The Organ in Wesley Uniting Church

National Circuit, Forrest, Australian Capital Territory

"The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God." (Pope Benedict XVI at the blessing of a new organ in Regensburg, September, 2006 )

Pipe organs often have histories that can be traced back decades, generations or even centuries. Many historic organs contain pipework from organ builders who lived centuries apart. The challenge in enlargement and rebuilding is to achieve a harmonious blending of old and new in a satisfying musical instrument. The opportunity is to provide a diversity of tone colours and choruses that can express faithfully a wide spectrum of the organ repertoire.

The pipe organ in Wesley Uniting Church is the largest and most versatile liturgical and recital instrument in the Australian Capital Territory. During the period 2000 to 2002 the organ was comprehensively rebuilt and revoiced by George Stephens of Adelaide. The aim was to make it a fully integrated instrument to match the enhanced acoustic of the church with appropriate voicing and the best available electrical and mechanical systems. It is now an outstanding George Stephens rebuild which faithfully restores more than 14 ranks or approximately 820 pipes, including major flue choruses, from the cherished 1893 Alfred Hunter Organ in the former Methodist Church in Burwood NSW.


The original Church on the site in National Circuit, Forrest was opened in 1930, but it did not possess a pipe organ. In 1955 a new Church was built and the original Church became Wesley Hall.

The new Church incorporated a pipe organ built by George Fincham and Sons of Melbourne. It was a small extension organ of two manuals and 9 ranks. It had electro-pneumatic action and some 30 stops were derived from 5 ranks on the Swell Organ and 4 ranks on the Great Organ. Both divisions were enclosed in separate expression boxes.

In the mid 1970s plans were developed for the enlargement of the organ as a comprehensive instrument for the performance of music from all the great periods of organ composition. The objective was a specification designed to achieve tonal balance and integration in accordance with sound principles of organ construction.

A leading member of our Church, John Bathgate (1915-1982), acquired pipes and soundboards that had been part of a fine Alfred Hunter 3 manual organ in Burwood Methodist Church, Sydney. This organ was built in 1891-93 by Alfred Hunter and Son, of High Street, Clapham, near London. It had 33 ranks and was widely acclaimed. Because of damage caused when and after the organ was dismantled following sale of the Church, it was not possible to restore all the ranks. However, 14 complete ranks, a total of around 820 pipes and two soundboards from the Burwood, were incorporated into an enlarged organ. Fortunately these represented significant, distinctive and recognisable elements of the Hunter organ, including major choruses from the Great and Swell. It is not surprising that the Fincham and Hunter pipes are a good match. George Fincham knew Alfred Hunter well and in fact visited his factory in London. He studied his organ building methods and was quick to consult Hunter on any new developments and techniques in the profession.

The Hunter Pipes

incorporated in the Wesley rebuild are:

Hunter ranks Position and Description Now Pipes
Large Open Diapason 8 Open Diapason No 1 56
Principal 4 Same 56
Flute Harmonic 4 Harmonic Flute 56
Fifteenth 2 Same 56
Mixture III Same (a significant proportion of original 168 pipes)
Lieblich Double 16 Pedal Flute 4 32
Open Diapason 8 Geigen Diapason 56
Lieblich Gedacht 8 Rohr Flute 56
Flautina 2 Fifteenth 56
Mixture III Same 168
Horn 8 Cornopean 56
Lieblich Gedacht 8 Great Stopped Flute 56
Clarinet 8 Great (enclosed) from Bottom A 35
Open Diapason 16 Same 20

John Bathgate also acquired 9 ranks and a soundboard for a third manual Positive Organ from Gustav Bier of Giengen, near Ulm, in Germany. This firm had been engaged in organ building since 1515 and had developed a reputation for fine restoration work on 18th century organs in Germany and Switzerland. 

John arranged for the purchase of additional ranks from Gustav Bier, including the Pedal Fifteenth 4ft and Mixutre III and the Great Blockflute 2ft, and a Great Quint 2 2/3ft from Australian Pipe Organs in Melbourne.

In 1981 George Stephens of Adelaide was commissioned to refurbish the Hunter soundboards which have been left unchanged in the latest rebuild. Other work in putting together the pipework from different sources was undertaken by volunteers under the guidance of several organ builders. The enlarged organ was dedicated to the memory of John Bathgate on 29 May 1983, although much work remained to be done to complete the organ to the proposed specification. 

From 1980 to 1998 Anthony Welby was involved in various improvements and maintenance. One major change during this period was the ability to play all the enclosed Great ranks (the Fincham Great and the Hunter Clarinet) on the Positive manual. He installed the Pedal Open Diapason (to George Stephens specification) and the Pedal Fifteenth 4ft and Mixture III (from Gustav Bier).

The George Stephens Rebuild

George Stephens developed an international reputation for the quality of his pipe organ voicing and restoration work generally. He gained his experience in working for the organ building firms of Rushworth and Dreaper in the UK and Hill, Norman and Beard and Steve Laurie in Melbourne. He commenced his own business with brother John in Melbourne in 1975 and then moved to Adelaide in 1979 taking over Gunstar Organ Works.

From 1999 George Stephens took charge of planning a comprehensive rebuild of the Wesley organ. The objective was to restore the Hunter ranks to their original sound with correct wind pressure and pitch, to bring about effective tonal integration in the enhanced acoustic environment of the church and bring the total instrument up to the highest international standards for liturgical and recital purposes.

Over the years from 1983 to 2002 significant changes were made to improve the church acoustics. These were undertaken in six stages involving replacement of acoustic tiles on the ceiling and on cladding across main ceiling beams and the placement of diffusing panels on walls in the chapel and at the rear of the church. The result was dramatically improved reverberation times and acoustic quality and balance.

Rebuilding of the organ began in 2000. Major work on restoration, revoicing and electrical and mechanical systems was undertaken in 2001. The final stage was completed in August 2002. Key features of the rebuild were:

A complete revoicing of Great and Swell ranks in the Adelaide factory.

  • A complete revoicing of Great and Swell ranks in the Adelaide factory.

  • The revoicing of some Positive pipes on site.

  • A decrease in the wind pressures in Great and Swell manual ranks from 107 mm to 95 mm.

  • An increase in the wind pressures of several Pedal ranks (including the Flute 4ft, the lower octaves of the Mixture III and the bottom octaves of the Trombone 16ft and the Pedal Diapason 16ft).

  • A reduction in the pitch of the organ to standard concert pitch.

  • Incorporation of computerised Petersen (USA) expression for the Swell and enclosed Great.

  • Replacement of all electrical wiring in the console and throughout the organ

  • A new underaction for the Hunter Great soundboard.

  • The discarding and replacement of the Swell Hunter Flute 4ft that had suffered damage with a high quality Palmer Flute 4ft.

  • New top octave pipes to increase the manual ranks on the Hunter Great and Swell soundboards from 56 to 61 pipes.

  • A refurbishment of the console and pedalboard.

  • A new 40 memory capture system with 8 generals.

The rebuilt organ was re-dedicated on 1 September, 2002

In 2006 Ian Brown and Associates took over the regular maintenance of the organ from George Stephens.  In August 2006, Ian and Jennifer Brown installed three additional Pedal stops (stops 1,2 and 3 in the specification) to complete the tonal balance. This was desirable because the placement of the Open Diapason 16ft meant they could not be heard evenly and loud enough throughout the nave of the Church, due to standing waves. The successful solution was the addition of high quality Peterson electronic low notes using four speakers high in the Swell box. The additional sounds have transformed the f and ff dynamics for church services and concert performances. The Contra Violone is a very useful soft stop.

To get more detailled information see The Wesley Organ Specification


Enquiries: Liz McKenzie, Director 
Wesley Music Centre: Contact us

20-22 National Circuit, Forrest ACT 2603
(corner of National Circuit and Sydney Avenue)
PO Box 3217, Manuka ACT 2603


We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live, learn and work, and pay our respects to the First Nations Peoples and their Elders, past, present and emerging.