Wanganui Public Museum

The Williams Barrel Organ

The Williams Organ was manufactured in 1829 by a church and organ-builder, Mr A Buckingham, of London. The organ was sent from England by Reverend E G Marsh in November 1829 as a gift to his nephews, the Reverends Henry and William Williams who were stationed at the Church Missionary Society Māori Mission at Paihia. Arriving in New Zealand in August 1830, it was the first barrel organ brought into the country. Apparently it caused some powerful reactions in listeners, with Reverend Henry Williams’ wife Marianne writing in September 1830, “All the females as well as the males met in the chapel to hear the new organ the first week it arrived, and I was glad the overpowering sensations which its full and melodious sounds produce and all the recollections it aroused were a little moderated before the Sabbath”.

1. Williams Barrel Organ

The Williams Barrel Organ (Whanganui Regional Museum collection reference:1898.156)

Barrel organs are mechanical instruments constructed using a system of bellows and one or more layers of pipes, housed in a decorative wooden case. Unlike a traditional pipe organ they are not played by an organist. Instead, the barrel organ is performed by a person turning a crank. The pieces of music are encoded onto wooden barrels, which cause notes to sound as would a keyboard in a regular pipe organ.

In 1898 the organ was given to Edward’s son, the Reverend Alfred O Williams, who was at that time visiting the Bay of Islands with Samuel Drew, the Wanganui Public Museum’s founder. Together they brought the organ back to Whanganui. The Reverend Alfred Williams was later a member of the Museum Board of Trustees.

During this time the organ had become damaged so Drew repaired it, and he was known to crank it regularly at the Museum. Its first playing at the Museum after being repaired was in the dead of the night on Good Friday 1898, with Drew stating “… the tunes seemed ghostlike and weird. It seemed as tho’ the organ had died years ago and yet was speaking its music to me, and me alone…”. Some of the older residents in Whanganui may remember paying an extra penny to hear the organ being played when the Museum was still at what is now the Savage Club building.

In 1937 further renovations were carried out on the organ and for five years after that a recital was held at the Museum each Good Friday.

2. Detail of a barrel organ

Detail of inner workings of a barrel organ in Pisek during town celebration “Dotkni se Písku” in 2011, Czech Republic (Photographer: Petr Brož)

In 1995 after the barrel organ’s condition was assessed it was discovered that necessary repairs to the case and mechanism would cost in the region of $12,000. A fundraising campaign began, which many Museum supporters contributed to. A concert series was held and a grant of $10,000 was obtained from the Turanga Trust (a Williams family trust) in Napier.

The barrel organ was most recently played as part of the Museum’s closing weekend gala on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September 2016.

Riah King-Wall is the Programmes Officer at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Happy Birthday Mr Drew!

1802.2525Today the Whanganui Regional Museum celebrates the birthday of its founder. Samuel Henry Drew was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, on 17 November 1844. The Drews migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s and then to Nelson in 1860. Samuel established a successful jewellery and watch-making business in Whanganui in 1864, which continued to be run by his descendants until the 1990s. The Drew building is still standing in Victoria Avenue.
Drew married Catherine Beatson in Nelson in 1872 and the couple came back to Whanganui where they raised their eight children. He had a wide range of interests including music and sport. He was a member of the Philharmonic Society, the conductor of the Wanganui Liedertafel (the Male Choir) and president of the Wanganui Orchestral Club, and also belonged to the Wanganui Rowing Club. His greatest passion, however, was the study of natural history.

'Caught Napping' by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

‘Caught Napping’ by Drew’s friend, engineer and surveyor J T Stewart, for a Savage Club Competition.

Samuel Drew collected natural history specimens and Māori artefacts, eventually establishing his own museum in his home in 1880. His family helped to collect and classify his specimens of molluscs, birds, beetles, fossils and other fauna. His collecting activities extended as far as Kāpiti Island where he became something of an authority on the local birds and fish.

Drew devoted his spare time to his private collection, furnishing specimens for collections throughout New Zealand. He published articles on natural history in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and was made a fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1897. Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, as a taxidermist.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

Interior of the original Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue.

The private collection eventually began crowding out Drew’s family home and he realized he would need to find larger premises to house his museum if he wished to continue collecting. He also recognized the importance of his collection and the considerable public interest in it. For these reasons he offered the collection to the town to form the nucleus of a public museum.

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Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Exterior of the Wanganui Public Museum on Wicksteed (Drews) Avenue

Drew’s collection was purchased in 1892 for a nominal sum, and through his efforts a new purpose-built museum was erected in Wicksteed Avenue, now Drews Avenue, to which his collection was transferred. He was appointed Honorary Curator of the new Wanganui Public Museum and continued to collect, using his expertise to mount natural history specimens and organise displays.

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Samuel Drew died from a sudden heart attack at his business premises on 18 December 1901 at the age of 57 years. The Whanganui Regional Museum is a lasting reminder of the enterprise, expertise and dedication of this extraordinary individual. Whanganui will remain indebted to this man for the contribution he made to recording and collecting the cultural and natural heritage of this region, as well as founding an institution of national and international renown.

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

Trick photograph of Mr Drew pushing himself in a wheelbarrow

He was always ready to devote his very limited leisure to the advancement of musical and scientific matters in Wanganui, and has left in the Wanganui Museum a fitting monument which will serve to preserve his memory and demonstrate what even one earnest and capable worker can do, when his heart is in his work … (From the Wanganui Herald 18 December 1901)

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The Museum’s Board voted to create a permanent memorial in tribute to Samuel Drew. One of the trustees, Mr Empson suggested a marble bust of Drew and said, “There is no place fitter for a bust than the Museum, and no bust fitter for the place.”

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