By W. Bro. Dennis Middendorp, PM Lord Carrington Lodge, No. 111 UGLV

Organist :

Arcadian Veritas No. 340 UGLV

Lodge Devotion No. 723 UGLV

Lodge Garibaldi No. 890 UGLV

Lord Carrington Lodge No. 111 UGLV

Victorian Naval & Military No. 49 UGLV

Melbourne, St. Claire, Reunion No. 17 UGLV

Acknowledgements :

I would sincerely like to thank the following people for their encouragement and input …. W. Bro. Damien Hudson, PM Lodge Devotion and Masonic historian for initiating the idea of an article for Lodge Devotion newsletter, which has grown into this paper.

Mr. John Maidment, OAM, Immediate Past Chairman ( after 40 years ) of the Organ Historical Trust of Australia ( OHTA ) for providing much useful information, images , photographs and specifications of organs.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Above, Pipe Organ in the Grand Hall of Freemasons' Hall, London


Take yourself back in your imagination to Marvellous Melbourne in the latter half of the 19th century, a period of robust economy and growth, largely driven by the fabulous wealth from the gold fields.

The town of Melbourne had grown into a city of magnificent public buildings and mansions of the wealthy.

Following British example, public buildings took pride in placing magnificent organs therein, and due to protectionist policies in Victoria, “ colonial “ organ builders gained the advantage over imported products.

The foremost of these artisans was Brother George Fincham, whose organ manufactory in Richmond produced more than 150 instruments for Australia and New Zealand under his direction from 1862 until his death in 1910. Fincham was born in England, and had been apprenticed to and worked for various prominent organ builders there until he emigrated to Australia in 1852. His life has been well documented and many of his instruments still exist; working perfectly today. The largest unaltered example is in the church of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, at the top of Victoria Street Hill in West Melbourne. It was my privilege to have been part of the organising team for its' restoration in 1992. Do yourself a favour and visit this magnificent building, which has also been wonderfully restored, and glance up at the organ in the rear gallery.

The three largest and most important instruments to leave the Fincham factory were those for the Exhibition Building, Freemasons Hall, Collins St. and the Australian Church, the latter being the only survivor although in an altered state and divided between two locations. The superb case is in the Sacred Heart Church, Carlton, where it forms the facade for a later Fincham organ, and the “ innards “ forms the nucleus of the large organ in Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne, which was rebuilt by George Fincham and Sons, P/L with a distinctive facade.

We should also mention the other “ Grand “ organ in the city at this time, at the Town Hall, which was built by the eminent English firm of Hill and Son in 1870. This company later built the organ in Sydney Town Hall in 1890, which was, at the time, the largest in the world.

As will be demonstrated throughout this article, all these instruments and buildings had Masonic connections.

The Masonic Fraternity has been an integral part of life in Melbourne from the earliest days of settlement. An article in the North Melbourne Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1889 (page 4) on the history of Melbourne, states :

“ …. from 1835 when John Batman arrived …. until 1848, chief progress included the building of 70 shops, 450 houses, laying the foundation stone of St. James Anglican Cathedral, and the formation of a Masonic Lodge. “

The Argus newspaper of 4 March 1939, included an article entitled “ Bygone Days “ where it recorded the laying of the foundation stone of the first Supreme Court House in Melbourne ( corner Russell & LaTrobe Sts ) on 25 July, 1842 with “ full Masonic honours .”

The same paper on Tues. 29 December 1846 (page 2) carried a lengthy article on Freemasons marching through the city to lay the foundation stone of the Temperance Hall in Russell St. “ The proceedings throughout were characterised by the greatest decorum although the concourse of people assembled was immense ! “

Throughout my research for this paper, I found it astonishing how frequently and with such detail, Masonic functions were reported in the news of the day. In the 19th century, Freemasonry did not appear to be considered a “Secret Society “, being widely publicised, including many public functions of a social and charitable nature.


Melbourne's first Exhibition Building was constructed in 1854 on the present site of the Royal Mint in William St. ( cnr. Latrobe St. ) and exhibitions were held there in 1854, 1861 and 1866. It was 257 ft. long, 90 ft. wide and 50 ft. high, and the interior was filled with light coming from 200 large windows and a roof largely made of glass. By 1869, it was in a decrepit state and demolished in that year.

1854 sketch of the original Exhibition Building in Melbourne, demolished 1869

1854 sketch of the original Exhibition Building in Melbourne, demolished 1869


Reported by the Illustrated Melbourne Post ( page 367 ) :

Formerly, in those days when Mayors of Melbourne were not given to treating their citizen constituents to fancy balls as they are just now, when there were no volunteers in the land to organise a “ hop “ a la militaire and when the dancing mania, so far as it manifested itself in public, was placed under restraint by the terms of a very stringent publicans' law, the annual ball given under the auspices of the masonic body was undoubtedly the greatest salutatory effect of the year. Even at a very early day in the life of the colony, the Freemasons were a numerous and important section, their lodges multiplied rapidly, and the “ mystic tie “ was soon acknowledged by thousands in the land.”

A description of the ball follows : “ …. the company numbering some 400 and including His Excellency the Governor and the ladies of his family, and nearly all the principal officers of the fraternity in the colony.

The ball room was handsomely decorated with the emblems and insignia of masonry and with the elegant dresses of the ladies and glittering regalia worn by their partners, produced a very striking, though to the outsider perhaps, a fantastic “ coup d'oeil “. Our illustration represents the reception of His Excellency and party by the brothers of the Rose Croix and Knights Templars under the mystical “ arch of steel “ composed by the drawn swords of the initiated. “

Illustrated Melbourne Post – “Our illustration represents the reception of His Excellency and party by the brothers of the Rose Croix and Knights Templars under the mystical “ arch of steel “. Old Exhibition building 1866

Illustrated Melbourne Post – “Our illustration represents the reception of His Excellency and party by the brothers of the Rose Croix and Knights Templars under the mystical “ arch of steel “. Old Exhibition building 1866

This building housed an organ built by Smith & Co. Bristol in 1854 which had been purchased by the Melbourne Philharmonic Society. It would seem to have been moved to the hall of the new Public Library, where exhibitions were held from 1866 onwards.

The Argus, Monday 12 April, 1869, (page 4) describes the following scene :

The Art Treasures Exhibition at the hall of the Public Library …. about 1500 persons were present when Mr. J.A. Edwards the accomplished organist at All Saints Church, St. Kilda, presided at the Exhibition organ, whose wretched condition and elevated position effectively prevented the proper effect. This is not the magnificent one erected by Mr. Fincham for the Intercolonial Exhibition, but the old organ of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society, and its' most important stops are unworkable. “

This organ went to Holy Trinity Church, East Melbourne in 1869, where it served until 1905 when it was destroyed by fire.

The “ magnificent “ organ built by Fincham referred to, was built in 1866 for the Intercolonial Exhibition, also known as the Third Melbourne Exhibition of Natural Products and Works of Art, where it was described by The Argus, Saturday 27 Oct., 1866 ( page 2 ): Mr. D. Lee presided at the organ built by Mr. Fincham of Richmond. When completed, it will be the largest in the colony. At present only the Swell organ is constructed, the Great and Choir organs being wanting. “ This is our first mention of Brother David Lee, who became Melbourne's first City Organist. More about him later. This organ was never finished, and was eventually installed in St. Jude's Anglican Church, Carlton, where it survived until recent times, when it was badly damaged in an arson attack.

The Illustrated Melbourne Post of 1866 shows the interior of the hall entitled “ Intercolonial Exhibition: Interior of the Centre Hall – Reid and Barnes, Architects. “ An organ is clearly visible at one end, but bears no resemblance to that of 1854 or 1866. Perhaps it was a case of “ artistic license “ ?


As was the usual custom in the early days of the colony, Freemasons met in private rooms of hotels. The first Masonic Hall in the city of Melbourne was in Lonsdale St. The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers

Mon. 5 Oct., 1868 ( page 4 ) reported :

“ BANQUET AT THE NEW MASONIC HALL …. The Masonic Hall Company, having recently purchased the premises situated in Lonsdale street, formerly occupied as the Insolvent Court, have entirely renovated and fitted them up into offices for the use of the order. The principal feature in the building is the grand hall, which formerly served for the public business of the court.

Its' dimensions are in length 50 feet, in breadth 26 feet, and in height 24 feet. On the evening of Monday the 14th September, the new hall was inaugurated by a complimentary banquet given by the Lodge of Australia

Felix ( No.474 ) ….. the impressiveness of the ceremony …. being materially enhanced by the performances on the harmonium by Brother Schott. “

Page of the Illustrated Australian News, of 5 Oct 1868 giving an account of the Inauguration banquet of the first Masonic Hall in the city of Melbourne in Lonsdale St. Mon. 5 Oct., 1868

Page of the Illustrated Australian News, of 5 Oct 1868 giving an account of the Inauguration banquet of the first Masonic Hall in the city of Melbourne in Lonsdale St. Mon. 5 Oct., 1868


On Fri. 17 May, 1872, the North Eastern Ensign ( Benalla ) ( page 2 ) gave this account :


“ The usual monthly meeting of the first constituted lodge of Freemasons in the colony of Victoria, Lodge Australia Felix, took place on the 13th inst. at the Freemasons Hall, Lonsdale St. …. “

“ The brother who presided at the harmonium on this occasion, was not that great composer, Henry Benjamin ( more of him later ) who, it appears, is the official harmonium grinder of this lodge. On the same date and place, the Duke of Sussex Lodge met in the upper room for business purposes and a similar ceremony took place; the harmonium being very efficiently played by a member of the lodge, Bro. I. Mayall. “

The toast given to the musical brethren and those connected with music, was “ responded to by Bros. Kilner ( also more of him later ), Fincham, Myall and Blazey. In the course of Bro. Fincham's remarks, he said that the cost of an organ suitable for lodge purposes would, comparatively speaking, be trivial. Now Bro. Fincham, being a professional organ builder, his remarks should have weight and consideration. The present appliances in the Masonic hall for carrying out the beautiful ritual connected with Freemasonry – musically speaking – is simply a disgrace.

The two instruments presently in use are simply instruments of torture to anyone possessing the slightest idea of musical sound, and I am not surprised at professional brethren not caring to play upon them.

There is certainly some “ talk “ about counteracting the evil complaint.”

Brother Fincham duly obliged by building an organ for the hall in 1873.

The Age, Tues. 28 Oct., 1873 ( page 2 ) carried this item : “ A very excellent organ which has been built by Mr. George Fincham of Richmond for Lodge Combermere, No.752, E.C. and erected in the upper room of the Freemasons Hall, Lonsdale street, was last night opened with all due ceremony in a full lodge meeting. Brother Brain …. fairly tested the instrument, which combines ample power with great sweetness of tone.

Technically, it may be described as containing 10 sounding stops, 3 couplers and 3 combinations, affording an abundant variety of tone and giving scope for the performer to display a vast amount of skill. “

In another account of the organ, in The Ovens and Murray Valley Advertiser ( Beechworth ) Thurs. 30 Oct., 1873 ( page 3 ), it mentions :

The tone of the organ has been aptly subdued in quality to suit the purposes for which it has been erected. “

This organ had a relatively short tenure, being sold to St. Silas' Anglican Church, Albert Park in 1885, possibly due to the imminent move of the Brethren to the new Grand Lodge building in Collins St. It was in use until around 1972, when it was removed and broken up, being used as parts for other organs. Unfortunately, no photograph of this organ has been found.


Prior to the purchase of the premises in Lonsdale St., the intention of building a new Masonic hall must have been on the cards for some time.

The Argus, Thur. 5 July, 1866 carried a small news item :

The Masonic Hall Company held their first half yearly meeting at the Royal Mail Hotel, Bourke street yesterday evening …. the progress made towards the establishment of a masonic hall in Melbourne was satisfactory and on a firm basis. A site considered central and convenient for the different lodges had been selected in Albert street, near the Baptist Chapel, and with frontage to that street of seventy feet. The price, 1,225 pounds, was to be paid one fourth in cash, and the balance by bill at six, nine and twelve months, bearing interest at eight per cent. The directors further stated their regret that the shares had not been inquired for as eagerly as anticipated, which they attributed to the passive and depressed state of business; during the past month however, the brethren had displayed more energy …. “

What happened to the Albert Street site is unknown to the author, and the Fraternity ended up in Lonsdale St.

Other meetings followed : in 1873 ( Sat. 15 Feb. ) the Weekly Examiner, ( Launceston ) reported :

PROPOSED GRAND MASONIC LODGE OF VICTORIA . A meeting of Freemasons was held on 5th inst. at the Masonic hall, Lonsdale street Melbourne, Mr. A.K. Smith presiding, when a resolution was carried unanimously, that it was desirable to form a Grand Lodge of Victoria. It was also agreed that a memorial should be sent home to the three grand lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland, pointing out the necessity of having a grand lodge here, and praying the home grand lodges to recognise it. “

An 1882 image of the Hall Lonsdale St. hall, which was in use until the Collins St Masonic Building was constructed

An 1882 image of the Hall Lonsdale St. hall, which was in use until the Collins St Masonic Building was constructed

The Argus, Tues. 24 April, 1883, carried the news :


A meeting of masters and past masters of lodges under the three Masonic constitutions was held yesterday evening in the Masonic hall, Lonsdale street, to take into consideration the formation of a company for the erection of a Masonic temple. Bro. Dr. Wilmott, W.M. 752, E.C. was called to the chair, and in opening the proceedings, stated the object of the meeting. He pointed out at length the great need of a hall, not only in which to hold their meetings, but a building of which the Masons of Melbourne might be proud. Bro. Cappa, W.M. 474, E.C. said it had entered his mind long ago, that the place in which they were assembled, was no credit to the Masonic fraternity. He contrasted it with the halls at Sandhurst, Ballarat, Wagga Wagga and other places, and had come to the conclusion that Melbourne was much behind other towns in Australia, considering its' population and wealth. He also objected to the uses to which the present hall was put by the directors, in allowing freethinkers and secularists to assemble therein. He was of the opinion that the time had arrived for Freemasons to look out for other premises.

The Chairman ….. was prepared to make a proposition that they form a Masonic Hall Company. A long discussion then took place with regard to the position of the present company ( the one from 1866 ? )”

It was stated that 12 months ago, arrangements had been made for the erection of a new building on the present site, but the scheme had fallen through. It had been ascertained that the proprietors of the existing hall would offer no opposition to the formation of a new company. “

Further meetings were held to discuss the construction of a new Masonic hall. On Thursday 1 Nov., 1883, The Argus reported on a meeting held the previous day: “ ….. for the purpose of considering what steps should be taken for the erection of a new Masonic hall, Brother Sir William Clarke occupying the chair. It was unanimously resolved that the Freemasons Hall Company Limited with a capital of 20,000 pounds in shares of 1 pound each should be floated. “


Over time, the Lonsdale St. building proved too small, and as we've read, wasn't considered suitably grandiose for “ Marvellous Melbourne “. The Argus, Fri. 27 Mar., 1885 ( page 6 ) gives this explanation :

For many years past, the Masonic hall in Lonsdale St. east, has been the place of assembly, but the increase in population and the natural growth of the order therefrom demanded a building of larger dimensions …..

finally the extensive block in Collins St. east, the property of the executors of the late Dr. Hardy was purchased.”

First to be built was the residential Masonic Club, which rented the property from the Freemasons Hall Company. The new hall was to be built at the rear of the club premises, extending through to Flinders Lane.

In a description of the proposed hall, The Argus continues :

….. it will be approached through an arcade, 11 ft wide, which leads to a spacious vestibule 36 ft by 25 ft. Opening on to this vestibule, is the large public hall, intended for concerts, balls, etc. covering an area of 90 ft by 54 ft, with in addition a stage or platform at the end, 22 ft x 20 ft, the height being 36 ft. The architects have most carefully studied all the requirements necessary to ensure the hall being an acoustical success.”

(The stage was where the Grand organ was later placed.)

“The hall will be handsomely decorated with niches to each side divided by bold pilasters supporting the ceiling beams, whilst the ceiling will be panelled. The hall will be lighted by means of windows on each side and by two large sunlights in the ceiling.”

The mezzanine floor housed the refreshment room, 56 ft x 25 ft, and the upper floor “ is to be used exclusively for Masonic purposes. The first room is the large banqueting room, 47 ft x 41 ft, which communicates by a hoist arrangement with the kitchen on the lower floor. The next principal room in size is the main lodge room, 58 ft x 32 ft, with a large recess for the organ. In addition, this room is provided with an ante room, also dressing and preparation rooms. A second, but smaller lodge room, 47 ft x 42 ft with similar ante and preparation rooms, and dressing rooms is also arranged. All the rooms to the upper floor are 20 ft in height. The lighting arrangements are adapted to the special requirements for Masonic purposes, whilst the question of ventilation has been carefully considered.” The latter would have been important considering that the lighting would have been provided by gas.

The contract for the building has been taken by Mr. D. Mitchell, at a sum slightly less than the architects estimate by Messrs. Grainger and D'Ebro, 29 Queen St. Melbourne, who gained first prize some years since for the best design in the Masonic hall competition. “

The architect, Brother John Harry Grainger of this firm, was the father of probably the most famous composer in Australian history, Percy Grainger.

Brother David Mitchell was a renowned builder, whose extensive work in Melbourne included the Scots Church, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the Exhibition Building.


Continuing the extensive article, The Argus reported :

Yesterday, the Freemasons of Victoria gathered in great strength, the occasion being the laying of the corner stone of the new Masonic hall. “

Public servants were given the day off, and “ The Railway Commissioners had granted holiday excursion tickets from the country towns. “

Describing the march : “ The route of the procession up Collins St. down Spring St. up to Flinders lane was crowded with spectators; but excellent order was preserved owing to the police arrangements. The procession having arrived at the site of the corner stone ( Flinders Lane ) a short interval ensued whilst a photograph was taken. All being in readiness for the ceremony, the choir, numbering over 100 voices and accompanied by the band under the direction of Brother David Lee D.G. Organist E.C. sang the ode “ Father of Mercies “ with fine effect.

Sir William Clarke then addressed the gathering in the quaint and peculiar language used on such occasions. “

The executive committee made a presentation to Sir William Clarke of the parchment document, cornucopia containing vessels of wine and oil, and trowel and mallet used by him in laying the foundation stone.

The blade of the trowel bears on the point an open bible surrounded by a blazing sun. Below are the square and compasses …. the inscription :

“ Presented to Brother the Honourable W.J. Clarke, Bart. MLC, District Provincial Grand Master of the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the Freemasons hall, Melbourne, March 1885, by Brother D. Mitchell, contractor. “

Photograph laying the foundation stone for the Collins Street Masonic Building Melbourne Australia. The photograph was taken from the rear in Flinders Lane.

Above, view of laying the foundation stone for the Collins Street Masonic Building. The photograph was taken from the rear in Flinders Lane.


Construction of the hall progressed satisfactorily, and on Thur. 11 Mar., 1886, The Argus ( page 8 ) reported this story :

NEW FREEMASONS HALL. At the invitation of Mr. D. Mitchell, contractor for the erection of the new Freemasons hall, Collins St. east, about 100 ladies and gentlemen yesterday assembled on the occasion of testing the acoustic properties of the building. A very enjoyable concert was given. Mrs. Armstrong, nee Mitchell, was received with hearty applause when she made her appearance on the platform. “ There follows a detailed description of items sung by Mrs. Armstrong. Later, “ A toast was drunk to Mr. Mitchell

the building would bear favourable comparison with any of the other fine structures with which his name was associated in Melbourne.”

In conclusion, the speaker said : “ It was much regretted that Mr. Mitchell was going to take his daughter to England, for her beautiful voice could be ill spared by the city of Melbourne ( Cheers ). “

Mrs. Mitchell went on to become the world's first “ Super Star “ …... Dame Nellie Melba !

Photograph of a performance in the organ gallery at the western extremity of the Great Hall of the Exhibition Building, 21 December 1907. The photograph shows Dame Nellie Melba and other dignitaries in the foreground with a large orchestra and choir extending back to the organ pipes. A notation of on this photo notes “Removal of Grand Organ May 26th-August 27th 1965

Photograph of a performance in the organ gallery at the western extremity of the Great Hall of the Exhibition Building, 21 December 1907. The photograph shows Dame Nellie Melba and other dignitaries in the foreground with a large orchestra and choir extending back to the organ pipes. A notation of on this photo notes “Removal of Grand Organ May 26th-August 27th 1965

Rare photo of a Masonic Function at the Exhibition Centre, prior to 1965 when the organ was removed. The photo is suspected to have been taken in the 1940s or 1950s.

Rare photo of a Masonic Function at the Exhibition Centre, prior to 1965 when the organ was removed. The photo is suspected to have been taken in the 1940s or 1950s.


In March, 1887, articles were carried in both The Argus ( 17th ) and The Australasian ( 19th ) relating to the opening of the new hall. The Argus reported as follows ( page 29 ) : “ The proceedings commenced at half past 2 o'clock, when Sir William Clarke opened the District Grand Lodge of Victoria, E.C. In No. 3 lodge room.” Two other lodges were simultaneously opened in lodge rooms 1 and 2. Shortly afterwards all the brethren formed a procession and marched to the main hall. “ While the procession was filing in to the hall, a march was played on the organ by Bro. Geo. Peake who also had charge of the musical arrangements. “

At the end of the report, this statement is made : “ This was the first consecration of a Masonic hall ever performed in Melbourne, and considering the difficulties and magnitude of the affair, those responsible for its' management must be congratulated on the excellence of the arrangements, every detail being carried out without the slightest hitch, and with the utmost order and decorum. “

Grand Lodge Victoria Building 25 Collins St Melbourne Australia. Freemasonry

These statements pose two questions …..

  • What organ was used in the hall? There are no records of an organ there until 1889 -90 when the Grand organ from the 1887 Exhibition was purchased and installed.

  • Was the Lonsdale St. hall never consecrated ….. or had the Argus reported made a mistake ?


In 1888, Fincham & Hobday ( by now his business partner ) built and exhibited an organ for the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition. It was a relatively large instrument, of 3 manuals and 42 speaking stops, and was awarded the “First Order of Merit. “ Back in Collins St. the Freemasons must have required extra space, as the Inquirer and Commercial News ( Perth ) Wed. 4 Sept., 1889 ( page 3 ) reported :

The plans for the additions to the Freemasons Hall, Collins St. have been approved. The grand organ exhibited at the Exhibition by Messrs. Fincham & Hobday has been purchased by the company.

The hall when altered, will seat about 350 persons more, and will be in size and seating accommodation very much like St. James' Hall, London.”

organ at the Freemasons’ Hall in Collins Street Melbourne

Above, image of the organ at the Freemasons’ Hall in Collins Street Melbourne


Photograph of the Masonic Hall in Collins Street Melbourne

Photograph of the Masonic Hall in Collins Street Melbourne

As with Dallas Brooks Centre in the 20th century, Freemasons hall in Collins St. proved a popular venue for public functions.

The large public hall was sometimes referred to as the Concert Hall of the Freemasons hall.

Examples of public use : Melbourne Punch, Thur. 17 Feb., 1887 ….

The popularity of Mr. S. Mirls, locomotive superintendent of the Victorian Railways was evinced most unmistakably on Saturday night, at the soiree given at the Freemasons hall, Collins St. east, when some ( ? ) hundreds of employees of the Railway Department assembled for the purpose of bidding him farewell prior to his leaving the colony on a visit to Europe and America. “

The Argus on Sat. 20 Nov. 1887, carried this story, which makes one wonder as to the quality of the acoustics in the main hall :

A peculiar scene occurred at the annual dinner of the Old Colonists Association at the Freemasons hall, Collins St. last night, and for a time seriously marred the harmony of the proceedings.”

A lengthy report is given about various speakers who were inaudible in parts of the hall, with ….. “ frequent interjections of “ can't hear a word “ and “ speak up “. A reverend gentleman spoke next to propose a toast to the Association, which he did “ in loud clear tones, but his words were also lost a few yards from him in the echo of the building.”

At the end of the speech, Mr. Smith a member of the council of the Association rose to state that because the previous speakers couldn't be heard throughout the hall, perhaps some improvements might be made. However, he was met by “ …. cries of “ sit down “ and others of a similar purport. However he declined to sit down and strove to be heard above the din, which was made up of laughter and indignant yelling “ The person next to him, Mr. Emerson, a solicitor, pulled gently on his sleeve in an attempt to encourage him to be seated, but the other angrily pulled away and dragged his sleeve across Mr. Emerson's face …. “ whereupon Mr. Emerson became heated and loudly expressed his wish that Mr. Smith should be turned out, offering to make good to effect his expulsion. Thereupon, Mr. Smith challenged Mr. Emerson to “ try it on “. Just opposite was a little old gentleman, who had all the time been vociferously demanding that Mr. Smith should go home and put his head under the bed clothes .” Finally the Chairman exerted his presidential authority and ….. “ quietness and harmony were eventually restored for the remainder of the evening. “

The hall was also used for a variety of other functions . A notice in the Ballarat Star, Mon. 26 Jan., 1891 ( page 3 ) read : “ THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC, LONDON : Intending candidates for the South Province ( Victoria ) Scholarship in connection with the Royal College of Music, London, are reminded that the examination takes place on Tues. 3rd Feb. at the Freemasons Hall, Collins St. Melbourne. “

The scholarship had been founded by the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria, Sir William Clarke, and one of the later successful applicants would become another Melbourne City Organist and organist of Westminster Abbey, Sir William McKie.

We also find in Melbourne Punch, Thur. 14 June, 1900 : “ Mons. Paul Bibron the well known fashionable professor of dancing and calisthenics has secured the use of the Freemasons Hall, Collins St. east for the season of his private classes and assembly. “


photograph of the organ at the Freemasons’ Hall in Collins Street Melbourne

Above, photograph of the organ at the Freemasons’ Hall in Collins Street Melbourne

The opening of the Grand organ was announced in The Age, Mon. Feb. 17, 1890 ( page 4 ) :

An organ recital and ballad concert will be held next Saturday evening to celebrate the opening of the new organ. “

Perhaps the opening wasn't a complete success, as The Argus, Thur. 27 Feb., 1890 reported :


The first of a series of organ recitals took place yesterday afternoon at half past four in the Freemasons hall, in the presence of a moderate attendance. The organ, the specification of which was given in The Argus of Monday last, is a large one of three manuals and 55 draw stops.

On this occasion though not perfectly in tune, it was heard to much better advantage than at the formal opening last Saturday, when the intermittent water supply nearly ended in a complete fiasco. A second hearing fully confirms our opinion expressed then as to the general good quality of tone. Messrs. Fincham and Hobday may be congratulated on having produced a very fine instrument. “

The water supply problem alluded to was a common one with large organs in those days. Before the advent of the electric blower to supply wind to the bellows, motors powered by water from the mains supply were used. If the pressure was insufficient, or intermittent, it played havoc with the sound of the instrument. The first concert hall organ in Australia was in the Albert Hall, Launceston ( and still survives in original condition ) and used a water motor which is still in situ in the basement and can still be used.

On 5th May, 1890, The Argus ( page 8 ) noted :

FREEMASONS HALL ORGAN RECITAL AND BALLAD CONCERT. There was a slight improvement in the attendance at these entertainments on Saturday, and all lovers of organ music who were present, spent a most enjoyable hour and a half. Mr. G.B. Fentum was the organist … make us wish to hear more from the same. Altogether Mr. Fentum's organ recital was one of the best we have ever listened to in this city. “

Fentum was a Grand organist and will be mentioned in the biographies at the end of this article.


The Town Hall organ, built in 1870 by the eminent English firm of William Hill & Sons, however, continued to be the preferred instrument for public concerts and visiting recitalists, despite its' shortcomings.

In 1890, the Sydney City Council invited the most famous concert organist in the world, Mr. W.T. Best, to give the opening series of concerts on their new Town Hall organ, also from Wm. Hill & Sons . This organ achieved world wide recognition for being the largest in the world, and had another claim to fame as being the only one in the world possessing a stop of 64 ft length, i.e. a row of pipes, the largest of which was 64 ft long. This was not to be achieved again until 1929 when the gargantuan organ for the Atlantic City Auditorium , USA, was built. It too has a 64 ft stop and remains today the largest musical instrument in the world.

W.T. Best ( 1826 -94 ) was a Freemason and Liverpool City organist for nearly 40 years, presiding at the magnificent organ at St. George's hall, built by the rival firm of Henry Willis.

His Sydney concert series was an outstanding success, with audiences at some numbering over 7000 ! Unfortunately, Best didn't exactly have a good time there, suffering a bad fall down a flight of stairs and contracting a bronchial condition. By the time he arrived in Melbourne, The Leader, Sat. 13 Sept., 1890 ( page 27 ) wrote the following :


“ The audience present in the Town Hall on Monday evening had little idea that the performance they were listening to was to be the only recital Mr. Best would give upon the Town Hall organ. The great organist, while loud in his praises of the instrument as regards beauty of tone, found that playing a continuous series of pieces upon it entailed an amount of physical fatigue which would render it an act involving grave risk for him to attempt to give a second recital. The Town Hall organ is an instrument of which Melbourne citizens have long been proud, and as mentioned above, it leaves little or nothing to be desired as regards the sounds it is capable of producing; but in the almost entire absence of any appliances for manipulating the stops and lessening the amount of force requisite to press down the keys, great physical exertion devolves upon the player.

Mr. Best found himself at the conclusion of his recital on Monday in a completely prostrate condition.

With the view of discovering whether any of the other organs in the town could be made use of for the purpose of giving recitals, Mr. Best on Wednesday morning paid a visit to the Exhibition, to the Australian Church in Flinders street and to the Freemasons Hall. The organ at the Exhibition was almost, if not quite, as deficient in mechanical appliances as that of the Town Hall, while the other two instruments tried, though adequate for the purpose for which they were built, are by no means suitable for such recitals as those of Mr. Best; it may therefore be taken as a settled thing that no further opportunity will be afforded of hearing Mr. Best in Melbourne.”


Perhaps it was because of the public demand for use of the hall that the Grand Lodge deemed the organ took up too much valuable space, as we see a notice in The Age, Wed. 20 Nov. 1901 ( page 6 ) which read :

An advertisement elsewhere states that the large pipe organ at present in the Freemasons Hall, 25 Collins St. is for sale .”

It took a while, but the organ was eventually sold in 1905 for the ludicrously low sum of 925 pounds to Ebenezer Vickery, MLA, Sydney, who had it installed in the Lyceum Hall. He donated the hall and organ to the Central Methodist Mission in 1908, where it remained until 1929 when it was broken up. A sad end to the third largest organ built in 19th century Australia, and the largest ever to be situated in a Masonic building here.

A letter from George Fincham & Sons from 1905, when the organ was sold gives the dimensions:

“ Floor measurement across front 20 ft.

Height of highest pipe 29 ft.

Highest point inside swell box 18 ft 6 in.

Back to front 18 ft.

15 -20 tons weight. “

In the 1920s, Geo. Fincham & Sons built two new organs for Collins St.

In 1921 for No.2 lodge room, consisting of 2 manuals, pedal, and 13 stops with one stop, named Viol Sourdine being a gift from Mr. L. Fincham.

In 1925, lodge room No.1 received an instrument of 2 manuals, pedal, and 12 stops. What instruments were in these lodge rooms prior to the 1920s in unknown to the author.


Even though the address of Freemasons hall was 25 Collins St., it actually accounted for 7 street numbers, having expanded into the building next door, to the east, around the time of the second world war.

In 1971, a plan was put forward to re – develop part of the east end of Collins St., the so called “ Paris end “, with two 47 storey towers, to be known as “ Collins Place “. As a consequence, all the buildings east from Exhibition St., 17 – 65 Collins St., 22 – 70 Flinders Lane, and 44 – 60 Exhibition St. were demolished. At the time, well known newspaper columnist, Keith Dunstan described it : “ Taking in the scale of annihilation at a glance, is enough to make you flinch. “

Newspapers called it the “ Blitz of Collins St. “ and 1972 as “ the year of the wrecker. “ Freemasons hall was one of the first to be demolished by

…. the Roman Catholic Whelans, which made for a lot of chiacking at the golf club. Owen Whelan ( grandson of the founder, Jim Whelan ) ribbed his masonic mates …. oh we're doing it all for free ! “

From : “ A City Lost and Found – Whelan the Wrecker's Melbourne. “

by Robyn Annear ( pages 246 – 49 ). Reproduced with permission.

Copyright Robyn Annear 2014. First published 2005. Reprinted 2006.

Published by Black Inc. an imprint of Schwartz Publishing Pty. Ltd.

Prior to demolition ( around 1968 ), the organs from the 1920s were removed and placed in storage.


When the new Dallas Brooks Masonic centre was opened in 1969 by the then State premier ( and Freemason ) Sir Henry Bolte, George Fincham & Sons built 5 new instruments for it.

The largest one was situated in the main lodge room No.1, and comprised some parts from the old organ in No.1 lodge room from Collins St.

It consisted of 2 manuals, pedal, and 19 speaking stops, and was situated in a recess along one side wall.

The other organs for the smaller lodge rooms were 1 manual, 3 rank extension instruments, some parts of which had come from the old organ in No.2 lodge room, Collins St.

In the main auditorium, Fincham built a facade for a proposed instrument, which was never built. Instead, a cinema organ comprising parts from Compton, Christie and Aeolian was installed behind the facade.

The Fincham facade was classified in 2002 by the National Trust, and the Victorian Heritage Database report reads :

A unique pipe organ facade, designed by the architects of the hall,

Godfrey & Spowers, Hughes, Mewton & Lobb and constructed by George Fincham & Sons. This consists of flue pipes ( with flat rather than the customary conical feet ) of random lengths and diameters, placed without visible support. A central motif, of shorter pipes and brighter alloy, stands forward and provides an abstract reference to the outline of Victoria.

Horizontal copper reed pipes punctuate the design. The facade has a strongly sculptural quality and is unlike any other known grouping of organ facade pipes. It is a design of great originality representing an unorthodox and imaginative solution. “

Although unfortunately a pipe organ will not be built in the new Masonic centre, this facade will be incorporated into the building.

Thankfully, all the Dallas Brooks organs have found new homes, with the No.1 lodge room instrument being donated to Geelong Grammar school.

East Melbourne Dallas Brooks Hall Main auditorium. In the main auditorium, Fincham built a facade for a proposed instrument, which was never built. Instead, a cinema organ comprising parts from Compton, Christie and Aeolian was installed behind the facade

East Melbourne Dallas Brooks Hall Main auditorium. In the main auditorium, Fincham built a facade for a proposed instrument, which was never built. Instead, a cinema organ comprising parts from Compton, Christie and Aeolian was installed behind the facade


Camberwell Masonic hall had a small 1 manual organ of 5 speaking stops by an unknown builder. It was removed from the hall and installed in a private residence in Heidelberg in 1969. Its' current status is unknown.

The Morton Ray Masonic temple in Dandenong Rd. East Caulfield was opened in 1922, and acquired a small instrument by the organ builder W.L. Roberts in 1935. I had 1 manual with 4 speaking stops. It was removed and went to the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement museum where, as far as is known, it remains in storage.

Kyneton Masonic hall had a small 1 manual instrument of 2 ranks built by a member of the lodge, the late W. Bro. Doug Price between 1966 – 70.

According to the lodge Secretary, R.W. Bro. Brian Davenport, Doug built all the organ himself, including wooden pipes, wiring, console, etc. The metal pipework however, originated from an organ built by London organ builder, George King, circa 1860. ( Communication from John Maidment, OAM Past President, Organ Historical Trust of Australia ). The original home of this organ was a Tasmanian church, and it later wandered “ overseas “ to Melbourne, where it was installed in St. Clements Church, Elsternwick. It was eventually acquired by the late Bro. Bill Glasson, who broke it up. Unfortunately, the organ has been dismantled, as a result of developing a fault which is beyond the means of the lodge to rectify.


Mention has been made of the Hill organ in the Melbourne Town Hall, where Bro. David Lee was the first City Organist, and where Bro. W.T. Best gave his one and only Melbourne recital. It was also the venue for the Installation of Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as Inaugural Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889. A well known photograph of this event is housed in the Collingwood Masonic Centre, and other locations. Unfortunately, the hall and organ was destroyed by fire in 1925.

Installation of Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as Inaugural Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889 at the Melbourne Town Hall, showing organ in background. This photo is well known in Masonic circles.

Installation of Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as Inaugural Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889 at the Melbourne Town Hall, showing organ in background. This photo is well known in Masonic circles.

Above. A lesser known photograph of the Installation of Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as Inaugural Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889 at the Melbourne Town Hall. Unlike its better known counterpart image, this one is take from further back in the room showing less detail of the organ, but more of the galleries giving a better sense of the large attendance.

Above. A lesser known photograph of the Installation of Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as Inaugural Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889 at the Melbourne Town Hall. Unlike its better known counterpart image, this one is take from further back in the room showing less detail of the organ, but more of the galleries giving a better sense of the large attendance.

Another picture of the Melbourne Town Hall’s original organ. The interior of the old smaller Town Hall auditorium that was destroyed by fire in 1925.

Another picture of the Melbourne Town Hall’s original organ. The interior of the old smaller Town Hall auditorium that was destroyed by fire in 1925.

The Exhibition Building in Carlton was the largest building in the country when constructed, and contained the largest organ ever built in 19th century Australia and by a colonial organ builder, Bro. George Fincham.

Bro. David Mitchell was the contractor for the building, and Bro. George Peake (Grand organist) being the organist for the concert series of 1888 under the direction of Sir Frederick Cowan. Masonic meetings were also held here, no doubt when numbers were too great for the Collins St. hall.

The organ was built from 1880 - 81 and at the time was the 20th largest in the world. The facade was a magnificent example of Victorian splendour.

It was described by the Carlton Advertiser and Hotham Chronicle, 16th April, 1881 ( and reproduced c. 1900 by Geo. Fincham & Son as a pamphlet )

The outside of the case is of an elegant appearance and was designed by Mr. Joseph Reed, the architect of the Exhibition Building.

It is ornamented with 57 speaking and 10 show pipes; the structure is ebonized, the moulding and panellings being picked out in gold.

The height of the organ from the floor of the Western gallery is 48 feet by 60 feet wide. The front pipes are handsomely decorated in gold and colours. The motive power used for working the bellows is supplied by an Otto silent gas engine, six horse power. The total cost is as follows :

The organ, 4,120, case 742.18s. Total 4,562.18s.

The decorations are by Whitehall and Blair of Swanston St. and cost 200, and the provision made for the gas engine and connection was 200 extra, making the grand total cost of the organ 5,262 pounds, 18 s.

The total number of pipes given in a table of comparisons of the world's largest organs of the day, was 4,726.

Over many years, the Exhibition building has been used for a variety of purposes, including balls, concerts, fetes, an emergency hospital for victims of the influenza pandemic of 1918 – 19 (which killed 20 million people world wide ), barracks for the RAAF during WW 2, migration reception centre post war, venue for the 1956 Olympic Games, motor registry and licence testing venue, motor shows, and venue for school and university examinations. Because of this extensive public use, and decline in the popularity of concerts and organ recitals in the building, the organ suffered what is probably the worst case of neglect and vandalism of an Australian icon. Maintenance was neglected, pipes were “ souvenired “ and the instrument generally vandalised. Is was unplayable by the 1920s and by the 1960s only the facade remained. I well remember standing in awe in front of the massive 32 ft long pipes in the facade and plucking up enough courage to wander behind them, only to find an empty space !

The facade was finally removed in 1965. The Exhibition Building itself narrowly avoided destruction, and thankfully has been beautifully restored and was the first building in Australia to be added to the World Heritage List in 2004. Sadly, there never will be another Exhibition organ.

The final Melbourne organ with some Masonic connection was that in the Australian Church, which was founded as a breakaway from the Presbyterian Church by Rev. Dr. Charles Strong. The foundation stone was laid on 19th March, 1887, and the ceremony was described by The Argus of that date ( page 10 ) :

Sir W.J. Clarke, Bart. as District and Provincial Grand Master of the Freemasons of Victoria ….. will today lay the foundation stone of the Australian Church at 1 Flinders St. east.

The three district and provincial grand lodges, having been formally opened at the Freemasons hall Collins St. will march in procession from Collins St. by Spring St. and Flinders St. to the site …. will then proceed to the North East corner of the building, where the foundation stone will be laid, according to ancient Masonic custom. Ample accommodation has been provided for about 600 ladies and children in the form of a sloping stand from which the ceremony will be distinctively visible, while the elevated ground behind will accommodate some 300 more spectators, all of whom will be admitted by ticket. After the ceremony, about 500 guests will assemble at the Masonic hall to partake of light refreshments.

The ceremony will be particularly interesting, as the first of the kind in the Southern hemisphere. “

This last statement seems somewhat perplexing, as laying foundation stones with full Masonic ceremony, as we've read, had taken place in Melbourne since the 1840s. Perhaps this was the first church to be so dedicated ?

The church was a most imposing structure and initially an organ built by Fincham's former colleague and friend, Alfred Hunter ( U.K. ) was installed in 1887. It served until 1889 when it was sold to St. John's Anglican Church, East Malvern.

Fincham & Hobday built a much more grandiose instrument for the church in 1890, consisting of 4 manuals and 53 speaking stops. It was the largest church organ in Australasia and the second largest built by the firm, after that in the Exhibition.

The Australian Church was wound up in 1957, and as stated earlier, the organ was rebuilt and installed in Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne.

The church building was modified and used by Cheney's as a motor car salesroom. It was demolished in the 1980s to make space for the erection of the new Shell building, at the corner of Flinders and Spring Sts.

Information on the Australian Church and organ courtesy of the Organ Historical Trust of Australia.


Henry Benjamin.

Musician, music teacher and song writer. Known to have been active in Melbourne during the late 1860s / 70s.

His teaching advertisements appear in The Argus as early as May 1868.

Benjamin's profile was raised in 1870 when another local teacher was charged with attempting to incite him into a duel ( case later dismissed ),

and again in 1872, when he sued Harry Rickards for breach of contract over the song Doing the Block ( Benjamin was awarded the verdict ) .

As a musician / teacher, Benjamin specialised in piano, harmonium and concertina. Described as a Novelty Song, Doing the Block was written to lyrics by Marcus Clarke.

From : Australian Variety Theatre Archive : Popular Culture Entertainment

1850 – 1930.

George Peake.

George Peake was born in Exeter in 1853 and came to Australia as a boy.

He began his musical career as a chorister at St. Peter's Church, Eastern Hill. He was a long standing member of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society, both as violinist and organist. Later as honorary conductor for 24 years. He was one of the founders of the Musical Society of Victoria, being President for 12 years. He was organist at the Exhibition concerts under Sir Frederick Cowan in 1888, and organist and choir master of the Collins St. Independent Church for 45 years.

From : Obituary, Sat. 15 April, 1933 – The Argus

David Lee.

Probably the most notable Grand organist in Victorian Freemasonry, he was born at Armagh, Ireland in 1837. His father was a Professor of music.

At the age of 12, he was made deputy organist at Armagh Cathedral.

He arrived in Melbourne in 1864, and held various organist's positions, including the Independent Church, Collins St. and St. Andrew's Brighton.

He was sought after as a recitalist and opened many organs.

In October 1866, Lee played the organ at the inaugural ceremony of the Melbourne International Exhibition. In August 1872, he opened the new Town Hall organ. He was appointed as the first City Organist of Melbourne in 1877, and in the same year opened the new organ of the Adelaide Town Hall. In 1867, he formed a partnership with organist Samuel Kaye, importing pianos, harmoniums and organs. They were joined in 1875 by organ builder Robert Mackenzie. In 1878, George Fincham bought the firm.

From : Australian Dictionary of Biography.

He was widely respected and his charm and personal popularity drew large audiences at his twice weekly concerts at the Town Hall.

When the Town Hall organ was unavailable for six months in 1887, due to repairs being carried out, the following notice appeared in Melbourne Punch, Thur. 17 Feb. 1887 : “ One of the events of the season will be the complimentary concert to Mr. David Lee, the City organist in the Town Hall on Saturday night. A splendid programme has been arranged, and this will be the last opportunity of hearing the grand organ for the next six months; a crowded house may be expected. “

Sadly, over time his audiences diminished as he seemed to have gone through his repertoire and perhaps played music that didn't suit all tastes.

On Fri. 16 Dec. 1892, the Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle ( page 3 ) carried the following entertaining column :


“ Another storm in a tea pot; our city fathers in their wisdom fixed up an organ in our Melbourne Town Hall, and appointed a city organist ( Mr. D Lee ). This gentleman however, it is alleged in lieu of grinding out the lofty compositions of Handel, Mendelshon and other musicians of that school, just gets and wags his head over the key – board in discussing lively airs, singing hall compositions, and it only required a little burnt cork and funny corner men with bones and tambourines, to make up a pleasant ethiopian séance. The other wind – grinders argue that the “ pealing organ's awful mirth “ should be of a more serious and classical kind in keeping – as the late Town Clerk would have said – with its pow- wow - -wer and cost. Perhaps it is the want of a musical ear, but I could get through very fairly with a band organ – at a distance – or a musical box, and never could see the advisability or necessity for an organic volume of sound. I can't say how it will end at present – fantasias – upon popular airs – Boom – de- Lee pretty muchly are in vogue. “

Imagine trying to avoid a law suit today with a column like that !

No wonder the author used a pseudonym.

David Lee was also conductor of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society, but was forced out in 1888, after years of constant friction.

On Sat. 8 Dec. 1894, it was noted in The Queenslander that :

“ Mr. David Lee, the city organist has commenced an action for 1500 pounds damages against the Railway Department as compensation for a broken arm which he sustained at South Yarra recently. “

Whether he won the case is unknown, but his death on Thursday, 13th May, 1897, was announced in the Hamilton Spectator :

Mr. David Lee, the well known city organist, died early this morning from chronic disease of the kidneys and syncope. He has been ailing ever since he broke his arm at the South Yarra station. His wife died 13 years ago and he leaves no family. The deceased was 61 years of age.

He was city organist for the long period of 20 years, and his organ recitals have been enjoyed by thousands. “

It may be of interest to note that at least three Grand Lodge organists have also been organists of the Independent Church ( now St. Michael's ) Collins St. In addition to David Lee and George Peake, the late John Cowen was incumbent there for some years.

Joseph Kilner.

Kilner arrived in Melbourne from England in 1850. He made a fortune on the gold fields, and returned to England to collect his family and bring them to Australia in 1853.

In 1854 he began making pianos from parts imported from Broadwood in London where he had served his apprenticeship.

Around 1870, his factory began making wooden frame pianos under the name Joseph Kilner. They were of good quality and were awarded several prizes at Exhibitions, viz. 1866 – 67 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition

1872 Intercolonial Exhibition of Victoria, and 1876 Great Philadelphia Exhibition. He died in Richmond on May 9th, 1891.

The business, Kilners of Camberwell was well known for many years.

From: AUSTRALHARMONY : A biographical register of Australian musical personnel, Ed. Dr. Graeme Skinner, University of Sydney.

G.B. Fentum.

Fentum was a celebrated musician in the latter half of the 19th century.

His name is mentioned regularly in news reports from Singapore, where he was organist and choir master of St. Andrew's Cathedral.

He is also recorded as residing in Hong Kong in 1876 and 1884, being listed as the organist of the District Grand Lodge of Freemasons in China.

From : The Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan and The Philippines.

There was a family of Fentums who were music publishers, engravers and sellers in London during the 18th and 19th centuries.

From : Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians.