Playing On: John York and the Sydney Brass Musical Instrument Factory

Andrew Evans


The history of John York and the Sydney Brass Musical Instrument Factory contains familiar elements of a quintessential nineteenth-century Australian narrative. It features a skilled English immigrant who brought his family to a developing capital city and became a manufacturer and small business owner. It is an unusual story in that York practised the specialised skill of brass instrument making and repairing and was one of a handful of brass instrument makers known to have operated in Sydney at the time. At the end of the nineteenth century the significant purchasing power of an expanding Australian middle class, and a strong demand for the many musical instruments required for home entertainment, generated vigorous competition amongst Sydney’s music retailers. Cheaper British mass produced instruments were aggressively marketed by Palings and Nicholsons whose ‘emporiums’ were located at the more fashionable northern end of George Street. In order to succeed in this market, John York’s reputation as an instrument maker and repairer was paramount. This was largely founded on the promise of consistent, high quality workmanship and superior, personalised service. Even after his death in 1910, this enduring reputation sustained loyalty from York’s customers well into the middle of the twentieth century when the business continued under the management of his wife and sons.


Chippendale; John York; Brass; Instrument-making; Bands

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