Few of the many people who stroll along Macquarie Street in Sydney each day would recognise the imposing bronze figure of General Sir Richard Bourke, an Irish-born Governor of the Colony of New South Wales, that stands by the entrance to the Mitchell Library. Even fewer would know why an adoring public, many of them ‘shirtless and shoeless’, donated so generously to a fund for the erection of his statue, which was unveiled before thousands in 1842, five years after he had left the Colony.
As Governor, Bourke had introduced humane reforms and progressive measures in public education, the treatment of assigned convicts, the freedom of the press, trial by jury, religious equality and subsidised immigration. He had also done much to promote economic growth and the establishment of the Port Phillip District, the future Victoria.
Bourke was often opposed in what he did by an entrenched Establishment and a hostile press. Max Waugh describes his achievements, and the sinister circumstances that led to his unexpected departure.