The statue of Governor Bourke


Governor Bourke’s statue, overlooking the Harbour, 1842
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The Sir Richard Bourke statue, which stands outside the Mitchell Building , was dedicated on 11 April 1842.

Works have been completed to conserve and restore the Bourke statue. These works are part of the bronze and brass conservation works which include the bronze entry doors to the Mitchell Building and the handrails and balustrades in the Mitchell vestibule.

On 25 June 1831 Sir Richard Bourke (1777-1855) was appointed as governor of New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney on 2 December 1831.

Irish born Bourke was the most popular of all the early governors.  So much so that he inspired this, the first public statue in Australia. Some might argue that Bourke was fortunate in the timing of his appointment as he came after an unpopular governor, Sir Ralph Darling.

When Bourke arrived one of his first political actions was to propose the extension of trial by jury and the substitution of civil for military juries in criminal cases. Bourke also proposed new more liberal policies for religion and education. He abhorred sectarian intolerance, having seen its evil effects in Ireland, and was convinced that no attempt to establish a dominant colonial church would succeed.

Bourke also addressed the inhumane treatment handed out to convicts by limiting the number of convicts each employer was allowed to 70. He also extended rights to emancipists allowing the acquisition of property and service on juries. It has been said that the abolition of convict transportation to New South Wales in 1840 can be attributed to the actions of Bourke.

Bourke's popularity was shown by the applause which the crowd gave him on his departure and the success of the public appeal to fund a statue commemorating his administration.  

As there were no foundries in the colony, the statue was designed and cast in England by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) Royal Academician.  In 1811 Baily  (sometimes mistakenly spelt Bailey) gained the Royal Academy gold medal for a model of Hercules. He was entrusted with the carving of the bas-reliefs on the south side of the Marble Arch in Hyde Park, and executed numerous busts and statues of public figures, including the well-known statue of Nelson, at the top of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.

This bronze statue was originally placed inside the Botanic Gardens and then, in 1923, was re-erected in front of the Mitchell Building.  This was to make way for the construction of a memorial to William Shakespeare by Bertrand Mackennal featuring some of the playwright's most famous characters.  

The Sir Richard Bourke statue has perhaps the longest dedication of any Australian statue, with 300 words.
It starts: 

' Is erected by the people of New South Wales to record his able honest and benevolent administration from 1831 to 1837. 

Selected for the government at a period of singular difficulty,  

His judgement, urbanity and firmness justified the choice... '

Anni Turnbull, Curator, Research and Discovery