Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Boreham on Monuments

Instinct Toward Stone
In an editorial entitled, ‘When ages talk to ages’, Dr F W Boreham remarked on the way sorrowing people turn instinctively towards erecting masses of stone, an impulse “born of the conviction that goodness is too precious a thing to be permitted to perish”.[1] The stonemasons who may have quarried and engraved centuries ago, have made “silent stones articulate” in that “every stone ... takes to itself a Voice, and every Voice is an ascription, a litany, a prayer”.[2]

Mystical Monuments
Boreham said that the desire to visit such stones was as mystical and as wonderful as the decision to commission and erect the monuments. Embracing Montaigne’s view that “of all human passions, there is none so persistent and characteristic as our passion for bridging chasm and for linking things up”, Boreham believed that the significance of monuments lay in their expression of the human “craving to get in touch with the great tracts of time”.[3]

Pilgrim to Sacred Sites
Counting himself as a pilgrim to many sacred sites,[4] Boreham wrote that such visitors delude themselves into thinking that they are merely bringing their tribute of honor and affection but in reality they receive far more than they bring. He elaborated: “For, from the hour of their visit to the tomb, the distinguished person who sleeps there becomes a more commanding presence in their lives. They have forged a new and singularly effective link with the life that he lived and the work that he did. Henceforth he is to them not merely a name; he is a throbbing personality; a potent force in all their experience and achievement”.[5]

Gratitude to Heroes
Boreham was appreciative of the large number of heroic statues that had been erected in the twenty-five years prior to the First World War and he was supportive of the energetic promotion of monuments in the interwar period. He did not, however, remark on the decline in the commissioning of monuments (especially following the Second World War), the change in the focus of monuments from glorifying the person to celebrating the deed and the shift in terminology from ‘monument’ (with its association with glorification) to ‘memorial’ and ‘shrine’ (which emphasized communal mourning).[6]

Imbibing the Spirit
While many modern Australian historians have been skeptical about the power of shrines and relics to help people commune with the dead,[7] Les Carlyon writes of the thousands of Australians (15,000 in the year 2000) who visit Gallipoli (‘Australia’s largest memorial’) each year to imbibe the Anzac spirit and ‘discover their past’.[8]

Geoff Pound

Image: Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance.

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 5 July 1952.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 5 July 1952.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 8 February 1930.
[4] Boreham, When the swans fly high, 157.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 8 April 1933.
[6] These changes in public consciousness and the building of monuments are extensively detailed in Ken S Inglis, Sacred places: War memorials in the Australian landscape (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1998) and are briefly sketched in Davison, The use and misuse of Australian history, 37-55.
[7] Davison, The use and misuse of Australian history, 138.
[8] Carlyon, Gallipoli, 8-10, 534.