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Unveiling of Captain Cook's Statue, Hyde Park, Sydney

Captain Cook's Statue 1879
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The proposal to erect a statue in honour of Captain Cook appears to have been started by Captain Watson, for many years the Harbour Master at Sydney. It appears Watson contacted the Australian Patriotic Association with a view to raising money for a monument to the famous European navigator.

Two of its members, Mr. R. B. Smith (President) and Sir Alfred Stephen (NSW Chief Justice), lost no time in convening a meeting to get things started. This was held in the Victoria Theatre on the 15th February, 1869 and speakers included the following ‘who’s who’ of eminent men:  Sir Alfred Stephen, Mr. R. B. Smith, the Hon. T. A. Murray, Mr. Windeyer, M.L.A., Mr. R. M. Isaacs, M.L.A., the Hon. John Campbell, M.L.C., Mr. J. G. Raphael, the Hon. A., Campbell, Mr. G. H. Reid, the Hon. Saul Samuel, the Hon. John Sutherland, M.L.A., the Hon. R. Owen, M.L.C., and Mr. Bird.

In its aftermath a  committee was set up which quickly raised enough money to to lay a foundation stone for the pedestal in time for the Queen’s son, the Duke of Edinburgh, to perform this task on the 27 March, 1869.

In his speech the Duke clearly outlined what many Sydneysiders then saw as the significance of ,

the man whose fame we desire to commemorate has by a life of great discoveries and of scientific researches, increased so materially the territorial extent of the Empire

Unfortunately the initial momentum of the committee seemed to waver and after raising 1800 pounds they were unable to raise the rest of the money required  to complete the statue. Instead it fell upon Parliament to raise an extra 2000 pounds for the costs of the sculpture designed by Mr. Thomas Woolner. As things turned out even this was not sufficient and the Premier, Henry Parkes, had to raise a further 2000 pounds to completed the statue.

The final site chosen for the statue was outside the Australian Museum in Sydney’s Hyde Park and the scale and detail of Woolners work was described by the Sydney Morning Herald  as … a most impressive figure … the dress, which is the well -known naval uniform of the day, with the  pen-breasted broad tailed coat, the long flap waistcoat, and the knee-breeches, with shoes, is remarkable for good work, falling to the figure naturally and not ungracefully, the gold lace being to some extent represented by a lighter-coloured bronze.  The casting of the statue fell to a Mr. Cox, of Thames Ditton Works. 

The unveiling took place on the 25 February, 1879, ten years after the laying of the foundation stone. It was a ticketed event and expecting large numbers James Barnet, the Colonial Architect, was employed to design large stands to the east and west of the statue to accommodate upwards of 2000 people. The actual construction was done by Hudson Brothers, of Redfern, in eight days. The centre of the western stand was reserved for the Captain Cook Statue Committee. On the walls of the enclosure were sixty-eight flagstaffs around a central flagstaff seventy feet high. 

Captain Cook statue, Hyde Park, Sydney, February, 1879
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A raised platform, covered by an elegant canopy, was erected just to the north of the statue for the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson. In front of this was another stand for Mr. Fisher and a choir of some two or three hundred children from New South Wales Public schools.

On the day attendance eclipsed anything previously seen. As well as those ticketed guests many more spread themselves around the park in in the surrounding buildings to get a glimpse of the unveiling. The Sydney Morning herald estimated around 40,000 had tuned up making it one of the biggest events of the year.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, Research and Discovery, State Library of New South Wales, 2017