St Benedict's Catholic Church
cnr Chippendale and Parramatta Roads, Broadway

F.H. Baker 1882, restored Pitchford & Garside 1978 (2/20 mechanical)

From SOJ April 1978, February/March 1986, June/July 1993:

The organ in this church is one of the finest and most important historic organs in Sydney. Built in 1882, it is the only organ known to have been constructed by F.H. Baker, a Sydney builder who acted on behalf of Alfred Hunter & Son of London. The instrument was given a full restoration by Pitchford & Garside in 1978.

St. Benedict’s Church (1845- 56), Broadway, Sydney, was the largest completed Pugin church in Australia, it was sadly shortened and mutilated during reconstruction to allow for the widening of Broadway in the 1940s.

The organ was turned back around to its former position against the south wall in the gallery in February 2006. It had been placed sideways during the time when the church was shortened when Broadway was widened.

The specification is:

Double Diapason
Open Diapason
Stop'd Diapason

Double Diapason
Open Diapason
Stop'd Diapason
Voix Celeste
Wald Flute

Pedal Open [Diapason]
Pedal Bourdon
Pedal Violoncello

Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal




added Peter Jewkes 2010

Mechanical action throughout
Compass 54/30
Two spare slides

Three composition pedals to Swell
Two composition pedals to Great (there was a third one to the Great but the balanced swell pedal sits in its place).
The place where the old trigger swell lever was is now the tremulant

From SOJ Winter 2006:


What to do with churches which by reason of changing demographics or fashion no longer satisfy the purposes for which they were created? Two Sydney Catholic churches are now part of the Notre Dame University of Australia, established in 1986 and now home to 2000 students. The churches incorporated into the campuses are the 1856 Pugin-designed church of St Benedict in what is now Broadway and the well-known church of the Sacred Heart in Darlinghurst. Work is now complete on the Broadway Campus of The University of Notre Dame Australia. This site offers courses in Arts and Sciences, Commerce, Education, Law and Nursing and will become an exciting centre of learning in a rapidly developing part of Sydney. The church is still open for public services.

The University intends to establish a base for its Sydney School of Medicine at the Darlinghurst site from 2008. This site is proposed to become the University's health campus with students in the School of Nursing course commencing or continuing their studies at Darlinghurst. Both sites will allow students to study in carefully restored heritage buildings in the heart of Sydney, with convenient access to shops, cafes, public transport and affordable student accommodation.

St Benedict's Church. Begun in July 1841 and finished in 1856 this is one of the few churches of NSW designed by Augustus Welby Pugin (in association with William Munro) for Archbishop Polding. A protagonist for the Gothic Revival, Pugin (1812-1852) was responsible for much of the elaborate detail in the ornament and fitting of the British Houses of Parliament. The chancel of the Broadway church had rich decoration of the period.

St Benedict's, located at the then known Abercrombie Place on Parramatta Street, was a large building, being twice the size of the original St Patrick's Church, Parramatta, also a Pugin design. It had an eight-bay nave and a chancel with two and a half bays flanked by eastern chapels. A peal of bells dates from late 1850 and is one of the oldest in Australia. The Catholic population of the district numbered more than 4000 by the 1840s so a substantial building was required. Except for St Mary's Cathedral it was in fact the largest of all Pugin's Australian church designs.
Proposed changes. The Sydney Morning Herald for 9 April 1935 (page 15) reported:

“The Works Committee decided to obtain from the City Engineer an estimate for the completion of the widening of Broadway from Buckland-street to Abercrombie-street.”

In the issue of 15 October 1935 (page 12), there was this:

“The works committee formally approved of the scheme to extend the widening of Broadway (George-street West) from Abercrombie to Carlton-streets, as recommended by the Town Clerk (Mr Hendy).”

In the interim, the SMH of 30 September 1935 (page 8), in a story headed 'Effect of Street-Widening Scheme', reported:

“Archbishop Kelly, in a sermon at the induction of Dean Norris as parish priest of St Benedict's, George-street West, criticised the attitude of the City Council towards that church in the scheme of widening the street. That attitude, he said, was to take away portion of the church and to say that what was left was sufficient. If St Andrew's Cathedral was to receive £500, 000, the people of St Benedict's should see that they received fair treatment. Archbishop Kelly said that the grandest and best buildings in every city should be the churches, both Catholic and non-Catholic. No money was wasted when spent on building churches. St Benedict's was the only Catholic church between Camperdown and Church Hill, and it was now, after many years, in great danger of being spoiled.”

On 1 October 1935 (page 12), the SMH, in a story headed 'Widening of Broadway', reported:

“The Town Clerk (Mr Hendy), in a report to the works committee, recommended that Broadway (formerly George-street West) should be widened between Buckland and Abercrombie-streets as soon as possible, except the area of St Benedict's Church, the negotiations concerning that area being uncompleted. There would be a reduced width of footpath in front of the church, he said. He recommended that the city engineer should prepare estimates for the widening of Broadway between Abercrombie and Carlton-streets, and that the work should be undertaken early next year, and that the remaining section between Carlton and Regent streets should remain at present, but that the premises should be placed in order for letting. He said that the net cost of resumption in Broadway had amounted to £378,950. The committee deferred consideration of the report.”

Regrettably for St Benedict's in the early 1940s the report was acted upon. Some reports have suggested that the church was dismantled stone by stone and re-erected but an article by B. T. Dowd 'Old St Benedict's of Abercrombie Street' in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society makes it clear that the building was only shortened and widened while remaining on the original site. This article mainly dealt with the history of the church building from its inception and there was no mention of the organ, but one passage did help clarify events following the widening of Broadway:

“... the design does not conform to English tradition, but follows the roofing system of churches of Southern France. Extensive alterations recently completed resulted in some modifications of the original design. Owing to the widening of Broadway, about twenty-six feet were taken off the length of the church and about thirteen feet added to its width, giving it a squarish appearance, but still retaining the same amount of seating accommodation as before and the original design of [William] Munro.”

The date of this change is unclear, possibly only briefly reported because of the acute shortage and rationing of newsprint during World War II. The modifications probably would not have attracted as much attention as a total demolition and rebuilding might have done. The tower seems unfinished and the string courses were not replaced. However, four statues on the tower pinnacles were reinstated. They were carved by Fr Jean Gourbeillon, a Benedictine monk in the monastery under Dr Polding, himself a member of that religious order and Abbot of St Mary's monastery attached to the cathedral. The four representations are St Benedict, St Patrick, St Scholastica and, surprisingly, Dr Polding in pontifical vestments holding a small replica of the church itself. Fr Gourbeillon had carved statues for the original organ of St Mary's Cathedral destroyed in the fire of 1865.

The Royal Australian Historical Society also reported some interesting trivia:

“The church's designer, William Munro, was a Presbyterian, but he specialised in churches and ecclesiastical buildings for the Catholic community.” The Morning Chronicle of January 1846, commenting on the pressing necessity of completing the church, noted: “Measures are to be adopted to prevent persons from allowing dogs to accompany them into the church, an abuse which exists in Sydney to an enormous extent.”

St Benedict's foundation stone was fixed on 21 July 1845 by Archbishop Polding, but when Dowd wrote his article in 1948, its whereabouts was unknown. One of those attending the foundation stone function was the Right Rev. Dr Epalle, Vicar-Apostolic of North-Western Oceana. Less than two months later, he “met a shocking death at the hands of a savage tribe, his head being split open”.

The cross on the spire is apparently not the original. Some reports say the original was found to be too heavy, while others say it was struck by lightning.

Frederick Baker. Frederick Haydon Baker and his wife arrived in Sydney via the immigrant ship Commonwealth in June 1877. In England he worked for the noted London organ builder Alfred Hunter, a number of whose instruments were installed in NSW in the 19th century. Baker was involved in the Sydney organ world for thirty-five years but it seems that only a short period of this was working on his own account. Most of his time was spent as an employee or sub-contractor to other organ builders, notably William Davidson and Charles Richardson. Only one organ can be positively identified as the work of Baker alone and for this he largely used parts from earlier instruments.

In 1882 Baker completed construction of an organ which has stood since 1892 in St Benedict's Church, Broadway. This organ bears the only known example of Baker's building plate but certain features suggest that it was not new, but substantially based on components and pipes from a much earlier instrument with typical 19th century compass of 54 manual and 25 pedal notes. The original instrument that Baker used is reputed to have been purchased by the Wesleyan Church of Chippendale who obtained it from St John's College, in the University of Sydney. It gave trouble and the Wesleyans replaced it with a new organ from Henry Jones of London in 1879. The old organ has been attributed to the pioneer Australian builder, John Kinloch but this is unproven and the maker remains uncertain. It was sold to a builder, Andrew McGovisk who paid £60 for it in 1878. On McGovisk's death in 1892 the organ was bequeathed to St Benedict's and, as evidenced by the builder's plate, was reconstructed by Frederick Baker in that year. The original organ at St Benedict's was a two manual instrument of J. C. Bishop which was removed to St Patrick's Church (later, cathedral) at Parramatta, a much smaller building than the Broadway church. The installation at St Benedict's was supervised by the City Organist, Auguste Weigand who in his customary fashion ordered additions and changes which were made by William Wood at a cost of £200. These included a Trumpet in place of a Mixture on the Great and a Cornopean, Salicional, Celeste and Vox Humaine on the Swell together with a balanced pedal and new Tremulant. The Vox Humaine and Trumpet stops don't appear to have ever been fitted, perhaps 'prepared for', leaving spare slides on both divisions with borings still in place for the 2-rk Mixture.

Auguste Weigand, as might have been expected, gave the opening recital on 7 October 1892. The program, interspersed with sacred songs and violin solos, packed the church to the doors.

The organ was restored in 1978 by Pitchford & Garside who retained the quaint glass panel through which the key action may be seen. The specification was:

Information from the Benedictine Journal held in the Sydney Archdiocesan archives and Creating a Gothic Paradise - Pugin at the Antipodes. Brian Andrews. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald archives, courtesy The National Library. Information on the Baker organ derived from G. D. Rushworth: Historic Organs of NSW. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (Vol 34, part 5, 1948, pp 301-316).Thanks to Mr Brian Jeffreys for additional research at the National Library, Canberra.

Peter Jewkes continues: Our present work on the Baker was in fact a re-siting, though perhaps the shortest distance for such work ever recorded! Early in the 1940s the organ was rotated 90 degrees, and moved to one side of the "West" gallery (in fact at the South of the church). The reasons for this are unclear, though one could assume that restoring sightlines to the West window was one of them. In any case, the result was a diminution of the organ's general effect from several aspects. Musically it now spoke across the gallery rather than into the nave of the church. Visually its diapered front was now all but invisible, being replaced with a crudely-constructed side case of dark boards nailed together, facing the nave. The effect from below was of a large and unsightly black box. Several compromises also had to be made to the internal layout of the organ, with a number of Pedal Open Diapason bass pipes laid horizontally at the back of the organ, as they no longer fitted under the church ceiling.

The gallery's quaint balustrade, with its console surround, also looked rather odd with the organ in its new configuration. It was therefore decided to restore the organ to its original orientation during the building's restoration, returning the large wooden pedal pipes to their windchest, and carrying out some basic cleaning work whilst the opportunity was afforded. Ironically, whether an organ is being moved a few metres or across the world, there is still a certain amount of dismantling involved! This has of course once again obscured the rear window (soon to be covered with a blind to prevent light shining through the organ case), but as it had never had stained glass in it, it was felt that the advantage of seeing the organ back in its rightful position would far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. Pastór De Lasala's photographs tell the story, and it is hoped that posterity will judge it in a kindly manner.

From SOJ (Autumn 2010), Peter Jewkes writes:

One of colonial Sydney’s finest locally made instruments, this organ (left) was rebuilt by F H Baker in 1882, partially restored by Pitchford & Garside in 1978, and moved to its original central gallery position by the Jewkes firm in 2005. The church building, originally designed by Pugin, now finds itself doubling as a chapel for Notre Dame University, which occupies the former school building and Presbytery, making for one of Sydney’s busier church buildings, complete with an already excellent music programme.  

A recent cultural grant by the City of Sydney enabled the addition of a prepared-for Clarion 4’ to the Swell manual, carefully scaled and voiced to blend with the existing Cornopean 8’, adding a thrilling dimension to the instrument.


© PdL 2006