, and we may suppose he also produced a very superior brew if he applied the same quality standards and desire for perfection to his beer as he did to his organs.

The longer-established and very much larger organ business of George Fincham in Melbourne presented formidable competition, but Alfred Fuller nevertheless competed successfully for twenty years, apparently obtaining orders on his merits of novelty in tonal design and finishing, and a quality in construction that at least equalled the high standard maintained by Fincham. It was Fuller who introduced the romantic-symphonic trend in tonal design to Australian organ building, establishing the course that was later followed by George Fincham, Josiah Dodd, Fred Taylor and others.

The depression years of the 1890's drastically curtailed orders for new organs, and the greater part of Fuller's output of some 25 new instruments was achieved before 1892.

Born on 2 October 1845 at the town of Kelvedon, near Colchester in the English county of Essex, Alfred Fuller was a son of John Fuller, a brewer, and his wife Julia, née Raven.[1] Little is known of Alfred Fuller's early years, although it is probable that his knowledge of brewing was acquired from his father, and he may even have served an apprenticeship in this trade. It is uncertain whether he was actually apprenticed as an organ builder, for when asked this question, he only said 'I was articled, or rather I learned the business with Mr Holdich. [2] This was George Maydwell Holdich, the well known London organ builder, whose premises were then at 42 Boston Road, Kings Cross.

In June 1869, when he was 24 years old, Fuller obtained a 'first-class certificate (the highest honour) awarded' by the London Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. It was probably at this time that he spent a year working in Wales, and afterwards went to North America to gain wider experience. After returning to England, he made up his mind to come to Australia, and arrived in Melbourne in May, 1871, on the ship Oxford. [3]

In the early 1870's, organs were again in demand in Victoria following the return to economic and social stability in the aftermath of the gold discoveries and vast influx of immigrants of the preceding 20 years. To cater for this increasing market, there was not only George Fincham, but J. Fawkener, James Moyle, Robert Mackenzie, William Anderson, and later, William Stone, as well as the importers of organs, Messrs. Wilkie, Webster & Allan. Fuller afterwards stated that he 'thought the colony was not ready for the business at first when I came here'.[4] He evidently considered the opportunities from brewing to be more rewarding at that time, although Melbourne directories indicate this was an even more overcrowded and popular trade.

Fuller was fortunate in having sufficient capital to enable him immediately to purchase property, erect buildings and install brewing plant. He selected a portion of land below and adjoining the Clifton Hotel in High Street (then known as Bulleen Road, or Main Road) in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. This was part of the former 'Clifton' estate of Thomas Stevenson, and later owned by Samuel Minchinton from whom Fuller bought it in 1872.[5] The Clifton Hotel, which is still on the same site, opened in 1869 and this and other hotels nearby probably provided a ready market for the products of Fuller's Kew Brewery.

By 1873 Fuller's business was established and was listed in trade directories until 1880 when it abruptly changed from 'Kew Brewery' to 'Organ Builder'. In fact, he changed trades during 1879, and this would indeed have been necessary to enable him to complete his first organ in time for display at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81. His premises were later described as having a brick front, and as being 'very commodious', and 'fitted with all the latest appliances'. [6]

The first organ known to have been built by Alfred Fuller In Melbourne was also the largest he made, and comprised three manuals and pedals, with 33 stops and seven couplers. A contemporary description of the Exhibition says:

In the gallery of the south transept will be found an organ, built by Mr A. Fuller, of Main-road, Kew. It has forty stops, three manuals and an independent pedal organ, one stop of which, the 16 feet trombone, with wooden pipes, is said to be the first made in the colony. Each sounding board or organ is constructed with pneumatic lever pallets, to render the touch perfectly light and free to the player. The construction of the Swell organ has received careful study in order to ensure a complete crescendo. The organ has six composition pedals, each having a separate combination of stops. The metal pipes and reeds are of the best London make. The Great organ has the following stops:- Open diapason, stopped diapason, clarabella, dulciana, principal, dolcan, wald flute, twelfth, fifteenth, mixture, trumpet. Swell: Bourdon, open diapason, stopped diapason, keraulophon, principal, gemshorn, flageolette, fifteenth, cornopean, hautboy, clarion. Choir: Open diapason, viol de gamba, viola, principal, flute, piccolo, cremona, orchestral oboe. Pedal: Open diapason, bourdon, trombone. Couplers: swell to great, great to choir, swell to choir, pedal to great, pedal to swell, pedal to choir, and octave coupler. The organ is arranged to be supplied with noiseless feeders [worked] either by hand or hydraulic power, which is a great improvement upon the old flap valve usually adopted.[7]

The reference to Fuller's Pedal Trombone being the first to be made in the colony is correct, for while George Fincham's organ of four manuals and 70 stops, built to the order of the Exhibition Commission, also contained such a stop, it was of metal and was imported.[8] The presence of Fincham's instrument undoubtedly cast a shadow over Fuller's exhibit in more ways than one, as it deservedly received more publicity and was frequently used.

Fuller's Exhibition organ was entered in Class 13, 'Musical Instruments and Printed Music' in a section comprising 'Church Organs, Harmoniums and American Organs'. The Jury comprised one representative each from eight overseas countries participating in the Exhibition, and two from Victoria - the musician C.T. Plunket, and the organ builder, William Anderson. Fuller evidently suffered the ignominy of mechanical failure at the time of the jury's inspection, for he received only a Fifth Award, the Official Record of the Exhibition reporting that

Fuller, Melbourne, exhibited an organ of very fair quality of tone; the jury were not, however able to test it fully, owing to some defect in the wind chest. [9]

This adversity did not prevent the organ being sold, and indeed, Fuller could probably not have wished for a more prestigious placement for his magnum opus than in Toorak Presbyterian Church, where it was installed in 1881.[10] The church bought it for 960 pounds [11] representing about 29 pounds per stop, this being comparable with Fincham's prices at the time.

Fuller's organ was placed in the apse of the church, where it remained until 1940. The demise of this fine instrument commenced in 1926 when it was rebuilt with tubular-pneumatic action. In 1940 it was again rebuilt, and divided, being placed in new cases to either side of the south transept. These rebuilds removed most of the integrity of the instrument and it was finally replaced altogether. It has since been rebuilt yet again and installed in St Leonard's School, Brighton.[12]

An early photograph of the organ in Toorak Presbyterian Church shows that the case incorporated many of the features evident in Fuller's subsequent instruments where the cases were of his own design. The stop list also portrayed the strongly romantic character that was embodied in all his organs, and both the physical appearance and tonal structure of Fuller's instruments clearly reflect the influence of his North American experience.

His adoption of the organ building trends of the New World clearly found favour in Melbourne and organists and church committees were enchanted by the profusion of voluptuous strings, flutes and reeds that Fuller offered.His organs attracted such descriptions as 'the instrument throughout is voiced to produce effects of sweetness and richness rather than brilliancy, and the reeds are of unusual excellence' (1884; Congregational Church, Kew) [13] and another of his organs was said to be 'rich, full and velvety and floods the building with sound which is never harsh or unsympathetic' (1888; Congregational Church, Ballarat). [14] This tonal excellence was attributed by Fuller to his use of imported metal pipes; wooden pipes he made for himself.

Although George Fincham had established production of metal pipes in Melbourne prior to 1865, Alfred Fuller and William Stone preferred to import their requirements, not only for the sound business reason of avoiding purchase from a competitor, but also for considerations of quality. A duty of 10% had been imposed in 1867 upon complete organs imported into Victoria, and this had later been increased to 20% and to 25% in 1877.[15] This was extended to include metal pipes and other organ components previously exempt, following an application from George Fincham in 1879.[16]

At a Royal Commission held in 1882 to examine tariffs on all goods entered into Victoria, Fuller gave evidence and expressed his objection to the tariff on pipes and parts. He said that he did not manufacture metal pipes 'at present', and that 'I cannot get metal pipe hands...' He stated that he considered imported pipes to be superior in quality of metal, in scaling, and in voicing. He also said that spotted metal 'does not produce a good tone with all stops; for instance a clarionet or cremona is not good with that metal, you cannot get the tone from it', and adding that a Vox Humana 'is done better by plain metal than spotted metal'. Despite the pleas of Stone and Fuller, the tariff remained, although it is ironic that it was removed after Federation of the Australian States, just after Fuller ceased organ building.[17]

At the 1882 tariff hearing, Fuller stated that he then employed three men and a boy of 17 years. He added that 'I could employ more if I could get them ... I would employ five or six more hands if I could get reliable men'. Contrary to Fincham's practice and philosophy, Fuller had little patience for Australian apprentices, and remarked 'I find that boys' labour does not answer here; they are worse than men as far as reliability goes ... it is very difficult to get boys to suit us ' .[18]

The cases designed by Fuller for his organs were always elegant and distinctive, and changed but little in their form and features over 20 years. The architectural style was usually one that might best be described as 'Early English', with crenellated pipe stay- rails, quatrefoil decoration, lavish mouldings, panels with stylised cusped arches, and pinnacles to the caps of the case columns. His cases mostly comprised a central flat of display pipes flanked by towers of pipes to either side. In both towers and flats, the display pipes were usually arranged with the largest to the centre. Towers of pipes were often in the form of projecting, three-sided bays of seven pipes, standing upon brackets of similar form, incorporating large quatrefoils carved into the foremost panels. Below the brackets, a piece of shaped wood was placed in the form of a corbel table, a feature of Norman architecture. Display pipes were embellished with carefully executed and tasteful decoration of distinctive motifs and character. A number of Fuller's cases were conceived with a false impost about half a metre below the central flat of display pipes, the intermediate panel incorporating seven or so cusped arches in the form of an arcade.

Through the entire period of his organ building, Fuller did not depart from the use of mechanical actions and slider wind chests. Although his refusal, or inability to adopt tubular-pneumatic actions may have lost him some orders, the superior durability of his effective and reliable mechanical actions has undoubtedly been a major factor in the survival and preservation of many of his organs that have given uninterrupted satisfaction for a century. Fuller's organ for the 1880 Exhibition was described as having 'pneumatic lever pallets',[19] and while this may be taken to imply some form of pneumatic lever action after the manner of that patented by Charles Barker, it is more likely Fuller utilised the much simpler course of incorporating pneumatic motors inside the windchest to neutralise wind pressure upon the pallets, and thus lighten the key touch. It is interesting to note that this form of 'relief pallet' has also been fitted to the Sydney Opera House organ.

Some additional information about Fuller and his work can be gleaned from advertisements. In one of 1885, he describes himself as 'from London', and offers 'Every description of Organs built, tuned and repaired ... Designs and estimates submitted ... All Work Guaranteed ... Importer of London Pipes and Reeds'. The same advertisement includes a fine testimonial from Rev. George Buchanan, Minister of Cairns Memorial Presbyterian Church, East Melbourne, that says:

Any work of excellence deserves, and should command the approbation of all true men. I therefore take great pleasure in applying this principle to the organ in the Cairns Memorial Church, East Melbourne. This instrument was built by Mr Alfred Fuller of Kew. All who have seen and heard it, agree that it excells in beauty of finish, sweetness of tone, and variety of combination. For all the purposes of public worship it is everything that could be desired.[20]

As well as installing his Exhibition organ at Toorak Presbyterian Church in 1881, Fuller built another, of two manuals, for the residence of A.H. Barlow, of Ipswich, Queensland. [21] These were followed in 1882 and 1883 by instruments for churches in the Victorian provincial city of Bendigo. For St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Fuller's organ was probably of two manuals and about 12 stops; that for St Paul's Anglican Church was also of two manuals, but with 22 stops. Both instruments were completely rebuilt and enlarged in the late 1950's.[22]

Fuller's organ of 1884 for Cairns Memorial Presbyterian Church, East Melbourne was also rebuilt and enlarged in 1915, and again in 1949; the case was designed by the architect J. Freeman.[23]

Also in 1884, Fuller built the first of two instruments for the Independent (Congregational) Church, Kew. This was of two manuals and 16 stops, with a case by the architect F.J. Smart, of Messrs Reed, Henderson & Smart. This organ proved so successful that Fuller was again engaged when a larger instrument was wanted. Of three manuals and 19 stops, this was opened in February 1891. It was rebuilt In 1962 with electric action and reduced to two manuals; its remains have since been removed and rebuilt again for the Lutheran Church at Mount Barker, South Australia.[24] Fuller's first organ at the Kew church was probably removed by him in 1891, but its subsequent history is so far unknown.

In 1885 Fuller completed two organs, one of these almost equalling the size of his Opus 1. This was for the Baptist Church, Collins Street, Melbourne and comprised three manuals, 32 stops and seven couplers; the specification was designed by the organist, Philip Plaisted, and the case was another by the architects, Messrs Reed, Henderson & Smart. The Great was of nine stops and 616 pipes; Swell, 11 stops, 784 pipes; Solo, seven stops, 368 pipes; Pedal, 5 stops, 150 pipes. Drawstop knobs for each department were 'grouped in different colours for distinction'. Blowing was by hydraulic engine, and was 'under complete control of the performer..for whose convenience a wind indicator is always in sight'.[25] This fine instrument, Fuller's second masterpiece, survived untouched until 1939 when it was rebuilt for the first time, and again in 1957 and 1976.

St Brigid 1886St Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, North Fitzroy Alfred Fuller, 1886. Drawing by Graeme Rushworth

The history of the Collins Street Baptist Church organ contrasts with Fuller's organ of 1886 built for St Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Of two manuals, 16 stops and three couplers, this instrument remains today as one of the best examples of Fuller's work in original condition; it was reconditioned in 1970. Typical of Fuller's best work, this delightful instrument fully conveys the integrity and spirit of its maker.

An organ of two manuals and 20 stops was built by Fuller in 1886- 87 for Hotham (later re-named North Melbourne) Methodist Church. This now reposes at St John's Lutheran Church, Geelong, and appears to be in fairly original condition, except for unfortunate alterations to the case.

The latter years of the 1880's brought Fuller orders from the Unitarian Church, Cathedral Place, Melbourne (1887; two manuals, 14 stops), and from the Congregational churches at Ballarat (1888; two manuals, 17 stops) and Brunswick (1888; two manuals, 13 stops). Others were built for Christ Church, Anglican, Brunswick (1889; two manuals, about 11 stops), and for St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in the Murray Valley town of Echuca (1890; two manuals, 10 stops). As well as completing his second organ for Kew Congregational Church in 1891, Fuller built the smallest organ that has been identified as his work - of one manual and five stops, with pedal pull-downs, for St John's Lutheran Church, Minyip, in north-west Victoria.

Between 1893 and 1900, the economic depression and struggle to recovery permitted very few churches to order organs, although Fuller was fortunate to secure contracts for about six in this time. These included instruments for Brighton Uniting (Methodist) Church (1893; two manuals, 16 stops), St John's Anglican Church, Heidelberg (1896; two manuals, ten stops), Scots Presbyterian Church, Fremantle, Western Australia (1897; two manuals, 10 stops), St John's Presbyterian Church, Essendon (1898; two manuals, 14 stops) and the Uniting (Methodist) Church, Mackenzie Street, Bendigo (about 1899; attributed to Fuller, two manuals, nine stops).[26]

At the turn of the century, when Fuller was about 55 years of age, he gave up organ building altogether and joined his son Ernest in a real estate business[27] styled Fuller & Fuller, of 142 Union Road, Ascot Vale. In his later years, he resided at 47 Eglinton Street, Moonee Ponds.[28] After suffering five years of heart disease he died at St Aiden's Private Hospital, Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds. His death occurred on 10 June 1923 when he was in his 78th year and he was buried in the Church of England section of Boroondara Cemetery, Kew. Alfred Fuller was predeceased by his wife Josephine, née Richardson, whom he had married at the home of her parents (James S. Richardson, an ironmonger, and his wife Margaret, née Hill) at St Kilda, on 3 August 1874 when he was 28 years of age. He was survived by his elder daughter Florence, and his two sons, Alfred Harold and Ernest Leslie.[29]

Of about 25 instruments so far known to have been built by Fuller (this figure includes two organs attributed to him, but as yet unconfirmed), 11 remain in original, or in fairly original, condition today.[30] These comprise a unique part of Australia's organ heritage, and their preservation must be assured.

No records of Fuller's business are known to survive, and as yet no photographs of him or his premises have been located. None of his letters have been published, although many undoubtedly exist in church archives and should be copied. There is certainly much that is yet to be discovered and learned of the person, his life and work, and this presents an exciting challenge to someone for further research.

I would like to express my gratitude to John Maidment and John Stiller for their generous assistance in compiling a list of Fuller's organs, and also to the latter for providing access to photographs from which the drawings were made.

Appendix 1

A list of organs built by Alfred Fuller of Melbourne, 1879-1899  [31]

This list has been updated by John Maidment and Geoffrey Cox, and now appears separately under Opus Lists and Order Books

Appendix 2

Some stop lists of Alfred Fuller organs, 1880 - 1897


1880, for Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81 [32]


    GREAT                            CHOIR

    Open Diapason            8       Open Diapason             8

    Stopped Diapason         8       Viol de Gamba             8

    Clarabella               8       Viola                     8

    Dulciana                 8       Principal                 4

    Principal                4       Flute                     4

    Dolcan                   4       Piccolo                   2

    Weld Flute               4       Cremona                   8

    Twelfth               2-2/3      Orchestral Oboe           8

    Fifteenth                2

    Mixture                          PEDAL

    Trumpet                  8       Open Diapason             8

                                     Bourdon                  16

    SWELL                            Trombone (wood)          16

    Bourdon                 16

    Open Diapason            8       COUPLERS

    Stopped Diapason         8

    Keraulophon              8       Swell to Great

    Principal                4       Swell to Choir

    Gemshorn                 4       Swell to Pedal

    Flageolette              2       Great to Choir

    Fifteenth                2       Great to Pedal

    Cornopean                8       Choir to Pedal

    Hautboy                  8       Octave [Great]

    Clarion                  4


    1885, Congregational Church, South Melbourne [33]


    GREAT                            SWELL

    Open Diapason                    Lieblich Gedackt          8

    Claribel                8        Keraulophon               8

    Viol d'Gamba            8        Suabe Flute               4

    Principal               4        Oboe                      8

    Har. Piccolo            2        Tremulant to Swell

    COUPLERS                         PEDAL

    Swell to Great                   Bourdon                  16

    Swell to Pedals

    Great to Pedals

    1886, St Brigid's R.C. Church, Fitzroy, Victoria.[34]


    GREAT                            SWELL

    Open Diapason            8       Open Diapason            8

    Claribel                 8       Lieblich Gedackt         8

    Dulciana                 8       Keraulophon              8

    Principal                4       Geigen Principal         8

    Concert Flute            4       Flageolette              2

    Twelfth               2-2/3      Oboe                     8

    Fifteenth                2       Tremulant to Swell

    Bassoon-Clarinet         8

    PEDAL                            COUPLERS

    Grand Open Diapason     16       Swell to Great

    Bourdon                 16       Swell to Great

                                     Great to Pedal


    1888, Independent (Congregational) Church, Ballarat, Victoria [35]


    GREAT                            SWELL

    Open Diapason           8        Lieblich Bourdon         16 (b)

    Rohr Flote              8        Violin Diapason           8

    Cone Camba              8        Clarionet Flute           8

    Dulciana                8        Salicional                8

    Principal               4        Gemshorn                  4

    Concert Flute           4        Harmonic Piccolo          2 (c)

    Flautina                2 (a)    Oboe                      8

    Corno de Bassetto       8        Tremulant

    COUPLERS                         PEDAL

    Swell to Great                   Grand Open Diapason      16

    Swell to Pedal                   Bourdon                  16

    Swell Super Octave

    Great to Pedals


    Pipes of 'Cathedral scales'; concave and radiating pedal board;

    hydraulic blowing engine from Messrs Taylor, Melbourne; 3 composition

    pedals to Great, 2 to Swell; lever Swell pedal; compass 56/30.[35]

    Notes:(a) and (b), stop knobs engraved Flageolette 2 and Double

            Diapason, respectively. (c) Harmonic Piccolo 2 has been

            replaced by Voix Celeste 8 (Ten. C). Console has been re-located

            at a lower level.


    1897, Scots Presbyterian Church, Fremantle, Western Australia [36]


    GREAT                            SWELL

    Open Diapason            8       Lieblich Gedacht         8

    Claribel                 8       Viola da Gamba           8

    Dulciana                 8       Lieblich Flute           4

    Principal                4       Cornopean                8

    Piccolo                  2       

    PEDAL                            COUPLERS

    Bourdon                 16       Swell Octave

                                     Swell to Great

                                     Swell to Pedal

                                     Great to Pedal



     1.Government Statist, Melbourne (death and marriage certificates, A.



     2. Papers presented to Parliament, Second Session, 1883, Vol. 3,

        Tariff Report of the Royal Commission, pp. 1234-48.


     3. A. Sutherland (ed.), Victoria and its Metropolis Melbourne:

        McCarron, Bird & Co., 1888. Vol.2, p.602;

        Public Record Office,Victoria.


     4. Papers, etc., op. cit.


     5. F.C.A. Barnard, Jubilee History of Kew - its origins and

        progress, Kew: Mercury Office, 1910, pp. 37,66,76; D. Rogers,

        A History of Kew, Kilmore: Lowden Publishing Co., 1973,

        pp. 132-3.


     6.Sands' & McDougall's Melbourne & Suburban Directory, 1873-1880;

       Sutherland, op.cit.


     7. The Illustrated Australian News, 6 Nov 1880, p. 211.


     8.'Melbourne Exhibition Organ', reprint from Carlton Advertiser and

        Hotham Chronicle, 16 Apr 1881.


     9. Melbourne International Exhibition 1880-81 Official Record,

        Melbourne: Mason, Firth & McCutcheon, 1882, pp. 53-4, vii.


    10. J.R. Maidment, 'The Alfred Fuller Exhibition Organ, 1880',

       Victorian Organ Journal, Sept 1975, pp. 3-4.


    11. E.N. Matthews, Colonial Organs and Organbuilders. Carlton:

        Melbourne University Press, 1969, p. 155.


    12. Maidment, op. cit.


    13. The Argus, 3 May 1884, p. 9.


    14. The Australian Independent, 15 June 1888.


    15. Papers, etc., op. cit.


    16. Matthews, op. cit., p. 17.


    17. Papers, etc., pp. 1241-7.


    18. ibid.


    19. Illustrated Australian News, up. cit.


    20. Sands', op. cit., 1885, p. ix.


    21. J.R. Maidment, pers. comm., 21 June 1982.

    22. See forward to source (31).


    23. Sands', op. cit., 1885.


    24. See forward to source (31).


    25. The Argus, 14 Aug 1885, p. 5.


    26. See forward to source (31).


    27. Matthews, op. cit., p. 55.


    28. Sands', op. cit., 1901-1923.


    29. Government Statist, op. cit.: The Argus, 11 June 1923, p. 1.


    30. J.R. Maidment, pers. comm., 27 June 1982.


    31. This list, and details of organs given In the text, was

        compiled from various sources including E.N. Matthews, op. cit.,

        pp. 108-168; J.R. Maidment, Gazetteer of Australian Pipe

        Organs; Victorian Organ Journal; pers. comm. from J.R. Maidment

        and J.E. Stiller, June-July 1982.


    32. Illustrated Australian News, op. cit.


    33. Matthews, op. cit., p. 213; J.E. Stiller photographs.


    34. Matthews, op. cit., p. 213.


    35. Australian Independent, op. cit.


    36.J.R. Elms, 'Organs in Western Australia', Organ News, June 1975, p.4.

© The Organ Historical Trust of Australia

First published in OHTA News, vol. 6, no. 4 (October 1982), pp. 3-19.