Monday, 4 June 2012

The Garden Palace

Did you know that Sydney's grandest building was once situated within the Royal Botanical Gardens?

The Garden Palace was a purpose-built exhibition building constructed to house the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition. Located at the southwestern end of the Royal Botanical Gardens, the majestic building was designed by architect, James Barnet. A reworking of London's Crystal Palace, the palatial structure resembled a large cathedral, having two long halls on either side that met beneath a central dome which was 30.4 metres in diameter and 65.5 metres in height. It covered a floor space of over 112,000 metres, which took a surprising 9 months to complete, costing at 191,800 Pounds. However, being constructed predominantly of timbre, the building was assured a quick demise when it was set on fire in the early morning of September 22, 1882.

Before it was tragically burnt down, the Garden Palace achieved worldwide fame, putting the new metropolis of Sydney on the map as a global city. After the closing of the Sydney International Exhibition, the building was used as an auditorium and gallery which housed the first mining and technological museum. It was also used as an office space for a number of government departments, and its basement was used to house official records, including the 1881 Census which was destroyed in the fire. 

It still remains a mystery as to how the Garden Palace was set ablaze. One rumour claims that the building was set alight by infuriated residents of Macquarie Street who complained that it obscured their view of the harbour. Other claims have speculated that the building was burnt to destroy the Census records of 1881 which contained embarrassing secrets about convict and squatter origins of many leading families. 

Today, all that remains of the grand building is its carved sandstone gateposts and wrought iron gates, located at the Macquarie Street entrance to the Royal Botanical Gardens. As for its collection, only one object survived the fire, a graphite statue of an elephant from Ceylon which is held at the Powerhouse Museum.

The Garden Palace- Macquarie Street entrance of the Garden Palace

The Garden Palace- Eastern Transept (taken from the Dome)

The Garden Palace- Eastern and Western Transept (taken from the Western Entrance)

The Garden Palace- Western Transept (taken from the Dome)

The Garden Palace- interior of the Tasmanian Court

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