Thomas York

Thomas York was an instrument repairer and brass instrument maker that resided in Melbourne in the late 19th to the early 20th century. While old newspaper advertisements suggested he repaired all instruments, it appears the focus of his business were military and brass band instruments.

Thomas York was born around 1863 in England, the fourth child of John and Elizabeth. His father John and brother John Jr were also instrument makers, and the family apprenticed and worked for Higham’s Musical Instrument factory in Manchester before coming to Australia.

York arrived in Victoria in 1891, but sources indicate he opened his business “Melbourne Musical Instrument Works” in 1894. His father John moved to Melbourne before him in 1888, so it is possible they could have worked together. [UPDATE]. Source from a distant relative of York, Steve Ray, has written that Thomas and his father indeed in business together at 23 Madeline St, Carlton but their partnership/business dissolved 25/04/1895. It is clear through newspaper advertisements that they operated in competition with each, with father John referring to himself as the ‘Original York’.

In 1895 he earned the contract to repair the instruments of the naval and military forces of Victoria. His original address was 276 Russell Street, Melbourne and in 1899 moved to 262 Russell Street. Around the turn of the century, York became engaged with the manufacture of a class of brass instruments he branded ‘Perfection’, which at the 1900 – 1901 Ballarat Industrial Exhibition he received a 1st order of merit.

His premise shifted to 361 and 363 Swanston St in 1902 which was opposite the public library, which remained his residence and business till his death. His son Alfred worked in the business as an assistant and metal polisher.

The residence was on the second-level. There were nine rooms in the building, as well as the showroom and the workshop. There was no bathroom. A cold shower, consisting of a hose and a Glaxo tin with holes punched in it, was set up in the open in the back yard.

He offered a prize of 20 pounds to the brand who won a competition with a set of his Thos. York ‘Perfection’ instruments. It is not known if he manufactured a complete line of brass instruments, but he at least offered cornets and tenor horns.

The main instrument we have to study is a Thos. York “Perfection” cornet finished in silver-plate. From the level of engraving and detail, I believe it would have been the deluxe model offered at the time.

It is extensive engraved, from the bell flare to the bend of the bell. The leadpipe, and first, second and third valve crooks are also engraved.

Perfection. Thos. York Maker. Swanston St. Melbourne.

The serial number is 2206. A descendent of the York family, Kel, owns a depilated tenor-horn baring the serial number 2271.

Thomas York was admitted as a patient to the Kew Hospital for the Insane, and passed away on the 24th of November 1913 at the age of 51. The cause of death was certified by Cornoer R Cole as broncho-pneumonia and general paralysis of insane. The funeral left his residence on 26th of November 1913 at 3:30pm. Jones Bros. Undertakers. York was buried later in the same grave as his father in Melbourne General Cemetery. Beloved husband of Florence and father of Alfred, John, Thelma and Thomas.

Gundy, Thomas’ nephew, continued to run his workshop and took up his residence but manufacturing ceased.


John York’s great-great grandson, Kel York, has compiled and researched a substantial amount of material pertaining to Thomas and his relatives. This included interviewing aged relatives and compiling a very detailed book providing important information such as family trees, dates, addresses and oral history that would be otherwise impossible to attain.  We would like to thank Kel for his dedication and his time.