Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Main features in the Domain

  1. Bennelong Point
  2. Government House
  3. Conservatorium of Music
  4. Garden Palace Ground (The Palace Garden)
  5. Old Government House site (1788-1845)
  6. Bent Street Entrance
  7. Macquarie Street
  8. Yurong Point and Mrs Macquaries Chair
  9. The Botanic Garden
  10. Main Botanic Garden Entrance
  11. Art Gallery of New South Wales
  12. St Marys Gates and Art Gallery Road
  13. Hospital Road and the Outer Domain
  14. Mint and Hyde Park Barracks

Main-features-map

'… close to the town is the beautiful Domain, a most picturesque rocky promontory, thickly wooded and laid out in fine smooth drives and walks, all commanding most exquisite views of Sydney and its environs ...  It was our favourite spot; even after driving out of town… we generally made one circuit around the Domain and as generally found ourselves the only visiotrs. It was unfashionable in fact not the proper thing all all, either to walk or dive in the Domain. It was a notorious fact, that maid-servants and their sweethearts resorted thither on Sunday, and of course, that shocking circumstance ruined its character as a place for their mistresses.' Louisa Meredith, 1839

1. Bennelong Point

Originally a rocky headland with a small island at its tip, this point was first named Cattle Point after the stock landed there from the First Fleet. Later the cattle were moved to Farm Cove and the point was named after Bennelong, a member of the Guringai tribe, for whom a hut was built there at the request of Governor Phillip in 1791. Subsequently Billy Blue, a part-Jamaican emancipist who oversaw the Government salt-house, lived at Bennelong Point. In 1798 a small redoubt, using guns from HMS Supply, was built there to defend Sydney. Between 1817 and 1819, Macquarie replaced it with a stone fort, mounting fifteen guns. Fort Macquarie, as it was called, remained manned until 1902, when it was demolished to make way for a tram shed. This in its turn was demolished in 1959 (trams were being replaced with buses) to make way for the Sydney Opera House, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

2. Government House

Government House is the residence of Governors of New South Wales; its grounds form an enclave in the Royal Botanic Garden. A fine example of early Victorian Gothic revival architecture, the House was designed by Edward Blore (1789-1879), who was a special architect to King William IV and later to Queen Victoria. The site was chosen and plans called for in 1827, but construction did not begin until 1837, and the Governor did not occupy the House until 1845. The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust staff care for the grounds.

3. Conservatorium of Music

Early last century John Palmer held a lease of a portion of land in the Governor’s Domain and built a bakehouse, associated with the windmill for grinding flour. Macquarie built his stables on this site; the building in turn became the Conservatorium of Music in 1913. There was also a windmill (Boston’s Mill) on the site of the Garden Palace grounds and Nathaniel Lucas had another further south (site of The State Library), later taken over by Kable and Underwood.

4. Garden Palace Grounds (The Palace Garden)

Originally part of the inner Domain, the land between Bent Street and the Governor’s stables (the present Conservatorium) was set aside for a building to house the International Exhibition of 1879. The building itself was an immense structure, 244 m long with a central dome 64 m high. It was designed by James Barnet, the Colonial Architect, and erected in record time, but, like so many other projects, cost more than estimated. There was a considerable spill-over of activities form the Exhibition Building to a great many stalls and other features spread across the Outer Domain. When the exhibition was over, the galleries were converted into a Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum, and the Department of Mines installed a permanent geological display. The building was also used as repository for, among other things, the returns of the 1881 census. All these were destroyed when the Garden Palace burnt down in 1882.

After the fire the grounds were gradually incorporated into the Botanic Garden to become what is know as the Palace Garden. A statue to Governor Arthur Phillip was erected there in 1897, during the 60th year of the reign of Queen Victoria. The commemorative Garden Palace Gates were erected opposite the present State Library after the Garden Palace burnt down (1889). They were re-erected on their present site in the 1960s, when the Cahill Expressway was completed. A Memorial Garden to Pioneers was constructed as part of the 150th Anniversary Celebrations of Australia in 1938, on the site of the central dome of the Garden Palace, as a plaque now records.

5. Old Government House site (1788-1845)

In the early period the Governor’s Domain consisted of all the land lying east of the Tank Stream and reaching across to Walla Mulla Bay (Woolloomooloo) and south to a ditch running across what is now the Outer Domain. Some of this land was set aside for the erection of government offices including the home of the Advocate-General. Old Government House stood at the corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets. Over time there were encroachments, some of which were condoned by Governors Hunter and King; but Governor Bligh literally interpreted the intention of Governor Phillip by re-marking out the ditch to define that land reserved for use of the Government House and Stock. He began to clear out the trespassers, and his policy was taken further by Governor Macquarie. During Governor Brisbane’s Period (1821-1825), the Domain and the Old Government House were largely unused; Brisbane preferring to live at Parramatta. Governor Darling resumed use of the Sydney Government House, and suggested the construction of a new house.

6. Bent Street Entrance

Opposite the junction of Bent and Macquarie Streets was one of the two main entrances into the Outer Domain. A road led into a hollow towards the Botanic Garden, and then over a hill to Woolloomooloo. This road - for carriages, horse-riders and pedestrians - was bordered by Moreton Bay Fig trees (planted in 1847) and became known as Fig Tree Avenue. The first large statue in the colony was that of Governor Bourke, erected in 1842, where the Shakespeare Group now stands (Cahill Expressway north of Library). For a long time it was flanked by two cannon. The State Library of New South Wales, with its Mitchell and Dixon Libraries, stands partly on the site of the School of Industry founded by Governor Darling in 1826 and partly within the Macquarie Domain. Late in the 19th Century, this ground was waste, until the director of the Gardens, J.H. Maiden established an Acacia plantation there. The Mitchell Library was built between 1904 and 1910, but the whole complex was not completed until 1942.

7. Macquarie Street

Macquarie Street, between Bent and Liverpool Streets, was laid out by Governor Macquarie. The boundaries of the Domain then excluded the land on which a series of government buildings fronting Macquarie Street was constructed: the Rum Hospital and Hyde Park Barracks; and later, in 1826, the School of Industry. Macquarie Street North was formed in the 1830s, when the eastern side of Sydney Cove was opened to development, and the boundary of the Domain was moved back to the eastern side of Macquarie Street. Before that, the carriage road from old Government House to Farm Cove and beyond Mrs Macquarie’s Road wound around Bennelong Point.

8. Yurong Point and Mrs Macquaries Chair

Mrs Macquaries Chair was made for that Governor’s Lady, who loved to come to Yurong or Ansons Point. Before 1805, the Point had been farmed by a carpenter, John Anson, who had laid out a fine fruit and kitchen garden, stocked with trees grafted from the best kinds that could be procured. In Macquarie’s time, Garden Island was regarded as part of the Domain. A garden for supplying ships was established there in 1788. The Fleet Steps have seen many important occasions - the landing of the first Governor-General in 1901 to inaugurate the Commonwealth, Royal visits, and the arrival of the American Fleet in 1908 - each of which involved elaborate ceremonies and processions. Yurong Point was a popular vantage point from which to watch the Anniversary Day (Australia Day) Regattas, and the road to the point was lined with stalls. Amongst other things these provided boiling water for tea-making. Along the eastern side of Yurong Point there were several bathing establishments, Robinson's being the best known,. In 1924, Andrew 'Boy' Charlton set three world records, in the 200, 400 and 800 metres, swimming in the Domain Baths against the world champion, Arne Borg of Sweden. In recent times the 'Festival of Sydney' has been launched with a fireworks display from Mrs Macquaries Point. The spectacular finale of 'Carnivale' also focused on Mrs Macquaries Point and Farm Cove, with the traditional blessing of Sydney's fishing fleet, a Seafood Fair and family entertainment.

'Lady (sic.) Macquarie [correctly, Mrs Macquarie] had this Domain laid out after her own plans; walks and drives were cut through the rocks and shrubs, but no other trees destroyed; seats placed at intervals, and lodges built at the entrances ...' Louisa Meridith, 1839
'The present magnificent Domain, with its pleasant drive, was, in Mrs Macquarie's time, densely covered with scrub and timber, and it was on her suggestion that her husband had the first work done towards converting the locality into what it has since become. It was a favourite stroll of the Governor's wide, and at the point from which a pretty view of the harbour was always available, a seat was fashioned out of the rocks for her special benefit ... many thousands have sat and enjoyed the scene since ...' The Illustrated Sydney News, 1879

9. The Botanic Garden

The first use of the land at Farm Cove was for growing grain. The Middle Garden of the Royal Botanic Gardens marks the site of the first farm in Australia. The land quickly became unsatisfactory for cereal production, but was used for growing fruit and vegetables. Although the area was part of the Government Domain, a number of leases were issued which allowd farms to be developed. A small creek, running down from the Outer Domain into Woccanmagully, formed an alluvial flat. And there were not only farms. Illicit distillation of spirits took place on a farm occupied by Michael Hayes in 1804, where a 40-gallon still was being put to good use. Bligh and Macquarie cleared out the farmers from Farm Cove and the millers from the western ridge - and made themselves unpopular in the process. Macquarie formally established a Botanic Garden in the Domain in 1816. Over the years the Gardens have been extended, both by transfer of land from the Domain and by filling of part of Farm Cove.

10. Main Botanic Garden Entrance

The main southern entrance to the Domain was used by Governors and their suites as the strolled from St James Church across to the Botanic Gardens in the 1840s with the citizens trailing in their wake. An elaborate sandstone gate was erected in 1873 on the north side of Fig Tree Avenue. This entrance gate was moved during the construction of the Cahill Expressway to its present position on Mrs Macquaries Road. It is now called the Wooolloomooloo Gate. From the road bridge one can see the full effect of the Expressway in separating the Domain from the Botanic Garden. The remains of Fig Tree Avenue stand pathetically in a traffic island on the expressway. They are not part of the present Domain. A bandstand stoood on the site of the Pavilion on the Park, and was the scene of many concerts.

11. Art Gallery of New South Wales

The New South Wales Academy of Art, founded in 1871, was the forerunner of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The collection occupied a building located just to the west of the main Botanic Garden entrance from 1879 to 1885. Fire risk, damp and termite damage to this building sharpened the move to establish the Art Gallery. A new building, designed by Horbury Hunt, was erected on the present site. Between 1896 and 1909 the Government Architect, Walter Vernon, added the southern wing, the façade and portico and a northern picture gallery. The north-eastern extension was completed between 1968 and 1972.

12. St Marys Gates and Art Gallery Road

The Lodge at St Marys Gates, built in 1835, is one of the oldest gatekeepers’ residences to survive. By 1817 Governor Macquarie had completely enclosed the Domain by stone walls and paling fences. In 1860, John Robertson, then Minister for Lands and responsible for the Domain, ordered the gates be left open so the population could enjoy walking in the Domain in the cool of the evening. In spite of protests, Robertson refused to close the Domain at night. In the Burns Garden near the Lodge is the statue of the poet Robert Burns (1904). Early in this century, there was a particularly fine rosarium in this spot, and for many years it was the scene of annual gatherings of Scottish people. Early this century, a children’s gymnasium was established where the chess tables now stand. On the slope leading to Woolloomooloo, one can see the more recent encroachments on the Domain: the Domain Parking Station and the Eastern Suburbs Railway. The original limit of the Domain was a small creek that ran into the Bay, but filling and road construction have brought the boundary to its present position.

'There is also a little football, but next to cricketing, the climbing of trees, posts, rails and fences, seems to be chief delight of the small boy. Sometimes the tree and sometimes the boy comes to grief… to give occupation and amusement to them, it has been decided to fix up a juvenile gymnasium…to be fitted with swings, trapezes, see-saws, parallel and horizontal bars, and ladders of rope and wood. This will be an innovation for Australia.' J.H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Gardens, 1901

13. Hospital Road and the Outer Domain

The Macquarie Wall was gradually removed from along Hospital Road over the years, although some of the English Oak trees planted in Macquarie’s time were still alive in 1916. In 1857, the second inter-colonial cricket match (New South Wales versus Victoria) was played in the Domain and the cricketers almost secured a permanent hold on it. The Domain was also used extensively by the New South Wales Volunteers, who regularly paraded there, and came into conflict over fences that the cricketers had erected. In 1861 a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry recommended against the cricketers retaining tenure. The game continued to be played on the Domain during the 1860s, but the teams moved in the 1870s to what is now the Sydney Cricket Ground. Soldiers assembled in the domain for embarkation for South Afric in 1899-1900 and for World War I. There is a plaque under a fig tree near the toilet block indicating the place where returning soldiers were officially welcomed home from World War I. For many years a variety of sporting groups has used this south-western part of the Outer Domain. Each spring the opening of  ‘Carnivale’ is held in the Domain with its associated cultural presentations and outdoor concerts. ‘Carnivale’ is sponsored by the New South Wales Government and is a Community Awareness Program, with special emphasis on ethnic groups. In recent time free open-air presentations of opera and ballet have been staged in the Domain for the people of Sydney. The Sunday afternoon soap box orators still operate in the Domain but do not draw the crowds they once did.

'The whole of the Government Domain at Sydney, extending from Sydney Cove to Woolloomooloo Bay, being now completed (sic.) enclosed by stone walls and palings, except that part which is at present under lease to Mr Palmer and Mr Riley, where their windmills and bakery are erected; notice is hereby given that no cattle ... after the present date, will be permitted to graze or feed on the Domain, those belonging to the Government only excepted.' Government and General Order, 1812.

14. Mint and Hyde Park Barracks

These two buildings from the Macquarie legacy form an integral part of our colonial heritage. The Mint was originally the southern portion of the Rum Hospital which opened in 1817. For many years it was used as the Colonial Mint, and then as law courts. Restored in 1982, it is now a Museum of 19th Century Australian Decorative Arts, including coins and stamps. Hyde Park Barracks, designed by Francis Greenway, was originally a convict barracks. When transportation ceased, it was used as immigrant barracks, a lunatic asylum, and finally as law courts. Opened in mid-1984 following restoration it is now a Museum of New South Wales Social History.

Discovering the Domain
These web pages are from 'Discovering the Domain', edited by Edwin Wilson, research by Shirley Colless, published by Hale and Iremonger, copyright Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 1986.

>> Download pdf of book (6.5 MB)
>> Maiden's plant list 1902

Fishing at Fort Macquarie
Fishing at Fort Macquarie at the turn of the century, before the Fort's demolition in 1902 to make way for tramsheds - Mitchell Library, Sydney

New Government House
Sketch by Conrad Martens, September 1841, of ‘New Government House’ - Mitchell Library, Sydney

Ruins of Garden Palace
The ruins of the Garden Palace after it was destroyed by fire in September 1882 - NSW Government Printer

Avenue approach to Botanic Gardens
Old Government House. A drawing by Sue Gouda from an original in Mitchell Library

Governor Bourke statue
The statue of Governor Bourke photographed c. 1890 in its original position. Behind it is a grove of Casuarina glauca (swamp she-oak). The statue now stands outside the State Library near Macquarie Street - Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Fig Tree Avenue
Fig Tree Avenue, c. 1880 - NSW Government Printer

Remnants of Fig Tree Avenue
The remnants of Fig Tree Avenue, 1984 - Rowan Fotheringham

Main entrance to Gardens c. 1879
The main entrance to the Garden c. 1879 showing the drinking fountain (erected 1873) and the building that housed the Art Gallery of NSW from 1879 to its present building in Art Gallery Road - NSW Government Printer

Children's playground
The Children’s Playground, c. 1910 - NSW Government Printer

Art Gallery c. 1906
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, c. 1906. Designed by Hornbury Hunt, it was substantially added to by Walter Vernon between 1896 and 1909 - Mitchell Library, Sydney

Avenue of English Oaks
A 1913 photograph of an avenue of English Oak trees planted along Macquarie Wall, c. 1816. Richmond Terrace is in the background. The site is now occupied by the new Parliament House extensions - NSW Government Printer