The organ is the first pipe organ to be made in New Zealand. It was made by William Webster from the Hokianga in the 1850’s. Constructed largely from native NZ woods and materials, the organ has a mechanical action and four stops.
The organ has been restored at least twice since coming into the museum in the early 1960’s. The first restoration, in 1965, was not documented. The second restoration in 1984 was intended to return the organ to playing condition, which was a condition of its bequest. The mechanism was completely overhauled, and several original parts replaced.
The organ was required for Encounter Gallery, which opened in November 2006. The decision was made to initially concentrate on the appearance of the organ, rather than on the state of the mechanism, which had deteriorated since the organ was put into storage.
The decorative organ pipes on the case had been sanded down during the 1984 restoration, removing most of the traces of the original gilding. The surface was then spray painted with gold car paint.
It was decided to remove the paint from the pipes so that the condition of the original surface could be assessed. The original yellow bole (coloured undercoat) was present over a layer of gesso, together with some remains of a copper-based leaf and several layers of metallic paint. Re-gilding of the pipes was eventually chosen so that the organ would be presented as originally intended. Advice was taken from gilders, curators from other institutions and musical instrument makers. The original surface on the pipes was consolidated and then gilded with pure gold leaf. The pipes were size gilded to retain as much of the original surface as possible – the alternative was oil gilding, which would have required that a new layer of gesso be painted onto the pipes. The final reflective finish was toned down with tinted shellac.
The panels behind the pipes are wooden frames with fabric stretched over. The 1984 restoration included the re-covering the frames with a brown synthetic fabric. Investigation revealed traces of the original fabric which was a bright red cotton, and a similar fabric was selected to re-cover the panels.
Other treatment on the organ involved surface cleaning and re-attachment of missing mouldings. Future treatments will involve returning the organ to playing condition and removing the electric bellows installed in the 1960’s.