The South Island Organ Company Ltd (SIOC) was established in Timaru, New Zealand in 1968 by Garth Cattle (from Osmond of Taunton) and Vic Hackworthy (from Hill Norman & Beard of London), both young Englishmen with a commitment to high quality organ building.
The Company started humbly in an unused corner of a fibrous plaster factory, with little work, no territory and virtually no plant. By the end of that year it had sufficient work signed up to engage John Gray (of Hill Norman & Beard, London) as voicer, John Hargraves (of John Lee, Feilding) as organ builder and Neil Stocker (Timaru) as apprentice. In 1969 Vic returned to England and the Company was reformed with Garth Cattle, John Gray and John Hargraves as directors.
The new Company made an immediate impact with the rebuilding of St Johns Invercargill (1931 3/37 HN&B/Lewis), the restoration of All Saints (1877 2/18 Bevington) and the rebuilding of St Matthew's (1879 3/26 Bevington) Dunedin and Christchurch Cathedral Nelson organs in the first two years. These soon led to our first new organ at Craighead School (2/15), Timaru in 1970 and in 1973 the first 4 manual organ built in New Zealand for many years at St Paul's Cathedral Dunedin (4/61 Willis). In the same year organ builder Gerald Green (of Hill Norman & Beard, Lewes) joined the company.
The Company set a high standard right from the beginning, both in organ building and in tuning and maintenance, and by 1973 had bought out both the existing South Island sole trader organ builders and built a new factory at Washdyke. In 1974 the Company's market extended to the North Island, with the first contract being a new organ for Our Lady of Lourdes in Palmerston North (2/3 rank extension).
In the mid-1970s, in addition to building new instruments and rebuilding old ones, the Company began promoting the conservation and preservation of New Zealand 's fine heritage of historic organs. This developed from a growing realization of the fragility of the resource in a largely unregulated market, and a conviction that the future of the organ was as a work of original artistry and craftsmanship, rather than a current fashion statement, or utility machine competing with electronic substitutes.
By 1980 SIOC had built/rebuilt/restored 7 Cathedral organs in New Zealand including a 2nd new tracker organ at Old St Paul's Cathedral (2/20) Wellington in 1977 and the first notable historic restoration, the 3 manual 1878 Halmshaw & Sons organ at Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Christchurch (3/27) in 1978.
Historic restoration brought with it a new appreciation of tubular pneumatic action organs culminating in the restoration in 1985 of the 1906 Norman & Beard 4 manual concert organ in Wellington Town Hall. The success of this project led to further pneumatic action restorations and overseas interest and in 1990 the company's first project in Australia, transplanting and rebuilding the 1868/1891/1953 (3/32) Fincham organ from St Kilda Blind Institute for Paton Memorial Uniting at Deepdene. This was soon followed by the restoration of the Fincham organs at Church of All Nations (1876, 2/13), Carlton and Trinity Uniting (1884, 2/14), Brighton in 1992, and in 1993 Victoria's prime historic organ at St Mary Star of the Sea (1899, 3/38) West Melbourne.
Today SIOC operates out of its 3rd, fully equipped, modern 10,000 sq. ft. factory built in 1985 on an acre of land at Washdyke Industrial Park. We can look back with pride at the achievements of the Company over the intervening years and look forward to the future with enthusiasm. The Company regularly tunes and maintains over 300 pipe organs all over New Zealand and also Australia.