|NZGraphic 05 Nov 1904|
The Statue of Governor Grey now in Albert Park is one of early Auckland's signature pieces of statuary. The 21st Century Aucklander is likely to view this artwork and George Grey's career in a very different light to their 19th and 20th Century counterparts.
Edward Bartley was involved in this project. So today we explore the history of the statue -while gingerly stepping around the sensitivities associated with the gentleman represented.
A memorial committee was formed in 1898 to organise events and tributes associated with Grey's memorial day on 18 February 1899. This was a national memorial day, coinciding with similar events in Australia and South Africa.
During the Auckland Industrial and Mining Exhibition,1 which opened that year, donations to a memorial fund were collected. A special Exhibition Day was also organised, from which a portion of gate takings were allocated to the fund. 2
|AWN 24 Feb 1899|
Afterwards subsciptions were requested to top up the fund. A more permanent tribute was planned. The statue was commissioned in 1903, to which the Government contributed £100. The remainder of the cost - over £1800- was raised by those public subscriptions. It was a considerable investment made by Aucklanders.
In 1904 Edward Bartley was engaged to design a base for the statue. Once the site was finally agreed on he recommended that something in the style of Dublin's Oliver Goldsmith statue was appropriate.3
|The Goldsmith statue, Trinity College Dublin. Image Dublin Tales visit here|
This was a conservative selection of sculptor by the committee. Williamson received regular commissions from municipal and civic clients in the United Kingdom. His bust of the mature Queen Victoria was replicated many times. Critics noted his work lacked any fluid vitality but it was certainly 'appropriate' and fulfilled the intended function of commemmoration.
The marble statue was 8' high (2.4m). The granite for both pedestal and base were sourced from Coromandel, rising 14'6". Plaques on each side record Grey's service to the Empire and the tributes accorded to him by northern New Zealand:
|NZH 21 Dec 1904|
On 21 December 1904 the work was unveiled. Part of the proceedings included a phonograph recording made by Grey in February 1891.
|AWN 29 Dec 1904|
|AWN 29 Dec 1904|
The elevated site - at the intersection of Queen and Grey St- was well chosen. The fire-bell tower was there in Grey's time and formed a rallying point for political gatherings and temperance assemblies.
That it continued to be so is clear from this image of M J Savage addressing Aucklanders in 1912.
|AWN 26 Sept 1912. note the statue's position relative to the Town Hall.|
The Grey statue moved to Albert Park in 1922, where it may be seen today. The stepped platform has been removed. This alteration to the proportions of the whole assembly presents a less than ideal composition. The work was never intended to retire into a restful or contemplative park atmosphere.
|Image APL E7-23 Albert Park|
It may be that the intention was to more remove Aucklander's political gathering place. In declaring the Governor's memorial a traffic hazard were the civic planners hoping to dampen the rallying leadership of strong personalities -by then more feared than in colonial days?
Certainly statuary encapsulates the values of the times in which they were made. Each generation views their own cultural- and sculptural- story through the lens of their own time and debates their erection or removal accordingly. Historian Grant Morris discussed these issues in a September 2017 interview recorded here. Enjoy.
1. see more information here
2. NZH 24 Jan 1899
3. AS 26 May 1904