This photomontage shows how the bust will look outside the Museum of Sydney, drawn by SLM designer Kieran Larkin, 2014.  © Sydney Living Museums

Governor Phillip Memorial at first Government House

See more Home & Architecture

A sixty year old memorial to Governor Arthur Phillip will soon be installed at the Museum of Sydney on the site of Australia’s first Government House.

The public unveiling of the 1954 memorial will form the centrepiece of the NSW State Government’s program of events commemorating the bicentenary of Governor Arthur Phillip’s death and his long legacy of achievements.

The bust of Phillip has a long and interesting Sydney history and we are extremely pleased that it will now reside on First Government House Place, the forecourt of the Museum of Sydney, where it can be readily seen by museum visitors. The Phillip Memorial was originally unveiled by

‘his Excellency the Governor Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, KCMG, KCVO, CB at West Circular Quay, Sydney, at noon on Wednesday 14 July 1954 in the presence of a large company.’

Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Volume 40, part 1, 1954, p48

As manager of the Museum of Sydney I am very excited that we will have the Arthur Phillip Memorial in place in time for the bicentenary of Phillip’s death on 31 August this year. Plans are underway for a public unveiling ceremony to occur on the morning of Thursday 28 August and very much like the 1954 ceremony we will be encouraging everyone to attend this historic, once-in-a-lifetime event.

 

The bust of Phillip has a long and interesting Sydney history and we are extremely pleased that it will now reside on... the forecourt of the Museum of Sydney...

 

About The memorial

The Memorial consists of a bronze bust of Phillip that sits on top of a dressed sandstone plinth. The front face of the plinth is inscribed with the following words:  

CAPTAIN ARTHUR PHILLIP. R. N.

IN COMMAND OF THE “FIRST FLEET”.

LANDED ON THE SHORE OF THIS COVE

ON JANUARY 26, 1788

AND ESTABLISHED THE FIRST BRITISH

SETTLEMENT IN AUSTRALIA

ON FEBURARY 7, 1788

THE ROYAL COMMISSION WAS READ

PROCLAIMING CAPTAIN PHILLIP

AS CAPTAIN-GENERAL AND

GOVERNOR-IN-CHIEF OF

NEW SOUTH WALES

R.A.H.S.

The rear of the plinth has a brass plaque with a second incised inscription:

THIS MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED BY

THE MARITIME SERVICES BOARD OF N.S.W.

IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE ROYAL

AUSTRALIAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

THE BUST OF CAPTAIN PHILLIP WAS

SCULPTURED BY MRS. JEAN HILL,

DAUGHTER OF SIR

EDWARD HALLSTROM,

THROUGH WHOSE GENEROSITY THE BUST

WAS DONATED.

The Memorial was originally sited in the garden in the front of the Maritime Services Building (MSB), which today houses the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), having been erected by the MSB in conjunction with the Royal Australian Historical Society. The millionaire refrigerator manufacturer and philanthropist Sir Edward Hallstrom generously donated the funds for the bust that was sculptured by his daughter and artist Mrs Jean Hill. 

Black and white scanned image of memorial in circular garden bed.
The Arthur Phillip Memorial as it once stood outside the Maritime Services Building at West Circular Quay. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Volume 40, part 1, 1954.
 

SCULPTING THE BUST

The bust was sculpted and completed in 1952 or 1953 by female artist Jean Hill. Jean’s daughter Margaret Hill recollects her mother sculpting the bronze of Phillip:

She worked on it and I saw it 'grow' very quickly. I was only 4 but every day I saw that she had worked on it… I added my piece of clay to the underside of the shoulder.
Black and white photograph of woman working on bust.
Jean Hill sculpting the Phillip bust, 1952. Courtesy Margaret Hill.
 

Margaret recalled her own part in the making of the bust when her mother had her push a small clay ball into the base of the shoulder before the mould was created. This small ball made by a very young Margaret can still be seen today – crafted in bronze. She also remembers when the clay bust was completed and the excitement that followed:

I remember… mum saying there would be "a plaster throwing" to cover the bust in plaster. I am trying to recall the event as I was only 4 and a half, but I do remember family and neighbours participating with the "throwing" in the studio for the event – me included. After this event, mum had to wait until the plaster set and then I recall mum saying that she had to break it to make two moulds. I gather it was a success and then the bust was regaled to a shelf in the studio and the two moulds were sent to a foundry. The following months the plaster mould was at the foundry where the bust took shape. There were a series of processes before the two bronze pieces were moulded together.

Jean Hill’s bust of Phillip remained a landmark at West Circular Quay for over twenty years before redevelopments associated with Australia’s bicentenary saw it relocated to the north side of the MSB in 1980. In 2010 it was disassembled and stored for safe keeping and restoration by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) during the redevelopment of the MCA.

Plans for reinstallation

Conscious of the approaching 200th anniversary of Phillip’s death in August 2014, SHFA facilitated a workshop of experts and stakeholders earlier this year to determine the best place for the reinstallation of the bust. Stakeholders included relevant institutions, leading Phillip historians, representatives from the Royal Australian Historical Society, the Fellowship of First Fleeters and the Museum of Sydney (MOS).

Eight potential locations were considered at the workshop for their ability to address the following principles of relocation: proximity to Sydney Cove, publicly accessible, high profile location, sympathetic and historical context, elegant and well-designed environment with the ability to add interpretative context. It was also agreed that the bust and the plinth were the priority elements for inclusion in any new location while the sandstone surround may or may not be included.

From the workshop a number of recommendations were made. After deliberation, SHFA advised Sydney Living Museums that the Museum of Sydney forecourt, known as First Government House Place, had been selected as the preferred location. The reasons given for this decision were: its strong historical links to Phillip’s home and office as the first Governor of New South Wales and as the site of the first Government House, the high profile location with good public access, existing Phillip and Indigenous interpretation both inside and outside of the museum, strong public interest from museum-goers and schoolchildren and importantly MOS could successfully commemorate both the First Fleet voyage and Phillip’s time as Governor.

 

Jean Hill’s bust of Phillip remained a landmark at West Circular Quay for over twenty years before redevelopments associated with Australia’s bicentenary saw it relocated...

 

AT FIRST GOVERNMENT HOUSE

Since this decision great progress has been made to ensure the memorial will be ready for the bicentenary of Phillip’s death including meetings with Museum of Sydney architect Richard Johnson of Johnson Pilton Walker architects and the heritage stonemason who will fit and install the bust and plinth. SHFA has engaged conservators to complete detailed conservation work on the bust including cleaning, repainting the inscription and the application of a protective coating of microcrystalline wax to the bust and plaque. The sandstone plinth was also cleaned, the lime mortar patched and the plinth inscription re-blacked. Sydney Living Museums filmed the conservation process and will conduct interviews to create a film about the reinstatement of the Memorial. 

Two women flanking the bust, both holding black and white photograph of original sculptor in front of the bust.
Margaret Hill (right) inspecting the newly conserved bust with SHFA Heritage Project Officer Monique Galloway, 2014. Courtesy SHFA.
 

The bust is currently being fitted with a new base that will allow it to sit on our forecourt without compromising the integrity of the membrane that sits beneath the pavers and protects the first Government House foundations that lie beneath. This extensive work, a new commemorative plaque and the reinstallation of the bust are being funded by an extremely generous gift of $25,000 from the Friends of The First Government House Site and the Kathleen Hooke Memorial Trust. Preparations for the bust to be transferred on long-term loan from SHFA to the Museum of Sydney are also currently being finalised.

In August 2014, Governor Phillip will have taken his place once more on the site of first Government House. He will sit to the left of the museum entry doors, in close proximity to the foundations of his house that lie beneath the forecourt and in conversation with the Edge of the Trees sculpture that flanks the right hand doors. This iconic sculpture talks to the moment of first contact between the Gadigal people and the Europeans coming though the surf onto Eora land. The bust of Phillip will create new opportunities for the museum to explore this critical moment in time for the participants and how it continues to reverberate through the years to today. 

About the Author

Portrait of woman wearing light orange dress seated on wooden bench.
Susan Sedgwick
Head, City Portfolio
A long and winding path led Susie to museums, with stops along the way to pursue interests in design, editing and publishing. After returning to...
More From This Author

Recently added stories