ECU flies First Fleet piano back to UK for restoration

The First Fleet piano.
The First Fleet piano.

ONE of Australia’s greatest musical treasures, the first piano to ever come to Australia with the First Fleet, flew to the UK this week to be restored to its original playing condition.

Known as the First Fleet piano, the keyboard left Britain more than 230 years ago to set sail for Australia, arriving at Botany Bay in 1788 after eight months at sea.

The piano returned to the motherland on an Emirates SkyCargo flight overnight to access British expertise for the critical restoration required to allow it to be played again.

The piano being loaded on Emirates SkyCargo.

The English square piano was built in London in 1786 and over its lifetime, has survived fires, many different owners and a journey across the Nullarbor to where it now is housed as part of the Founding Pianos collection at ECU.

“The First Fleet piano is not just the first piano in Australia, it is also the first piano upon which lessons were given,” ECU Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Chapman said.

“As such this is a significant and important cultural project that connects Australia and the UK through both heritage and music.”

The First Fleet piano being loaded into Emirate SkyCargo.

Bath-based master restorer Lucy Coad will carry out the restoration work over about 10 months.

“I’m really excited about restoring the First Fleet square piano and forging a link with Australia on this project,” she said.

“Edith Cowan University understands the importance and the need for preserving these early instruments for both historic interests and for teaching purposes at the university.”

Joondalup MLA Emily Hamilton and ECU Vice-Chancellor Steven Chapman.

Last month, Joondalup MLA Emily Hamilton presented a $91,800 Lotterywest cheque to Professor Chapman for the restoration costs.

The WA Agent General to the UK Mike Deeks, Australian Deputy High Commissioner Matt Anderson and the WA Governor Kim Beazley will host a gala reception to welcome the instrument at Australia House on March 26.

The restored piano is expected to return to Australia for a year of celebration, including the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven and the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia.

ECU’s Founding Pianos project will incorporate restoration, replicas, scholarships, bursaries and technician skills.

The university plans to link students with European piano restorers who will teach them the finer points of the trade.

With only a handful of global experts remaining in the dying art of keyboard restoration, ECU is committed to offering scholarships and training programs to increase knowledge of these rare skills.

This year the university launches the world’s first PhD program devoted to keyboard instrument restoration, which will research and document current methods of maintaining the instruments’ vitality.