Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 3

Botanical Gardens Sydney 5 Front

Over the last two weeks, The Past Present has been focussing on the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best known and most iconic green spaces. As we have discovered, the gardens are 200 years old this year, making them one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere – older even than the famous Kew Gardens in England. During this time many people have been associated with the gardens, but one of the most well known was Charles Moore. 

Charles Moore was born in Scotland in 1820  and grew up to become a very promising botanist. In the mid 1840s the Sydney Botanic Gardens was in need of a new director and his excellent reputation led to two of Moore’s professors, Lindley and Henslow, recommending him as the new director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Sadly, there was some confusion and two men were appointed to the post, Charles Moore and John Bidwell. Bidwell stepped aside and in 1848 Moore arrived in Sydney and took up his posting. On arrival, Moore found a botanic garden which was badly neglected. He soon set about restoring the gardens, creating a combined scientific institution and recreational reserve – just as the Botanic Gardens continue to be today. 

During his tenure, Moore improved and expanded on the gardens and their function. He became an avid collector of plants and seeds, corresponding with other collectors and also mounting his own expeditions, including one in1850 to the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. He established new facilities and gardens including a medicinal plant garden, a herbarium, a library and a lecture room where he lectured until 1882. In addition to his career at the Botanic Gardens, Moore served as commissioner for the Paris, Philadelphia and Melbourne Exhibitions, was a member of the Hyde Park Improvement Committee, a trustee of various parks around Sydney, and was even one of the founding trustees of the Royal National Park. He was also instrumental in planning Centennial Park in 1887 and provided the landscaping for the famous Garden Palace which hosted the Sydney International Exhibition. In 1896 Moore was succeeded as director of the Botanic Gardens by J. H. Maiden who was himself a great admirer of Moore. Moore died soon after.

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 2

Botanical Gardens Sydney 3 Front

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are an iconic green space, a place to relax and retreat from busy city life. This week, The Past Present is again celebrating the history of this beautiful Sydney space, examining the story of the gardens after their accepted Foundation Date of June 13, 1816.

Having been formally established as a parkland, the area were in need of men who could shape and design the gardens themselves. The earliest botanist associated with the gardens was Allan Cunningham who arrived in the colony in 1816, just as the roads of the gardens were completed. He was soon after appointed the ‘Kings Botanist’. Yet it was Charles Fraser, who was formally appointed to the role of Government Colonial Botanist and superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in 1821, who had the most influence. His work on the gardens began in 1817, and by 1820 had established a what was officially described as a ‘botanic garden’ separate from the Governors Kitchen Garden.

The fledgling gardens were, in these early times, very much the domain of the Governor and the ‘respectable classes’. In fact, there were originally punishments in place for those deemed unsuitable who entered the area! It was not until September of 1831 that the Domain area was opened to the general public, though much of the gardens themselves were still reserved for the upper echelons of Sydney society. In December, Fraser died at just 43 years of age. For the next almost two decades many different men acted as superintendent for the gardens, though they usually served for relatively short periods. Some of these men resigned their posts, but several also died while in office. Then, in 1848 Charles Moore, one of the men most famously associated with the gardens, took over the position.

Come back next week to find out about the next era in the Botanic Gardens history

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort And Morts Statue

Sydney is home to many beautifully crafted and highly significant statues, which many Sydneysiders walk past on a regular basis. Most spare little thought for these works of historic art, but many of these statues have a fascinating story to tell. The statue commemorating Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, which is pictured on the postcard above, is one of these.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort was a very important Australian. He was born in 1816 in Lancashire, England and grew up in Manchester. In the late 1830s, Thomas was acting as a clerk when he was offered a position in Sydney. He saw this as an excellent opportunity to improve the family fortune, arriving in Sydney in 1838 and taking up a position as a clerk in Aspinall, Browne & Co. In 1843, he struck out alone, setting up as an auctioneer and becoming a pioneer of Australian trade. Although Mort was not the first to sell Australian wool by auction, he innovated a new system of regular, specialised wool auctions which brought together wool sellers and buyers in a much more ordered manner. The auctions were highly successful, and by the late 1840s he was also auctioning livestock and property in similarly specialised auctions. In the 1850s he was providing facilities for growers of sheep to consign their wool, through him, for sale in London, completing the fulling integrated system which would go on to underpin wool sales.

Mort wasn’t just a pioneer of wool sales though. By the 1850s he was the most popular auctioneer in Sydney, and had amassed a huge fortune which continued to grow. He was involved in forming the Australian Mutual Provident Society, was instrumental in promoting sugar growing at Morton Bay, and became a director of the Sydney Railway Co, amongst other things. He opened dry docks and wharves to enable shipping of Australian products to London and supported Sydney business in a range of ways. He even built a tin smelting works at Balmain! In the mid 1960s, he turned his attention to refrigeration, financing the experiments of E. D. Nicolle who was looking to design and produce machinery which could be used in ships, on trains and in cold storage depots. In 1875 he established the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice company, which later became Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Sadly, Mort never saw frozen meat shipped from Australia – the first consignments were made in 1879, a year after his death. The Mort Statue was erected after a meeting of working men was held on May 14, 1874, just 5 days after his death. The statue, sculpted by Pierce Connolly, today stands in Macquarie Place.

Centennial Park Part 2

Centennial Park Colour Front

The image above is another stunning view over one of Sydney’s most iconic and well loved parks – Centennial Park. Today, and indeed in the image above, the park is today a beautiful public space, but as we learned last week, this was not always the case. In fact, Centennial Park grew out of swamp land.

By 1859, the Lachlan Swamps, which had served as Sydney’s main water supply, were increasingly polluted and in 1874, after a series of floods, the pollution worsened. Yet there was another role on the horizon for the swamp lands. In the 1870s many members of the public began to lobby councils in Woollahra and Paddington to allow the Lachlan Swamps Water Reserve to be used as a public space – a park. Governor Carrington, who wished to establish a large park suited to riding and recreation recognised the potential of the enormous site and in 1887 the Centennial Celebrations Act created Centennial Park and Queens Park. The original designs for the park had allocated the highest ground in the park area for a memorial (or even house, as then Premier, Sir Henry Parkes dreamed) commemorating European colonisation. These plans, of course, did not come to fruition.

The park was carefully designed though, with much of the design work attributed to Frederick Augustus Franklin, who was an English civil engineer. The construction of the park was overseen by Charles Moore, who was then director of the Royal Botanical Gardens (Sydney) and James Jones, who was then the head gardener at the Botanic Gardens. 50,000 pounds was put aside by Parliament towards construction of the park, with its grand drives, processional entry with ornamental gates, lakes, cascades, fountains, grassy areas and dams. Yet construction was not easy. There were disagreements as to whether the wild vegetation should be preserved (with Moore preferring large, grassy expanses), floods, droughts, damage from stock and vandalism and problems with the natural sandy soils. Despite these many hindrances, the land was cleared and carefully sculpted, and the Old Grand Drive (now known as Federation Way) was constructed in 1887, with the public soon making enthusiastic use of the new public space. Centennial Park was officially opened on January 26, 1888, just a year after construction began, and well before the entire park was complete.

Centennial Park And Busby

Centennial Park 2 Front

As the weather slowly, but surely, begins to turn towards cooler days, many Sydneysiders will be looking to take advantage of the Autumn weather and spend some time outdoors. Many will enjoy a picnic or two in the beautiful parks around Sydney. One of the most famous Sydney parks, and indeed one of the most celebrated is Centennial Park.

Centennial Park, also known today as Centennial Parklands, is one of Sydney’s older parks, and plays an important role in the history of Australia’s first European colony. When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, one of their first priorities was to find fresh water. They used the Tank Stream, but by the 1820s it was polluted and could no longer supply sufficient water for the needs of the colony. Governor Darling appointed John Busby as the Government Mineral Surveyor in 1824, and one of his first job was to locate another source of fresh water. He reported that the area then known as the Lachlan Swamps would be ideal, with their natural aquifers and marshlands to filter water. Busby determined that an underground tunnel or ‘bore’ could be constructed to take the water to the city, for distribution from what is now Hyde Park. Construction of the bore, known as Busby’s Bore, began in 1827 and was completed in 1837. The bore supplied water to Sydney up until 1859, when the swamps became too polluted to use any longer.

Come back next week to find out about how the swamp lands and Busby’s Bore was transformed into one of Sydney’s most famous parklands!

Sydney Panorama

complete panorama

This week, The Past Present is doing something just a little bit different. Usually, the focus is on a specific place, but the series of postcards above (six in total), show not one place, but many. This is a series of panoramic postcards, which fit together to create a complete and uninterrupted panoramic view of Sydney. Such panoramic photos, whether sold as a series of cards, or as a single, intact panorama, have a fascinating history.

Today, panoramic photographs are quick and easy to produce. Cameras and various devices with cameras featured in them are able to take a panoramic photo with the simple click of a button. In the past though, panoramic photographs were extremely difficult to take. They involved several unique photographs being taken, and then ‘stitched’ together to create a single, seamless view. The earliest photographic panorama of an Australian scene is believed to date from 1854 and is an eight panel view of Melbourne taken by Walter Woodbury. Sydney photographers were not far behind though and the first panorama of Sydney was taken just four years later by the Freeman Brothers.

The most famous of the Sydney panoramas were taken by Bernard Otto Holtermann and his assistant Charles Bayliss (Bayliss being the photographer, and Holtermann providing funding and photographic assistance). The famous Holtermann Panorama as it is known was taken in 1875 and made up of 23 discrete photographs, taken from the top of a specially built tower. This tower, which became known as the Holtermann tower, was part of Holtermanns home in Lavender Bay, and was used for many years as a photographic tower. Some even suggest it continued to be used after Holtermann’s death. The panorama above was taken not from Holtermann’s tower but from Miller’s Point and dates from the early 1900s.

Luna Park And Its Famous Face

luna park
This week, with Valentines Day approaching, it seemed to be an ideal time to turn the attention of readers of The Past Present to a popular destination for young couples out on the town. Luna Park in Sydney has long been a popular place with couples and families alike, and also has a fascinating history.
Of course, one of the most iconic parts of Luna Park is the face, but the face we see today is not the face which once would have looked down on visitors. The face was inspired by and based on the smiling faces which welcome visitors to Luna Park Melbourne and to Steeplechase Park in the United States, but it has been replaced eight times, each time with a slightly new look. However, there has been a face of one form or another looking over visitors in Sydney for nearly the entirety of its history. The first face was installed in 1935, the same year the park opened to visitors. It was replaced in 1938, then just another year later, in 1939. Then, in 1946, 1950 and 1973 the face again had something of a ‘facelift’.
After the Ghost Train fire of 1979, Luna Park closed down, and in 1980, the future looked grim. A march was organised that year to see the site saved, and one of the results of this march was that the face itself was heritage listed. Luna Park opened to the public once again in 1982 as Harbourside Amusement Park, and the same year another new face was installed. The park closed again in 1988, and in 1994 the face was once again removed in preparation for the newest, and final face in the history of the park. The face that was removed was donated to the Powerhouse Museum, and is now part of their collection. The new face was installed in 1994, and although the park itself underwent quite a rocky period between then and the final reopening in 2004, the final face remains, smiling down on visitors to this day.

The Art Gallery Of New South Wales

Art Gallery New South Wales

This week, The Past Present turns its attention to one of the many beautiful and somewhat iconic buildings around Sydney. Sydney has spectacular architecture displayed in many of our old buildings. One of the most spectacular, with its beautiful facades and imposing columns, is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, pictured above on a postcard from the early 20th century. Intriguingly, note the building work going on, indicating that, at the time of the postcard, the Art Gallery was yet to be completed!

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has its inception in the 1870s,when an Academy of Art was established to promote fine arts in Sydney. With funds contributed by the Government of the time, the Academy purchased the first works to be held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Over the next decade the collection developed and grew, and a permanent home to house the collection quickly became a necessity and John Horbury Hunt was asked to submit plans for the gallery. This original building, which became known as ’the Art Barn’ was not much more than a series of thick walls, but provided a temporary home until funds for a more appropriate building could be obtained. In 1889 Hunt was asked to complete a further set of plans for the gallery, and in total he submitted three designs. However, none were viewed as appropriate, being too large, too grand, and too much a hybrid of architectural styles.

The trustees of the gallery really wanted a Classic Ionic design, a temple to art in the Greek style, and they looked to Walter Vernon to provide it. At the time, this was quite different to the type of architecture Vernon was known for, but his design certainly met with the demands of the trustees, though what we see today is a little more austere and less ornamented than Vernon envisaged. The building was completed in four stages and by 1901 the southern half of the building had been completed and in 1909 the front of the gallery was complete. However, nothing further of Vernons designs was built, despite plans to do so during the 1930s. Further extensions to the building were completed in time for the 1988 Bicentenary, and there have been many additions and alterations since.

Douglas Pratt and Duke Street, Sydney

Duke Street

This week, The Past Present is doing something a little different. Normally, the focus of posts is the place depicted in an image, but the image above has another story to reveal. The image, which comes from a postcard, was drawn by Douglas Fieldew Pratt, who was once a famous postcard artist.

Douglas Fieldview Pratt was born in 1900 in Katoomba, the son of the resident minister at the Congregational Church. In fact, he was apparently born in the Manse! As a young man his first job was working as a jackeroo near Singleton, and this is when he developed a love for the Australian landscape. It was this love which was to underpin his later career as an artist. In 1922 he moved to Sydney and became a surveyor, and it was when he was working for the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in 1925 that his ability as an artist was first recognised. One of his colleagues saw his sketches and suggested he work to develop this wonderful skill. He also sold some paintings that year, and these two events encouraged him to take classes at the Royal Art Society and Sydney Long’s Etching School. Pratt used a variety of mediums in his work, ranging from oil paintings to simple pencil sketches, but it was perhaps his etchings and pencil drawings which became most famous. His first exhibition was in 1928 at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, but he went on to exhibit Australia wide, and there are representatives of his works in galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The strangest thing about his work though are his postcards as nobody seems to know the story behind them. It seems that they were produced in the 1930s or 1940s, and there is a series of at least nineteen different images  that I can find. All depict Sydney and all are black and white letterpress prints of detailed sketches. The mystery though is were they commercially available as postcards in the various public shops, or only available as souvenirs at art galleries?