Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fincham, George (1828–1910)

by John Henwood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

George Fincham (1828-1910), organbuilder, was born on 20 August 1828 at St Pancras, Middlesex, England, the second son of Jonathan George Fincham, organbuilder, and his wife Jane, née Parry. After attending a private school he was apprenticed in 1842-49 to the London organbuilder, Henry Bevington, and then worked as a foreman for James Bishop & Son.

Fincham arrived in Victoria on 9 July 1852 in the Duke of Cornwall and set up as an organ-tuner and repairer at 113 Queen Street, Melbourne. Next year he visited the Ballarat diggings but returned in 1854. In 1855 he bought land in Bridge Road, Richmond, where he built his home and a bluestone factory. To finance equipment and stock for his factory, he worked on the new Spencer Street railway station building and later for James Henty & Co. By 1862 he was able to start organbuilding; churches then had funds for pipe organs and interest in organ music was stimulated by the newly-arrived organists Charles Horsley, David Lee and Rev. George Torrance. In June 1866 the Victorian government awarded Fincham £100 for organbuilding with colonial materials and metal pipes of his own manufacture. In 1878 he bought the firm of Lee & Kaye, and in 1881 established an Adelaide branch, managed by Arthur Hobday, his ex-apprentice, until sold in 1894 to Josiah Dodd. In 1904 he opened a branch in Sydney, while he had agents in Perth (1897) and Brisbane (1902).

Fincham's first organ was of ten stops; at the same time he built an organ of seventeen stops. This was the first organ of any considerable size built in the colony; it was opened in the factory on 21 December 1864. His organ for the Melbourne Exhibition in 1866 won an award, the first of many for his work. In 1879 his tender for an organ for the Melbourne Exhibition Building was accepted against overseas competition. The four-manual organ of seventy speaking stops was completed for the 1880-81 Melbourne International Exhibition, and remained in use in the building for nearly fifty years. Altogether he built about 200 organs for cathedrals and churches and supplied pipe work and parts to organbuilders throughout Australasia. His integrity and the quality of the organs he built overcame the prejudice towards colonial work. He was outstanding among Australian organbuilders for his skill, his business ability and his readiness to keep pace with modern trends. He patented many improvements; most of the organs he built had mechanical action and from 1886 some had tubular-pneumatic.

Active in church and community affairs Fincham was a vestryman at St Stephen's Church, Richmond, until 1878 when the family moved to Hawthorn. In 1880 he became a justice of the peace and honorary magistrate. He was a member of the Chamber of Manufactures and was a committee member of the Workingmen's College, the Victorian Society of Organists and the Melbourne Philharmonic Society; he also joined the Metropolitan Liedertafel, the Old Colonists' Association, the Richmond and Hawthorn bowling clubs and the Hawthorn Rowing Club. In 1858 Fincham married Margaret, daughter of Samuel Tilley and his wife Ann, née Warrington. Of their four children, one son died in infancy and Frederick (1861-1878) died in the wreck of the Loch Ard; a daughter was born in 1877 while a third son, Leslie V. H. (1879-1955), became a partner of the firm in 1901. Fincham died at Hawthorn on 21 December 1910. His business was continued by his descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • E. N. Matthews, Colonial Organs and Organbuilders (Melb, 1969), and for bibliography
  • Royal Commission on the Tariff, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1883, 4 (10).

Citation details

John Henwood, 'Fincham, George (1828–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fincham-george-3514/text5403, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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