This statue of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns is evidence of South Australia’s strong ties to Scotland.
As early as 1838, Scottish migrants in South Australia were meeting and in 1881 they founded the Caledonian Society of South Australia.
After a statue of Burns was erected in Ballarat, Victoria, the society decided on a similar memorial sculpture for Adelaide. Scottish migrants contributed money and the Scottish-born sculptor W. J. Maxwell was commissioned. Adelaide identities including Robert Barr Smith, Sir Thomas Elder and the head of the Caledonian Society, John Darling, funded the project.
This was the first time a sculpture was created within South Australia.
John Darling unveiled the statue on May 5, 1894. In his speech he said: “Here we have [Burns] in action, in all the vigour of life, his eyes upturned, his whole soul going out while his lips give utterance to some of his noblest thoughts as he reads before a brilliant assemblage of Scotland’s proudest aristocracy.”
Thousands came to the unveiling, including members of the Melbourne and Sydney Caledonian societies. Mrs McLellan and Mrs Burns-Scot, a granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the poet, were also there.
The Caledonian Society of South Australia still exists. The Mount Barker Caledonian Society has a “Highland Gathering” each year in the Adelaide Hills.