The subject of this statue requires no introduction. It is Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901, Empress of India from 1876 and Queen of her dominions, including the Australian colonies, from various dates to 1901.
This statue of Queen Victoria, which takes pride of place in the centre of Victoria Square, named after her while she was still Princess Victoria, was chosen by South Australian brewer, parliamentarian and philanthropist Sir Edwin Thomas Smith while on a visit to England in 1893. This statue, by English sculptor Charles Bell Birch, is a replica of one that stood in the entrance hall of the Imperial Institute in London at the time. Both were based on the design of one Birch had earlier produced for the Maharajah of ‘Oodeypore’ [Udaipur] in 1889. While the Adelaide one was cast in London it incorporates copper from Wallaroo Mine in South Australia.
The statue was unveiled at 4pm on Saturday, 11 August 1894, a time carefully chosen by Smith to permit attendance by the largest crowd possible yet not clash with the football or racing of which he was also very fond.
The statue is very simply inscribed ‘Victoria R.I.’
Readers familiar with the current British Queen’s ‘signature’, Elizabeth R, may wonder why Victoria had an additional I appended. R.I stands for Regina Imperatrix meaning Queen Empress. The latter signified Victoria’s role as Empress of India, a title which the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth does not have. Victoria’s official title from 1 May 1876 to her death on 22 January 1901 was ‘Her Imperial Majesty, The Queen-Empress Victoria’.
On Victoria’s death the statue was draped in black as a sign of mourning. My final picture attached, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia, depicts the statue in this mourning drapery on the day of the Queen’s funeral.
While I indicated earlier that the statue was in the centre of the square it is actually slightly off centre, to the south, though the average observer would not notice. It was moved from its former exact central position in 2013-14 to make way for the road which now crosses the square, built as part of a major redevelopment of the square at that time. The re-positioning of Queen Victoria caused much amusing Council debate. When two councillors proposed that the statue be relocated to the northern end of the square, facing up King William Street towards the Town Hall (on the face of it a very plausible suggestion), the mayor protested and said it would be “farcical beyond belief” and “completely undignified” if people in the square only ever saw Queen Victoria’s “derriere”.
As it is now, your positioning in the northern or southern part of the square will determine whether or not you sight Her Majesty’s ‘derriere’.
Address: Victoria Square
Directions: In the centre of the Square