Cello comes home

23:49, Nov 20 2012
Classic: Alan Schroder plays his cello made by Charles Johnson of Hawera in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Former Taranaki man Alan Schroder has visited Hawera and packed in a case was his pride and joy, a cello made by Hawera's Charles Johnson.

"I wanted to bring the cello to show to my cousin Judy Ogle who is helping me to bring together some of our family history," Alan said, who now lives in Te Aroha.

"Our great-great-great-grandparents emigrated to Taranaki in 1842."

Alan was living in Waitara in the early 1960s as a young man working for Colliers Music Centre in New Plymouth.

He brought the cello for £24. His father also worked for Colliers Music as a piano tuner.

"I had to sell my 1939 Ford 8 to buy the instrument," Alan said.


The wood used in making the cello was a native mangeao, which because of its toughness and elasticity was also used in boat building and railway cattle trucks.

Charles Johnson was a cabinetmaker from the Shetland Islands and settled in Hawera in the 1880s and specialised in making violins out of native timber.

Violins, cellos and similar stringed instruments were made in his workshop between the late 1880s until the 1930s.

One of the most distinctive was a miniature violin he made for his grandson Ronald Morrieson.

His work was widely respected not only because the violins and cellos were made of native timbers, but also because the produced a superior sound.

His work is readily identified because each instrument has the name and date inscribed inside it .

Tom Quinn of Quinn's Auctions auctioned a violin made by Charles Johnson in 2001, which was bought by the Taranaki Museum. The previous owner was a long standing member of the Hawera Orchestra Thelma Thomson.

She bought it for one of her children from the grandson Ronald Morrieson, who was not only a well known writer but an accomplished musician and teacher of the piano.

Alan still plays his cello at church functions and has had an offer of $4000 for the instrument, but according to Alan they are selling for around $30,000 in the States.

"I would sell it, but not to any Tom, Dick or Harry, it would have to go to someone that would value it," Alan said.