More on the ‘Bamboo Organ of Tungkadoo’ (SHA1857/1881.)

21 April 2019

In the course of looking for material on another topic, Project founder Prof. Urrows came across a hitherto undocumented article in The North-China Herald for 9 May 1925, “The Old Tungkadoo [Dongjiadu] Cathedral”. This article provides some addition information about SHA1881 (the final incarnation of the ‘Bamboo Organ of Tungkadoo’, originally SHA1857). According to the anonymous reporter:

“The Cathedral is also remarkable for having what is probably the only bamboo organ in the world. This is an organ of bamboo pipes all of local workmanship and it was used until recently and had a very sweet tone. Unfortunately owing to some trouble with the blowing apparatus the organ has fallen into disrepair and in consequence is not used now.”  

This may mean that the 1918 renovations undertaken by Monsignor Lécroart not only included replacing some of the pipes, but may also have seen an electric blower added, although this is not clear from way in which the article is phrased. By 1932, Fr. Roger Doherty SSC heard the organ play at Christmas Midnight Mass, so there were some (until now) undocumented repairs by unknown persons in the intervening seven years. It is possible some work was done in 1925 by the Jones brothers who, at precisely the same time as this article appeared, were busy at Holy Trinity Cathedral beginning the installation of the great Harrison & Harrison organ, SHA1925. Since they overhauled the earlier Walker organ (SHA1883a) in Holy Trinity at this time and reinstalled it at Zikawei, it is plausible that they might have also have been asked to make some repairs to SHA1881, but this is only a hypothesis.

The NCH article was accompanied by a handsome picture of the nave and high altar (below), taken from the organ gallery by doctor, photographer, and amateur organist R[obert] V[yvyan] Dent (1893-1963), who must surely have played the instrument that was sitting right behind him! It is a source of endless frustration that no photograph of the bamboo organ has yet come to light, not even one by Dent who would have had every reason and opportunity to take one.