Our Global Neighbours: How Buddha Came to Australia
Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.
Buddha was brought to Sydney in 1826 on board HMS Warspit under command of Commodore James Brisbane (1774-1826). The commodore, returning from the First Burmese War, was ill and he died the same year in December. But not before he gave his statue of Buddha to Captain John Piper (1773–1851), who was in charge of Customs and was a rather colourful Scottish personality in early colonial Australia.
The Burmese statue of seated Buddha stayed in the Piper’s family to the end of the 19th century and was donated by bequest to the Australian Museum by Miss Jane Piper (probably John Piper’s daughter) in 1905.
The figure, about 60 cm tall, is carved in marble (calcite) and the robes and base are coloured in gold over a reddened surface. It is made in distinct Burmese Ava style – referring to a period of the Ava Kingdom of the 14-16th centuries. Our figure is a few centuries old but its exact age or provenance is unknown.
Buddhism established a foothold in Australia in 1848 with the arrival of Chinese people on the Victorian goldfields. It was followed later in the 1870s by Sinhalese migrants, from what is now called Sri Lanka, to Queensland and the Torres Strait. A Buddhist temple was built on Thursday Island for about 500 followers, many of whom were Japanese. Similar communities were established at that time in Broome and Darwin.
Towards the end of the 19th century Buddhism began attracting followers from across Australian society. Now over half a million Australians are affiliated with Buddhism and it is the fastest growing religion in our country.
A hand coloured picture was produced to document the arrival of HMS Warspit - the first English Man of War ever in the waters of Port Jackson. Also the Sydney Gazetteand New South Wales Advertiser (21 October 1826) reported this event, including inspection of HM Warspit by the Governor, General Sir Ralph Darling.