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2004/103/1 Flute, single key, boxwood / ivory / brass, Hermann Wrede, London, England, 1837-1841, retailed by Francis Ellard, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1837-1854. Click to enlarge.

Single key flute

This flute is one of the earliest extant musical instruments known to have been sold in Australia and helps in building up examples of material culture relating to the early retailing and musical life of Sydney prior to 1850.

The instrument bears the stamp of London maker Hermann Wrede who had his premises at 35 Lr White Cross, Cripplegate between 1837 and 1841. The address is also stamped on the flute. Other examples of Wrede's instruments such as flutes and clarinets are found in various …


Object No.


Object Statement

Flute, single key, boxwood / ivory / brass, Hermann Wrede, London, England, 1837-1841, retailed by Francis Ellard, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1837-1854

Physical Description

Flute, single key, boxwood / ivory / brass, made by Hermann Wrede, London, England, 1837-1841, retailed by Francis Ellard, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1837-1854

Single key boxwood flute with ivory mounts consisting of four sections - headpiece with embouchure hole, upper joint with three finger holes, lower shorter joint with three finger holes, foot joint with single brass key for closed D# with typical 19th century squared hole cover and fiddle shaped touch.



The flute was made by Hermann Wrede whilst at 35 Lr White Cross Street, Cripplegate, London, England. He resided at this address from 1837 until 1841. This flute was made at a time when many other simple system flutes were acquiring numerous keys in various combinations up to 8 keys. Being a single key flute of this period, made from boxwood and using brass for the key possibly indicates it was a cheaper model of flute.

Herman Wrede is also listed as a Pianoforte Maker at 35 Lower Whitecross Street in the Post Office London Directory 1841 (page 779). He is also listed at this address in the same directory as a maker of guitars, horns, trumpets, bugles and violins (page 767). This variety possibly suggests that by 1841 he was also a musical instrument dealer.



Francis Ellard came to Australia from Dublin in 1832 and soon established, for the most part, a thriving instrument retailing business. After establishing his business in Adelaide Place, Hunter Street he later moved to George Street, next to the silversmith Alexander Dick. After Dick's death, Ellard married his widow in 1846. Ellard, also a musician and publisher of sheet music, and his family were intimately involved in the musical life of Sydney until his death at his Pitt Street residence on 10th July 1854.

The "Journal of Robert Wrede" (a manusript in the collection of the NLA transcribed in 2012 by Peter Nicholls) provides recollections related to music instrument purchases in England and travels to Australia which support the possibility of this instrument being purchased and transported to Australia by Robert William Wrede and sold to Ellard along with other instruments in 1838. (details contained in partial transcription on blue file).

from Peter Nicholls -

The "Journal of Robert Wrede" covers every day of the period 12 Oct 1837 - 2 Jan 1841. During that time, (from the age of only 20) Robert travelled from England to Sydney (via Cape Town), then to Melbourne, Tasmania and Adelaide, selling his father's instruments and having the most remarkable adventures along the way. He returned to England via Surabaya, Singapore, India, and St Helena. Later he returned to Australia to marry the daughter of the one time Mayor of Melbourne, John Hodgson. He gave the Melbourne suburb of Altona its name. He died in Melbourne in December 1857.

The Wrede flute in your collection was very likely one of the instruments brought to Australia by Robert Wrede, who records in his Journal how he visited Mr Ellard just the day after Robert had arrived in Sydney after many weeks at sea.

"Saturday 24th February 1838 : Took a long walk before breakfast, after which I called on Mr Ellard and had but a cool reception with an invitation to dinner; but as I was not without the means of procuring it elsewhere, I declined it. No Music shop in London is worthy of being compared to Mr Ellard's in point of elegance. [...]"

"Monday 26th February 1838 : Called on Mr Ellard [...]"

"Wednesday 28th February 1838 : [...] Met Mr Ellard when he was more chatty, and more jealous than ever, as it is his opinion that I intend setting up in Sydney to his loss; he told me that he had heard I had been appointed Surveyor to the Customs, and would not believe me when I assured him to the contrary. [...]"

Friday 9th March 1838 : [...] Saw Ellard and shewed him his order of Instruments, with which he seemed pleased on the whole; but complained of the high prices of the best Accordions - he said French ones answered the same purpose here. He is very much in want of Music paper but can get Bugles as cheap as I can. He requested I would not undersell him in Piano-Fortes and told me I might expect £80 for a Cabinet and £60 for a best Square Piano Forte. [...]"

"Thursday 15th March 1838 : The whole day at the Store sorting my goods and tuning Pianos - every thing correct with the exception of one plain third Flute, short." [This entry indicates that flutes were included in the instruments Robert imported]

"Tuesday 20th March 1838 : Very busy all day - sold all my small instruments to Ellard at invoice price - and Music at ½ price to be paid in 2 bills at 6 and 12 months. Rather too long credit for such a young beginner."

"Friday 23rd March 1838 : Sent Ellard his goods, and let a name in one of the square Piano Fortes."

Note:- it appears from Robert's later correspondence that the name attached to the piano was not necessarily that of the real maker. English pianos were preferred to German instruments, so the name of a fictitious English piano maker might be attached to a German piano to fetch a better price.

The lucrative nature of the musical instrument business in the young colony is indicated in a passing reference in a letter Robert Wrede write to his father from Sydney on 24 March 1838 -

"[...] no article pays here as well at present (Musical Instruments perhaps excepted) as Cape wine [...] Oh! that I had £5000 placed now at my disposal, I would pledge myself to double it in 2 years, and that in the easiest manner possible. [...]"

As for the history of Hermann Wrede himself, my researches give his dates as 1770 - 1841. His other son Herman inherited the business, so later references to Herman(n) Wrede would be to the son, not the father. Herman jr seems to have fallen on hard times in later years and was at one time imprisoned for debt.

The "Journal of Robert Wrede" was edited, annotated and published by me in 2012 under the title "A Wonderful Change". The original MS is held in the National Library in Canberra. Hermann Wrede was my great great great (etc) grandfather.

Peter Nicholls


Credit Line

Purchased with the assistance of Mr Robert Albert AO, 2004

Acquisition Date

15 June 2004

Cite this Object


Single key flute 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 November 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Single key flute |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=28 November 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}