AGY-600 | Botanic Gardens (1816-1846) Botanic Gardens and Government Domains (1846-1900) Botanic Gardens and National Herbarium (1901-1907) Botanic Gardens (1908-1958) Royal Botanic Gardens (1959-1979)

NSW State Archives Collection
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The Botanic Gardens was founded by Governor Macquarie on 13 June 1816 as part of the Governor’s Domain. Governor Macquarie also established the position of Superintendent of the Botanic Garden. Charles Fraser undertook the supervision of the Botanic Gardens on 1 June 1816. His exact appointment as the Colonial Botanist is not known as he is mentioned under a variety of titles throughout his career - Botanical Collector or Government Collector, Botanical Soldier, Superintendent, and finally Colonial Botanist. (2)

On the strong recommendation of Robert Brown, Keeper of the Botanical Department of the British Museum, Richard Cunningham was appointed Colonial Botanist in 1832. After arriving in Sydney in January 1833 Cunningham made a series of visits to the colony’s outlying districts to collect seeds and plants for cultivation and remodelled the Botanic Gardens. Cunningham’s tenure ended with his death on Thomas Mitchell’s second expedition in 1835. (3)

In 1836 the Herald reported that the "Cabbage, or as it is nicknamed, ‘Botanic’ Garden, has been placed under the superintendence of Commissioners the Commissioners seem to permit the old game to be still carried on ; and a Botanical garden which costs the Colony £1000 per annum, is in reality little else than a fruit and vegetable garden for the use of Sir Richard Bourke, and of His Excellency’s toad-eaters!" (4)

By 1847 the Botanic Gardens appeared under the Colonial Administration’s category of Miscellaneous Establishments with the Governor replacing the Garden's Superintendent James Kidd with John Carne Bidwell as Director on 1 September 1847. (5) Charles Moore succeeded Mr Bidwell on 1 February 1848. Mr Bidwell was subsequently appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands Wide Bay from 7 November 1848. (6)

In 1862, Sydney’s first zoo was opened within the Gardens and remained there until 1883 when most of it was transferred to Moore Park. The Kitchen (or Cabbage Patch) Garden attached to Government House was returned to the Gardens in 1871. It was initially used as a nursery to grow "greenstuff" for the animals and birds in the zoo. (7)

In 1879 a substantial area of the Domain was taken to build the Garden Exhibition Palace for the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879-80. After the Garden Palace was destroyed by fire in 1882, the land area known as the Palace Grounds was added to the Gardens.

Areas administered by the Botanic Gardens have changed over time, from 1860 to 1865 Hyde Park is listed with the Botanic Gardens and Government Domains. Work at the Nursery Garden at Campbelltown, later becoming the State Nursery, commenced in 1895 and closed in March 1932. In 1905 the "Gardens" included the State Governor’s country residence Hill View, the Admiral’s residence Wotonga, the State Government House Cranbook (Rose Bay), the State Nursery (Campbelltown), the Garden Palace Grounds, the Government Domains, and Centennial Park. (8)

The Garden’s supervision of Centennial Park lasted from its establishment in 1888 to 1982 when an independent management unit was created for the Park within the Premier’s Department. Under the Park’s enabling legislation - the Centenary Celebration Act, 1887 (51 Vic. Act No. 9 ) - the Director of the Botanic Gardens reported to the Chief Minister (later the Premier). (9)

In 1959 the Gardens were designated by Royal authority as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

In 1972 the Brunet family who had operated a cut flower farm on Mount Tomah presented their land to the Botanic Gardens. For the next eleven years development was slow but a major injection from both State and Commonwealth led to the opening of a 28 hectare Garden in 1987. The Garden emphasises cool-climate plants from around the world, especially those from the southern hemisphere.

Mount Annan Botanic Garden has been developed as the Trust’s native plant garden. The 400 hectare site was acquired in 1984, the first plantings were made in 1985 and construction started the next year. The Garden was opened in 1988.

The National Herbarium of New South Wales is a major centre for taxonomic research on Australian plants. The extensive collections of almost one million specimens provide reference materials for study of Australian flora, its relationships and its classification. This part of the Gardens owes its existence to the efforts of J. H. Maiden, Director of the Gardens from 1896 to 1924. Maiden salvaged plant specimens from inadequate storage within the Garden, and re-established links with overseas botanical institutions thereby gaining hundreds of plant specimens which had left the country in the last century.

As a result of the Depression in 1933 the position of Director of the Botanical Gardens was lost with devolution of responsibilities to the Curators of the Botanical Gardens and Centennial Park, and the Herbarium. (10) Further changes occurred in 1946 within the Department of Agriculture with the transfer of the National Herbarium to the Botany Section of the Division of Science Services. Management of the Science Services Division and the curatorial duties for both the Herbarium and the Gardens were undertaken by the Chief Botanist. The Botanic Gardens, Outer Domains, and Centennial Park were placed in the Botanical and Allied Activities Division under the control of a Superintendent. (11) In March 1968 the National Herbarium returned to the Royal Botanic Gardens. (12)

Government management of policy issues concerning the Gardens was carried out through the membership of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. During the period from 1916 to 1978 the Trustees were selected from a grouping of Parliamentarians and public servants - the Premier, The President or Speaker of the House, the Minister for Agriculture, the Permanent Heads of the Agriculture and Premiers Departments, the Director of the Gardens, and the Judiciary. (13)

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust was constituted as a corporation by the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act, 1980 (Act No.19, 1980) which received assent on 12 April 1980 and commenced on 1 July 1980.

1. J. H. Maiden, ‘History of the Sydney Botanic Gardens’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. XIV, 1928, Part I, pp.11-13.
2. Walter W Froggart, ‘The Curators and Botanists of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. XVIII, 1932, Part III, pp.103-104.
3. William C. Foster, Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell and his World 1792-1855,The Institution of Surveyors New South Wales Inc., Sydney, 1985, p.238.
4. The Herald, Thursday 15 September 1836.
5. Returns of the Colony of New South Wales 1847, pp.246-247.
6. Returns of the Colony of New South Wales 1848, pp.250-251.
7. Report by the Director of the Botanic Gardens to the Under-Secretary for Lands, 24 May 1871 in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales 1870-71, Vol. 4, p.972.
8. NSW Blue Book 1905 pp.16-18.
9. The Chief Minister is defined as the member of the Executive Council for the time being commissioned to form an Administration, Centenary Celebration Act 1887, s.1.
10. New South Wales Public Service List 1933, Government Printer, Sydney, p.119.
11. New South Wales Public Service Lists 1946 to 1960.
12. Department of Agriculture Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1968, p.123.
13. Royal Botanic Gardens Appointment of Trustees, File T1298 (1 December 1930 to 18 October 1978), SRNSW [17/8617].

Anderson, Robert Henry, An ABC of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Sydney 1965.
Gilbert, Lionel Arthur, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney: A History 1816 - 1985, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1986.
Maiden, Joseph Henry, ‘History of the Sydney Botanic Gardens’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. XIV, 1928, Part I, and Vol. XVII, Parts 2 and 3.

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