Pipe Organs of Malaysia
The ANGLICAN CHURCH of St. GEORGE THE MARTYR
Forster & Andrews, Hull, England
2 manual and pedal, 16 speaking stops
Church of St. George the Martyr is purportedly the oldest standing
British-built Anglican church in Southeast Asia if one discounts the
Fort Cornwallis chapel. It is located in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia,
and was built on the instruction of the East India Company to Rev.
Atwill Lake, the first Anglican minister, but only executed by his
successor, Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings. The construction of the church
began in 1817 using convict labour during the administration of
Governor W.E. Phillips. The cost of building was 60,000 Spanish
dollars. This was a princely sum, considering the British paid only
10,000 Spanish dollars per annum to the sultanate of Kedah for the
lease of the Prince of Wales Island (Penang), while Singapore Island
was purchased only a few years later for 60,000 Spanish dollars.
The church was designed by Captain Robert N. Smith of the Madras Engineers. Smith was also a gifted artist whose oil paintings of Penang landscapes currently hang in the Penang State Museum. The church was designed in the Georgian Palladian style and is a derivation of Gibbs’s Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The church also resembles two other churches in the former British Raj, that of St. Andrew’s Scottish Church and St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, both in Madras (today’s Chennai). The original roof was flat, probably for aesthetic reasons but it tended to collect water and soak the building long after the rain had ceased. In the end it had to be re-roofed in its present gable shape in 1864 at tremendous expense.
The church was completed in 1818. One of the first events to take place in the new church was the marriage of W.E. Phillips (the Governor of Penang at the laying of the foundation) to Janet Bannerman, daughter of Colonel John Alexander Bannerman (the Governor when the church was completed) officiated by Rev. Joseph Rawlin Henderson on 30 June 1818. On the very same day another marriage was conducted between Henry Burney and another Janet Bannerman, a niece of Colonel Bannerman. The first Divine Service to be held in the church was on Christmas Day 1818. The church was only consecrated on 11 May 1819 by the Bishop of Calcutta, Rt. Rev. Thomas Fanshawe Middleton.
History of the pipe organs of
St. George’s Anglican Church’s first unidentified pipe organ was installed around or before 1838. In John Turnbull Thomson’s reminiscences, Some Glimpses Into Life In The Far East, covering the years from 1838 to 1841, Thomson mentions a ‘pagan’ who “pumped air into the organ up in the gallery” and the organ pealing forth “ soul – inspiring strains.”
A second unidentified pipe organ was recorded as being installed in 1852 by Venerable A. C. Dumper in an unspecified location.
The third pipe organ was second-hand, purchased from St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Singapore in 1888. This was the chancel organ built by Bryceson Brothers of London and installed in the northern vestry of the cathedral in 1867 to complement the existing 1861 John Walker organ in the west gallery of the cathedral. It was a single manual organ with 7 ranks of pipes, including open 16’ Pedal pipes with a reversed console so that the organist faced the choir or congregation. This organ originally cost St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral £252 9s 0d. The Bryceson Brothers organ was only used to accompany ordinary congregational hymn singing whereas the John Walker organ was mainly used for voluntaries. Again, where this organ was sited is still unknown.
The fourth pipe organ was built by the notable firm of Forster & Andrews of Hull, England. This organ was built in the style of German organ builder, Edmund Schulze, and cost £750 then. The charges for assembly came to another £250, making a total of £1,000, which was paid in full by the Straits Settlement Government. The organ was ordered in memory of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
There are two conflicting dates for when the organ was built.
The order details are as follows:
(1) 2 composition pedals.
(2) Mahogany throughout.
(3) Keys to be primed.
(4) Brass screws and phosphor bronze wires throughout.
(5) Leather treated against cockroaches, beetles and other vermin.
(6) Old ranks to be incorporated in the new instrument.
(7) Man to be sent out with the organ to erect and finish at Penang.
(8) We pay the freight and all expenses.
(9) Dr. Smith to play and pass before sent.
Cost: £500 nett.
The Forster & Andrews organ was made to a specification which incorporated some old pipework from the previous organ. The old ranks were to be inserted once the new organ was assembled in Penang. Dr. G. Smith of 38 Albany Street, Hull, was the agent for the instrument and he played it in the workshop before it was sent out to Penang as instructed.
A Forster & Andrews journeyman was sent out with the organ to assemble it and finish it tonally in situ. The finished Forster & Andrews Opus 1238 organ was a 2-manual organ with a mechanical action and 16 stops with the specification as shown below. This organ was placed at the end of the south corridor of the church closest to the chancel as evident in early 20th century photographs.
The organ was entirely rebuilt in 1939 at a cost of $5,000, but which did not include a new organ case, a magnificent piece of work which was added by the generosity of a private donor.
This photo sourced by Andrew Hwang
This photo from a collection by Salma Khoo Nasution
However, the organ was not to last. On Wednesday 17 December 1941 St. George’s became the only church in Malaya to have been hit by a Japanese bomb. Six bombs in total were dropped onto the church compound, but only one hit the church. The damage originally sustained was relatively minor. The bomb entered through the roof over the gallery at the West entrance, near the main porch, damaging part of the gallery and leaving a pile of debris on the floor. Rev. Eric Hammond Scott who visited the church some days after the bombing noted that “the damage done by the bomb was very slight, even the organ was still playable.”
As the George Town police deserted with the news of the approaching Japanese army, law and order collapsed and looting was rife. St George’s was not spared. On or shortly before Christmas Day 1941, all its surviving furnishings and fittings, including statuary, memorial plaques and the marble flooring, were looted. Even the roofing materials, doors and windows were carted away. The organ was also not spared. The metal pipes were looted to be melted down and the wooden case, pipes and pedal board were chopped up to be used as firewood by the residents of Bishop and Church Streets. The streets around the church were for some days strewn with the remains of organ pipes and components.
St George’s never rebuilt their organ after the war as the restoration of the ruined church building was the main priority. By the time the church was reconstructed and re-dedicated, it was already past mid-1948 and the civil war-cum-war of independence euphemistically known as the Malayan Emergency was just beginning. Security issues took priority over the restoration of the organ. The church had always depended on the colonial government for funding but the source of funds for a new organ vanished with the declaration of independence of the Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957. A Hammond electronic organ was purchased to replace the pipe organ instead.
On 4 April 1996, the church was gazetted as a museum and its two-acre grounds, a Historical Site. The church was declared one the 50 National Heritage Treasures of Malaysia by the Malaysian government on 6 July 2007.With the completion of a full heritage restoration of the church in 2011, the church has begun planning to purchase a new pipe organ to replace the lost Forster & Andrews organ.
Specification of the Forster & Andrews organ was:
1. “Early History of St. George’s Church”, Sunday Gazette 11 April 1948.
2. Singapore Diocesan Magazines Vol. 12(48), November 1922, p.3.
3. Dumper, A.C., “An Anniversary And A Challenge”, 1969.
4. Garnier, K., Singapore Diocesan Magazines Vol. 12(48), November 1922, p.1.
5. Turnbull, J.T., “Glimpses Into Life In The Far East”, London: Richardson & Co., 1864, p.39.
6. Dumper, A.C., “The Church of St. George The Martyr”, Georgetown: 1964, p.8.
7. Morris, J., “Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 163 & 174.
8. Singapore Diocesan Magazines Vol. 14(54), May 1924, p.14.
9. Perak Church Notes Vol. 16(9), September 1928, p.9.
10. “St George's Church in Ruins”, The Straits Times, 19 September 1947, p.4.
11. “Cathedral Organ”, The Straits Times, 1 September 1927, p.10.
12. “St. Andrew’s Cathedral”, The Straits Times, 24 December 1870, p.1.
13. Westlake, J.V., “The Cathedral Organ”, The Straits Times, 25 April 1927, p.10.
14. Buckley, C.B., “An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore”, Singapore: Fraser & Neave, Ltd., 1902, pp.286-300.
15. Information from Chris Kearl, British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS)
Archivist at the British Organ Archive, Birmingham, England.
16. Elvin, L.,“Forster & Andrews, their barrel, chamber and small church organs”, Lincoln: 1976, p.126.
17. “Malaya’s first Anglican Church makes history”, The Straits Times, 26 May 1956, p.9.
18. Sunday Gazette, 17 January 1954.
19. “Welcome to St George’s Church Penang” historical pamphlet, 2011.
History of the church and the pipe organs © Andrew Hwang, 2012.
Photograph of the church interior from Andrew Yong.
Photographs of the church exterior from Asian Explorers.
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