Dictionary of Sydney

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Worgan, George

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Worgan, George

Along with the fifers and drummers who played God Save the King at Sydney Cove on 7 February 1788, George Worgan is one of Australia's earliest recorded non-Aboriginal musicians, and certainly its first pianist and music teacher. Worgan came from a well-known London musical family; his father John (1724–1790) held a Cambridge doctorate in music, and was a respected organist, composer (notably of the oratorio Hannah, to a libretto by the poet Christopher Smart) and teacher (of Charles Wesley among others). George Worgan, however, trained in medicine. He arrived in Australia in 1788 as surgeon onboard HMS Sirius, and brought as part of his luggage the first small square pianoforte to the colony. [1]

He was a member of several early expeditions into nearby country, including Hawkesbury River, Broken Bay, and the upper Nepean where Worgan River was named after him. Worgan's most significant bequest to posterity is the detailed journal he kept from 20 January 1788 to 11 July 1788 recording his impressions of the new colony, which he sent to his brother Richard Worgan. This important document is now in the State Library of New South Wales. His entry for Saturday 26 January 1788 records that the English fleet was not alone in Botany Bay that day:

About 8 O'Clock this Morning, we, again, discovered the two strange Ships, which now were standing in for the Bay, with a fine leading Breeze. On their Arrival, an Officer was sent from the Sirius on board the Commodore's Ship, which was distinguished by a white Flag at the Main-Top-Mast Head;

On the Officer's Return, the Commodore's Captain waited on Capt Hunter to pay his Respects. It seems they are the two Ships, which the Court of France sent out on Discoveries in August 1785. The one called the Astrolabe, the other the Bous-soule under the Command of Mons Perouse

About 10 O'Clock the Wind favouring our Departure, the Fleet got under Sail, (leaving the two french Ships in the Bay) by 8 O'Clock the same Evening, we were all safe at anchor in Port Jackson. [2]

Having gone on to Norfolk Island with the Sirius, he returned to Sydney in 1790. When he returned to England in 1791, he left his piano with his pupil Elizabeth Macarthur, as she related in a letter from Sydney written on 7 March 1791:

Mr Worgan … happened to be left at this place [Sydney] when that ship [Sirius] met with her fate at Norfolk [Island] … I assure you in losing him, a very considerable branch of our society will be lopp'd off … Our new house is ornamented with a piano-forte of Mr. Worgan's. He kindly means to leave it with me, and now, under his direction, I have begun a new study; but I fear, without my master, I shall not make any great proficiency. I am told, however, that I have done wonders in being able to play off God Save the King, and Foot's minuet, besides that of reading the notes with great facility. [3]

Worgan died in England in 1838.


James Hall, 'History of Music in Australia (1)', The Canon, 4/6, January 1951, pp 277–281

John Cobley, 'Worgan, George Bouchier (1757–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1967, p 623

Pamela McGairl, 'Worgan', Grove Music Online (Oxford Music Online) website (subscription only), viewed 22 August 2008


[1] James Hall, 'History of Music in Australia (1)', The Canon, 4/6, January 1951, p 278

[2] George Bouchier Worgan, letter to Richard Worgan, 12-18 June 1788, State Library of NSW, transcript available online at http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?acmsID=412921&itemID=823462, viewed 23 January 2009

[3] Macarthur Papers, State Library of NSW, quoted in James Hall, 'History of Music in Australia (1)', The Canon, 4/6, January 1951, p 278