Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Queen Vic and the QVB

Sydneysiders will be well acquainted with the Queen Victoria Building located opposite the Sydney Town Hall.  There is some interesting background about the statue of Queen Vic which sits at the entrance, but more of that later. Built between 1893 and 1898, the QVB’s original function was a marketplace and it was then known as the Queen Victoria Market Buildings, having been so named by the Sydney Council in honour of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.  The building has had a variety of uses since the market days, eventually falling into decay and disrepair, prompting calls at various time for demolition.  Between 1984 and 1986 however the Malaysian company Ipoh Pty Ltd restored the building at a cost of $86m, receiving a 99 year lease from the Council in return.

Some early pics of the Queen Vic Building . . .

. . . and as it looks today . . .

Sitting at the entrance of the QVB is a statue of Queen Victoria:

Notes and facts on the statue:

  • When the building was being renovated after decades of neglect and disuse, Ipoh’s rep travelled to several former British colonies looking for a Queen Vic statue to place at the front. Eventually the present statue was discovered in Ireland.
  • The statue had originally been proposed as a national monument by the Royal Dublin Society after Victoria had toured Ireland in April 1990.  Victoria’s death 9 months later prompted further calls for the creation of a monument.  Sculpted by John Hughes, it was unveiled in the courtyard of Leinster House in Dublin in 1908.

The statue in the courtyard of Leinster House.

  • In 1922 Leinster House became the seat of the Irish parliament, the Oireachtas.  Nationalist sentiment did not support the presence of a monument to a British queen within the parliament courtyard, the statue having been nicknamed and become known as "The Auld Bitch", the name bestowed on it by Irish writer James Joyce.
  • It was not until 1948 that the statue was moved, being transported to a courtyard of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.  The courtyard from which she was removed became a carpark. The hospital had also been a proposed site for the parliament, and was used as a storage location for property belonging to the National Museum of Ireland.

Moving Her Maj

  • Attempts to send the sculpture to London, Ontario did not succeed as neither the Canadian nor Irish governments wished to pay the cost of transport. In February 1980 the statue was transferred to a yard behind a disused children's reformatory at Daingean, County Offaly.
  • The Ipoh representative found the Queen Victoria statue sitting in long grass behind the reformatory.  The statue was moved to Australia by ship on the basis of being “on loan until recalled”.
The irony of the British Queen being "transported" to Australia by ship was not lost on the Irish media.

And there she remains, looking down on her former colonial subjects as they walk by.  There's no need to tip your head and she's too high up to give her nose a rub, as people do with the statue of Il Porcellino outside Sydney Hospital . . . 

. . . but at least give The Auld Bitch a glance, if not a smile. She's been through a lot.

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