Australia became an independent nation on 1st January 1901, and Commonwealth of Australia was established as a constitutional monarchy with Queen Victoria as head of state. Melbourne being the location of the first Parliament was the de facto capital. The deal was that, the seat of Government shall be in the state of New South Wales, and distance not less than hundred miles from Sydney. But until such location was found it was Melbourne’s destiny to immerse in the glory.
But three weeks later, at half past six on Tuesday evening, 22nd January 1901, Queen Victoria breathed her last at the age of 81. That was end of an era, as she reigned longer than any other British monarch before her and her Empire covered nearly a quarter of planet earth.
As the news reached Melbourne, cabled from London, the Government issued a proclamation for the city to mourn. Flags were half masted and many house frontages were draped in black and shop windows displayed black- draped photos of Queen. All the public functions have been suspended and public offices closed. But the business in city was carried as usual, waiting for the official announcement of the day of mourning. Theatrical performances were all suspended in the city.
The Government proclamation for Thursday as mourning day issued the directives. 81-minute guns to be fired on the day of funeral. Bells of the several churches to be tolled on Thursday and each succeeding day including the day of the funeral. All civil officers go into mourning commencing on Thursday, and all other subjects of his Majesty the King, whose circumstances and station will enable them be invited to put themselves into decent mourning on this melancholy occasion.
‘Argus’ reported on 25th January that, in the city majority of ladies were wearing black lace and ribbons on their summer dresses. Government officials, military and Navel men had crape on their arms. Initially there was a proposal to readjourn the Parliament for the purpose of re-swearing members in their allegiance to the new King. But a decision was taken to wait till the next meeting of the Parliament.
Within a few days of Queen’s death, Melbournians were discussing about erecting a statue of her in the city as a tribute to the rare quality of her character, a memorial of her great reign and a worthy expression of loyalty. There was no statue of Queen Victoria in Melbourne, though Melbourne was built during her reign. The State bears her name and the city bears the name of her first Prime Minister, who was also her political tutor. The best site in Sydney was long been occupied by her statue, but Melbourne never had a statue of her or her Prime Minister.
Soon Queen Victoria memorial Fund was set up for a memorial in Melbourne with an executive committee to oversee. The Committee decided to invite designs from Sculptures from any part of the world and decided to collect £10,000 though subscription, though an upper limit was not set. By 1902, the Committee received 28 designs from around Europe, NZ and Australia. In 1903, the Committee choose the 8ft high model made of plaster of Paris, submitted by Sydney sculpture, James White. The estimated cost of the memorial, £6000 was already raised by public subscription. James White insisted on making the statue in Italy, which raised some controversy at that time.
In early 1907, the statue arrived in Melbourne from Italy. The height of the statue and pedestal was 36ft. It was decided to unveil it on the birthday of the late Queen which was on 24th May. The memorial was unveiled by Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, John Madden, on a raised mound, to be visible for a great distance, near Linlithgow Avenue in the Queen Victoria Gardens.
Sculpture James White had also proposed to further elaborate the design with marble steps approaching the monument and a design of marble dolphins, tridents, boats to signify the naval superiority of Queen Victoria’s reign. But monetary constraints prevented from executing the plans.
The News of Queen’s death published by The Sydney Morning Herald
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954)
Thu 24 Jan 1901 Page 6 The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Queen is dead. Her Majesty breathed her last at half-past 6 on Tuesday evening. She was surrounded by her children and grand-children.The scene at Osborne and in London when the announcement of the last scene was made was sublimely pathetic.
At Osborne the Queen’s rooms overlooked the landscape and the Solent beyond. On Tuesday afternoon, in a clinging silence, crowds watched the lighted window. They remained there from twilight to dark.
Just about dark a Royal servant reverentially hung out a copy of the medical bulletin: —” The Queen breathed her last at half-past 6.” The crowd was appalled, and except for one wail of anguish which was heard, silently departed to hide its grief.
As it moved away the bells of Whippingham Church commenced to toll. In London a huge earnest crowd was outside the Mansion House, and almost breathlessly awaited news.
Presently a window opened, and as the Lord Mayor appeared the message was guessed, and all heads were bared. The Lord Mayor leant for support on the windowsill.
His voice was broken, but the stillness was profound, and his words were audible to thousands.
He said :—” Citizens, it is with the deepest distress that I announce receipt of the following telegram from the King : ‘ My beloved mother has passed to her rest.’ “
Speechless with sorrow, the crowd moved away, and the great bell of St. Paul’s boomed out at minute intervals. Mr. Balfour sent a message to Lord Pembroke at Buckingham Palace. In it he said that the Queen died peacefully.
In Australia grief is universal amongst British subjects and foreign dwellers in the Commonwealth.
Throughout New South Wales every city, town, and hamlet is in mourning. The Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, has cancelled all his official engagements. Lord Hopetoun has forwarded his personal condolences to the King and has sent a message for Australia.
In Sydney the police courts adjourned, theatres closed, military operations were suspended, and blinds of business houses were drawn.
Minute guns, one for each full year of the Queen’s life, were fired from the warships and from Dawes Battery. Flags were at half-mast.
It is stated on Imperial authority that the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (now the Prince and
Princess of Wales) to Melbourne, at the opening of the Australian Parliament, will not take place.