“As the falling drapery disclosed the marble representation of the poet enthusiastic cheers were given, and the band poured forth the strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne.‘“ (South Australian Register – 7 May 1884).

It is rather fitting that I originally wrote this review on this Angaston marble statue of Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) on New Year’s Day (2015). Many of my readers around the world will be familiar with Burns’ most famous ballet and, indeed, may well have sung it in the past 24 hours to welcome in the new year.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

Robert (or Rabbie) Burns, a favourite of mine, was more than a poet, he was a man of the people and lover of all humanity whose powerful and meaningful commentary on the human condition has assured his place in the hearts and culture of Scotland for eternity.

The anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, 25th January, 1759, which was originally a gathering of a few of his friends to mourn his passing, is now remembered throughout the world as Burns Night when the haggis (“the chieftain’ o’ the puddin’ race”, yes he wrote a poem about a haggis too!) is eaten, whisky is drunk and his poems are read amongst friends.

77The idea of a statue for Adelaide was conceived on Burns Night 1893 after a member of the Caledonian Society of South Australia mentioned that he had recently seen the statue of the poet in Ballarat (Australia’s only one at the time). It was agreed that one be commissioned for Adelaide. Unlike the Ballarat statue, which was imported, Adelaide’s one was to be sculpted in Adelaide and of Australian material – the first public statue to be made in South Australia. William Maxwell (himself a migrant Scot and very experienced sculptor both in Adelaide and in the UK) was engaged to produce the statue, to commemorate the life and work of Burns.

Unlike many other statues of Burns which at the time showed him in repose, either sitting or standing, this statue is of Burns ‘in action’, reciting one of his poems, ‘A Winter’s Night.’

“Oh ye! who, sunk in beds of down,
Feel not a want but what yourselves create,
Think, for a moment, on his wretched fate,
Whom friends and fortune quite disown!”

The statue was unveiled on 5 May 1894, and presented to the City of Adelaide by the Caledonian Society of South Australia, in the presence of Mrs. McLellan, granddaughter, and Mrs. Burns-Scott, great granddaughter, of Burns.

Towards the end of a long exposition on the positives of Burns’ life, Chief Darling of the Caledonian Society acknowledged that Burns did have weaknesses but added that:

“His faults and his errors lie buried with his bones in the graveyard at Dumfries. It would be as much sacrilege to disinter the one as the other”.

He felt sure Burns was now in heaven as:

“It would be a poor, narrow, cold, unattractive Heaven that has not room in it for the shadow of Robert Burns”.

In accepting the statue on behalf of the City of Adelaide, Alderman Buik reminded the crowd of thousands that:

“Burns is the poet of Scotland, but not of Scotland alone. He is enthroned above the clouds with the immortals of our race — with Homer, with Shakespeare, with Dante— as one of the great poets of mankind, and it is more true to-day than it was when Wordsworth stood by the poet’s grave five years after his death and sang — Deep in the general heart of man his power survives.”

Something I didn’t realise until researching this review was that Burns was one of Russia’s favourite poets and the former USSR was the first country to issue a postage stamp commemorating him.

Address: North Terrace
Directions: On the forecourt of the State Library of South Australia

For my next Adelaide – NORTH TERRACE review click HERE.
For other Adelaide reviews click HERE.


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