The First Fleet Piano: Volume One


In 1728, the music theorist Roger North wrote: ‘I have ever found I did not well know my owne thoughts, till I had wrote and reviewed them; and then for the most part, mists fell away, and fondness and failings appeared in a clear light.’1

I begin by thanking the Australian Research Council for the generous Discovery Grant2 that enabled me to write and review ‘my owne thoughts’.

Stewart Symonds, whose collection of pianos possesses an immense power to inspire, has been endlessly generous with both his time and his knowledge.

Dr Philomena Brennan OAM shared her wisdom and perspicacity through constructive criticism, unreserved kindness and continued encouragement.

Gavin Gostelow ‘brought together the strands of … unwieldy … draft[s] and [tied them] … into a more elegant bow than I could ever have hoped’.3 I was often the beneficiary of his insights during peripatetic dialogues through some of Australia’s most wonderful keyboard instrument collections.

Sir Roger Vickers KCVO FRCS and Lady Joanna Vickers shared their comfortable London house, a genteel oasis in the City.

Julian and Katy Bauer, Colin and Christine Edwards, Daphne James, Jay Johnson, and Anthony and Jane Wood, with characteristically Liskeardian generosity of spirit, offered valuable insights and quiet, abounding hospitality.

I am deeply grateful to my gentle, loving and kind friends John and Christine Morhall, who unhesitatingly provided a serene haven in their elegant Singapore home.

Dr Alan Turner, of the Royal College of Surgeons London, supplied information associated with the eighteenth-century removal of bladder stones.

Gary Crockett, Curator of the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, gracefully cut through the institutional red tape that threatened to entangle the placement in Elizabeth Farm cottage (if only for a day) of the 1780/86? Beck square piano.4

Christopher Groenhout and Roy Williams allowed their photographs of the first-floor drawing room of William Bradshaw’s home to be included.

My deep appreciation goes to Paul Kenny, who willingly provided information drawn from William Bradshaw’s business records.

Robert Clarke, whose forthcoming PhD dissertation will undoubtedly become a seminal work in relation to the life of George Bouchier Worgan, ‘saved me from terrible error’5 by ‘trusting me with the secrets of his years of toil’.6

I extend my gratitude to Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments at Westminter Abbey, for his caring assistance.

Dan Johansson, Curator of the Stockholm Music and Theatre Museum, Sweden, graciously helped me shed light on the First Fleet piano’s date of manufacture.

Stanley Hoogland, one of the world’s great fortepianists and a master teacher, kindly assisted in locating the whereabouts of a 1772 Beck square piano.

Alan Rubin, eminent antiques dealer, generously sent a photograph and provenance details of a 1773 Beck square piano.

Uwe Fischer of the Bachhaus, Eisenach, cordially sent photographs of the museum’s 1774 Beck square piano.

Graham Walker, erudite restorer and collector of early pianos, Dorset, UK, shared his extensive knowledge, and provided photographs both of the 1776 Beck square piano and of an instrument whose nameboard inscription tantalisingly identifies Frederick Beck and George Corrie as its makers.

James Wright, Associate Professor and Supervisor of Performance Studies at the School for Studies in Art and Culture (Music) at Carleton University, Ottawa, enthusiastically provided photographs of the university’s 1777 Beck square piano.

I am grateful to Thomas Strange both for his encouragement and for his photographs of his 1778 Beck square piano.

Elisabeth McGregor, Curator/Archivist of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, Sharon, Massachusetts, graciously supplied photographs and provenance details of the Trust’s 1782/87? Beck square piano.

Thanks, too, to Inger Jakobsson-Wärn, Director and Curator of the Sibelius Museum, Turku, Finland, for generously sending photographs of the museum’s 1783 Beck square piano.

John R. Watson, Conservator of Instruments and Mechanical Arts and Associate Curator of Musical Instruments of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia, furnished a photograph of the Foundation’s 1785 Beck square piano.

David Hackett and Andrew Snedden braved the devoted multitudes at Piano Auctions Limited in Conway Hall, Holborn, London, to take photographs and measurements of the ca 1790—serial number 2580—Beck square piano.

Malcolm Rose sent valuable data associated with and many photographs of one of the two extant Frederick Beck tangent action square pianos.

Brian Barrow liberally provided vital information, a friendly welcome and unhindered access to his Longman & Broderip square piano of 1785/86?, an instrument that raised more questions than it answered.

Phillip Barrow kindly offered invaluable advice within the context of a detailed and timely critique.

Elizabeth Ellis OAM, the enchantingly collegiate historian and Emeritus Curator of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, imparted helpful guidance with grace and subtlety.

José Gutierrez and Wolf Krueger shared their colourful reminiscences of life in mid-twentieth-century Sydney.

Michael Lea, Curator of the Powerhouse Museum’s musical instrument collection and ‘a gentleman of keen insight’,7 was characteristically amiable and helpful; his replies to my every query were exhaustive and authoritative.8

I am indebted to Scott Carlin, Manager of House Museums at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, for his courteous assistance.

Lucy Coad and Andrew Lancaster furnished photographs of, and information concerning, one of the two extant Broadwood square pianos dating from 1783.

I extend my grateful thanks to the ever-generous Michael Cole, whose research combines passion with uncompromising rigour, and whose encyclopedic knowledge has a timeless quality that makes his insights required understanding for anyone who seeks to comprehend the complexities associated with the Classic era9 piano.

My sincere gratitude goes to Emeritus Professor David Tunley AM FAHA, who contributed a foreword that greatly enhances the value of the book for those who know him as the fine human being and great scholar that he is.

Deb and Steve Watkinson lovingly provided the writing space within which serenity was attained.

The redoubtable Susanne Hewitt, exemplar of Australian fortitude, whose love of the absurd and profound enriched research’s pilgrimage road, not only dispelled the obstructive mysteries enshrouding Spanish bus timetables, but also underwrote the exploration of Liskeard’s historic inns (for purely research purposes).

A final and vital acknowledgment goes to Jan Borrie, who copyedited the manuscript with sensitivity and a keen and learned eye.

Those mentioned above are now part of the First Fleet piano’s legacy, and the story is far from over.

To those who hindered rather than helped:

[T]he high-quality products of the creative impulse … [can] be distinguished from the destructive one by … [their] propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it. Builders of concentration camps [for example,] might be creators of a kind … but they were in business to subtract variety from the created world, not to add to it.10

History shows that evil always overreaches itself. To those who (with shameless hypocrisy) contentedly manufacture prestige-creating, self-advancing opportunity in the interstices of institutionalised coercion and subjugation, and who are ‘willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves’,11 I ask: ‘what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?’12 ‘For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.’13 God will get to you shortly.

I have made every effort to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. I apologise for any errors or inadvertent omissions, and would be grateful to be notified of any corrections that should be incorporated into this book; I will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

So often, when writing this book, I disappeared from the normal rhythms of daily life. That I did not vanish completely beyond a far horizon is due chiefly to Dr Andrew Lu OAM, to whom this book is dedicated.

1 J. Wilson (ed.), Roger North on Music: Being a Selection from his Essays Written during the Years c. 1695–1728, transcribed and edited by J. Wilson (London: Novello & Company, 1959), p. xxiv.

2 See Australian Research Council Discovery Grant No. DP0773740, in ‘Listing by all State/Organisation [PDF Format]’ in ‘2006 for funding commencing in 2007’ in ‘Discovery Projects Funding Outcomes’ in Australian Government: Australian Research Council, p. 274.

3 C. Clarke, ‘The English Piano’, in M. Latcham (ed.), Musique ancienne—instruments et imagination. Actes des Rencontres Internationales harmoniques, Lausanne 2004 [Old Musical Instruments and Imagination. Proceedings of the International Harmonics Meeting, Lausanne 2004] (Berne: Peter Lang, 2006), p. 239.

4 See Footnote 15 in ‘Introduction’, this volume. See also Chapter 2.

5 G. S. Gadd, The British Art Piano and Piano Design: A Conversation with a Reader with Many Digressions (Middlesex: The Very Yellow Press, 2006), Vol. 1, p. 277.

6 Ibid., p. 275.

7 Ibid., p. 277.

8 See K. Hafner, A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), p. 240.

9 See Footnote 2 in ‘Introduction’, this volume.

10 C. James, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time (London: Picador, 2007), p. xix.

11 B. K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1–15 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 96. Quoted in T. Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), p. 203.

12 Holy Bible, New Living Translation, 2nd edn (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Matthew 16:26, p. 1144.

13 Ibid., James 3:15–16, p. 1426.