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Double bass made by John Devereux, 1856
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Object statement
Double bass, European Spruce / European Maple / Australian Cedar / metal, made by John Devereux, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, [1856]
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 double bass is possibly Devereux's earliest instrument made in Australia that still survives. The instrument is made as a 3 string rather than 4 string bass which denotes an early period in bass making generally. Although the label is not original the bass has all the same characteristics of Devereux's other instruments including two features that typify his work in Australia - his use in his double basses of Australian cedar especially for the back and an internal tension bar running the length of the body of the instrument from top to bottom. Independent assessments of the instrument also confirm this as a Devereux instrument. 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. There are only 4 other Australian made Devereux basses known to exist which date from a later period to this one.

In addition to the double bass the Powerhouse Museum also contains 2 violins by Devereux dating from 1869 and 1871 respectively, a viola by Devereux dated 1869, the 1866 gold medallion inter-colonial exhibition award, referred to above, and a separate tension bar and labels.

Michael Lea,
Curator, music and musical instruments
May 2007


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.
John Devereux made this double bass in Melbourne, Australia in about 1856.

The exact number of instruments John Devereux made is unknown. Double basses made by Devereux both when he worked in London and in Australia survive, however, only five Australian made basses are currently known. Devereux also made violins, violas and cellos in Australia and examples of his work in general exist. He exhibited in a number of inter-colonial exhibitions and the catalogues of these mention the types of instruments he made. These catalogues also state that he used both European and Australian native timbers for his instruments.
The instrument is known to have been in Bendigo, Victoria from at least the 1890s through to 1939. It was also owned at one time by the Time & Tide Museum in Warrnambool. It was in private ownership for approximately 15 years before being acquired by the Powerhouse Museum.

Valuable information about the bass and Devereux in general was provided to the museum by Melbourne musician Barry Buckley, who encouraged the development of the Devereux material at the museum over several years until his untimely death in 2006. The museum is extremely grateful for his ethusiastic support and love of Australian musical history.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Double bass, European Spruce / European Maple / Australian Cedar / metal, made by John Devereux, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, [1856]

A three string double bass made in European Spruce, Maple and Australian Cedar. The belly is made in two parts of European Spruce, the ribs are made of European Maple and the back is made in two pieces of Australian Cedar. The neck and decorative carved scroll are also made in European Maple. There are brass tuning machines and plates on either side of the peg box. The double bass is finished in an orange based, red brown spirit varnish. An early but non-original label is fixed to the inside.
A paper label has been fixed to the inside which can be viewed through one F-hole. The text on the centre of the label in black pen reads; 'Built By / J Devereaux (sic)/ London 1856'. A signature 'J. Devereaux (sic)' has been written diagonally across the text. LHS of the centre text handwritten in brown 'Repaired by / RG Lindsay / High & Wattle Sts [illeg.] / 1-5-1895'. RHS of the centre text handwritten; 'RF Gray / Tempus Fecit / AD 1891-Tempus Fuga / Cremona / Lo...T [illeg.] / Bendigo'. Underneath the centre text handwritten in brown; 'Reconditioned G S Caldwell / Kinlough 1-5-1939 / 11 Mollison St. Bendigo'.
Production date
1990 mm
655 mm
385 mm

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Purchased with the assistance of the Australian Government through the National Cultural Heritage Account and supporters of the Powerhouse Museum Foundation and the Pinchgut Opera, 2007
+ Australian design
+ Musical instrument design
+ Colonial period
+ Australian native timbers
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{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/366678 |title=Double bass made by John Devereux |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=24 February 2017 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}

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