The statue is a full figure, carved out of white marble, depicting Sir Edward James Harland in later life. Edward Harland is an important figure in the story of Belfast shipbuilding. Edward James Harland was born in Scarborough on 15 May 1831 at a house at 8 Newborough in the town, on a site now occupied by the Marks and Spencer department store. He was educated at Scarborough Grammar School and later at Edinburgh Academy. At the age of 15 he served an apprenticeship at the Robert Stephenson & Company locomotive works in Newcastle. During his apprenticeship he met Gustav Schwabe, a friend of Harland's uncle.
Schwabe had connections in the shipping and shipbuilding industry and he helped Harland gain employment in Glasgow. Harland soon moved to Belfast, joining Robert Hickson & Company. On Hickson's retirement Harland purchased the yard, with financial assistance from Schwabe. Schwabe's connections with the Bibby Line no doubt helped Harland gain a commissioned to construct liners for the company.
However, it was the company's relationship with the White Star Line that saw it build some of the finest merchant ships ever to take to sea. Harland and Wolff built the company's first ship, the Oceanic and in 1908 they started construction of the Olympic, with construction of the Titanic commencing in 1909. Nearly all of the company's ships were built by Harland and Wolff, including the two final ships for the company, Britannic (III) in 1930 and Georgic (II) in 1932.
Beyond his interests at Harland & Wolff Edward Harland was prominent in commerce and politics in Belfast. He was Chairman of Belfast Harbour Commissioners from 1875 to 1876 and was made a Baronet in 1885, the same year he became Mayor of Belfast. He retired from the shipyard in 1889, and in the same year he served as MP for North Belfast. He died at his home in County Leitrim on Christmas Eve, 1895.
The statue and plinth was designed by English sculptor Sir Thomas Brock. Within the grounds of Belfast City Hall are further memorials by Brock; the statue of Queen Victoria and the Belfast men (Titanic) Memorial. Elsewhere, Brock's work is found in London, notably in London including the Imperial Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.
The statue of Edward Harland shows him in morning dress standing forward on his left foot, resting his left hand on a model of a ships hull that is sat on plans, draped over a half-height plinth. The statue stands on a tiered granite plinth atop a stepped granite base. An inscription, picked out in gold leaf, is carved into the plinth. The plinth carries the inscription:
Sir Edward James Harland Bart Engineer and Shipbuilder And MP for Belfast North Obit 1895 Erected by his numerous friends
The Edward Harland memorial was unveiled on 23 June 1903 by the Right Honourable the Earl of Glasgow, G.C.M.G., LL.D., president of the Institution of Naval Architects (between 1901 and 1908).