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Charles Richardson (1847–1926)

by G. D. Rushworth

This article was published:

Charles Richardson (1847-1926), organbuilder, was born on 25 July 1847 at Camden Town, London, son of William Ebenezer Richardson, organ builder, and his wife Mary, née Thomas. He was trained for his craft with the London firms William Hill & Son and Henry Willis & Sons, and in Paris with Charles Barker. Afterwards he became a partner in his father's business, W. E. Richardson & Sons, of London, Manchester and Preston.

On 24 November 1877 Richardson married Mary Jane Moorhouse at Manchester; their only child Mary Winifred was born in 1879. Charles and his family arrived in Sydney in October 1882; he established an organbuilding business that lasted for over forty years. Working at first from Womerah Avenue, Darlinghurst, he moved to Oxford Street, Paddington, about 1890, to St Philip's School building at Church Hill in 1895, and finally to Trafalgar Street, Stanmore, in 1913.

Richardson attempted to establish organbuilding as an industry, employing perhaps a dozen workmen at his peak and indenting apprentices, including Charles W. Leggo, Thomas C. Edwards and Sidney T. Noad, who became the next generation of local organbuilders.

The number of organs known with certainty to have been built by Richardson is over thirty, but a realistic estimate of his output might exceed forty-five. He also rebuilt or enlarged many existing instruments, erected imported organs and established an extensive tuning and maintenance business. In 1903 he was appointed to tune and maintain the organ in Sydney Town Hall, and this brought him the contract for the huge task of renovation and repair that he completed in just over three months. His organs were made for churches throughout New South Wales and as far afield as Brisbane. His instruments were of small and medium size: the two largest, both of two manuals and seventeen stops, were made for St Enoch's Presbyterian Church, Newtown (1898) and Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane (1903).

The physical construction, tonal design and finishing of Richardson's organs was usually of a high order and his instruments proved durable. Although many have been rebuilt or broken up, excellent examples remain at the churches of St Columba, Woollahra, St Aidan, Blackheath, St Andrew, Singleton, and Sts Simon and Jude, Bowral.

The times in which Richardson worked in Sydney were never free of difficulties and he constantly struggled against adverse economic conditions, government indifference to local industry, prejudice against locally made organs, overseas and interstate competition and World War I. Nevertheless, except for William Davidson who from 1869 produced at least nineteen organs, he had few rivals in Sydney.

Survived by his wife and daughter, Richardson died at Stanmore on 22 May 1926 and was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood cemetery. His instruments that remain, with a few of his letters and remarks reported in newspapers, show him to have been an artist of integrity—educated, articulate and gentlemanly.

Select Bibliography

  • Maitland Mercury, 10 July 1897
  • State Records New South Wales.

Citation details

G. D. Rushworth, 'Richardson, Charles (1847–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 July, 1847
London, Middlesex, England


22 May, 1926 (aged 78)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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