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22 May 2024

Prized collection of historical pianos transported to London from Perth

Photo: WAM


In January 1788, a square piano made by Frederick Beck, one of the leading piano makers of the time in London, became the first keyboard instrument to arrive on Australian soil. The ‘First Fleet Piano’ landed in Sydney on board the HMS Sirius, one of the 11 First Fleet ships that sailed from England to Australia, after an eight month voyage that took it from Portsmouth to Rio de Janeiro, then on to Cape Town before reaching Sydney.

Fast forward 231 years, and the First Fleet Piano, now in the collection of Edith Cowan University, Perth, once again embarked on an epic journey - travelling to its historic home in England. This time however, the itinerary lasted a mere 21 hours from Perth to London through Dubai thanks to Emirates SkyCargo.

The First Fleet Piano was joined in its historic flight from Perth by five other musical instruments, three of which are rare pieces produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. The instruments were packed in specially crafted insulated flight cases with sensors to track temperature and movement. These cases were then loaded carefully in the cargo hold of Emirates’ A380 aircraft from Perth to Dubai. Once in Dubai, the piano cases were then rapidly transferred to the connecting flight to London.

Once in London, the instruments will be showcased in a bespoke salon performance at the Australia House on 26th March. The First Fleet Piano will then undergo extensive restoration work before returning to Edith Cowan University’s Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts where it will continue to inspire musicians and students for generations to come.

"Emirates SkyCargo has always prided itself in its role as a connector of people’s lives and economies. With the transport of these historic pianos from Edith Cowan University’s collection of rare musical instruments, we have also played a role in a cultural project that connects two nations through music and heritage. Our modern aircraft and facilities combined with our expertise in handling precious cargo ensured that the pianos travelled safely from their origin to destination," said Ravishankar Mirle, Emirates Vice President, Cargo Commercial, Far East and Australasia.

"The restoration of the First Fleet piano has firmly placed Edith Cowan University at the centre of worldwide efforts to create research and education programs on how to conserve and restore prized historical instruments. We are confident that our precious Founding Pianos collection will be in safe hands travelling with Emirates SkyCargo," said Professor Steve Chapman, Vice-Chancellor, Edith Cowan University.

Every year, Emirates SkyCargo transports a large volume of precious cargo - including historic artefacts and artwork across its network of over 155 destinations. The carrier recently moved a hand crafted digital church organ from the UK to the UAE for the mass celebrated during Pope Francis’ visit to the country.