1864: Burke Museum, Beechworth, Victoria.

Possibly one of the most famous secular stained glass windows created by the Ferguson & Urie company would be the Burke memorial window at the Beechworth Museum in Northern Victoria.

In 1861 the former Superintendent of Police at Beechworth, Robert O’Hara Burke (1821-1861), met his demise during the infamous ‘Burke & Wills’ expedition, an event which is well recorded in Australian history.

The expedition was reportedly the most expensive ever undertaken at over £60,000 and the loss of seven lives and was the topic of much discussion at the time and still is after over a century and a half.

Newspapers all over Australia wrote of the expedition in great detail and monuments to Burke an Wills began to appear across the colony. In 1864 the town of Beechworth decided to extend their Athenaeum building to include the Burke museum and it’s at this time that I believe the Burke memorial stained glass window by Ferguson & Urie was actually made and erected.

In July 1864 it was reported that the design for the window submitted by John H. Cuzner (Principal of Beechworth Grammar School and Hon. Sec of the Athenaeum), would be accepted. Other information at the museum sighted in 2011 indicate that the window was made in the 1870’s.

Photos taken 18 Dec 2011.

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The window features the Colonial Flag of Australia, the red Cross of St George, the White Rose of England, the emblem of New South Wales in gold within the red cross, the Thistle of Scotland, the Shamrock of Ireland and the Southern Cross in gold stars with the wording “Burke Memorial”. The window was reportedly made for £30 and still exists in remarkable condition and is now the centrepiece attraction in the museum. The museum guides, pamphlets and advertising sign outside the museum all include pictures of the window and there are postcards of the window on sale.

An article on the wall at the Beechworth museum (18th Dec 2011) reads:

“In 1861, when the disastrous fate of the Burke and wills expedition became known in Beechworth it was decided that a monument be erected in memory of Robert O’Hara Burke who, as Superintendent of Police for the whole Ovens district from 1854-1858, has been stationed in Beechworth. The Athenaeum building was extended in 1863 to incorporate a museum and in 1874 the Burke Memorial stained glass window was made to order by Ferguson & Urie of Melbourne at the cost of thirty pounds. The building was further extended with the addition of wings on three sides from 1971-1979.”

“Robert O’Hara Burke was chosen by the Royal Society of Victoria to lead an expedition across Central Australia in 1860-61. Burke succeeded in crossing the Australian continent from south to north, but at a terrible price; the expedition cost him his life. The crossing ranked Burke as one of the most controversial figures in the history of Australian exploration”.

“Some called him ‘The mad amateur bushman’, others said ‘He was betrayed at the hour of success’, The Royal Commission set up to investigate the disaster which overtook the expedition, concluded by issuing the following statement: “We cannot too deeply deplore the lamentable result off an expedition undertaken at so great a cost to the Colony; but while we regret the absence of a systematic plan of operations on the part of the leader, we desire to express our admiration of his gallantry and daring”.

A newspaper article from July 1864 is at odds with information above in relation to the date the window was made. This article below lends more credibility to the window being made and erected at the time of the extensions of the Athenaeum  to include the museum. The interesting inclusion is the name of Mr Cuzner who is credited with the design for the window which Ferguson & Urie executed.

Ovens and Murray Advertiser, Beechworth, Vic, Saturday 2nd July 1864, page 2.

“BEECHWORTH ATHENAEUM – The first meeting of the new Committee is to be held on Monday evening next, when we are informed, it is contemplated to bring under consideration the desirability of attempting to get up a Bruce Auction for the purpose of obtaining funds to complete the Burke Museum, and render it suitable for the object it is intended to accomplish; also, a better plan than at present adopted for ensuring all subscribers easy access to the books they may desire to take home from the Library. The advantages of a Museum to the district are so apparent that we feel confident the public will liberally respond to any well considered project to give that of the Athenaeum a fair start, and look forward to shortly having to congratulate the town on the possession a collection that will be creditable not only to the Athanaeum, but to this part of the colony, being aware that there are gentlemen on the committee able and willing to render great assistance in its formation. It is considered by many that the subscribers to the building itself should have an opportunity given them of expressing their approval, or otherwise, of the intended memorial to ‘Burke,’ and we are sure the Athenaeum Committee will be anxious to give them satisfaction before definitely determining on the carrying out of the design. We, ourselves, highly approve of the memorial window, designed by Mr Cuzner, as being both useful and ornamental, and merely express the feeling we have heard for the information of the Committee. Steps are also to be taken with the view of commencing the lecture session without unnecessary delay, and from the material of which the Officers and Committee are composed, we have every assurance that all that energy and zeal can accomplish will be done to preserve the Athenaeum in its present efficiency, and to give satisfaction to members of that very useful Institution.”

External Links:

Biography: Robert O’Hara Burke.

National Archives: Burke memorial window.



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