Carcoar's Kirkland Organ

For the past 123 years, a small pipe organ has adorned the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Carcoar. Built in 1868-1870, the church was designed by architect Edward Gell, who came to Bathurst to supervise the construction of St. Michael and John’s Church, now the Cathedral. He stayed on, and during the next 30 years he designed over 130 churches, homes and public buildings in the central west, and Carcoar is the finest of his small churches, according to Bathurst architectural historian Graham Lupp, who is recognised as the world authority on Gell.

Gell was born in Yorkshire, in the north of England; and perhaps it is no coincidence that, when it was decided an organ was needed for Carcoar, the Yorkshire organ builder Alfred Kirkland was chosen. Built in 1890 in his Holloway Rd London workshop, the organ was installed in Immaculate Conception Church and blessed by Bishop Byrne at both morning and evening services held on Sun 26th July, 1891, with organist, clergy and choir travelling from both Bathurst and Orange to augment the locals. The organist from St. Joseph’s, Orange, a Mr Croome, played for the occasion.

Ever since, the organ has been a centre of musical and cultural life both in the church and also for the wider Carcoar community. It has lent its voice to weddings, funerals and other special celebrations in the church, as well as enhancing regular Sunday worship.

The small Kirkland organ is also rather unique. It is the original of only two organs by this moderately important English builder ever to come to Australia – and the only one still in its original situation. (The other organ was installed in Albany, WA, in 1894, but was demolished several decades later and put into storage until being re-erected in recent years. It needed considerable repairs to reinstate it however, as it lost numerous pipes and components in a fire whilst in storage).

Our Kirkland is a fine instrument, though small – it has a clear beautiful tone, contrasted with delicate flutes. For its size, it is a very versatile instrument, well suited to the size of the church.

The organ also has links to two significant figures in Australian Catholic church music – one of those involved in obtaining the organ for Carcoar was Nathaniel Connolly, the local Police Magistrate (whose family still worship in and care for the Carcoar church), and his great-grandson Richard Connolly is one of the most substantial Australian hymn-writers and liturgical composers of the last 60 years. He is Patron of the Organ Restoration Appeal. Moreover his collaborator in producing the influential Living Parish Hymnbook in the 1960s was Father Tony Newman, whose aunt Sister Dominica Newman RSM was organist here for many years.

Carcoar’s Kirkland organ has had minimum attention since it went in - there is evidence that one of the larger wooden pipes was repaired in March 1908; and there are just three other annotations in the remaining 105 years. It was ‘tuned and repaired’ by RO & OE Peterson, who styled themselves ‘Organ builders, Orange’, possibly in the 1930s; another inscription reads: ‘Tuned Ante-Rebuild’ by T.S. Weigren, OrgelFabrik (organ builder), 27-xi-67 (the ‘rebuild’ never appears to have eventuated). And finally, it was cleaned by me (Tim Cahill) in January 1982. The original hand-pump for the bellows survives, but was augmented with an electric blower in about 1984.

Organ Appeal

After many years of use, with natural wear-and-tear, and the dry inland climate of Carcoar, the organ is showing a fair bit of deterioration. While it has remained playable, the tuning leaves much to be desired; several notes and pipes no longer work (and there is a lot of debris throughout the inside of the organ, not only dust etc, but plaster which has fallen off the back wall of the church!). The keyboard and pedalboard action has worn, and some notes are becoming difficult to play. Several keys stick and keep sounding at times, while others play two notes at once. The soundboard in the windchest has warped and cracked in the hot dry climate, producing several ‘runnings’ (notes which sound when they shouldn’t), as well as losing air. Moreover the bellows (which supply air to the pipes) are badly worn, and were only working at about 30% the day we dismantled the organ. They had deteriorated noticeably in the previous month or two.

With its heritage significance recognised by artistic and pipe organ circles Australia-wide, the decision was made by the parish to launch an Organ Appeal for its restoration. Consequently, after 18 months of fundraising, and with advice from the Organ Historical Trust of Australia (OHTA) through our Organ Consultant Pastór de Lasala, the contract for the work of restoring the Kirkland organ was let late last year to Campbell Hargraves of Hargraves Pipe Organs, and the organ was dismantled by a team of skilled volunteers and shipped off for the necessary repairs to his Melbourne workshop on Wednesday 4th December last year. (The team included, besides Campbell Hargraves himself, Dr. Andrew Mariotti (a Melbourne organist), Pastór de Lasala, Justin McDonnell and Father Tim Cahill).

The organ appeal target is $40,000 - of which we have so far raised just over $15,000 … so the fundraising will have to continue for a few years yet.

The Organ Committee is looking for creative ways to raise the funds. In addition to our monthly or bi-monthly Sunday afternoon concerts, we have printed a series of Postcards of Carcoar and the organ (historic and modern-day); last August we also recorded a CD of the organ (with a couple of singers and a flute), which is available for $15 (or $20 posted). The CD has already aroused interest locally and interstate, being a mix of more traditional organ music, along with modern hymns and pieces, religious and popular - together with some ‘standards’ such as Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus.

The Committee is also offering a ‘Sponsor-a-Pipe’ scheme, whereby donors can have their name (or the name of their loved one) permanently recorded against one of the 212 individual pipes, and the names will be on permanent display next to the refurbished organ. Interested Donors are invited to sponsor a pipe for $100, or one of the 19 façade ‘show’ pipes for a premium of $200-$500. Several people have already sponsored pipes in memory of departed ancestors who once worshipped in the church, for instance. Donations over $2 can be tax deductible, if desired.

After 123 years of stalwart service in the praise of God, with this little refurbishment, it should continue to serve Carcoar’s congregation trouble-free for at least another 100+ years, to the greater glory of God.

Father Tim Cahill

Further information about any aspect of this project is available by phoning Father Tim on 0427 125 690 or emailing him on (remove XX) cathpres XX @bigpond XX .com. CDs may be ordered through the Carcoar Kirkland Organ Committee, PO Box 24, Blayney NSW 2799.

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