George Benjamin Fentum, organist at Shanghai

Researcher, Keith Robinson has written this blog on the music programme’s of Sir Robert Hart.

Saturday 29th May 1886 Shanghai. Digital version of music programme.

Organist: Mr G.B. Fentum

MS 15/1/32/4a/1 QUB Special Collections

This is the only one of Hart’s Music Programmes that is of an Organ Recital. The organist George Benjamin Fentum was born in 9 June 1843 St Helier, Channel Islands.[1] His father was George Fentum, Professor of Music. His mother’s name was Jane.[2] At some time he went to work in Singapore and then because of ill health in 1872 he moved to Shanghai.

References to him performing start to occur in the North China Herald around 1875.[3]  Early comments are on his technical ability, but lack of warmth in the interpretation … he seems not be accompanying performances on piano. There are frequent mentions in the North China Herald, for instance in 1876 he is accompanying a performance of “Box and Cox” by an amateur company.  As early as March 1878 he is giving concerts with Mr Iberg and a cellist and playing Beethoven’s Trio. He accompanied a performance of Handle’s “Judas Maccabeus” etc. So he is very busy with all kinds of musical activities.

There is an entry on the 11th June 1877, Northern Lodge of China, Shanghai Masonic book stating his occupation as organist.[4]

In 1878 he is organising concerts to raise money to buy an organ for Trinity Cathedral. In June 1919, the North China Herald reports on a discussion to replace the church organ. “The organ was built in 1882 and Mr Fentum was the organist. He impressed upon the organ builders Messers Walker and Sons the necessity of using the very simplest possible mechanism because of the probability that anything complicated could go wrong. The “touch” was always heavy and now seems to have become worse.”[5]

So this Recital on Saturday 29th May 1886 in Shanghai ( came not long after the new organ had been installed.

Although the programme does include a Bach piece what is notable is that most of the other composers represented were fairly contemporary.

Christmas Offertoire Lemmens

Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (1823-1881) was a Belgium composer and influential organ teacher credited with bringing people’s attention back to the music of J.S. Bach. The Christmas Offertorium: Chorus of Shepherds – Gloria in excelsis Deo – Pastorale – Adoration – Chorus.

2. Nazareth . . . . . . . . Gounod.

First Pub 1856 for baritone, piano, organ ad lib. So like the Beethoven in this programme this piece would have been an arrangement.

3. Adagio in G., Op. 1 . . . . . Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn wrote 6 Organ Sonatas but none of the adagio’s are in G, nor are they his Op1 so I don’t know what this work could have been.

4. Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor . . Bach.

This is a famous work BWV 542. One does wonder what this might have sounded like as the newspaper report says “the action of the organ was always heavy”.

5. a. Prayer . . . . . . Guilmans.

b. March

Alexandre Guilmant (12 March 1837 — 29 March 1911) was a French organist and prolific composer for the organ for example: Pieces with Different Style (18 books); The Practical Organist (12 books).

6. a. Andante in E. Minor . . . . Batiste

b. Offertoire in B. Minor

Edward Batiste (1820-1876) French organist and composer.

Fentum moved to Australia around 1886, having given notice of his resignation on 10 March 1886. He was responsible for having many organs built there. He was the Presbyterian Women’s College Director of Music, in Sydney[6].

Mr Fentum: Presbyterian Ladies’ College: East Melbourne Prospectus 1910 – 1912.  Source: PLC Melbourne Archive

George Fentum died in Australia on 05 September 1914. In the National Library of Australia there is a handwritten manuscript of the vocal part to a composition by him called “The Passion”.[7]

Hart had wide ranging musical tastes and this programme from Saturday 29th May 1886 Shanghai shows us just one facet of his musical interests.

[1] St Helier baptisms 1842-1909 Fagg to Fielding (accessed 24 June 2020)

[2] Census, Channel Island 1861 (accessed 24 June 2020)

[3] North China Herald Online (accessed 05 April 2020)

[4] England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921 (accessed 05 April 2020)

[5] North China Herald Online (accessed 05 April 2020)

[6] PRESBYTERIAN LADIES’ COLLEGE  Old Collegians’ Association MELBA MUSIC CONCERT  SATURDAY 21 MARCH 2020 AT 3PM (accessed 05 April 2020)

[7]  The passions [music]: an ode for S.A.T.B. and pianoforte (accessed 05 April 2020)