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H8405 Upright pianoforte, cedar / wood / textile / metal, made by John Benham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1835. Click to enlarge.

Upright pianoforte by John Benham

Made c.1835
This is possibly the earliest surviving Australian made piano and as such has great historical importance to the development of musical instrument making in Australia and in particular piano construction. Not much is known of John Benham's life prior to his arrival in this country. Whether he worked for one of the London fortepiano makers is unknown but he described himself as a carpenter on the shipping lists. Travelling by assisted passage, he arrived in Australia from England in 1833 and by the following year was advertising his piano making business. He worked at various inner Sydney addresses until his death in 1845.

The piano is made from Australian timbers, including kauri or hoop pine for the soundboard and Australian red cedar for the casework. It is of the cottage type with a reproduction decorative fabric panel at the front. The cabinet features carved timber columns either side of the fabric panel, each with lotus capitals suggesting an Egyptian revival style. Two arc shaped pull out candle holders are placed above the keyboard, one at each end. It has a six octave compass ranging from FF to f'''' and is strung as bichord (pairs of strings) throughout. The wooden frame has metal bracing.

Michael Lea
Curator, music & musical instruments


Object No.


Object Statement

Upright pianoforte, cedar / wood / textile / metal, made by John Benham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1835

Physical Description

Upright piano constructed on a timber frame with metal bracing. Australian red cedar case features decorative pillars with Egyptian-style lotus capitals. A candle stand is concealed on each side of the keyboard and may be pulled out by lathed bone knobs. Red silk front panel gathered at the centre to form a roseate is not original but is authentic in style.

Compass six octaves (FF-f''''); bichord throughout with lowest thirteenth notes overspun. The strings individually hitched and run straight to the floor, hammers were originally covered in leather. Piano keys have decorative moulding on fronts. The soundboard has been made in sections, possibly of Agathissp or kauri (Moule). Piano fitted with two pedals (una corda and sostenuto).


Maker's name plate reads: 'J. BENHAM/Piano-forte Maker/SYDNEY'.



1412 mm


1210 mm


588 mm





Two cottage cabinet pianos of "Australian Materials and Manufacture" were advertised for sale by Benham in the Sydney Gazette in 1835 (The Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 10 December 1835, p.3).



John Benham arrived in Sydney with his wife and four children in 1833 and is listed in the Australian Almanac and Sydney Directory as a pianoforte maker in Upper Pitt Street in 1834. The New South Wales Calender and General Post Office Directory of 1835 lists him at Liverpool Street, Sydney. This is corroborated by a newspaper advertisement which gives his address as "No.5 Liverpool-street, East" (The Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 10 December 1835, p.3).

By 1837 Benham had moved to new premises in York Place and posted a "Notice of Removal" regarding this in The Sydney Gazette (The Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser, Tuesday 27 June 1837, p.3). In 1839 the New South Wales and Port Phillip General Post Office Directory still listed Benham's address as York Place, York Street, Sydney. The City of Sydney Directory of 1844 gives his address as 118 York Street. In all these directories and advertisements he is identified as a pianoforte maker.

John Benham was born in England about 1784 and was 49 years old when he migrated to Australia. His profession was recorded as a cabinetmaker according to the arrivals notice published in the Sydney Herald in 1833 (The Sydney Herald, Thursday 17 October 1833, p.2). Benham is believed to have made several piano's in Australia but it is unconfirmed so far if he worked for a piano manufacturer in England before coming to Australia. He died at the age of 61 on 17 October 1845 at his residence in York Place, York Street (The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 20 October 1845 p.3 and The Atlas, Vol.1 No.48 25/10/1845 p.575). The information on his burial record and in the newspaper death notice puts his age as being 61 years.

Along with one of Sydney's earliest musical instrument retailers, Francis Ellard, John Benham was called on as a piano expert to give information in a court case in Sydney in 1835 regarding a dispute over the value and sale of a piano (Stephen v. Lyons). In the case Benham describes himself as a pianoforte maker and a repairer of pianos. The case was reported in the Sydney Gazette on 9th July 1835.

Michael Lea
Curator, music & musical instruments
May 2009
Updated July 2013.


Credit Line

Purchased 1968

Acquisition Date

24 May 1968

Cite this Object


Upright pianoforte by John Benham 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 August 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Upright pianoforte by John Benham |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=4 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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