The Great Mace is one of the College's most powerful symbols. It represents the authority of the College, and by tradition it must be present whenever the authority of the College is invoked, such as at meetings of the Council and at Convocation.
When (Sir) Hugh Devine was visiting England on College business in 1930, Lord Moynihan, then President of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, held a dinner in his honour at the Garrick Club. At this dinner Moynihan proposed that the Australasian College should have its own mace (similar to the one he had presented to the American College in 1920), and that he should take it to Australia and present it himself. In return, Devine proposed that Moynihan should deliver the inaugural Syme Oration.
The Mace was commissioned from Omar Ramsden (1873-1939), one of the greatest silversmiths of his time, a leader of the Art Nouveau decorative arts revival at the beginning of the 20th Century. Today, pieces by him are keenly sought by collectors, and his work can be seen in many British and European museums. Ramsden's records are held in the Library of the Goldsmiths' Company in London. In one of the Order Books, under the heading 'Australasian Mace', are the details of its manufacture, including the craftsmen who worked on it, and all the costs in code. The date of completion is recorded as 1 June 1931.
The Mace is 46½ in. (118 cm) in length. It is made of cast and chased silver gilt, and the weight of silver is 189½ troy oz. (5.894 kg). It is hallmarked, the four marks being the initials OR, lion passant (925 or 'sterling' silver), leopard's head (London assay), and the letter P (year code). It is signed with the silversmith's customary legend Omar Ramsden me fecit, at the end of the scroll on the shaft.
The crown end consists of a small version of St Edward's Crown, with the orb supported on a pair of depressed bows. The bows are fringed with briar, symbolizing the hard and thorny path to greatness. On the cap under the bows are engraved the Royal Arms of George V, surrounded by the dedicatory inscription The gift of the President and Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, as from brothers to brothers, MCMXXXII. The cresting around the cap is made up of alternating Tudor roses (England) and seven-pointed stars (Australia) on a field of wattle sprays and fern fronds (New Zealand).
Below the crown is the cup or basket, on which are set four coats-of-arms framed by oak trees. These arms represent Australia, RACS, New Zealand, and the Royal College of Surgeons, England, respectively. Above the arms of Australia are the hallmarks. Around the top of this section runs the inscription The Royal College of Surgeons of Australasia. This form of name came about because, by the time the King gave his assent to the College becoming Royal, the Mace was well advanced, with the words "College of Surgeons of Australasia" already incised. All that could be done was to insert the words "The Royal" at the beginning of the inscription. At the bottom of this section is a band of wavy relief known as 'the waters', symbolizing the sundering seas.
The cup is supported on six brackets cast in the traditional form of consoles, with lions' heads and dragons' feet. These stand on the first of three bosses along the shaft. Each boss is studded with cabochons. The names of the President and Councillors of the RCS for 1930-31 are inscribed on a scroll running around the shaft, and the scroll is set on a field of intertwined fern and briar rose. A second set of hallmarks is stamped near the end of the scroll. At the end of the shaft are the rudimentary remains of the old mace head, a bulge decorated with leaves-of-woad, terminating in a fluted finial.
The Mace was carried free of charge by the Orient Line, although primage (a percentage of the agreed value of the goods, paid to the ship's owners) was levied. Classified as a work of art, it was exempt from Australian import duty.
The Mace was presented at an impressive ceremony in Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne, at the inauguration of the Annual Meeting on 17 February 1932, in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria and two thousand guests.
Moynihan was unable to attend, due to the ill-health of his wife, and so he nominated Charles H. Fagge (RCS Vice-President 1929-30), who had been closely involved with the creation of the Mace, to be present in his stead. The Mace was accepted by Sir Henry Newland, who had succeeded Sir George Syme as President of the College in 1929. In handing over the Mace, Fagge's words were:
"And now, companion of my waking thoughts for many months, farewell. You have I watched from earliest hours when, plate of virgin silver, you gave yourself to be fashioned by the craftsman's skill. Your every spray of wattle, every frond of fern have come to life within my ken, and gradually, once a thing inanimate, your spirit has entwined itself around mine. Today we part, but it is my hope that your new friends will ever hold you in their hearts, not only as a kingly emblem richly wrought, but as a spirit of affection …… Stay here ever to watch their future, to guide their aims, and to bless their destiny."
This ceremony over, Fagge then delivered the first Syme Oration, and was admitted to Honorary Fellowship.
After its arrival, the Mace went on exhibition in Australia and New Zealand. It was exhibited in the art galleries in Melbourne and Sydney (three months each), Dunedin (two months) and finally Christchurch, where its presence coincided with the Annual Meeting on 7-8 September 1933.
Since then the Mace has been present at all of the important functions and ceremonies of the College. After more than half a century of duty, it was in need of some attention, and in 1996 it was repaired and regilded by Melbourne silversmith Peter Gertler.
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