When the owners of one of Sydney’s most beautiful buildings, the Queen Victoria Building, decided to renovate it in the mid 1980s they sought a suitable statue to place at the main entrance. What could fit the bill better than a statue of Queen Victoria herself? Well nothing, so the owners scoured numerous ex British colonies and overseas possessions to see if they could find a suitable statue of the great lady. One was finally located in Ireland, which seemed eager to rid itself of it. And so it was that Sydney secured this statue of Queen Victoria.
Do indulge me as I tell you a little of the history of this statue.
The 4.5 metre high bronze statue of the Queen, by John Hughes, was first unveiled on 17 February 1908 in front of Leinster House in Dublin. Leinster House was then owned by the Royal Dublin Society.
It will come as no surprise to those with a knowledge of Irish history that the good Queen’s statue was not to everyone’s liking in Dublin and indeed it was soon christened ‘The Auld Bitch’, by no less than James Joyce.
This rechristening of statues and artwork in Dublin continues to this day such that if you wander around the city centre you can encounter ‘The Floozy in the Jacuzzi’, ‘The Prick with the Stick’ (ironically a statue of James Joyce), the ‘Tart with the Cart’ (Molly Malone), ‘The Stiffy at the Liffey’, ‘The Erection at the Intersection’ and one of my favorites, ‘The Fag on the Crag’ (Oscar Wilde sprawled on a granite mound). There are more, but I should get back to ‘The Auld Bitch’.
Despite the general populace’s dislike of it, Victoria’s statue survived the revolutionary years intact but following Irish Independence in 1921 there were regular calls to remove the statue, particularly as Leinster House was now the Parliament of the Irish Free State. The thought of Queen Victoria looking down on the nascent Irish legislators was too much to bear for many.
The Irish Times newspaper reported in August 1929 that discussions to remove the statue were underway “on the basis that its continued presence there is repugnant to national feeling, and that, from an artistic point of view, it disfigures the architectural beauty of the parliamentary buildings”. The Irish Parliament didn’t move to remove it and at the time the official government line was that “The statue in question is not regarded as a valuable or attractive work of art; nevertheless, it is not thought that its effect on popular taste is so debasing as to necessitate the expenditure of public funds on its removal”.
In 1933 Fianna Fáil, the governing party, declared that it was “inconsistent with the main objects of Fianna Fáil that this relic of imperialism should still disgrace the precincts of our Parliamentary institution.” But again the government did nothing to remove it.
The statue was finally removed and put into storage in 1947 ostensibly, according to the then Prime Minister, to make way for more car parking space.
In 1986 the statue left Ireland, on a ‘permanent loan’ basis, on a ship bound for Sydney. The Irish press was quick to remark on how the Auld Bitch had been transported to Australia like many of Ireland’s miscreants had been during the Queen’s reign. The Irish Independent newspaper reported that:
It took but a moment for the Irish nation to wrench themselves from their beloved statue and transport it (sorry), ship it to our distant cousins in the Antipodes.
On December 20, 1987 Queen Victoria’s statue was unveiled in its current location. A plaque on the statue today explains a little of its history:
At the request of the City of Sydney this statue of Queen Victoria was presented by the Government and people of Ireland in a spirit of goodwill and friendship. Until 1947, it stood in front of Leinster House, Dublin, The Seat of The Irish Parliament. Sculptured by John Hughes, RHA, Dublin 1865-1941. Unveiled on 20th December, 1987 by Sir Eric Neal, Chief Commissioner.
As it happens, the last royal statue to be erected in Ireland is also the last royal statue to be erected in Australia.
A few metres away, is a statue of Queen Victoria favourite dog, Islay. See my separate review on Islay.
Address: Outside Queen Victoria Building
Directions: Intersection of George and Druitt Street, Sydney