Standing in the garden of Burgh Halls is a beautiful bronze statue that provides an unexpected and fascinating link to Australia and the arrival of Aborignal art in Linlithgow. The man immortalised in precious metal is John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun and 1st Marquess of Linlithgow - the ﬁrst Governor General of Australia.
Hopetoun, as he was known, was born on 25th September 1860 at Hopetoun House in South Queensferry, just north of Linlithgow. The eldest son of the 6th Earl, he had a privileged upbringing attending Eton and Sandhurst before returning to Scotland to manage the family's 42,000-acre estate around the Firth of Forth.
His political career began in 1883 when he became the Conservative whip in the House of Lords, later serving as Lord in Waiting to Queen Victoria, then Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland. In 1889, he was appointed Governor to the Australian state of Victoria, where he became known for lavish entertaining and ostentatious galas, which was very much the style for colonial governors of the time.
This was against the backdrop of the Great Crash of 1891, a period of economic depression and instability in Australia that lasted for a decade. Yet despite his excesses, Hopetoun was a popular man, with regular informal tours on horseback making him friends throughout the state.
The crash and subsequent political and social problems bought issues with the colonial system to the fore. This sparked new interest in the idea of Australian federation, which Hopetoun wholeheartedly supported, regularly giving speeches in favour. He ﬁnished his term as state governor in 1895, returning to Britain and was appointed paymaster general and then Lord Chamberlain.
From 1898 to 1900, Australian states held referenda on Federation, voting overwhelmingly in favour. In 1900, The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act was passed and the Commonwealth of Australia came to be on 1st January 1901. Hopetoun's popularity in Victoria, and his friendships with leading Australian politicians made him an obvious choice to be the ﬁrst Governor General.