The Garden Palace – The End Of An Era

Palace Gardens Sydney Front

This  postcard brings us to the end of a year (as the card says, Happy New Year!), and the end of the Garden Palace, but also to the start of a new year and a new era for the Garden Palace site. The exhibition had gone ahead, despite serious challenges, and the building which housed it was spectacular, but it was short lived and its destruction was just as dramatic as the Garden Palace itself.

Following the exhibition the enormous building had to find a new purpose and over the next few years it was used as office space for Government departments, storage for items ranging from census details to exhibition items and the occasional large event. This all came to an abrupt and dramatic end in September 1882 though, only a few years after the building was completed, when the Garden Palace was engulfed in flame. The beautiful building was destroyed and the collections it housed were lost. Arson was suspected, but nobody was ever charged

People mourned the loss of the Garden Palace, but many also saw the positive side – the people of Sydney now had a large area of their public land returned to them. The site, which had once been part of the public Domain, was added to the Botanic Gardens and named ‘The Palace Gardens’. The original gates to the Garden Palace remain as the entrance into the gardens from Macquarie Street.

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.

Sydney’s Palace Gardens

The Palace Gardens, Sydney

The Palace Gardens, Sydney

The Palace Gardens, pictured in the postcard above, provide a glimpse into a fascinating event in Sydney’s history. In 1879 Sydney played host to an International Exhibition but the grand building in which it was held, the Garden Palace, was lost to fire in 1882. All that remains are the grand entrance gates, now leading into the Botanic Gardens from Macquarie Street, and the garden which occupies the site – The Palace Gardens. Over the next few weeks The Past Present will look at the history of this garden and the amazing building which once stood here.

International Exhibitions provided countries with an opportunity to showcase their industrial, manufacturing and agricultural might, and since the London Exhibition of 1851, had been quite fashionable. When in 1877 the Agricultural Society in Sydney decided to hold an exhibition, an appropriate building to house the event needed to be found.  At first, the exhibition was to be held in The Society’s Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park but when the idea to host an exhibition was made public, there was a great deal of interest – far more than they had expected! The building, and their original plans, would not be adequate.

The Agricultural Society tried to cancel the whole thing, but the Governor stepped in saying it would go ahead, with help from a public subscription. When this did not produce the funds, and the Government voted against a subsidy, the event seemed doomed, but the word was out and people were planning to come! ‘The World’ as The Sydney Morning Herald put it, had forced Sydney’s hand – the exhibition would have to go ahead.

Come back next week to find out what happened next!

Seven Miles From Sydney And A Thousand Miles From Care – Manly

Manly 991-36

Looking south at Manly toward Cabbage Tree Bay from main business Street. Norfolk Island Pines

The image above, from circa 1936 and by an unknown photographer, shows a view many Past Present readers may be familiar with – a view at Manly. Summer in Australia brings people out in droves to enjoy the sun and surf and Manly has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders. The image particularly highlights a feature of Manly which has become almost iconic – the Norfolk Island Pines.

During the late 19th century and into the 20th century Manly was not only one of Australias premier seaside resorts, it was one of the most popular and so it was little wonder that attention quickly turned to beautifying the seaside. According to an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1935 ( the first efforts to beautify Manly with trees began in 1877 when a committee, comprising the then mayor and some of the Aldermen was created specifically to oversee the process. They sought advice from Mr Moore of the Sydney Botanic Gardens and on his recommendation planted Norfolk Island Pines, Moreton Bay Figs and Monteray Pines. These trees were not planted on the foreshore though, but in The Corso area. Two of The Corso trees, two Norfolk Pines did stand on the beach front though and these were the earliest to be plated on the foreshore.

According to the same article, Mr R. M. Pitt and Mr Charles Hayes were mainly responsible for planting the trees along the foreshore, but local legend suggests it was another man, Henry Gilbert Smith who was responsible. Whatever the case, hundreds of the trees flourished in Manly, especially along the foreshore until the 1960s  when nearly half of the trees were damaged or even killed by airborne pollution. New pines were planted along the foreshore to replace the older trees which were lost. More recently, in October 2013 another three trees were lost and replaced. As a sign of the significance of the trees, a crowd gathered to watch the trees being removed. Council workers began to cut the trunks into pieces and gave them to bystanders who received a slice of Manly history!

On A Soapbox In The Domain

The Domain in Sydney on Sunday afternoon

The Domain in Sydney on Sunday afternoon

The photo above, another from the collection of an unknown photographer, was taken some time in 1936. It shows a typical Sunday afternoon scene in Sydney’s beautiful Domain. The Domain has always been a centre of social activity, and during its history has attracted not only picnickers, but public speakers who took position on their soapboxes and spoke to the assembled masses. In fact, the Domain has even been described as a social safety valve, with many social causes and conflicts being aired and debated in the beautiful grounds.

Freedom of speech was celebrated at the Domain, but it was not always peaceful, or indeed appreciated by the authorities. At the time when this photo was taken, during The Great Depression, speakers in The Domain often spoke on political subjects, and violence was not unheard of. Both speakers and crowd members were sometimes even arrested. The photo shows an altogether more relaxed scene, with two speakers shown, but who knows what happened before, or indeed after the snap was taken!

Moore Park Zoological Gardens

The Zoological Gardens, Sydney

The Zoological Gardens, Sydney

The image above is a fascinating picture, showing one of the earliest phases of Taronga Zoo. The image is taken from a postcard which was probably produced in the decade up to 1910. It shows a zoo which is very different to the one many of us are familiar with today.

This postcard does depict what was to eventually become Taronga Zoo, but at this point, the zoo was not located on its current site, nor was it called Taronga Zoo. The Zoological Society was established in 1879 and in 1883 they gained permission from the Sydney Council to establish a public zoo at Moore Park. The Zoological Gardens opened at a place known as Billy Goat Swamp in 1884.

The gardens were laid out by Charles Moore, the director of Sydney Botanical Gardens at the time, and included various animal enclosures, including a bear pit and elephant house. The postcard image shows the elephant house. In 1916, with the original site having been declared too small for the zoo, Moore Park Zoological Gardens closed and on October 7th, Taronga Zoo was officially opened on its current site.

Botany Market Gardens

Chinese Gardens in depression among sand hills on north shore of Botany Bay

Chinese Gardens in depression among sand hills on north shore of Botany Bay

This image, another from the amazing archive of images taken by an unknown photographer circa 1936, documents a Sydney institution. The area around Botany Bay and La Perouse was in use as market gardens and small scale farms over 150 years ago. In fact, land around the La Perouse area was cleared as far back as 1788 by Count de La Perouse to grow vegetables for his return journey to France. The earliest known name for the area is ‘The Frenchman’s Gardens’.

The market gardens at La Perouse, areas of which are still operating on land adjacent to Botany Cemetery, were established as far back as 1830. Although originally run mainly by Europeans, after the 1850s gold rush, many Chinese families took up areas of the market gardens to grow and sell vegetables. By the 20th century, these market gardens were mainly run by Chinese families. The Chinese grew not only the ‘common’ vegetables of the time, supplying Sydney markets, but also many of the more unusual Asian greens.

This image, of gardens on the North Shore of Botany Bay not only shows the expanse of land used for growing vegetables, but also the dunes which were once so prominent in Botany. Many of these dunes have long since disappeared due to sand mining.

A Nurse In Hyde Park

hyde park 3 watermarked

This image, from an early 20th century postcard, shows Hyde Park evolving into a calm, open space, perhaps even a retreat from the busy working life of the nurse (probably from the nearby Sydney Hospital) captured in the photo.

In the 19th century, Hyde Park underwent a complete change, leaving behind its early role as a mustering point for convicts and soldiers and becoming the predecessor of what we see today – a tranquil, green sanctuary. Of course, the predecessor of Hyde Park was not calm in any sense of the word. Although Governor Macquarie set the land aside in 1810 as a common, naming it after Hyde Park in London, the area soon became Sydney’s first recreation and games centre. It was used for a variety of sports, from cockfighting to cricket, but one of the most important and famous features of the park was a racetrack. Slowly, as the century wore on, the park began to be used for more peaceful pursuits, more in line with what we would recognise today.

Hyde Park, 1914

hyde park 4 watermarked

This photo, taken from a postcard posted in 1914, shows Hyde Park beautifully set out as a formal parkland and garden. It wouldn’t be long though before much of this was gone!

When the underground railway was put in during the 1920s, Hyde Park was all but destroyed. The railway tunnels in this area were mainly put in using excavation from the ground level of the park, and much of the park was, as a result, ‘excavated’. In 1927 though, the park was given a new lease on life with a competition for a new layout and design being launched. The competition was won by Norman Weekes and it is largely his design which we recognise today.

Come back next week for the next installment of The Past Present’s Hyde Park series.

Hyde Park, circa 1940

hyde park 1 watermarked

This photo of the War Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park, part of a set of Government Printed Tourist Photos dating from about 1940, really resonates with what we see of Hyde Park today.

Most of us see Hyde Park as a peaceful, green sanctuary in our busy city. It is a place where people come to relax, taking time out from their hectic city lives to enjoy the tranquil beauty of this open, green space. It is a perfect escape from the concrete world of the CBD, with its massive, tree lined roads, the beautiful Archibald Fountain and tranquil War Memorial. Yet Hyde Park has not always been a place for rest and relaxation. In fact, it’s history reveals that the area started out life in quite a different capacity!

Over the next month, The Past Present will be featuring images of Hyde Park in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Come back next week to view the next installment in the series and find out a little more of the history of this favourite Sydney spot!