BurnsAuckThroughout this week and over the weekend many a Scot around the world will join in a toast to Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns. But Burns is not only remembered through these toasts, there are also a good number of visible reminders, with statues of the poet traceable all over the world, from Vancouver in Canada to Ballarat in Australia. While the Burns statue in Dunedin, New Zealand, is well known, the same cannot be said of the country’s three other Burns statues in Timaru, Hokitika, and Auckland. The latter was erected in the Auckland Domain and, as that in Sydney, is a replica of the Paisley Burns statue produced by F. W. Pomeroy. Burns is represented in peasant costume, standing next to a plough. Donated to the city by Auckland businessman J. M. Mennie, it was unveiled in 1921 by the then New Zealand Prime Minister, W. F. Massey, ‘this big determined Ulsterman’, who ‘displayed in his speech a surprising knowledge of Burns, so much so that a man in the crowd called out “You’re a regular Scottie” ’.

Similar to the arrangements in Auckland, the Timaru statue had been unveiled by a politician, former New Zealand Premier Sir Robert Stout, eight years earlier on 22 May 1913. Hundreds arrived from Dunedin by train for the event, among them a band of pipers and the Dunedin Burns Club Choir. ‘On arriving at our destination’, noted a participant, ‘what a great crowd there was to welcome us.’ A similarly large assemblage came together in the Botanical Gardens for the unveiling.

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The Timaru statue was solely financed by previously encountered James Craigie. Described as ‘one of the real Burns enthusiasts, [who] . . . has done much to enhance the fame and popularity of the great Scottish bard in New Zealand’, Craigie was convinced that a monument to Burns served as a particularly potent means of commemoration. The only overseas vice-president of the Burns Federation, Burns offered Craigie an active link to the old home, but his commitment went further. In 1925, for instance, he sent a £100 donation to the Burns Federation for the purpose of starting a fund to erect a memorial for Robert Fergusson in Edinburgh. In a letter to the secretary of the Burns Federation, Craigie explained:

I believe that, with the exception of the stone erected by Burns over the remains of one whom he described as the ‘elder brother’ of his muse, Robert Fergusson has no memorial in Scotland, not even in his native city. It is surely passing strange. To Robert Fergusson more than any other pre-Burns writer we are indebted for the revival and continued use of ‘braid Scots’ . . .

Craigie had long maintained connections to the Burns Federation and similar clubs in Scotland. A year prior to his donation, he had visited the home country and been honoured with a reception in the Glasgow Burns House Club, where he was presented with a gold badge ‘suitably inscribed in recognition of his distinguished services to the Burns cult’. In his speech acknowledging the gift, Craigie explained that in New Zealand a Caledonian society or Burns club could be found in every town, not just to celebrate Scottishness, but ‘in addition to asserting the claims of Scottish nationality these institutions made for good citizenship and effective government’.

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Hokitika on New Zealand’s West Coast, which is commonly characterised as an Irish stronghold, with little ethnic variation recorded in scholarly studies, is home to New Zealand’s fourth Burns statue. There were a number of Caledonian societies on the West Coast from as early as 1870, the plan for a Burns statue being conceived by the Westland Caledonian Society of Hokitika. Rather than in the heyday of monumentalisation in the late nineteenth century, the erection of the Hokitika statue was only commissioned in 1923. James Craigie’s name being well connected with the bard, the politician was invited to unveil the monument in an elaborate ceremony. As the programme booklet for the event outlines, the day began at 11 o’clock in front of the Hokitika Town Hall, when all involved assembled for a procession. This left at half past eleven, headed by a band and pipers, proceeding to Cass Square, the chosen home of the statue. After various addresses, by the Mayor, Craigie, and the Westland Caledonian Society’s Chief, a musical programme of traditional Scottish songs was followed by the actual unveiling, the event concluding with the singing of Auld Lang Syne. It was in honour of Burns that the programme booklet featured a poem by Hugh Smith of Reefton:

Faur ower the seas by the clear winding ‘Doon’
Stands a cottage wi’ walls snowy white.
’Twas there, when the Jan’war winds blew loud and cauld –
That the plewman-Bard fi rst saw the light . . .
And monuments rise where the dark-skin’d have trod
To his honour and mem’ry and fame . . .

And indeed, so it is. Happy birthday, Robbie!

All images from Heritage Images, Auckland Library

For details on Burns statues in Australia, see Ben Wilkie’s post here.

 

 

The monumental poet: Burns statues in New Zealand
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One thought on “The monumental poet: Burns statues in New Zealand

  • 8 September 2017 at 11:55 pm
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    I have just discovered your blog
    This year I was in Dundee and got my 4th photo of the Sir John Steel Robert Burns monuments –
    Dunedin,London and New York .Have had the other NZ ones for some years.
    I’m a direct descended of the Rev Thomas Burns- a nephew of Robert and even have ‘Burns’ in my name-so interested in Burns family

    Raewyn
    Queenstown

    Reply

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