A Historic Violin – The Pether Story

23 April, 2018

In the mid 1800’s, a young English couple by the name of Richard and Elizabeth Pether travelled 72 days by sea to make Perth, Western Australia their home. Of their fifteen children, one son, Henry John Pether, dedicated much of his life to musical pursuits. An avid violinist, Henry found love in accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Lilian Maud Gillet, who herself had studied both piano and violin at the Royal College of Music in London. They were married in 1893 and together had eleven children. In an endeavour to pass on their love for music despite being of modest means, Henry began to learn to hand-craft instruments in his home. Working as a Chief Officer with the Lands and Mines department of Western Australia by day, by night Henry poured over Ed. Heron-Allen’s treatise Violin Making as it was and is, the well-worn pages bearing the weight of his labour of love.
This book is marked as “an historical, theoretical, and practical treatise on the science and art of violin-making for the use of
violin makers and players, amateur and professional.” Heron-Allen made precise sketches of the mould, cramping blocks, and outline models of a 1734 Joseph Guarnerius violin that had belonged to his friend M. Sainton. Both the book and the accompanying sketch inserts are heavily annotated in Henry’s hand, the margins full of pencilled figures and calculations. As he worked, he made his own adjustments to each part of construction, at one point deeming the scroll “too full” at its uppermost point, boldly shaving a hair width off Guarneri us’ original plans.
It must be said that Henry and Lilian were successful in instilling a love for music in their children. Their daughters all went on to play music for many years in both the professional and amateur spheres; Beatrice played the ‘cello with the WA Symphony Orchestra, and Constance filled the principal flute position with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra from 1936 -1950.
Henry made six violins in total as gifts for his daughters. One of these violins has been generously donated to Western Australian Youth Orchestras, so that we may ensure it is played and lovingly cared for for many generations to come. The particular violin in question was made for Evelyn Louise Pether, and is branded with the words “H.J. Pether Sth Perth WA 23/7 1924”. Evelyn played this violin until she was no longer able to do so, well into her eighties. It has remained with the family since this time, over the years being played by various family friends to keep it in good working condition. Evelyn’s instrument will be loaned to a WAYO member to play during their time with the orchestra.
WAYO is thrilled to become the caretaker of such a fine piece of Western Australian musical history. This generous contribution by the Pether family helped establish the The Henry Pether Scholarship Program in 2017. The fortunate recipient of the Pether violin was awarded to Breanna Fernandes, a talented violinist and valued member of our orchestras.


“I am greatly honoured and quietly humbled for the opportunity to use the Henry Pether violin. I have thoroughly enjoyed the sound of this beautiful violin and I will find it hard to go back to my old one
after using this for a year. My techniques have improved hugely since I have laid my hands on this violin. In addition, knowing the history of this violin has made me appreciate the worth of this violin and treasure the memory of the hands that made this and the family who willingly shared their love for music with me. I have in turn been able to spread this love around at several performances of my own.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to use this violin.”

Breanna Fernandes


We would like to thank the Pether family for their generous contribution to the future of Western Australian music making.