Dr Alexander Leeper1911 Rupert Bunny 1864 - 1947 192.5 x 121.5 [framed] AC 000010
Inaugural Warden of Trinity College, 1876-1918
Alexander Leeper was appointed Principal of Trinity College on 6 January, 1876. His term of office would last forty-two years, during which time the shape of the College, the University, and Melbourne itself changed significantly. The College was a mere six years old when Leeper arrived to take up the reins and the man himself barely in sight of his twenty-eighth birthday. Leeper's education was well-rounded, his academic accomplishments prodigious. Born in Dublin in 1848, the second son of the Revd Alexander Leeper, he completed a Bachelor's degree at Trinity College, Dublin in 1871 where he was awarded the Berkeley Gold Medal. In 1875 Leeper was awarded First Class Honours in Classical Moderations at St John's College, Oxford. His grounding as a Classics scholar was to have an indelible effect on the complexion of Trinity College as a place of academic endeavour and as an exemplar in the development of the collegiate system throughout Australia.
A widely travelled man, Leeper had visited Australia in 1869 where he met Sir George Wigram Allen's daughter, Adeline Marian, whom he would later marry, in the summer of 1879. When he took up his post as Principal of Trinity College, he had charge of only five students. By 1912 when Bunny's portrait of him was unveiled, the College could boast fifty-seven resident students. According to Dutton Green, Vice-President of the Union of the Fleur-de-Lys, the College's alumni association, Leeper had "converted what had been described as a Church of England boarding house to a real live college".
Moves to commission a portrait of Leeper began in 1910, when, at the annual dinner of the Union of the Fleur-de-Lys, members unanimously decided that a portrait of the Warden was long overdue. It was to be purchased through subscriptions limited to one guinea, the intention being to "make the presentation a representative one." It proved to be a timely resolution, for the Union was able to secure the artist Rupert Bunny to undertake the commission. Bunny had returned to Australia on 29 May, 1911, after having lived abroad for twenty-seven years.
On the evening of Thursday 2 May, 1912, Bunny's portrait of Alexander Leeper, first Warden of Trinity College, was presented to the College by the Union of the Fleur-de-Lys. According to the Union's magazine of June 1912, "The presentation was made in the Dining Hall, in the presence of a large muster of past and present students and friends of the College and other members of the University, by Mr. Dutton Green, the senior Vice-President of the Union". In his presentation speech Mr Green was reported to have said that "the history of Trinity College was practically the history of Dr Leeper's distinguished career among them."
Provenance: Presented to the College by the Union of the Fleur-de-Lys in 1912.