Sunday, 21 June 2015

The massive footprint of the Garden Palace

The Garden Palace was erected for the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, just as the Crystal Palace was erected for the 1851 Exhibition in London, and the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is the only structure still standing, the Crystal Palace also being destroyed by fire, in 1936.

Photo 1 and photo 3 show the current gates labelled "Garden Palace". I am not sure they are the sames gates as in photo 2, taken immediately after the blaze. The Australian Historical Society Green Plaque on the gates tell me they were erected in 1889, whereas websites tell me they are the originals. The originals were spread across what we know today as the intersection of Bent Street and Shakespeare Place, ie in front of the State Library, before there was a State Library. They could, of course, be from the original materials, erected in a different spot.

The Garden Palace was massive for its day, even for today if you consider that it was 4 times larger than the existing Queen Victoria Building (QVB), covering just over 8 acres. Its problem was that it was constructed primarily from timber, oregon imported from the United States. It was only ever intended to be a temporary structure, but politicians and citizens got carried away with the grandiose strucure and with their perceived status in the world. Being made from timber, it was a conflagration waiting to happen. Originally intended as a private enterprise venture, the time frame became squashed and the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, offered the coffers of the state, giving the architect, James Barnet, and the builder, James Young, less than a year to get it all together.

The fire started around dawn on 22nd September, 1882. The watchmen had done their rounds during the early hour, and were out the front near the main gates doing the hand-over, when one noticed smoke arising from the dome. The raced up to the main entrance but it was filled with smoke, The fire-engines were speedily on site, but it was timber, it was on a rise from, the harbour, the design involved long wing that fanned the flames very nicely.

The rose gardens of today's Royal Botanic Gardens occupy the space of the north wing of the Garden Palace, with the sunken memorial to the Pioneers (erected in 1938, with a bloody statue of Cupid, is close to where the massive dome loomed. The south wing jutted across Shakespeare Place and into Hospital Road.

Below, on the left, ia an image from Sydney Architecture, which endeavours to show the massive footprint on a Google-map scene. It stretched from the State Library, along Macquarie Street, to the Conservatorium of Music, conceived by Governor Macquarie as stables for his dreamt-of Government House. To the eat, it tumbled down what are now lawns sloping down to Farm Cove. It was simply massive, with fantastic views, and could be seen from all over the North Shore of the harbour. It dominbated the skyline. It may not dominate nowadays with all the commercial high-rise of the CBD. Not everyone could go to the top of the donme like photograpgher, Charles Bayliss. But the northern tower had the city's first hydraulic lift, and the citizenry flocked to it in their thousands.

I just adore the next two historic images, taken whilst the 1879 exhibition was in progress, ie September 1879-April 1880. On the left, taken from the northern shore of the harbour, we have a view up the slope to the Garden Palace. On the right of thid image, one can see the curve of Macquarie Street, and the imposing sandstone ediface of the Colonial Secretary's building half-way up. Immeditely behind the celebratory yacht in the foreground, stands Fort Macquarie on Bennelong Point, the site for the Sydney Opera House. At this stage, Fort Macquarie was operating as a tram depot. Can you see the curve of cut standstone cliff which is the Tarpeian Walk, between Benelong point and the nearly inconspicuous Government House?

On the right, is a shot taken from the spire of St James church, the same church I featured in my post just last Thursday. See the dome of the Garden Palace and its four entrance towers? Come back this way along Macquarie Street, and on its eastern side there is the Iron Church, which is the site of the "new" wing of the State Library. Next to that is the Legislative Assembly building, parallel to the street, and then the Legislative Council building, perpendicular to the street. Then, there is a long, long stretch of rubble, with the "quaint" Nightingale Wing behind. This rubble had been the second incarnation of the Sydney Hospital, Macquarie's "Rum Hospital" (1816-1879). The third, and still existant, incarnation of Sydney Hospital, although commenced in 1880, was not completed until 1894.

In the background of the Garden Palace, can you see the sweep of Farm Cove as it travels out to Mrs Macquarie's Chair? And just the tiniest peek at Fort Denison, the island in the middle of the harbour. Both these phographs were taken by Charles Bayliss. What I wouldn't give (if I had it) to attend a dinner party with Mr Bayliss!

And, so I come back to the present, to the rose gardens of the Royal Botanic Gardens. There was a wedding there yesterday. In my opinion, a large wedding. A lass of Indonesian background married a lad of Anglo-saxon background. Always good to see.

But it is also good to see the swathe of green intact. The green that rushes up fro the harbour, through the Botanic Gardens, through the Domain, and inyo North Hyde Park, ending in South Hyde Park. I do not try to hide my admiration for Governor Lachlan Macquarie. This was his doing, this greensward. And I salute him for it.

I think I am glad the Garden Palace is no more.

The images in this post have been sourced primarily from:
State Records
the Powerhouse Museum, and
the State Library of NSW
Other references are cited within the text.


Susan Bauer said...

Very interesting and well researched. You do always include a good story with your photos, Julie.

Joe said...

It must have been a magnificent structure Julie. Such a shame that it was destroyed by fire.

diane b said...

The footprint photo helped me get it all together. Blimey it was a huge building as seen in mr Bayliss' photos. I never knew this building ever existed. Thanks for educating me. Yes I salute Lachlan Macquarie for keeping a big chunk of green in the city

Joan Elizabeth said...

Wow. Huge and I too am glad we have the gardens rather than that.

William Kendall said...

A shame that it was destroyed by fire, but preserving greenspace and gardens are a good way to use the land.