Quite the most astonishing Victorian edifice that Gabe showed me on our trip round suburban Melbourne was the Springthorpe Monument in Boooondara Cemetery, in Kew not far from Villa Alba.
Dr John Springthorpe (1855-1933) erected this tomb in memory of his wife Annie, who died giving birth to their fourth child in 1897 at the age of thirty. The power of his grief led him to commemorate her in a rich, intense, uplifting memorial. It cost around A£10,000 – ten times what he spent on his three-storey house and surgery in Collins Street in the city-centre.
Within a massive Greek temple twenty feet square, designed by the architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933), lies an exquisite Carrara marble group by the sculptor Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) showing the deceased with two angels, one placing a now-lost wreath on her head, the other playing a lyre.
Both these artists were Melbourne natives, though Bertram Mackennal gained prestige for his work in England as well as Australia: his is the relief of King George V that appeared on British and Empire coinage, medals and postage stamps. He was also responsible for the tomb of George and Mary Curzon at Kedleston in Derbyshire.
The crowning architectural glory – literally – of this monument is the dome of deep red Tiffany glass, which bathes the statuary in a warm light that is the opposite of funereal.
The tomb is inscribed with a plethora of quotations from the Bible, the classics and from nineteenth-century poetry. The one omission is Annie Springthorpe’s name. Instead there is a simple, poignant inscription:
My own true love
Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
Born on the 26th day of January 1867
Married on the 26th day of January 1887
Buried on the 26th day of January 1897
Professor Pat Jalland, an Australian academic best known in the UK for her fascinating book Death in the Victorian Family (OUP 1996), wrote about the Springthorpe monument in The Age in 2002: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/03/25/1017004752838.html, and there is further detail in George Nipper’s contribution to http://www.walkingmelbourne.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=708&start=6.
Further illustrations can be found at http://www.walkingmelbourne.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=708.
There is a biography of Dr John Springthorpe at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/springthorpe-john-william-8610.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.