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The St James' Organ Replacement & Restoration Appeal


The great work has been done…now for the hard work!
Donate now and help complete the project


The dream is almost a reality.

The new Bicentennial Organ has been installed in St James’ Church.

Skilled craftsmen from Dobson Organ Builders were in Sydney from early January to mid-February
2024. They unpacked all the components shipped from their workshop in the USA and quickly
erected them.

We now see a wonderful new instrument: gleaming silver and gold-tipped facade pipes, gorgeous
timber casework showcasing restrained but stunning decorative panels that echo the architecture of
the church, a beautiful four keyboard console. And, of course, there are all the inner workings: pipes,
blowers, and mechanical and electronic parts.

The installation vividly demonstrated the complexity involved in creating a significant organ, the
magnitude of the project, the incredible skill of the Dobson team – and the reasons for the cost

Two tasks remain before the organ is dedicated on 21 July, the Sunday prior to St James’ Day and the
commencement of the inaugural concerts.

The first is to “voice” the new organ now it is in place. This entails tuning each of the thousands of
pipes to meet required musical specifications. That process will be completed over the next few
months. Only then will the new instrument be ready to be properly played and heard. 
The second task is to continue to help pay to complete the project.

Through the generosity of wonderful supporters, the Organ Appeal has raised a total of $2.3 million.
This has already been spent on work to date. The cost of the instrument alone is a little over $3
million, plus all the associated acoustic and building construction work required in the church
building. The Appeal now aims to raise a total of $3 million by July to reduce as much as possible
the level of loan funds needed to pay for the works.

Can you help reach this target? Perhaps you might consider adding a further amount to your
previous donation during the current financial year? Or you might know others who could
contribute? Tax-deductible donations can be made at
All donations make a difference.

It is now a matter of months before we will share the thrill of witnessing the organ’s first
performances. At that time, we will be able to proudly say we have all contributed to making a
game-changing and fabulous new investment in the future of wonderful music at St James’.
Thank you for being a valued supporter of this exciting project.

Robert Marriott
St James’ Organ Replacement and Restoration Appeal

Dobson Factory Fire

Organ articles in St James' Connections

The St James' Organ Appeal Update: 1 June 2020

The St James' Organ Appeal and COVID-19

New Pipe Organ Announcement

The Current Organ at St James' Church

New Organ Specification

Dobson Factory Fire

The Chair of the St James' Organ Replacement & Restoration Appeal Committee, Mr Robert Marriott, sent a letter to donors following news of the fire that destroyed the Dobson factory.

Organ articles in St James' Connections

Updates on the progress of the new St James' Organ appear periodically in the St James' Church magazine, St James' Connections. Click here to view the relevant extracts.

The St James' Organ Appeal Update

The Chair of the St James' Organ Replacement & Restoration Appeal Committee, Mr Robert Marriott, wrote to donors on 1 June 2020 with an update on the progress of the Appeal during COVID-19. You are welcome to read it here. Most significantly, the Dobson workshop only had to close for three weeks due to COVID-19 restrictions, so any delay to the project should be minimal.

The St James' Organ Appeal and COVID-19

Many fundraising organisations have issued statements to their donors about the steps they have put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a letter was sent to our donors on 15 April (read the letter here) about how the Appeal has been affected by these challenging times.

In summary, we can report that Dobsons Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd. have suspended operations until it is safe for work to resume, and this means that there is likely to be a delay to the construction of our organ. However, the Appeal is still very much in place and funds will be available when work on the project gets underway again.

These are indeed trying times. Now, more than ever, we will all look forward to eventually hearing our new organ once we have come through these dark times.

New Pipe Organ Announcement

On Sunday 4 March 2018 it was announced that terms have been agreed with Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd of Lake City, Iowa, USA for the construction of a new organ for St James’ Church. Dobson’s have built up an excellent international reputation for building high quality instruments and have recently completed work at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York and Merton College, Oxford.

A Fundraising Appeal Committee, chaired by Mr Robert Marriott, has been established by the St James’ Music Foundation to help raise the funds for the project (including on-costs), which will be around $3 million AUD. As with the Conservation Appeal, we will be seeking philanthropic and government grants as well as private donors to support the project. The launch of the appeal will be held on Friday 6 April in the Church.

The first organ was installed in 1827 and rebuilt several times (most recently in 1971); but it is now in a perilous state, suffering frequent malfunctions and costing noticeably more to maintain. Consideration was given to restoring the current organ, however a range of expert advice over several years has concurred that the present instrument is not of sufficient musical or historical value to merit retaining.

In addition to an exhaustive global search for a suitable organ builder, a large amount of engineering and acoustical preparation work has been done to ensure that the new organ will be well-suited to this historic building. In this way the Church will end up with a more versatile instrument than the current one, enhancing its use both in worship and concerts.

It is planned that the new Dobson organ will be completed in late 2020 and will be a major component of the upcoming Bicentenary Celebrations of St James’ Church.

The Reverend Andrew Sempell

Rector, St James' Church, 7 March 2018

The Current Organ at St James' Church

The first organ at St James’ was by John Gray of London and was installed in 1827. It was rebuilt and moved around the church many times during the 19th century, mostly by the Sydney organ builder William Davidson. In 1901 it was moved from the south side of the church in the present-day Chapel of the Holy Spirit, to its present position on either side of the choir stalls, and the action (the connections from the keyboards to the pipes) was changed from mechanical to tubular-pneumatic (operating on air in a vacuum).

By this stage, the vast majority of the organ’s material was still by Davidson, despite claims that the organ contained pipework from the 1827 instrument. Considerable alterations were made to the organ throughout the 20th century, with a significant amount of the pipework being replaced.

Finally, in 1971 the organ was extensively rebuilt and ‘modernised’ by Hill Norman and Beard (Australia) Pty Ltd. The action was converted to electric (with a combination of electro-pneumatic and direct electric operation), soundboards were significantly altered, pipework was entirely re-voiced, and a new large console built. A significant number of stops was also added at this time, including an entirely new ‘floating’ Positive division of 9 stops, a short-compass Trompette Militaire stop on the Choir division, and many other tonal alterations typical of the period, with the then new instrument totalling 67 stops.

The present organ has now given over 45 years of excellent service, with almost legendary reliability, but the mechanical aspects of the instrument are starting to fail. Some problems are obvious to the congregation: for instance, the wheezing from the organ during Lent 2017, caused by perished leather on the bellows (the reservoirs of pressurised air which make the pipes speak), and the absence of colourful stops such as Clarinet or Trompette militaire (because the corresponding bellows have had to be disconnected owing to holes in the leather, and notes which stick because of mechanical or electrical failings). Some problems have to be hidden by the ingenuity of the organist (working around missing notes and unpleasant sounds which are result of mechanical or electrical failure or poor construction of pipes). Whilst the organ in its 1971 format was reasonably successful mechanically, it was never regarded highly among musicians for its tonal quality. Even the earliest 19th century pipework was known to have been of indifferent quality, and subsequent replacements have had only limited success. While the 1971 work rationalised and improved some tonal aspects, it left the church with an instrument which has never entirely fulfilled its purpose, and with the passing of time, the Neo Classical tonal additions were of course recognised as inappropriate and incongruous.

Whilst giving good mechanical service, there are also some very basic design and construction issues in the organ, not just from 1971. These include the main slider soundboards (c.1901) which, despite their rebuilding, still show clear evidence of inferior construction and inadequate operation, presumably dating from their earliest days. Visually, whilst the organ may have possessed some quaint qualities when moved to its present position, the casework remained incomplete until 1971, at which stage it was ‘completed’ by the addition of modern pierced metal screens at the East end of each side, of lamentable quality and appearance. Further, the expanded specification meant than not all interior pipes could be properly masked by the casework, and these can be seen protruding from many perspectives in the Church. In addition, the 1901 spotted metal 8’ façade pipes are of poor quality, and have not aged well.

Over the last 26 years various organ builders passing through Sydney have informally examined the organ in varying levels of detail according to time available. All have agreed that an essentially new instrument is required, but some of the existing stops can be retained (both for musical and sentimental reasons).

We look forward to preserving St James’ reputation of fine music-making with the replacement and restoration of the organ.

Adapted by Alistair Nelson (Organist, St James’ Church) from a document dating from 2015 written by Organ Builder, Peter Jewkes, who was also Assistant Organist and Choirmaster at St James’ from 1985 to 1994.

New Organ Specification

Please view the table below or visit the Dobson website.

Additional Controls

• All Swells to Swell

• Generals on Swell Toe Pistons

• Great & Pedal Pistons Combined

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