Keeping a watchful eye over Queen’s Gardens since 1906 has been the statue of Queen Victoria, after whom Queen’s Wharf was named. Such a long reign did this Queen have that both a convict era wharf and a twentieth century public park acknowledge her contribution to British and Australian history, as does the name of the State.
Following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, the citizens of Brisbane established a Queen Victoria Memorial Committee to decide on a form of recognition of ‘personal and monumental character’. Lord Lamington, the then Governor of Queensland, addressed a meeting of State ministers and Brisbane city aldermen on 30 April 1901. The meeting agreed to the erection of a memorial and voted to form a second committee to decide on the most suitable memorial.
Brisbane was the obvious location for such a memorial but the Queensland Government of the day made it clear that they were unwilling to assist with funds for a memorial only visible to Brisbane residents and visitors. Nor would they approve of locating it on any existing open space.
The Memorial Committee appealed around Queensland for subscriptions, publicising the memorial that would be a gift of the many rather than of the wealthy few. A subscription list was also started in London. By April 1902, £711 had been raised: by May 1903 this amount was close to £1,200 and questions were being asked about when the committee was going to decide on the artist. At the time it was undecided if an original statute would be purchased or, due to the high cost of such, only a copy or replica.
The Brisbane committee passed the task over to an appointed committee in London which included the Queensland agent general, Sir Horace Tozer, a director of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. living in England, William Knox D’Arcy, painter and illustrator Sir Frank Dicksee and former Queensland Governor, Lord Lamington, now living in England. In 1904, with the amount to be paid for the statue limited to £1,000, the London committee selected four designs, photographs of which were sent to the Memorial Committee in Brisbane.
The statue the Committee chose from the four submitted was a bronze replica of the Jubilee Memorial Statue erected in Hove near Brighton, England. This original was the work of Sir Thomas Brock, K.C.B., R.A., an English sculptor responsible for many well-known statues, particularly in the UK but also India, Canada and Australia. His most famous work, for which he received a knighthood, was the Victoria Memorial which faces Buckingham Palace. Brock was responsible for eight statues of Victoria, depicting her at various times in her reign, as well as other famous events and people such as the Titanic Memorial in Belfast, the Gladstone Memorial in Liverpool and the statue of King Edward VII near the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
As a result of the committee’s decision, Brock was sent £500 as a down payment for the statue to be cast. The statue was eventually shipped in December 1905, but only after a series of letters had been sent to Brock regarding its progress. A location of the corner of Edward and Turbot had long been accepted as the site for the statue; however, at a meeting of the committee in December 1905 the Premier, Arthur Morgan, suggested a more central position—outside the Executive Building in the then Executive Gardens, now Queen’s Gardens. This idea was not immediately accepted but when the committee received a letter stating that the Government would pay for half of the cost of the pedestal (but no more than £600) if the statue of Queen Victoria was erected in the Executive Gardens, the committee agreed. A pedestal of Helidon sandstone and Enoggera granite was designed by the Public Works Department and made by local stone mason, William Kitchen.
On the 14 February 1906 the statue finally landed in Brisbane. The following day it was taken to the Executive Gardens. At one and a half tons, it took two teams of horses to haul it to the spot where it was to be erected. The statue was unveiled in front of a large gathering on the 23 June 1906 by the Queensland Governor, Lord Chelmsford.
Read about mapping the practice and profession of sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951: Sir Thomas Brock.