Queen Victoria – A statue and a scandal!

UPDATED AND EXTENDED AUGUST 2017

Queen Victoria

Not amused! Not my Fault!

A  ROYAL REPLICA

Early last century John Norton, firebrand editor of Sydney’s Truth newspaper, described Queen Victoria rather unkindly as; ‘..the podgy figured, sulky faced little German woman whose ugly statue at the top of King Street sagaciously keeps one eye on the Mint while with the other she ogles the still uglier statue of Albert the Good..’

Imperious Victoria at the top of Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Imperious Victoria  keeping an eye on Sydney.

After a series of moves around Queen’s Square itself, Victoria no longer ‘ogles’ her prince.

Moving the Queen Victoria building.

About to be turned away from her prince.

Never mind, Her Majesty still keeps a stern eye on Sydney.

I must thank another Albert (Albert Thomas) for providing the following information about the original, 1960’s move . Pure gold, Albert. One might almost say…’sovereign gold’.

Queen Victoria State being moved in Sydney.

On the move!

Cross on the orb of the Queen Victoria State,ue, Sydney.

The ‘Albert Thomas’ Cross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orb and cross on the Queen Victoria building statue in Sydney.Orb .

Orb and cross on Victoria’s statue at the Queen Vic. building.

Few people leaving the nearby New South Wales Supreme Court bother to return Victoria’s gaze, and fewer still are aware of the controversy that  surrounded the creation of this statue.

In anticipation of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887, the Government of New South Wales commissioned Hungarian born English sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm to produce a full sized bronze figure of the Queen. Boehm had enjoyed royal patronage for some time, though perhaps enjoyed is not quite the right word. No doubt John Norton would have claimed Sir Edgar had the ‘podgy’ monarch in mind when he wrote pragmatically; ‘It is in vain to complain of the paucity of inspiring subjects in our age, of our ugly costume and the dearth of suitable figures for sculpture.’    

There were compensations in Boehm’s royal connections. His friendship with Edward the Prince of Wales led to a commission to sculpt the far more alluring figure of ‘Skittles’, one of the Prince’s many lady friends.

A contract between Sir Edgar and the NSW Government was signed on October 22 1885, but when Sydney celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee in June 1887, the statue had not arrived. In its absence, an illuminated outline of Her Majesty was set up on the empty plinth. According to a Sydney Morning Herald reporter this vague ‘phantom of light’  was not well received;

‘…as to the attempted representation of the Queen at Her Majesty’s pedestal, that appeared to the majority of people as a puzzle, the interpretation of which it  was difficult to arrive at.’

Fortunately the Colony was about to celebrate its centenary, providing the Government with a second opportunity to unveil Victoria with suitable pomp and ceremony. Even then she only just made it, arriving on the steamer Oraya at the end of December. The statue was lifted into place barely a week before its unveiling by the Governor’s wife, Lady Carrington, on January 24th 1888. As bands played and huge crowds cheered, the embarrassing wait for Her Majesty was almost forgotten. However, a greater controversy was about to emerge.

BETRAYAL BY BOEHM AND BERTIE

Sir Edgar had contravened a strict ‘no copy’ clause in his contract, inserted to guarantee Sydney a unique monument to the Queen. He was alleged to have used the statue’s design as the stake in a card game with the Prince of Wales.  When the Prince won, a replica was made for the grounds of Balmoral Castle. Interested visitors will find Victoria by the edge of the royal golf course, separated from her beloved  Albert by the tenth green. She may well be happy in this secluded spot, with only the odd misdirected golf ball to threaten her dignity.

Royal 'rip-off' statue of Victoria at Balmoral!

Royal ‘rip-off’ statue of Victoria at Balmoral!

Back in Sydney, skateboarders use the steps to her plinth as a ramp. Photographers like to create joke shots by ‘crowning’ her with the AMP  tower.  The two bronzes are identical; Boehm did not even vary the design of roses, shamrocks and thistles on Her Majesty’s costume.

Two days after The Queen’s Square statue was unveiled, the  Sydney Morning Herald published details of the clause in Sir Edgar’s contract  prohibiting replicas, adding;

‘This is somewhat curious reading in the light of a cablegram received a short time ago, which announced that on October 8th,1887, a replica of this statue of the Queen had been unveiled by the Prince of Wales at Balmoral.’

That the Balmoral  bronze had been unveiled by royalty in the Jubilee year while Sydney’s statue was still tossing on the high seas added insult to injury. Mind you,  the Prince of Wales’ tug on a silk cord earned him some badly needed brownie points with the Queen. At Balmoral Castle on October 10th 1887, just two days after the unveiling, her journal included an uncharacteristically warm reference to the son whose behaviour she often despaired of;

An early lunch, after which dear Bertie left, having had a most pleasant visit, which I think he enjoyed and said so repeatedly. He had not stayed alone with me [at Balmoral] , excepting for a couple of days in May 1868, since he married! He is so kind and affectionate….’

It is little wonder that ‘Dear Bertie’ enjoyed the visit so much – the commemorative  statue he had just unveiled did not cost him a penny. Having won Boehm’s agreement to to reproduce the bronze,  its casting  was paid for by servants and tenants on the Balmoral estate. One can only assume that the idea for their generous gift came from the Prince.

Despite everything, the New South Wales Government felt compelled to pay Boehm in full (₤3,000) as it was judged that taking any action over the copy would create embarrassment for the Queen. ‘Spin’ was alive and well even in Victorian times and the the conservative Daily Mail helped the Government save face by reporting;

It is complimentary to the sculptor and this colony that the Queen preferred this statue to any other model submitted to her, and chose a replica for erection at Balmoral.

SEARCH FOR A SOVEREIGN’S  STATUE

When Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building was under renovation in the 1980’s, a search began for a 19th century statue of Victoria to grace the outside of the building. A suggestion that Boehm’s Queen’s Square statue be moved to the QVB was met with an emphatic ‘No’ by the then Premier, Neville Wran. Subsequently, Promotional Director Neil Glasser scoured the world for an alternative. During this period, Queen Elizabeth asked her Private Secretary, the Australian Sir William Heseltine, to check whether a statue of Victoria by Boehm was still standing on the High Street outside Windsor Castle. Reassured that it was, the Queen told Sir William  she had read an article in the Times about a man called Glasser wanting to take the statue to Australia. She was probably having a little fun at Heseltine’s expense when she suggested it might be wise to place an armed guard around  her  great-great-grandmother.

Glasser eventually returned to Sydney with a seated bronze of Victoria he had found discarded in an Irish field.

 

 

However, if the touchy issue of the Boehm replica had been raised, Queen Elizabeth might have felt obliged to right an old wrong by allowing  Sir Edgar’s Windsor statue to be taken Down Under.

Queen Victoria rescued from an Irish Field

Queen Victoria, rescued from an Irish Field

 

HERE IS ANOTHER STORY ABOUT VICTORIA.

 

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE BOX BELOW. BUT DO MAKE SURE YOU SCROLL DOWN AND COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’.

 

 

 

8 Comments
  1. Loved your behind-the-scenes look at royalty and their relationships both close and far.
    My mother and I reckoned Queen Victoria was really the patron saint of public conveniences. So many public loos were set up in her day – generally in the town or city square – and featured a nearby Jubilee statue of Her Majesty!

  2. A fascinating anecdote about this controversial lady, including the find of the statue which came to the rescue; being found in the Irish field !

  3. Great article. Thanks for the background information, fascinating.

    I have visited and photographed statues of Queen Victoria all over the world. I was thrilled to find three when I visited Sydney – the other one is above the Post Office.

    Robert Buxton
    Deal, Kent.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for you message, Robert. There is another carving of Victoria over Customs House at Circular Quay. What sparked your interest in the statues? I love the Victorian Era. They were so enthusiastic and inventive.

  4. In the early 60s the statue of Queen Victoria that stood at the southern end of Macquarie St was removed to improve traffic flow and was stored on its side in the grounds of the barracks opposite.
    When it was removed a time capsule was found under the base.
    Among other things it contained a number of gold sovereigns which promptly went missing.
    Those that found the capsule having removed the sovereigns handed all other contents in without reading the note that stated that it contained gold sovereigns.
    It was decided that if the sovereigns were returned no questions would be asked I believe all but one was returned.
    When the statue was to be relocated to its present location it was discovered the cross on the orb was missing.
    At the time I was an apprentice plumber working for The Council of The City of Sydney (as it was then titled) and it fell to me to fashion a new cross.
    The cross was made by laminating several thin sheets of brass together the cutting and filing the cross shape.
    The small raised knob in the centre of the cross was cut from a brass tap handle.
    A close examination of that cross will show that the cross is flat and has sharp edges were the other statues crosses are moulded and have soft edges.

    • Pauline

      Oh, Albert…what brilliant information. Thank you so much for this. I will add it to the main article. Can’t wait to go and inspect that cross.

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