QUEEN VICTORIA, Queens Square

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Linda Jackson has designed Queen Victoria’s dress and headpiece titled ‘Waratah… Queen of Earthly Queens….. Seen from Afar.’ Linda holds a great fondness for Queen Victoria, in particular her relationship with Albert hence the word ‘Romance’ appliquéd at the base of the dress. Linda flew to Sydney to make this dress… which she did in 4 days!!

Linda’s inspiration for the costume are the waratah and the black opal, both of which are emblems of NSW. The corset and base of the dress are the signature ‘black opal fabric’ a design devised by Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee in the 1980’s. This fabric was even noticed by Karl Lagerfield in the 1980’s and he used it as the lining + shoe-covering for a range of Chanel suits. Linda’s introduction of the black opal to the statues project brought about inspiration for all the bright colours used throughout the costumes. The waratahs are also a signature motif and can be seen down the front of Queen Victoria’s dress.

Linda references an earlier connection between Queen Victoria and native Australian flora. In 1895 Australian naturalist and illustrator Ellis Rowan arrived to London as a young artist and was able to show her paintings featuring Australian wildflowers to the elderly Queen. Asked to leave her pictures behind, Ellis soon received a letter from Windsor Castle which stated:

The Queen has seen your paintings and… was much pleased with them… (and) has kept three. These the Queen will have made into a screen for her own room and there they will prove not only most ornamental but most useful to Her Majesty.

It seems Victoria was smitten with Australian flowers, as is Linda Jackson.

About Queen Victoria

Victoria was born in 1819 and came to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18. Three years later she married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and over the next 17 years they had nine children. Victoria’s first grandchild was born in 1859, and her first great-grandchild in 1879. There were 37 great-grandchildren alive at Victoria’s death in 1901, and she was the grandmother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and King George V of Britain and grandmother-in-law of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who led their countries into World War I.

The couple built new royal residences at Balmoral in Scotland and Osborne on the Isle of Wight and spent much of their time there. After the unexpected death of her husband in 1861 Victoria descended into deep depression for three years and even after this she remained in mourning and in partial retirement. After an initial period of respect and sympathy for the queen’s grief, the public grew increasingly impatient with its absent sovereign. She was declared Empress of India in 1876. Her golden and diamond jubilees in 1887 and 1897 revived her popularity, and the Boer War (1899-1902) spurred her to a level of activity and public visibility that she had avoided for decades. Victoria reigned for a record 64 years and died in 1901 at the age of 82.

About the Sculptor

Sir Edgar Boehm was born on 4 July 1834 in Vienna. Upon marrying a British woman he settled in London in 1862, and began a successful career based on bringing modern Continental influences to English sculpture. At his peak Boehm was pre-eminent sculptor in London, attracting many large commissions. He was also the favoured sculptor of the royal family, and served as a personal tutor to Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise. Another large work of Boehm’s, St George and the Dragon, stands outside the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.

About the Statue

This statue was unveiled on 23rd January 1888. It was actually the second statue of Queen Victoria for this site, the first having burnt down in a fire six years before…

The earlier statue by sculptor Marshall Wood had been on display in the Garden Palace as part of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 and was to be moved to Queens Square. In 1881 the visit of Princes Edward and George had provided an occasion to lay the foundation stone for the plinth of the statue. The foundation stone alone (with no statue) drew 80,000 people to witness the event, including 20,000 school children who, given a day’s holiday, were made to lead the procession.

But it was all to no avail. A fire in the Garden Palace in 1882 destroyed the statue (along with many other important items, including the main collection of Aboriginal artefacts gathered by Europeans since first contact).

The new statue was commissioned and completed in 1887 and sailed from London to Sydney to be unveiled in early 1888. More celebrations took place featuring thousands more school children and renditions of ‘God Save the Queen.’ But The Bulletin was not amused. It said ‘if the statue is majestic it isn’t faithful. Vic is four feet odd in height and ditto in diameter and goes round generally in a seedy black dress and rusty bonnet.’ Indeed, the statue of Queen Victoria outside the QVB was perhaps a little more realistic of the Queen in mourning. This statue in Queens Square unveiled late in Victoria’s life was described as ‘idealised.’

In July 1975, while Queens Square was being remodeled as a pedestrian plaza, City Council workmen uncovered a glass jar containing old documents and coins underneath the foundation block of the statue. It had been put there almost 100 years beforehand with most of the documents dated August 2nd 1881, the day on which Prince Edward had laid the foundation stone. The documents included newspapers, copies of the Government Gazette, a program for the day’s ceremony and a list of songs to be sung, the names of State Parliament members and a Sydney handbook. There was also a collection of coins minted in 1881 and two medallions one of them commemorating the International Exhibition held in Sydney between September 1879 and April 1880. When the statue was moved 50 feet in 1908, someone had added more documents dated in that year. Badly damaged by water, the documents were promptly placed in the City librarian’s office to dry.

Sources

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1975, p 3
  • Sydney Open Museum History Survey (1994), No. 14 – Queen Victoria Statue, Queens Square, Macquarie St

Further Reading

On the Sydney International Exhibition of 1897 see the Dictionary of Sydney

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