Hotham Monument Restoration

15 June 2023
The base, column and capital of the historic Hotham Monument have now been restored at Melbourne General Cemetery

At over 170 years of age, Melbourne General Cemetery (MGC) is a site of major historical significance in Victoria and the final resting place of many notable Australians.

As a community-based public entity, SMCT is committed to maintaining and preserving the history of public cemetery spaces, and over time review and earmark restoration projects that contribute to the understanding of the heritage and history of cemeteries in Victoria. The restoration of the Hotham Monument at MGC is one such activity that garnered the support of community and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) as a monument of architectural importance contributing to the overall heritage significance of the cemetery.

A monument of architectural significance

The Hotham Monument was a key cemetery landmark from when it was first erected in 1858, and was the focal point of the cemetery landscape until it was removed due to structural issues in 1996.

Designed and built in England by famed architect George Gilbert Scott and sculptor John Birnie Philip, it is believed to be the only example of the work of Scott and Philip in Australia. Standing approximately 18 metres tall, the monument was shipped to Australia from England and was erected in 1858 by Melbourne architects Knight and Kerr. It is considered a historical monument in Australia.

The monument itself was a tribute to Sir Charles Hotham, the first titled Victorian Governor and a man who played a pivotal role in sparking the Eureka Stockade Rebellion. It was commissioned by Jane Lady Hotham as a final tribute to her husband after he died in 1855.

Notwithstanding the achievements and controversy surrounding Sir Charles Hotham’s time as Governor, the Hotham Monument was unique and significant for its outstanding architecture and craftsmanship, something that deserves to be celebrated. It featured a nearly 16-metre tall column made from polished Peterhead granite, as well as an intricate four-sided tabernacle carved from Portland stone.

Over time, the metal rod in the centre of the column degraded, causing it to lean severely. It was dismantled in 1996 and the pieces were quietly stored at Springvale Botanical Cemetery to await restoration.

Restoring a sleeping giant

Restoration work of this scale and intricacy requires considerable expertise, care and funding. SMCT commissioned a specialist team comprising a stonemason, conservator, architects, engineers and builders to make sure the Hotham Monument could be restored to the highest standards of structural integrity, safety and historical accuracy.

Bringing the Hotham Monument back to towering life is a multi-year project. While initial restoration of the base had been completed, condition reports provided by heritage experts estimated many stages of work would be required to restore the monument and see this essential piece of Victorian history standing at MGC once again.

Restoring the column and capital formed the next stages of the project, which has now been completed, a testament to the careful and expert work of our specialist team

About Sir Charles Hotham

Sir Charles Hotham (1806-1855) was a controversial Victorian Governor who mismanaged the Eureka Stockade Rebellion in Ballarat in 1854. Sir Charles Hotham had been a brilliant naval commander and helped free thousands of slaves in his career, but his autocratic style of management as Governor alienated him from many people, including the gold miners who opposed the harsh gold mining licence system. Despite the weight of public opinion against the licence fee, Hotham was not willing to abandon it.

Some historians claim Eureka was the birthplace of democracy while others state that it symbolised the ascendency of democratic ideals in Victoria. What we do understand is that 28 men, including 20 miners and 5 soldiers, lost their lives at the infamous Eureka Stockade Rebellion, Australia’s only armed uprising.

The monument to honour Hotham in light of his controversial career was not one that was requested by the state, or by the people. It was a monument to love – a wife’s final dedication to her husband.

Lady Hotham commissioned this extraordinary monument on her husband’s grave, and she managed to have it partly funded by the Victorian Government. It was her vision to have the biggest and the best monument as a loving tribute to her husband.

Preserving history

The historic Hotham Monument
A historic image of the Hotham Monument cut out from a newspaper

Over the years, the Hotham monument became a highlight of all SMCT tours of Melbourne General Cemetery and was highly regarded by tour participants and visitors for its striking architectural features – a towering feature of the cemetery skyline.

Our community has a commitment and passion for preserving history, and kindly and generously supported this initiative over the years. The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) conducted a heritage restoration appeal for the Hotham Monument at Melbourne General Cemetery, classifying the whole cemetery at a national level.

Not all community assets can be preserved to this standard, and as with any cemetery trust SMCT is guided by the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003 as to the ability to touch or change monuments and graves that are owned by members of the public in perpetuity.

We thank all those involved for their contribution in preserving history at our cemeteries. We take pride in our role as caretakers of history; seeking to find a balance between the need for families to reflect and honour their loved ones now and preserving and engaging with our heritage for the future.

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