In the 1890s it was decided to ‘dress up’ Sydney’s Centennial Park with monuments of eminent people. One choice was a full size, marble statue of novelist Charles Dickens. However, there was a major problem, as M.P Mr J.D. Fitzgerald made known in State Parliament. He demanded of the Colonial Secretary;
- Is he aware that a marble statue, alleged to be a marble statue of Charles Dickens, the celebrated English novelist, has been placed in the Centennial Park, Sydney?
- By whose authority was it placed there?
- Is he aware that there is a definite injunction in the will of Charles Dickens against making him the subject of any statue or memorial of any kind, in the following words, written a year before his death:- ‘I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever. I rest my claim to the remembrance of my country on my published works, and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experience of me, in addition thereto‘. And that Dickens friends, therefore, opposed any projected monument in England except a plain tablet in Westminster Abbey.
- Will he, in view of that, take steps to have the statue in question speedily removed? (The Australian Star, Mar. 17 1893)
It seems the Colonial Secretary did not intervene, or if he did he was ignored.
The life-sized statue of Dickens was one of only three in the world. There is some doubt about the artist, but it has been attributed to Job Hanson, a Sydney sculptor. It was placed in a prime spot, where it remained until 1897.
USURPED! – MOVE OVER MR DICKENS
Sir Henry Parkes, the Father of Federation, died in 1896 and it was decided that he also deserved a place in the Park. As is always the case in such matters, there were objections;
The cheap and second-hand statue of Sir Henry Parkes. designed to ‘honor’ the deceased statesman has been erected in Centennial Park; it takes the place of a statue of Charles Dickens. What is to become of the memorial of Dickens is not mentioned; perhaps it will be sold to swell the next surplus. (National Advocate (Bathurst) 26 Aug. 1897.
Yes, the statue of Parkes was second hand. For some reason a private citizen had commissioned it and shelled out a hefty sum, but later offered it to the Government, ‘at a comparatively low price.‘ A report on the figure said that. ‘although it was not first class, considered as a statue of Sir Henry Parkes, yet it was quite good enough to erect in Centennial Park.’ 😨 (Daily Telegraph, Jun 28 1897)
A more pointed complaint about the ousting of Charles Dickens appeared in the London “Globe”. It was pointed out that Dickens was as much loved in Australia as in England, and that his works continued to be read with great interest. Moreover, the Globe journalist continued, there was a personal link between Sir Henry and the novelist’s youngest son Edward. who had lived in Australia since 1868. ‘Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens was for some years a member of the New South Wales Legislature and a friend of the very man, Sir Henry Parkes. whose statue is said to have taken the place of his father’s.’ (The Australian Star, Nov. 27 1897)
Edward Dickens was enduring hard times himself financially, so he maintained a judicious silence lest he upset any prospective benefactors.
Over the years, many of the statues vanished; some pinched, some buried, some smashed to pieces. Charles Dickens was one that disappeared. However, it turned out that in 1972 he had been put into storage….but where? In 2007 he was finally unearthed; across town in a shed at the Botanic Gardens.
Unfortunately he had been seriously vandalized. He had lost his head, plus a few other bits. The worst loss (other than his head) was his pen, which could almost be considered part of a writer’s anatomy.
Marble from Italy’s Carrara was imported for replacement parts, but it took three different blocks before a decent match was achieved. Oh the expense! Some said it was a curse, for ignoring the novelist’s plea not to erect a statue of him in the first place.
Finally, restored to glory.
And a cake for the special occasion. Dear me, the image does bring to mind that earlier ‘stab in the heart’. 😥
Mr Dickens Mark II was unveiled on February 7, 2011. It would have been his 199th birthday. Members of the NSW Dickens Society gather before him on the same date each year, to eat more cake and to thank him for his wonderful works.
By the way, Sir Henry Parkes was blown up by hoodlums and in 1970 he too had to be replaced.
FOR THE FULL STORY OF THE DICKENS STATUE AND ITS RESTORATION, CLICK HERE.