Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia



The library collects resources that specifically support the research and work programs of all branches of the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust. This includes the Herbarium, Plant Bank, Scientific Horticulture and the Living Collection. The collection provides access to both published and unpublished materials necessary for botanical and horticultural research. Materials acquired are at a level appropriate for research professionals, for people studying at a higher degree level, or, in the case of horticultural materials, at a level appropriate for qualified practitioners. We do not generally acquire undergraduate level materials or material written for the home gardener.

The Library Catalogue

The online Library Catalogue covers only the collection catalogued since 1986. This means that 134 years of the Library’s collection and indexing is buried away in a classified card catalogue. We are seeking funding to convert the card records. 

Digital images of our photographs and artworks will soon be included in the catalogue. We are also gradually providing links to digital reproductions ofrare books and other electronic materials. 


Alongside the latest in botanical literature the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust Library still has the first 26 books that established the collection in 1852. It is that kind of library. History is important to botanical and taxonomic study. We also have extensive resources relating to horticultural history. 

Our earliest work was published in 1550. The Library has prepared a list of the 25 most important works held in the collections. We are gradually discovering the provenance and significance of our early works.  Our Rare Book Cataloguing Project, funded by Foundation donors, is revealing the interesting histories of our rare books. 

The Library buys and catalogues books for the main Sydney Library and for branch libraries at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan and the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens Mount Tomah , as well as for many specialist working collections such as Plant Pathology, the ID Counter and the Education Unit. Our small budget is spread very thinly.


The enormous journal collection includes all manner of titles. Many old leather bound volumes dating from the 18th Century sit alongside the latest in taxonomy, botany, plant ecology and horticulture. 

The Library holds many gems such as a complete set of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with its stunning hand painted illustrations, Hooker’s Journal of Botany, Transactions of the Linneaen SocietyL'illustation horticole, Gardeners Chronicle and The Garden.

Vertical Files

The Library has 27 filing cabinets crammed with reports, articles, pamphlets, reprints, brochures, chapters and species lists from many locations. Most of this collection is only catalogued on cards so rummaging is often required unless the authors name is known.

Sometimes precious finds appear out of this collection - such as the folded 1904 panoramic photograph of the Domain. It was matched up with two other panoramas that were in 10 pieces in different locations. These have been conserved with donor funds and framed and exhibited in the Red Box Gallery.


The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust Library has a considerable collection of artworks, many recently unburied by our artworks volunteer team.  Alongside a small collection of artworks of the Garden (including an 1850s drawing by Edward Turner which has been cleaned and conserved), we have two magnificent collections. One is a set of Banks’ Florilegium that was donated anonymously to the Trust. The other is two large leather bound volumes of original watercolours. Originally identified as Cunningham or Leuwin, they were recently identified as the original works of convict artist and forger Joseph Lycett - the largest known collection of his watercolours.

The Library’s artwork collection will grow considerably in future years because of the Florilegium Society of the Royal Botanic Garden. It is an invitation-only society of artists. They will be producing artworks of signoficant plants in the Gardens' living collection for the 2016 Bicentenaryand beyond.

Botanical Illustrations

A resurgence of interest in botanical illustration has swept across the Gardens when our illustrators researched and promoted the works of Margaret Flockton, the Trust’s first illustrator under Director J.H. Maiden. Since then the Friends have funded the annual Margaret Flockton Award for international illustrators.

The Library holds an extensive collection of illustrations, primarily working drawings of Margaret Flockton and Mary Maiden, formerly held in the boxes of the Herbarium collection

Historic Photographs, Glass Slides

The modest yet historically important photographic collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust Library contains over 1000 photographs (black  & white and colour) in a variety of formats, as well as 35 mm transparencies; negatives (acetate, polyester and glass plates).

These images span a period of time ranging from 1855 to the present day. Their importance lies in their recording of important events, historic buildings, past Trust staff, and the development of the Gardens and their environs over time.

Plant Slides

Some 5000 plant portraits dating back some 30 years and covering many of the major plant families and representative genera within them.


Over 200 microfiche on a variety of subjects from facsimiles of whole herbariums, contiguous sequences of historical botanical/scientific journals, and reproductions of 18th and 19th century botanical works.

Oral Histories

The Library now has 60 oral histories recorded and almost as many transcriptions. The collection is still growing due to the efforts of one volunteer and a long and continually growing list of prospective interviewees. Recordings include staff and directors past and present, volunteers, friends and other people with close connections to the history of the Gardens. Some wonderful stories and previously unknown history have come to light, as well as invaluable family photographs.

The Manuscripts

Handwritten journals, notes, reports, and correspondence of botanists, explorers and past staff and associates. Also included are author’s galley proofs (handwritten or typed) of published historical and botanical works. Some of the gems of this collection is a letter from Baron von Humboldt to Charles Cuvier - two 18th century scientific giants, Margaret Flockton’s lichen sketchbook, and Playfair’s algal notebooks. A recent re-discovery is the 1895 notebook of horticulturalist James Jones which lists the plants grown in the Gardens, all linked to a numbered plan of the garden beds - the earliest known such record.


The archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust contain previous working and administrative records which are of historical interest. Included are registers of plants received and despatched, labour records, correspondence registers, botanists papers (correspondence, notes, collecting books) and many ephemeral publications (brochures, guide maps, stickers, bookmarks, pamphlets, etc.).


A selection of miscellaneous objects now housed together, our realia collection includes items as diverse as Alan Cunningham’s collecting box, J.H. Maiden’s medallions, Dr Joyce Vickery’s OBE, Robert Brown’s snuff box, a card system of taxonomic records, the collection of specimens from the 19th century Botanic Gardens Museum, the tools of trade of botanists, gardeners and carpenters, Gardens memorabilia, historic signage and various objects of interest unearthed from the garden beds.

Maps & Plans

The Library holds a magnificent collection of facsimile maps of maps and plans of the Garden since settlement. They are full-size, full colour reproductions sealed in Mylar sleeves. The collection was commissioned by Caroline Simpson and donated to the Trust. This extraordinary gift has been used in so many ways and is an invaluable source in tracing aspects of the Gardens history.

We have a collection of original maps, plans and charts documenting the history of the Gardens and its environs, including architectural plans of many of the Trust buildings. 

We also have early maps of areas of NSW, enabling us to trace obscure locations and those that have been long since renamed.


The former Garden's stables, now the Central Depot. c. 1910  

Cunningham box
Allan Cunningham's collecting chest, which travelled with him on Lt. Oxley's 1816-1818 expedition.

Old Herbarium
Stacking specimens to the rafters! The Old Herbarium during the mid-late 1970s.

Palm House
The Palm House was built in 1876. It has an attached boiler house called the ‘Stoke Hole’. It is still used for exhibitions and functions. Sadly the black and white marble floor tiles are long gone.

Palace from the water
The Garden Palace across Farm Cove from Mrs Macquaries Point. 1879.

Garden Palace
This image of the Garden Palace was rescued from a shattered glass slide. The Garden Palace was built in 1879 and housed the first International Exhibition in Australia. It burnt down spectacularly 3 years later.

Garden Palace burning 
The Garden Palace burning. c. 1882.

Gallery & Gate
A Fine Arts Gallery was constructed by William Wardell at the time of the International Exhibition in 1879. It had 9 rooms and stood next to the then-main gate of the Garden off Fig Tree Avenue. It was termite ridden and replaced by the 'new' Art Gallery in 1885.

The Nubian Boy
The mystery of the Nubian Boy has only been recently uncovered. He was one of a pair, originally part of the French exhibit in the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879. For decades they stood in an area known as the 'Black Boy Shrubbery'. The Library rescued the one surviving statue from the 'Stone Yard'.

An early ride-on mower in the Garden. c. 1910.

Workers Macquarie St
Workmen realigning paths after the widening of Macquarie St. c. 1912.