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The end of the 18th century coincided with the age of enlightenment. An era in which rational thinking, and analysis was changing the individual’s cultural and intellectual relationship with traditional authority. It was a time of great scientific exploration and advancement in Western Europe with the English, French, Spanish and Portuguese sending parties of explorers and plant collectors far and wide. Often such exploration resulted in the establishment of colonial botanic gardens as useful depots for plant collections and as nurseries for cuttings and seed production for both local use and export. The British colonisation of Australia provided a critical impetus for such a two way flow of plants and the French too returned from Australia with seeds and plants to be grown in such important French gardens as that of Empress Josephine at Malmaison and Navarre and the state-run Jardin des Plantes.
Sir Joseph Banks, very much a man of his time, a passionate botanist and soon to be head of Kew Gardens had already visited Australia with Captain Cook in 1770. He was one of the British government’s advisors in nominating Botany Bay as a suitable spot on which to found the proposed penal colony provided, due to a perceived lack of suitable native edible plants, European livestock and crops were introduced. When the First fleet set sail it had a wide collection of seeds and cuttings of both food and medicinal value recommended by Banks as suitable to for the local conditions and augmented by plants collected on their way during stopovers in Tenerife, Capetown and Rio de Janeiro.
By the end of the trip sufficient of those seeds and cuttings had survived for Governor Phillip to establish a farm at Port Jackson, the harbour he chose when Botany Bay proved unsuitable. Due to poor soil and different seasons some of those plantings struggled but by July 1788 it was noted in the record that 9 acres of corn was established on the east side of what we know as Farm Cove. When the Frenchman Francois Péron visited in 1802 he commented on the “vast garden (behind the lieutenant governor general’s house) which is worth the attention both of the philosopher and the naturalist, on account of the great number of useful vegetables which are cultivated in it, and which have been procured from every part of the world…”. And by 1825 settler and author James Atkinson wrote “the esculent (edible) and culinary vegetables and roots of Europe are all grown in great perfection, …Fruits are in great abundance and variety, and many of excellent quality.”
Australia’s earliest botanic garden had its origin as a productive garden supplying the governor’s table.
2016 will celebrate the bicentennial year of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. The theme of Botanica 2016 will be focussed on the establishment the first farm which provided the foundation site and plantings of the Gardens and Domain. We hope our artists will be inspired to consider painting not only the plants brought to Farm cove by the First Fleet but also by those native plants growing here and harvested by the indigenous tribes of the area for both food and medicinal purposes.
Over the course of the next few months we will be contributing to this page with snippets of information from the history of the first farm, observations by some of the people involved, introductions to some of the plants, both native and exotic, and their use by both the aboriginal tribes and the new settlers with maybe a recipe or two for you to try and a song or two to sing.
We hope you enjoy the journey with us and look forward to seeing you at ‘Botanica at Farm Cove’ next year.
Botanica is a spectacular exhibition of contemporary botanical art featuring Australia’s finest botanical and natural science artists.
When: 10am - 4pm on 9 April to 1 May 2016
Where: Lions Gate Lodge, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
Free Entry. All artworks for sale
Opening Night Preview: 8 April 2016. Tickets will be on sale in 2016