In 1787-1788, the Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet and one of the eleven British ships that sailed to Botany Bay (surprisingly) carried a small portable piano belonging to surgeon George Boucher Worgan 1  The fact Worgan brought with him a piano on the First Fleet is supported by the diaries kept by men who were on the First Fleet. In 1791, before he left the colony, George Worgan gave the piano to Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur, who subsequently moved to Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. After 1793, it disappeared from the records. In the early 20th century, scholars and antiques hunters went searching for it, with little success. An antiques dealer considers that he found one that was, more likely than any others, that piano, which he stated in a signed document belonging to the owner of one of the pianos.  Unfortunately, the dealer also sold another piano whose current owner makes the same claim, based on that piano’s “hinged cabriole legs”, and alleged hearsay from that antiques dealer.  As a result, there are two pianos claiming the status of being the First Fleet Piano.

On 14 April 2019, the Sun Herald published an article about the “rival pianos”

The reporter, Tim Barlass, says, “When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788 there was a piano on the flagship HMS Sirius owned by surgeon George Worgan.  A piano, claimed to be the First Fleet piano, was flown back to England last month for refurbishment and there are rumours it may be played before the Queen.  Step forward a Sydney collector with a very similar piano who believes he has the First Fleet piano in his living room.  Both pianos passed through the hands of the same Sydney antiques dealer and both are said to have been discovered languishing in the laundry of a private home”.

Here is the article –

The Sydney Morning Herald Sunday 14 April 2019

In a series of four articles on this website, I examine the claims and provide a suggested chain of ownership to make one of those two pianos the more likely candidate for the First Fleet Piano.

My conclusion is that if either of the two pianos is indeed the “First Fleet Piano”, the Longman & Broderip piano belonging to Brian Barrow has by far the better claim. The reasons for my opinion are:

  • The close connection between the Longman & Broderip company and Dr John Worgan, George Worgan’s father;
  • The condition of the piano – it has suffered more than most pianos that still exist;
  • The opinion of the Hon Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia, that Bill Bradshaw, the antiques dealer, would never out of his professional pride, sell two items with the same provenance;
  • The written provenance from Bill Bradshaw;
  • The continuum of family connections from the Macarthurs through to the Mathews family living near Parramatta who sold the piano to Bill Bradshaw;
  • Bill Bradshaw’s impeccable reputation; and
  • The fact that the Longman & Broderip piano was purchased by the current owner in 1969 and its origins were being discovered well before extraordinarily similar claims were made for the other piano.

This piano “symphony” will be in four movements: Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo and Rondo.

HMS Sirius, courtesy Sydney Living Museums
Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur (detail from painting in NSW State Library)
Longman & Broderip pianoforte showing keyboard
  1. George Boucher Worgan’s name is spelt in different ways in the records – sometimes “Boucher”, other times “Bouchir”, or “Bouchier”.  His death certificate spells his name “Boucher” Worgan.
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