Robert Burns Statue
The Octagon, Dunedin
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
27th July 1988
Lots 1,2 Reserve No.2 Town of Dunedin
Historical Significance or Value
Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) wrote his verses in the Scots dialect and came to epitomise the nationalism of the Scots, particularly abroad. The Reverend Thomas Burns, a leading figure in the founding of Otago, was a nephew of the poet, but the impetus of funding the statue came from the local Burns Club as a gesture of national pride. Statues of Burns are internationally common, wherever Scots have emigrated. In Dunedin a Burns supper was held in 1855 and has continued as an annual event on the anniversary of the poet's birthday. During the process of fund-raising in Dunedin in the 1870s there were some protests because of the poet's reputation for having written bawdy verses, but local Burn's supporters prevailed. After some discussion about whether or not to place the statue in front of the railway station, a site in the Octagon was granted by the city and the statue was presented to the Mayor and Corporation of Dunedin on 24 May 1887.
Of the four statues made of Robert Burns, the first is in Central Park, New York; the second in Dundee, Scotland; and the third on the Thames Embankment, London. The Dunedin statue is the fourth of the group that Steel produced and most closely resembles the London statue.
It is a major landmark in the upper part of the Octagon and forms a background to many speakers who address people in the Octagon from the edge of the McMillan terrace.
Its landmark quality and association with the pedestrian centre of Dunedin.
The plinth is Port Chalmers breccia, about 50cm high, supporting a pedestal of polished brown Peterhead granite, 2.75 metres high. The statue is well weathered bronze. Burns is shown seated on a tree stump with his left arm resting on another convenient stump and his right hand holding a pencil. He is gazing into the distance as if composing and there is an open scroll by his right foot, which is partly tucked back under him. He has a plaid over one shoulder and across his knees. A small stone terrace below the statue was added recently, provided by Alex McMillan, patron of the Dunedin Burns Club.
Sir John Steel of Edinburgh cast the statue, and Mr Munro, a local contractor, built the base.
Significance of Architect/Engineer/ Designer:
Sir John Steel was a notable sculptor of the period and cast four almost identical statues of Burns with slight changes to the modelling of the head, legs and right hand.
ARCHTECTURAL Description (Style):
The style is typically realistic and noble as favoured in the Victorian period and is akin to the style of the two statues in Queens Gardens. Burns is however sitting in a more relaxed position.
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
Article by Stan Kirkpatrick, 26 March 1987
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.