It’s long been a fairly standard show of largesse to build some form of monument to honour and embody an impressive public figure, usually a man. Despite opposition to many of his views in favour of religious tolerance, emancipation, government education, Sir Richard Bourke had been a popular governor, especially, of course, with those who shared his views. And so it’s probably not surprising that, when he resigned and returned to England in 1837, his supporters planned a statue to honour him.
Commissioned and made in England - Sydney had no sculptors and no iron foundry at the time – Bourke’s statue was designed by Edward Hodges Baily, who later was also the designer of the statue of Lord Nelson, atop Nelson’s Column, in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Now standing in front of the Mitchell Library building, the memorial to Bourke might seem easy to overlook and not just because statues such as this are now just part of the landscape of a city. But when it was unveiled in 1842, it was Sydney’s first public statue, and at its unveiling it was located a little closer to the harbour, at the entrance to the Governor’s Domain, now the southern entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the Sir Leslie Morshead Fountain currently stands.
Placed on a high plinth, on a natural rise, the statue was oriented so that Bourke faced towards the harbour, seeming to survey and possess the gardens and Government House, the Domain and the town and harbour beyond.