SCHOOL OF ARTS (former building)

cnr Queen & Creek Streets, Brisbane

Anonymous and undated
For sale at this location 1873
1 manual & pedals, 6 speaking stops, mechanical action
Subsequent history unknown

The North Brisbane School of Arts, c.1877
[Photograph: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland]


Historical and Technical Documentation by Geoffrey Cox
© OHTA 2012 (last updated July 2012)

The Brisbane School of Arts was inaugurated at a public meeting in the Court House at North Brisbane (the present central business district) on 24 September 1849, and the first School of Arts building on this site was opened on 4 October 1851.1 The inaugural President was W.A. Duncan, Sub-Collector of Customs, who was also the first Choir Director of St Stephen's Catholic Church.

The 1851 building was replaced by the so-called 'North Brisbane School of Arts' on the same site, for which the foundation stone was laid in September 1864. The property was sold to the National Bank in 1872, but it continued to be used as the School of Arts until the latter institution moved in May 1878 to the old 'Servant's Home' in Ann Street (on the west side between Albert and Edward Streets), which had been purchased for the purpose in 1873.2 From around 1851 to 1864, the old School of Arts building had been used for Presbyterian worship,3 and the new building was reportedly used by a chapter of the Masonic Lodge for a period up to the end of 1872.4

The School of Arts building arranged for a
Masonic ceremony in the early 1870s
[Photograph: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland]


A small organ of unknown origins was advertised for inspection at this location on 1 February 1873. The advertisement appeared amongst those on the front page of The Brisbane Courier as follows:5


FOR PRIVATE SALE, a Fine-toned
CHURCH ORGAN, 8 stops: - Stopped
diapason (treble & bass), principal, flute,
dulciana, and fifteenth, octave coupler,
and pedal stop.

This organ is at present erected at the
School of Arts, North Brisbane, and can be
inspected by intending purchasers on
application to the undersigned.



The date of the advertisement may suggest that the organ had belonged to the Masonic Lodge, but a thorough search of Lodge minutes and records has failed to find any reference to the instrument.6 James R. Dickson, J.P. was listed in the Post Office directory around the time as 'auctioneer, Queen-st., Brisbane, p.r. Toorak, Breakfast Creek,'7 and the wording of the 1873 advertisement suggests that the organ was erected there specifically for exhibition and sale.

A search of the records of the School of Arts (both at the John Oxley Library and at the Brisbane City Council Library), undertaken by Mr David Vann, revealed no evidence that an organ was ever owned by the School of Arts or permanently located there.8 It did, however, uncover what appear to be a job order and request for payment for setting up the organ at the School of Arts in December 1872 (reproduced below).9

Documents cited by David Vann in Brisbane City Council Archives,
Fortitude Valley, July 2004


Transcription 1:


job order

Messrs Gordon & Robinson
as Exbibition Sub Committee
to John Campbell

To work & labour
overtime … removing
organ &c as agreed
with Mr Wilson

[signed] P.R.G
[and others]



Transcription 2:

P. Webster, Esq.
Dear Sir,
Would you kindly
oblige me by paying bearer a
a sum of 10/- amount of a/c
of my man John Campbell
for his time in removing organ
&c as per his a/c. W. Robinson
informs me the a/c was passed
ordered to be paid.

W. H. Wilson


The origins of the organ are obscure. It is possible that the 'Mr Wilson' to whom reference is made was the Hon W.H. Wilson, MLA, associated in the 1880s with the procuring and sale of at least two other organs to churches in Brisbane,10 and this may simply represent an earlier instance of the same practice. There is also a remote possibility that this was the organ owned by W.A. Duncan, the inaugural President of the School of Arts. Duncan's instrument was listed for sale at his residence 'Dara' in Fortitude Valley when he returned to Sydney in 1859.

The subsequent fate of the organ is equally obscure, and possible connections with other known instruments reveal no further clues: It is tempting to conjecture that this was the organ installed in 1874 at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley, which is thought to have been built in 1850 by Timothy Russell of London. Even the sketchy surviving details of the latter suggest, however, that it was several stops larger than the organ exhibited in the School of Arts. The specification of the organ at the School of Arts is also very similar to that of the instrument installed secondhand in 1904 at the Baroona Road Congregational Church, Milton, but the latter included a barrel attachment (not mentioned here) and it had an Open Diapason whereas the School of Arts organ had a Dulciana.

The total of '8 stops' to which the advertisement refers can be assumed to include the coupler and each half of the divided rank separately. The specification was probably as follows:

Stopped Diapason Bass
Stopped Diapason Treble


Octave coupler




Mechanical action


1 Historical Plaque on present Bank building, cnr Queen and Creek Streets; Queensland Heritage Council, Queensland Heritage Register, location 600072 (School of Arts, 166 Ann Street).

2 Percy E. Hunter, The Brisbane School of Arts Centenary Booklet, 1849-1949 (Brisbane, c.1949); Queensland Heritage Register, op. cit.

3 Richard Bardon, The Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland, 1849-1949 (Brisbane: W. R. Smith & Paterson, 1949), pp. 20, 25. See: St Andrew's Uniting (formerly Presbyterian) Church, Brisbane.

4 Dianne Byrne, A Travelling Photographer in Colonial Queensland: The Work of William Boag (Brisbane: State Library of Queensland, 1994), p. 78.

5 The Brisbane Courier (1 February 1873), p. 1.

6 Personal communications to G. Cox from David Vann, April-May 2004.

7 Queensland Post Office Directory, 1874.

8 David Vann, 'The Disappearing Organ,' The Organ Voice, vol. 32, no. 2 (June 2005), pp. 26-28; Personal communication to G. Cox from David Vann, July 2004.

9 'Accounts and Audit' Records of the School of Arts, Brisbane, held in the Brisbane City Council Archives, Fortitude Valley – cited by David Vann, July 2004.

10 see: St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fortitude Valley and Uniting (formerly St Andrew's Presbyterian) Church, Gympie.