Concertina Doctor of Bathurst



Warren Fahey © 2005

THE CONCERTINA DOCTOR OF BATHURST

Who was the ‘Concertina Doctor of Bathurst’?
In 2005 I began a search for this legendary character who advertised regularly in the first two decades of The Bulletin magazine, and this led me to undertake some associated research on the general history of the instrument in Australia.

Around 1880 a Mr. John Stanley opened a concertina factory in Bathurst and advertised his Stanley Concertina, modeled on the English Lachenal concertina, and also his repair shop.

Stanley’s advertisements in The Bulletin, then known affectionately as ‘The Bushman’;s Bible’, always carried the legend ‘The Concertina Doctor’.

Situated in William Street, Bathurst, the firm did business for at least twenty years with the final Bulletin advertisement being placed around 1900. This was the only concertina actually made in Australia despite the popularity of the musical instrument for more than fifty years. We can only assume that there were other repairers or instruments were sent back to England for repair.

In his advertisements J Stanley claimed to have “the cheapest and largest range of Anglo Concertinas in Australia. Guaranteed extra loud and guaranteed to last two years.’ Mr Stanley was never shy, applauding his own work and criticizing his competitors.

In the January, 1884, Bulletin advertisement he suggests:

 

“Reader! Did you ever rob a priest? Or a church? Or a blind man? If not, you are unfit to keep a music shop in Sydney! Send for my price list and see how you are fleeced to pay for heavy rents. Look into any instrument in Sydney, and you will find it is botched with a bit of old candlestick, reduced with a rasp – and then compare it with my work, and laugh!”

 

It would be interesting to know which music store (or stores) he was referring to in his cheeky advertisement. Palings and Nicholson’s Music House were in the city Central but there was also a Wheatstone and Lachenal agent and retail outlet in Queen Street, Woollahra. Alberts Music, a company that still survives and, amongst other activities, looks after the publishing and masters of the super group AC/DC, also imported and distributed concertinas and accordions.

 

 

 

It is not known how many Stanley Concertinas were made by the enterprising Bathurst merchant however several fine examples do exist and are regularly played by folk musicians across Australia. The instruments are recognised for their craftsmanship and their loudness. Stanley prized this feature and devised a method of screwing down the levers so the instrument’s musical articulation would not vary in the heat of the bush. Richard Evans, of Bell, is Australia’s current ‘concertina doctor’ and he told Fahey that in repairing old Stanley concertinas he discovered that the Bathurst maker had used clock springs to make his reeds, and that he often inscribed the fretwork with the name of the purchaser.

The Stanley Concertinas were sold across Australia and were popular in the shearing sheds, droving camps and homesteads of the golden age of Australia’s colonial expansion. Stanley imported some of the parts but modified them to withstand the idiosyncrasies of the Australian climate.

Searches of the Mitchell Library and Bathurst Historical Society revealed no manuscript files (or anything else for that matter) and a lengthy article published by the Bathurst Advocate in 2005 (based on the above information) also failed to make contact with any of Stanley’s family. One reader did make contact saying he had a Stanley concertina that had been played by his grandfather.

Bob Bolton, a longtime member of the Bush Music Club and a continuing font of knowledge, advised me that the late John Meredith had undertaken some work on Stanley’s history : “Merro did have a long article about John Stanley in one of the popular magazines … probably Pix – some time in the ’70s or early ’80s. Unfortunately, the information from his family was a bit biased (or just selectively remembered!) and the impression is given that he made everything himself. Examination of actual instruments of his various grades indicates quite a lot of standard Lachenal in his cheaper lines … and some parts, like action boards, were still based on standard Lachenal components … even in his top models – those where he hand-fretted the customer’s name into the ends.

However, he applied a number of his distinctive local modifications, such as stamped-out, screw-fixed action pivots to replace Lachenal’s ‘pinned’ or ‘brass staple’ pivots – and felt gaskets in the joins in the ends and between the bellows frames to take up any warping in the heat and dryness of Bathurst.

Richard Evans has worked on a number of his concertinas of various grades and can identify Stanley’s very good reed tuning and voicing, so he was good at his game. A set of new reeds, in D/G, made by Richard for my original 20-key Lachenal (Bb/F!) were made with a good look at Stanley’s techniques … and proved to have a really good sound, especially for a quite low-pitched set .”

Valda Low, editor of Simply Australia e-magazine (and my website designer/patron) also did some digging in the public records:

 

  A very quick search shows a John George Stanley married in Bathurst to Lydia Brown in 1879BUT . . . a Lydia and a John George had 6 boys including a John F. (1866), all born in Bathurst between 1866 and 1879, so they were still there in 1879 which would fit your time frame. But if so, all out of wedlock??

A John G. Stanley also married in Bathurst in 1865 to an Emma Pontifex but no children recorded in NSW.

John G. died in the Bathurst district in 1913 (so this would most possibly be your John Stanley Sr.

 

 

 The campfire was a natural stage for the concertina

 

The image of the lone bushman, seated by a campfire, playing a concertina replaced the earlier image of the instrument being played by shanty-singing sailors. The instrument also became associated with the Salvation Army who often incorporated it into their street crusade bands because of its portability and their desire to equate their music with the working class Australian.

 

Above: Sydney Salvationist Don Woodland. Photo 2004 W. Fahey Collection