HKG1921

Census IDHKG1921
LocationHong Kong, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
BuilderBlackett and Howden
SpecsIII/60 + Ped
ActionElectro-pneumatic

This rebuilding, by William Charlton Blackett (of Blackett and Howden), of Trice’s HKG1888,   occurred between 1917 (when Blackett arrived in Hong Kong) and 1920/21. It was a large-scale rebuild along the lines of his later work at St. John’s Cathedral (HKG1927a), expanding the organ to three manuals and 60 stops, as well enlarging Trice’s striking case (which is still in situ) and converting the organ to pneumatic action. Obviously he must have added soundboards and wind chests, which probably account for the addition of two lateral towers, not parts of the original case, and well as the now-missing ‘flying buttress’ screens on either end (see pic below). It is almost certain than some of the 60 stops were duplexed and/or unitized. As a major builder of theater organs, Blackett would have known all the techniques for doing this. The organ was the largest organ ever installed in China, until the IV/93 Rieger in the Hong Kong Cultural Center (HKG1989).

In the 1921 Dictionary of Organs and Organists, the entry for the “Roman Catholic Cathedral” gives “Built by Blackett and Howden. 2 Manuals”. However while this notes the rebuild, it appears to give the old specs. Herbert Westerby (ca. 1865-1949), the British organist, gave the specs as III/60 in his 1927 encyclopedia, The Complete Organ Recitalist. The financial accounts for the Vicariate Apostolic of Hong Kong show that 75 dollars was spent on a harmonium in 1920, suggesting that this served while the organ was under reconstruction.

Blackett overhauled the organ again in 1937-38, due to the deterioration of the organ gallery which had been infested with white ants. No further specifications have survived from either rebuild.

In 1949 an unknown builder made some repairs. Some pipes (and possibly the console) from the derelict St. John’s Cathedral organ (rebuilt by Blackett in 1937) were donated for this purpose at the time that HKG1927a was dismantled, and other parts were obtained from Italy. The much-rebuilt organ was still functioning to some extent into the 1960s, but in the early 1970s it was dismantled and discarded, except for case. It now houses a Rodgers electronic organ.

Some traces of the pneumatic action survive (see photos)

The facade of HKG1921 at present, with dummy pipes and modifications and additions by Blackett to the lateral towers.

Rodgers dummy pipes fitted into Blackett and Howden’s (or Trice’s original fully pneumatic?) blocks for the facade, with inlet for pneumatic lead tubing.

Choir of the Preparatory Seminary in the cantoria during the rebuilding of HKG1921 in 1937/38 (they are in the middle of a radio broadcast.) Notice the ‘flying buttress’ (and no pipes) at the south end of the organ case, which has disappeared today.