Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Harmonium Comes to Life

Jeanine Snell and I had a quite lovely and unexpected experience this week. We were asked by Lynette Leach, visiting with her husband Athol from Williamstown in Melbourne, if she could please play the harmonium on display upstairs in the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery. The harmonium was brought to Norfolk Island by Pastor Alfred Phelps and his wife Mrs Phelps in 1884. They brought it here for the new Methodist Church which was soon to be located in the Old Military Barracks. The harmonium continued to be used by the Church after they relocated and up until the 1960’s when they replaced it with an electric organ.

Lynette Leach playing our Harmonium
 As so many harmoniums and organs today are electric, there are not too people who know how to play one using the foot peddles and manually operating the stops. Lynette told us that she learnt how to play from her father who had been a Church Minister. Lynette, also a Minister at the Williamstown Church of Christ in Melbourne, has played piano from age five. The harmonium is in working order and as she clearly knew how to play we were pleased to consent to her request. The Pier Store was then filled with the amazing sound of this beautiful harmonium, as Lynette played well known Church hymns as well as the Pitcairn Anthem, Gesthemane and Oakleigh. It was a very special and quite emotional experience hearing the harmonium being played and to hear those hymns by Driver Christian, George Hunn Nobbs and Gustav Adolph Quintal reverberating through the Pier Store. In a cabinet beside the harmonium sits the tuning fork owned by George Hunn Nobbs, which was then passed to Driver Christian and then Gustav Quintal. The playing was a powerful reminder of the strong musicality and musical legacy left by not only these men, but so many Pitcairn Islanders and past Norfolk Island generations.
Mrs Phelps

Pastor Phelps from the book "Gathering Jewels"
The story of the Phelps’ and their bringing of Methodism to Norfolk Island was not without controversy. Pastor Phelps was an American Methodist missionary and he and his wife arrived on the island specifically to start up a Church. They began meetings in the home of Parkin Christian and within a few months held their first gospel temperance meeting. However there was great opposition to the starting of a Methodist Church including protests by angry crowds. This resulted in Chief Magistrate Arthur Quintal taking the unprecedented action of swearing in special constables to keep the peace. He said “on account of the numerous uproars and outbreaks of violent deeds between the Church people and the Phelpites I was obliged to adopt severe measures to prevent it, by drawing a line of distinction between the parties with strict orders to refrain from using abusing language against each other”. The congregation grew and within two years they had converted the Old Military Barracks into a church. The opposition did not stop and in 1888 a petition signed by 55 adult male members of the community called (unsuccessfully) for the Phelps’ deportation. Pastor Phelps’ death a few years later and his wife’s return to America slowed things a little, however the Church continued with visiting preachers from New Zealand together with local laymen giving pastoral care until 1902.  In 1903 the Norfolk Island Methodist Church was attached to the Methodist Church in Australia with Rev. R. M. Laverty as Minister. In 1974 the Methodist Church in Australia became part of the newly formed Uniting Church in Australia.

The Harmonium is on permanent loan to the Museum from Alan and Maureen

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