Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia



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before 1788

The local Aboriginal inhabitants, the Cadigal, used the tidal area along Woccanmagully (Farm Cove) for an initiation ground and the 'Kangaroo and Dog Dance'.

Early 1788The Sydney Domain was set aside by Governor Phillip as his private reserve and Arthur Phillip’s personal servant, Henry Edward Dodd, established a small grain farm at the site of the future Royal Botanic Garden. The first grain was harvested in July 1788. However most of the crop failed due to being planted out of season, being eaten by rats and the poor soil. By January 1789, Dodd had moved to Parramatta.
1794-1807Private leases allowed around Farm Cove despite Phillip reserving the land for the Crown. One leasee was Joseph Gerrald, a ‘Scottish Martyr’ transported for sedition.

The old Government House (now the site of the Museum of Sydney) had ‘fine’ garden, with a mix of exotic and native species.

1807Governor William Bligh removed the houses and farm animals in an attempt to reclaim the 'Demesne' (Domain), leading up to the Rum Rebellion.
1810Lachlan Macquarie becomes Governor and establishes the ‘Demesne’. Hyde Park, he said, was for recreational walking while the Demesne was not. He built many walls and he and his wife had a vision for an English parkland setting with a grand house’. 


Macquarie liked regulations. For example: no grazing, no removal of rocks, no boat landings in the 'Demesne' (Domain). He removed the remaining buildings, including a bakehouse and windmill. 


Macquarie completed the road system started by Bligh, including the loop now known as Mrs Macquaries Road which was finished in 1816.

April 1816

Charles Fraser arrives in the colony.

13 June 1816

At 1 pm a gang overseer reported to Macquarie that the road was finished (the overseer and his gang of 10 men were provided with five gallons of spirits with which to celebrate the occasion) and this is traditionally observed as Foundation Day for the Botanic Garden, one of the oldest botanic gardens in the Southern Hemisphere (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew opened to public in 1841).


Three weeks after opening the road, Macquarie reminded people to keep out, with punishments ‘inflicted on some idle and profligate persons’ but, he said, the orders were not meant to extend to prohibiting the respectable class of inhabitants from using the area.

December 1816Allan Cunningham arrives in the colony and appointed King’s Botanist.
c. 1816-1818Wishing Tree planted where the Wollemi Pine now grows. It was removed in 1945 when unsafe.
1817Francis Greenway’s Government Stables, now Conservatorium of Music, was started.

March 1817

Charles Fraser described as Colonial Botanist.


Charles Fraser, Colonial Botanist and Superintendent

March 1819Fraser asks for botanical books to be sent from England, including Brown’s Prodromus. By 1820 Fraser had created a ‘botanic garden’, quite separate to the Governor’s kitchen garden nearby. A catalogue of the plants growing in the Garden was requested by John Bigge as part of an enquiry into the administration of the Colony.
January 1821Fraser formally appointed Government Colonial Botanist, part of his duties includes being Superintendent of the Botanic Garden.
 Hooker publishes some of Fraser’s notes and remarks on botany.
1825Baron Hyacinthe Bougainville visits Botanic Gardens
c. 1830James Busby brings nearly 600 varieties of grape vine on ‘The Camden’ from England (vines collected from around Europe, with many from the botanical garden in Montpellier, France). Richard Cunningham was on the same ship. 17 varieties planted in the Botanic Garden, the rest distributed around the colony, from Camden to (mostly) Hunter Valley.
13 September 1831Domain is opened for ‘carriages’, and effectively ‘open to the general public’.
Dec 1831Fraser dies, aged 43.
Jan 1832-Dec 1832John McLean acting Superintendent of Botanic Gardens.


Richard Cunningham, Colonial Botanist and Superintendent

1833Richard Cunningham appointed Colonial Botanist and Superintendent
 Allan Cunningham offered advice and oversaw Richard’s work.
April 1835Richard Cunningham clubbed to death on the Bogan River in western NSW on Major Thomas Mitchell's expedition.
1836Committee to oversee the Museum and Gardens established.
April 1835-Feb 1837John McLean again acting Superintendent of Botanic Garden. Alan Cunningham accepts Superintendent job from England.


Allan Cunningham, Colonial Botanist and Superintendent

Feb-Dec 1837

Allan Cunningham Superintendent of Botanic Gardens

1837Cunningham resigns, unable to deal with administrative and horticultural aspects of Gardens (‘resigned the Government’s cabbage-garden in disgust’).
1837Cunningham in poor health and died soon after returning from a collecting trip to New Zealand.


James Anderson, Superintendent


Superintendent for five years


Described as more of a horticulturist and collector than a botanist

April 1842Anderson dies


Nasmith Robertson, Superintendent

May 1842Robertson appointed
Mid 1844Robertson dies
1844-1847James Kidd, acting Superintendent


John Bidwill, Director

Sept 1847Appointed Director
1847Fig Tree Avenue planted.
Feb 1848Replaced due to duplicate appointment of Moore from England and dies soon after, aged 38, in the Wide Bay area after getting lost on a surveying trip.


Charles Moore, Director


Appointed when 27 years old, by Committee of Management, Director for 48 years

Introduced more regulations to keep out ‘all persons of reputed bad character …persons who are not cleanly and decently dressed … and all young persons not accompanied by some respectable adult’
1848Directed the 11th Regiment Band to play in the Domain rather than the Gardens, as being more appropriate
1848-1878Moore drained and claimed the Farm Cove land
 Seeds from Kew and also Glasnevin in Dublin where his brother was Director
1849Moore stressed the need for an adequate water supply - some ‘rare and beautiful’ plants already lost to drought
1851Started to deliver lectures on plants (No faculty of science at University of Sydney until 1882, no School of Botany until 1913.). J.H. Maiden in the audience for some of these talks.
1852Library established as ‘Public Botanical Library’.
c. 1852Herbarium collection established in conjunction with the library.
Jan 1855Moore survives a harsh review by committee established by Governor William Dennison.
1855Moore brings in soil from Rose Bay to improve the garden for Azalea and Rhododendron - a group of plants he described as ‘of considerable interest and beauty’. In 1856 Azaleas and Rhododendrons were planted out on the southern side of the Macquarie Wall - these became the basis of the Spring Walk.

First aviary opened in the Botanic Gardens, and this lasted until 1940. Other caged animals began to be introduced from 1862, to create Sydney's first zoo. The zoo lasted until 1883.


Catalogue of plants in the Botanic Gardens produced in response to a recommendation in the management review of 1855: 3000 species of flowering plants and ferns (740 from NSW, 110 from Australia elsewhere, 1860 from overseas and 230 horticultural hybrids)

29-31 January 1857Inaugural First-class game of cricket in New South Wales held in the Domain. NSW beat Victoria, for the second time - the inaugural First-class game of cricket in Australia had been held the year before in Melbourne.
1861Fencing off of Domain for cricket match caused upset, and another Government enquiry. Conflict between use of space for cricket and use for military manoeuvres.
Domain at that time grazed by cattle (to reduce cost of grass cutting) and native trees were dying off and had to be replaced (When some of the trees were removed, there were complaints that ‘ladies driving past in carriages might see naked bathers’ Moore responded that there was also a fence blocking their view).
It was noted that there was immorality in the Domain and gas lights were needed.
 Moore has a good reputation for landscape development - for Lower Gardens and the Domain. He essentially kept Fraser's and the Cunninghams' designs for the Middle Gardens. He travelled extensively to collect plants and established many of the old rainforest trees in the Botanic Gardens.
1870sMoore replenishes trees in the Domain, especially planting figs - his signature tree.
1874Moore builds and starts living in the new Director's residence (now the ‘Cunningham Building’). Old residence demolished in 1875.
1879Garden Palace built to house International Exhibition. Burnt down in Sept 1882, with many valuable field records, books, paintings lost in the fire.
Moore associated with the landscaping and care of other gardens in Sydney, such as Hyde Park, University of Sydney, Centennial Park, Moore Park and Callan Park.

Moore dies


Joseph H. Maiden, Director


 Director for 28 years

Fountain monument to Governor Phillip erected

Domain lit in evenings by electric lights
8 March 1901Herbarium officially opened
1901Artist Margaret Flockton appointed (on staff until 1927).
1902Camfield ‘enlisted’ to help with Census
1903Herbarium narrowly missed being burnt in fire that came from a nearby boiler house
1905586 species from Banks and Solander’s collections at the British Museum returned to Sydney
1907Juvenile gymnasium in Domain

Insectarium constructed near aviary so that Government Entomologist Froggatt could study the life-history of plant pests


At least three tortoises were 'kept near the offices by the flowerbeds' between the Anderson and Cunningham buildings. The last tortoise survived until about 1967, after which she was stuffed and put on display.

1912Maiden decided that the centenary of foundation day would be celebrated on 13 June 1916.
Many fountains converted to ‘bubblers’
1918Botanical Library from Australian Museum transferred to Gardens Library
May 1916Flying foxes heaviest invasion since 1900, then lighter invasion in June 1916. Next major invasion in 1920. Maiden called in the rifle club to dispatch flying foxes.
11 June 191615 trees planted in the Parade Ground area to represent various dominions and nations - the plantings were ‘geographically appropriate trees’.
1916The plan, and some trees, still exist. Also foundation stone for new Museum of botany and agriculture laid (near the herbarium building).


George Percy Darnell-Smith, Director

 The first ‘graduate’ director, interested in ecology and physiology
October 1933Darnell-Smith retires
1933-1945Administration split - Gardens administered by Ward, followed by Hawkey, Herbarium administered by Cheel, followed by Anderson


Robert Henry Anderson, Chief Botanist and Curator

 First Australian-born directo. Director for 19 years, appointed at age 46.
 ‘I wish’ sculpture replaces the Wishing Tree (next to current Wollemi Pine planting).
1952Anderson erects monument to first farm.
Dec 1958Excavations for Cahill Expressway begin. ‘Fig Tree Avenue’ partially destroyed.

Royal epithet granted. In view of long history of the botanic garden, its association with the first visit of a reigning monarch to the country (first touching Australian soil in the Domain) and its leadership in botany and horticulture, the Royal epithet was recommended by the Trustees in Oct 1958. Although the bestowal of Royal Patronage was gazetted on 4 February 1959, there is a communication from the then Minister of Agriculture to say that the new designation took effect from 13 January 1959, and the minister announced it publicly on 21 January 1959. The official date for the bestowal is considered to be 13 January 1959.

Nov 1959Barbara Briggs joins staff, later to become Senior Assistant Director of Plant Sciences
1 March 1962Cahill Expressway opened.
1963‘A pleasant grassed bank adjacent to the appallingly ugly oil tanks was alienated for electricity sub-station’.
12 March 1964Anderson dies aged 65.


Herbert Knowles Charles Mair, Director

1970-1971Pyramid glasshouse built
June 1970Mair retires after seven years as Director
 Johnson acting Director until October 1970


John Stanley Beard, Director

 Director for 2 years


Lawrie Johnson, Director


Director for 13 years, 37 years on staff at the Gardens

Established a strong scientific reputation for the Gardens and established the Flora of NSW project


Land presented by the Brunets to the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney


Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens established


Robert Brown Building opened to house the Herbarium 

Barbara Briggs Acting Director from retirement of Lawrie Johnson in 1985 until appointment of Carrick Chambers in 1986.

1984NSW Government allocates 400 hectares for a native botanic garden to be administered by Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust.


Carrick Chambers, Director


Appointed 2 July 1986

Director for 10 years

1 November 1987

Opening of Mount Tomah, cool climate garden in the Blue Mountains -1987

2 October 1988Opening of Mount Annan, native plant garden south-west of Sydney - by Duchess of York
1988Rose Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens
1990Tropical Centre opens in Royal Botanic Gardens
1993Fernery opens in Royal Botanic Gardens
1994Herb Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens
Statues restored
 Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation established
Frank Howarth Acting Director for 15 months from August 1996


Frank Howarth, Director

October 1997Appointed Director
Director for 6 years

HSBC Oriental Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens

1998Rare and Threatened Plants Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens
1999Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden opens
2000Sydney Olympics
Tim Entwisle appointed acting Director from 24 September 2003


Tim Entwisle, Executive Director & Government Botanist

18 February 2004

Appointed Executive Director 

Specialist in freshwater algae
 Scientific journalism and media relations

Hospital Road avenue replaced

2004Leading role in the national funding campaign and implementation of the $10 M Australia’s Virtual Herbarium, a five-year project to database and make available all the information held in the major herbarium collections in Australia.
2005Auction of the first Wollemi pines available to the public
2005Domain Garden Wall beside the Cahill Expressway erected
2006Palace Rose Garden in Royal Botanic Gardens opens

Appointed Government Botanist, long-term vision for 2016 bicentennary celebrations


Award-winning Bowden (Education) Centre at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan


Purchase of ‘The Jungle’, 33 ha of land adjacent to the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah

2008Waratah World Heritage Education Centre at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah

Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan

2008New Plant Pathology Laboratory building
2009Capital funding of $20M for new entrance and PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan
2011$7M Central Depot works

$4.5M bequest-funded artwork in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney by leading New Zealand sculptor, Chris Booth


David Mabberley, Executive Director

22 August 2011Professor David Mabberley commenced as Executive Director
Specialist in plant taxonomy and nomenclature, especially in economic plants, botanical art and history and author of The Plant Book
December 2011International Peer Review
February 2012Merging of the RBG Foundation and Friends of the Gardens to become the Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens
May 2012Awarding of the first Lachlan Macquarie Medal to Professor Hong De-Yuan
February 2013Release of 'LIVING' strategic plan
May 2013Commissioning of Master Plan for Royal Botanic Garden and Domain
October 2013Opening of the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan



near Mrs Macquaries Point



Royal Botanic Garden

The first farm on the Australian continent, ‘nine acres in corn’ at Farm Cove, was established in 1788 by  Governor Phillip. Although that farm failed, the land has been in constant cultivation since that time, as ways were found to make the relatively infertile soils more productive.

The Botanic Gardens were founded on this site by Governor Macquarie in 1816 as part of the Governor’s Domain. Our long history of collection and study of plants began with the appointment of the first Colonial Botanist, Charles Fraser, in 1817. The Botanic Gardens is thus the oldest scientific institution in Australia and, from the earliest days, has played a major role in the acclimatisation of plants from other regions.

After a succession of colonial botanists and superintendents, including the brothers Richard and Allan Cunningham, both also early explorers, John Carne Bidwill was appointed as the first Director in 1847. He was succeeded the following year by Charles Moore, a Scotsman who had trained in the Botanic Gardens of Trinity College, Dublin. Moore, Director for 48 years (1848-96), did much to develop the Botanic Gardens in their modern form. He boldly tackled the problems of poor soil, inadequate water and shortage of funds to develop much of the Gardens in the form we see today. The Palm Grove, in the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden, is a reminder of his skill and foresight, as is the reclaimed land behind the Farm Cove seawall which added a significant area to the Royal Botanic Garden.

In 1862 Sydney’s first zoo was opened within the Botanic Gardens and remained there until 1883, when most of it was transferred to Moore Park. During these years much of the remnant natural vegetation of the surrounding Domain was removed and planted as parkland. The Moreton Bay Figs, one of the major elements of this planting, continue to dominate the landscape.

In 1879 a substantial area of the Domain, south of the Government House stables (now the Conservatorium of Music), was taken for the building of the Garden Exhibition Palace. This building, ‘an outstanding example of Victorian architectural exuberance, with towers and turrets deployed around a giant dome 100 feet in diameter surmounted by a lantern 200 feet above the ground’, dominated Sydney’s skyline and covered over two hectares. The International Exhibition held in the Palace attracted over one million visitors. However, the building was destroyed by fire in 1882 and the land, now known as the Palace Garden, was added to the Botanic Gardens.

Towards the end of his time as Director, Moore, together with Ernst Betche, published the Handbook of the Flora of New South Wales, further establishing the Botanic Gardens as a centre for the science of botany.

Moore was succeeded by Joseph Henry Maiden who, during his 28-year term, added much to Moore’s maturing landscape. He organised the construction of a new herbarium building, opened in 1901 (today part of the Anderson Building), and made major improvements to the Domain. However, the Botanic Gardens suffered from loss of staff positions during the First World War and, in the depression of the 1930s, the position of Director was lost. Both the Herbarium and the living collections languished. From 1945 Robert Anderson worked to reunify the two. In 1959 the title ‘Royal’ was granted and the Herbarium and Royal Botanic Gardens were administratively reunified under the title Royal Botanic Gardens. Knowles Mair (1965-70) achieved reunification and the Royal Botanic Gardens began its return to eminence.

In 1982 the new Robert Brown Building was opened to house the Herbarium. In 1986 Professor Carrick Chambers became Director and retired ten years later.

Dr John Beard (1970-72) and Dr Lawrence Johnson (1972-85) further developed the organisation, and the Robert Brown Building was opened in 1982 to house the Herbarium. The breadth of activities increased over these decades with the formation of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens; educational and ecological programs; the Flora of New South Wales; the scientific journals Telopea and Cunninghamia and programs of computerised documentation of both the living and herbarium collections.

Other initiatives, the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden (1987), Mount Annan Botanic Garden (1988) and the Tropical Centre (1990) glasshouses, were opened to the public after Professor Carrick Chambers became the ninth Director in 1986. The Royal Botanic Gardens celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1991. During Professor Chambers’ ten years as Director, the Rose Garden (1988), the Fernery (1993), the Herb Garden  (1994), and the Oriental Garden (1997) were opened and the Rare and Threatened Species Garden (1998) was commenced to further enrich the experience of visitors. The Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation was established to seek a wider range of support for future needs.

In 2003 the business name of the organisation, comprising the three Botanic Gardens and the Domain and administered by the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, was changed from the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney to the Botanic Gardens Trust. In 2011 the business name of the organisation changed back to the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, and the names of the three botanic gardens became the Royal Botanic Garden, the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah.


Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

2000 Olympics

The Domain

The Sydney Domain was set aside in 1788 by Governor Phillip as his private reserve. It covered the area east of the Tank Stream to the head of Woolloomooloo (Walla Mulla) Bay and contains the site of the first farm in Australia. The farm had been established for growing grain, but was soon moved to Parramatta, because of the poor sandy soil. The Farm Cove (Woccanmagully) area was then leased out for private farming for the next twenty years.

Governor Bligh attempted to reclaim the Domain c. 1808, leading up to the Rum Rebellion. Governor Macquarie completed this task, extending the roads and gardens started by Bligh, and enclosing the Government Domain with stone walls and paling fences. The traditional foundation date of the Botanic Gardens is taken as the date of completion of Mrs Macquaries Road, on 13 June 1816. An enlarged and reorganised Gardens were opened to the general public in 1831.

Over the years the Gardens grew as the Domain was slowly whittled away, but remained an important buffer to the Gardens. The native vegetation was cleared and the gullies of Phillip Precinct filled. During the 1830s the expansive green space of the Domain was now opened to the public, who strolled and picnicked there. The Domain west of Macquarie Street was then sold to pay for the construction of new Government House and Circular Quay.

In the 1850s the Domain was used for military, sporting, and ceremonial events, and was subsequently used for soap-box oratory and political meetings. From 1860 the Domain was opened up at night to pedestrians, allowing people to use this valuable recreational space on summer evenings. It became known as `the Park where the Gates Never Close’. Carriage traffic however remained restricted after dusk for many years.

The growing city of Sydney put great pressure on the Domain. A major encroachment was the construction of the Garden Palace for the International Exhibition of 1879. In more recent years the problems have come from the motor car, with the building of the Cahill Expressway and the Domain Parking Station. The Cahill Expressway destroyed the close spatial relationship between the Gardens and Domain. It has now been proposed to reclaim the green link between the Art Gallery and Woolloomooloo Bay (as part of the revised design for the Eastern Distributor).

The Domain is administered by the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. It is vital we preserve what remains of the Domain as a green haven in our city.

Reminding us of the early days, Mrs Macquaries Point and Chair mark one of the sought-after photographic spots in Sydney with views across the Harbour to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The Governor’s wife had the chair carved out of the rock so she could sit and observe the passing ships. Above the chair is an inscription recording the completion of Mrs Macquaries Road on 13 June 1816.

First Fleet Steps is the point where Queen Elizabeth II first set foot on Australian soil, and a commemorative wall plaque marks the event. The site is often used for large marquee functions with stunning views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.


Discovering the Domain
>> Click here to view Discovering the Domain pages