The rich history of the J. F. Archibald Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park

Hyde Park’s J. F. Archibald Memorial Fountain was gifted to the City of Sydney in 1932 to “commemorate the association of Australia and France in the Great War 1914–1918 (WWI).”

In 1919, a bequest in the will of John Feltham Archibald, who was the founding editor of the Bulletin, provided for the erection of a symbolic open-air memorial — He recommended placing the “electrically-lighted fountain” in the Botanic Gardens “or, if not, in some suitable place in the public gardens of Sydney.”

As directed in Archibald’s will seven of the 50 shares from his estate would commemorate the association between Australia and France during World War 1 “for the liberties of the world” — And a fountain would be sculpted in bronze by a French artist. Other monies from his estate were set aside for the NSW Art Gallery’s Archibald Prize, a share “for the relief of distressed Australian journalists” and hospitals in Sydney & Melbourne. (One other share was donated to a fund instituted by his late father, Joseph Archibald, to buy tobacco for the inmates of the Warrnambool Benevolent Asylum).

J F Archibald arrived in Sydney from Victoria in 1878, where he formed a partnership with John Haynes and William McLeod. On Friday 31st January 1880 they launched The Bulletin as a weekly paper which reported on political, business and literary news. William Henry Traill became a partner in 1882. In 1883, Archibald departed for two years in London. When he returned in 1886, the magazine was struggling, and Archibald bought out the other partners.

Archibald appeared to be highly regarded. Adelaide’s Register News-Pictorial described him as “one of the outstanding figures in Australian journalism.”

Archibald stipulated that the money for the fountain be invested for seven years before work began on the memorial. Francois Sicard was selected as sculptor for the memorial in July 1926 after a series of interviews in Paris by the President of London’s Royal Academy. The figures were sculpted in bronze by the lost wax process took several years to complete — they were ready for display in Paris at the Grand Palais in May 1930 — they were then shipped to Sydney.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph one year before the erection of the fountain, the Town Clerk, My Layton, warned that there was a cost blowout for the project. “Since the death of Mr. J. F. Archibald the amount left for expenditure on the base of the statue has become more and more inadequate as the cost of materials increased, and about £4000 more than was provided for in the estate is needed before the fountain can be erected.” An article in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1931 hinted that after sculptor Monsieur Sicard was paid his commission there was only £4000 of the £17,000 remaining for the construction in Hyde Park.

Reports at the time said the display was greeted with enthusiasm and praise both in Paris and London. The fountain’s delivery was delayed after queries about the customs duty. It was erected by Master Builder H. W. Thompson Ltd., under the supervision of Architect B. J. Waterhouse.

It was officially opened by Lord Mayor Alderman Samuel Walder on the day that the fountain was handed over to the City of Sydney on Monday 14th March 1932. “The citizens always will be proud of it and the name of J. F. Archibald. Here today, many years after his death, this fountain springs into life analogous of his personality and vitality. Its creator, M. Sicard, is, in the fullest sense of the word, a great master, and adequately deserves the title given him as the modern Michel Angclo” — Sydney Lord Mayor quoted the next day in The Daily Telegraph.

At the presentation of the fountain, T. H. Kelly, the chairman of Mr. Archibald’s estate, the Perpetual Trustee Company spoke to the crowd: “Such a gift was quite characteristic of the late J. F. Archibald, and was a noble conclusion to an active and useful life. We all remember him as a kindly, genial man, but one with a keen Intellect. He had a strong love of all that makes for the enlightenment of humanity, and throughout his life he was a champion for the freedom of thought and the free play of intellectual forces. As editor of the “Bulletin” he did his best to encourage originality, to stimulate the efforts of all who had something to say as writers or artists. In his heart he reared that Australia, as a country of primary industries might degenerate into a condition of chronic intellectual stagnation. He aimed to arouse our latent mental and spiritual activities. It was the stirring and development of such forces, primitive enough in their origin, which led to the glorious cultural achievements of ancient Greece, of the Italian Renaissance, and of modern France.”

“Archibald was a great admirer of the clarity of thought and the resourceful originality displayed by modern French culture. This admiration no doubt inspired him with the idea of making a gift to his fellow countrymen which would be an example of that nation’s best work.”

“M. Sicard is one of the most distinguished of all living artists. He has won innumerable honours during his career, and his works are to be seen in many cities of France, including one at Villers Cotterets to the English soldiers who fell there, and a fine memorial to Clemenceau at St. Hermine. In Paris itself there are statues by M. Sicard of Alfred de Vigny, George Sand, Sarah Bernhardt, and, most famous of all, his monument of the National Convention at the Pantheon, for which the Academie de Beaux Arts awarded to him the Jean Renaud Prize of 10,000 francs, given for the most meritorious work done in five years. For this work M. Sicard also received from the city of Paris the Grande Medaille d’Or, the Prix Hereux, awarded for the most important and best work which adorns a public monument or place In Paris. It will be realised, therefore, that we are very fortunate to have such a fine example of his work to adorn Sydney.”

“It was considered desirable for a committee in London to watch the progress of the work. Mr. B. J. Waterhouse (of Sydney) and Major Hubert Corlette were the architects who collaborated with the sculptor in the design and erection of the architectural portions of the memorial. Both Sir Goscombe John and Mr. Rud Dick, sculptors of the highest eminence, found time to devote great personal care to the supervision of the work. They had stated that the Archibald Fountain would be recognised as one of the finest works of its kind in the world.”

Construction and Real Estate Journal — Wednesday 16th March 1932

“I am afraid that in Australia, as in other new countries, there is a tendency to be in too great a hurry in the accomplishment of works of art. We are far too impatient in these days to spend a whole lifetime in producing one pair of bronze gates for a cathedral as they did in medieval Florence. Perhaps some people might have preferred this memorial to be of a more military character. I think that the sculptor has been wise in making it symbolical, not of the war, where these brave French and Australian soldiers fell, but rather of the peaceful and enlightened ideals for which they gave their lives.”

Inscription: “This fountain is a gift of the late J.F. Archibald to his fellow countryman and is intended in terms of his will to commemorate the association of Australia and France in the Great War 1914–1918. It was erected in 1932 and is the work of Francois Sicard, Sculptor, Paris.”

The Daily Telegraph — Tues 15th March 1932

As the fountain was being made in Paris, Adelaide’s Register News-Pictorial published a story on Friday 28th February 1930 revealing that the gift would also be lit up at night. “The memorial is in the form of a superb figure of Apollo rising from the setting sun. Water will splash from the rays of the sun and from the mouths of the dolphins drawing Apollo’s chariot. Theseus slaying the Minotaur represents the Australian soldier. The figures, in bronze, will be set in a huge basin of Australian pink granite. The fountain will be illuminated at night.”

The Australian Worker — Thursday 18th Sept 1919

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