The original St John’s church was consecrated on February 24th 1863 and contained a harmonium of “indifferent quality”.
The first pipe organ was purchased from William Hill and Son, London, and installed in an extended wooden church during 1874. This organ was transferred to the Mountford designed brick cathedral, a building comparable in size to the present building, when it was completed in 1888.
The Hill organ was later placed in St John’s Church, Dannevirke, and pipes are still in use as part of a larger instrument installed at that church in 1967.
A new organ is now (1906) in course of construction in the Cathedral, and this instrument will be one of the largest in any church in New Zealand. It will comprise three manuals of sixty-one notes compass, and pedals of thirty-two notes, twelve pistons, twenty-one pneumatic registers, and three hitching pedals. The action throughout is on the improved tubular pneumatic principle.The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, page 346 (1908)
In 1907 the Australian firm of J E Dodd based in Adelaide installed a large instrument more appropiate for the size of the building. At the time of installation it was the largest church organ in New Zealand and installed at what was then the largest church in New Zealand.
This organ of 3 manuals and 34 stops was completely demolished with the rest of the cathedral during the 1931 Napier earthquake.
The recently installed new console features Dodd style wooden “cheeks” at either end of each manual recognising this former firm’s association with Napier Cathedral.
Following the earthquake in 1931 a three manual/24 stop organ originally imported in 1884 from Lewis organ builders of London for Knox Church in Dunedin was installed in the wooden pro-cathedral. Knox Church had purchased a larger instrument.
Much of the original and highly regarded Lewis pipework has been restored and continued to be used in subsequent rebuilds including the 2013 rebuild where it particularly features in the Swell Organ.
During 1938 further adjustments and replacements of some of the ranks of pipes were made by Lawton and Osborne of Auckland and Aberdeen. The organ was enlarged to 37 stops and the action electrified when it was transferred into the present cathedral during the early 1960’s under the direction of A E Hayman of Lower Hutt and later John A Lee of Fielding.
A major rebuild in 1974 by George Croft and Son Ltd, Auckland, during Vincent James time as Master of Music, was managed by Ken Aplin a director of this firm. New pipework from Stinkens (Holland) and Giesecke (Germany) gave the organ a distinctive “classical” sound preserved in the 2013 rebuild by the South Island Organ Company under the direction of John Hargraves.
This last rebuild included a new mobile 4 manual console at ground level enabling the use of the former console loft for the Positive division and a new enclosed Solo division in the former Positive location alongside the Swell.
The present day organ has 5 divisions – Great, Swell, Positive, Solo and Pedal. A Chamade projects horizontally and speaks with great authority to its counterpart, the Tromba on the other side of the Cathedral.
The Positive is to be regarded as lesser Great organ with similar pipes but on a smaller scale. The Solo has edgy string stops as well as distinctive oboe and clarinet stops.
International concert organist Martin Setchell performed at Waiapu Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday, November 13, 2016.
“The concert was a masterful demonstration of just how capable the Waiapu instrument is for presenting both pipe organ and transcriptions of orchestral music,” said Alan Alexander, Hawke’s Bay Today.
The Waiapu Cathedral pipe organ is capable of playing the greatest French, German and English compositions in their own authentic style. Featuring more than 3700 pipes, it is now the largest church organ in New Zealand.
To sum up, Waiapu Cathedral has arguably the finest concert organ in New Zealand, housed in a building acknowledged to be acoustically superb.
— Courtesy Waiapu Cathedral website and additional sources.