John Devereux is one of the earliest violin makers known to have been working in Australia and is seen as Australia's first professional bowed string instrument maker. He had a significant reputation and output from the 1860s to 1880s and was a contemporary of Australia's other great maker of this period William Dow, also of Melbourne. Born in England in 1810, Devereux arrived in Australia in 1854 from London where he had been working in the workshop of violin maker Bernhard Simon Fendt (1800-1852). He settled in Melbourne and operated a violin making business there until his death in 1883. Apart from double basses he is known to have made violins, violas and cellos. He was apparently an accomplished double bass player and performed regularly at Government House in Melbourne.
Devereux won several awards for his instruments at inter-colonial exhibitions held in Australia between 1860 and 1872. In particular he was awarded a gold medal in 1866 in which the jurors report states they "congratulate the colonies on possessing so talented a stringed instrument maker, his specimens being admirable in every respect". The Argus newspaper, reported on 15th January 1868 that "Mr John Devereux of Fitzroy had an interview with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, before his departure from the colony, and presented him with a beautiful violin of his own manufacture. His Royal Highness was pleased to appoint Mr Devereux as his instrument maker in the colony and promised that the necessary appointment should be forwarded from home." After this 1868 meeting Devereux used the inscription on his labels, "Violin and Bass Maker to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh".
This violin contains characteristics of Devereux's other instruments including an internal tension bar running the length of the body of the instrument from top to bottom. Most Devereux instruments remaining in original condition contain the tension bar which he devised in Australia to strengthen the instrument and prevent twisting of it in the Australian climate. This rigidity was also a way of keeping his instruments in tune in the local climate.
In addition to this violin the Powerhouse Museum also contains another violin by Devereux dating from 1869, a viola by Devereux dated 1869, a double bass by Devereux from about 1856, the 1866 gold medallion inter-colonial exhibition award, referred to above, and a separate tension bar and labels.
Curator, music and musical instruments
A. Coggins; Violin and Bow Makers of Australia, (WriteLight Pty Ltd/Alan Coggins, Blackheath, Australia, 2009, pp.68-71).
A. Coggins & M. Lea; "Making It Down Under" in The Strad, July 2004, Vol.115, No.1371, pp.712-717.
M. Lea; "By Appointment...John Devereux - Australia's First Professional Stringed Instrument Maker" in Australiana, May 2008, Vol 30, No 2, pp.11-17.