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Vice Regal Chair #1999-1439

A blackwood Vice Regal stately chair with a raised back and stepped top surmounted by a crown and applied acanthus leaf scroll corners; square section pilasters panelled with leaf roundels and carved acanthus leaf cresting flanking a padded back support upholstered in red leather; padded arms with scroll terminals; the square padded seat with carved rounds, on square section legs and block feet; two brass handles fixed to the reverse of the chair behind the arms. The chair is on a dais behind the President’s chair.

History

The Vice Regal Chair was used by the Governor-General in the Senate Chamber between 1927 and 1988, and remains in the Senate Chamber. The Rt Hon. John Baird, first Baron Stonehaven, was the first person to use it during his term of office which ended in October 1930, and it was not used in 1927 when the Duke of York proclaimed the inauguration of parliamentary proceedings in Canberra—he did not have the constitutional power to open a new session of Parliament. The Vice Regal Chair was used for the ceremonial opening of a parliament by the Governor-General and was also used by Queen Elizabeth II on the three occasions that she opened Parliament, including her first royal visit to Australia in 1954, and later in 1974 and 1977.

The Vice Regal Chair was designed in 1926 by the Architects Department of the Federal Capital Commission, led by principal architect John Smith Murdoch, specifically for Provisional Parliament House. Murdoch’s design for this chair and the other Senate Chamber furniture was inspired by the Westminster system of Parliament. The Throne was manufactured by Beard Watson & Co Ltd, one of the six firms that were contracted to construct Murdoch’s designs. Beard Watson & Co Ltd were renowned in Sydney as a retailer and manufacturer of high class furnishings, initially manufacturing floor coverings and carpets but diversifying into furniture in 1901. A 1917 article in The Australian Manufacturer stated of Beard Watson that ‘the furniture it sells, and particularly the furniture it produces, is distinguished at once for its good workmanship and for its artistic beauty.’

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Statement of values

The Vice Regal Chair is a significant item of furniture through its association with the Senate Chamber. The Senate has outstanding significance as a venue for the debates, petitions and votes associated with sixty-one years of Australian legislature, and recognisable by its red upholstery. The chair was used in the Senate by the Governor-General between 1927 and 1988, and was used by Queen Elizabeth II when opening the Parliament in 1954, associating it with significant people and events in Australian political history. The chair underlies the significance of Australia’s role as a member of the British Empire and of the Commonwealth of Nations. The significance of the Vice Regal Chair is enhanced through its rarity as the only chair of this design to have ever been built.

The Vice Regal Chair is significant as a component of the Heritage Collection, which comprises those pieces of furniture which were used in the Provisional Parliament House between 1924 and 1988. The collection has associations with the process of government, the ceremonial, administrative, promotional and recreational functions conducted within the House, and with the individuals who governed Australia between 1927 and 1988. The building is a primary example of the Inter War Stripped Classical style of architecture prominent in Canberra’s government architecture of the 1920s to 1940s. The characteristic expression of the building’s style is due to the design work of the Commonwealth’s first government architect, John Smith Murdoch. The Old Parliament House building has a richness of internal fabric and collections, which include the purpose designed furniture and furnishings, that convey the way in which parliamentary functions were conducted, the everyday use of the building, and the hierarchical nature of parliamentary staffing practices. This furniture is significant as it has remained within the building for which it was designed.

  • Vice Regal Chair (then) - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionVice Regal Chair (then) - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection —
  • Vice Regal Chair - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionVice Regal Chair - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection —

Details

Width 860mm
Height 1930mm
Depth 730mm
Medium Blackwood; leather; timber; brass
Creator’s name John Smith Murdoch
Date created Circa 1927