The Garden Palace

The Garden Palace, from 'Views Of Sydney', published in the late 19th century

The Garden Palace, from ‘Views Of Sydney’, published in the late 19th century

Last week on The Past Present, the Sydney Exhibition planned for 1879 appeared to be doomed. The Agricultural Society did not have the funds for such a lavish event, the Government were refusing to hand over money and public subscription had failed. Of course, the exhibition had to go ahead, it had become public news and people had plans to attend, so reluctantly, in January of 1879, the Government released 50,000 pounds.

The exhibition now had the funding it required, but a whole year had been lost and the exhibition, due to open in August the same year, still did not have a home. A specially built exhibition hall was planned, but there was no way it could be completed so quickly. The exhibition date was pushed back to September giving the workers and contractors less than a year to build the grand palace which was planned! So, work began, despite the fact that the plans had not even been finalised. The Colonial architect James Barnet, who was responsible for the designs, altered them ‘on the run’ and as more exhibitors from around the world were confirmed, more buildings were added to the complex. Proper processes were ignored to speed up the rate of building and lights were installed to allow work around the clock. Due to high unemployment rates there was no trouble finding workers, but many considered the work unsafe. The unions protested and carpenters even went on strike, seeking what could be described as ‘danger money’ for the work they were required to complete, but these protests were unsuccessful.

People feared that the work would not be completed, that it would rain and that there would be no public transport to get people to and from the exhibition. To solve the last issue a steam tram was hastily installed, running from the Redfern tram terminus to Hunter Street. The other problems were more worrisome – the buildings weren’t completed, the exhibits weren’t in place on time, the official opening had to be postponed and rain drowned the plantings around the ‘Garden Palace’ exhibition hall. In the end though, everything came together and Sydneysiders enjoyed the holiday atmosphere of the event.

So what happened to the Garden Palace? Come back next week to find out about the grand buildings demise.

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