Our 200 years


Before 1788   

Woccanmagully (later knows as Farm Cove) is used as an initiation ground by the traditional owners the Cadigal.


A small grain farm is established and the first grain is harvested in July.


Private leases were allowed around Farm Cove despite Phillip reserving the land for the Crown. One lessee 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.


Governor William Bligh removed the houses and farm animals in an attempt to reclaim the 'Demesne' (Domain), leading up to the Rum Rebellion.


Lachlan Macquarie becomes Governor and establishes the ‘Demesne’. According to him, Hyde Park 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 including, no grazing, no removal of rocks, no boat landings in the 'Demesne' (Domain). He removed the remaining buildings, including a bakehouse and windmill.

1813 - 1816

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 

Macquarie was informed by a gang overseer that the road was finished (the overseer and his gang of ten 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 the orders were not meant to extend to prohibiting the respectable class of inhabitants from using the area.

December 1816         

Allan Cunningham arrives in the colony and appointed King’s Botanist.

c. 1816 - 1818  
The Wishing Tree was  planted where the Wollemi Pine presently grows. It was removed in 1945 when unsafe.


Francis Greenway’s Government Stables, now Conservatorium of Music, was started.

Charles Fraser described as Colonial Botanist.

1817 - 1831

Charles Fraser, Colonial Botanist and Superintendent


Fraser 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 1821 

Fraser 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.


Baron Hyacinthe Bougainville visits Botanic Gardens

c. 1830           

James 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).  Seventeen varieties planted in the Botanic Garden, while the rest were distributed around the colony, from Camden to (mostly) Hunter Valley.

13 September 1831   

Domain is opened for ‘carriages’, and effectively ‘open to the general public’.

December 1831       

Fraser dies, aged 43.

Jan 1832 - Dec 1832 

John McLean acting Superintendent of Botanic Gardens.


Richard Cunningham, Colonial Botanist and Superintendent.


Richard Cunningham appointed Colonial Botanist and Superintendent.

Allan Cunningham offered advice and oversaw Richard’s work.

April 1835       

Richard Cunningham clubbed to death on the Bogan River in western NSW on Major Thomas Mitchell's expedition.


Committee to oversee the Museum and Gardens established.

Apr 1835 - Feb 1837

John 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.


Cunningham resigns, unable to deal with administrative and horticultural aspects of Gardens (‘resigned the Government’s cabbage-garden in disgust’).


Cunningham in poor health and died soon after returning from a collecting trip to New Zealand.

1838 - 1842

James Anderson, Superintendent, described as more of a horticulturist and collector than a botanist.

April 1842       

Anderson dies.

1842 - 1844

Nasmith Robertson, Superintendent.

May 1842       

Robertson appointed.

Mid 1844        

Robertson dies.

1844 - 1847    

James Kidd, acting Superintendent.

1847 - 1848

John Bidwill, Director.


Fig Tree Avenue planted.

February 1848

Replaced 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.


First aviary opens. Other caged animals are introduced from 1862 to create Sydney's first zoo.

1848 - 1896

Charles Moore was appointed as Director when 27 years old, by Committee of Management, and held this position for  48 years. He 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’.


Directed the 11th Regiment Band to play in the Domain rather than the Gardens, as being more appropriate.

1848 - 1878      

Moore drained and claimed the Farm Cove land. Seeds from Kew and also Glasnevin in Dublin where his brother was Director.


Moore stressed the need for an adequate water supply - some ‘rare and beautiful’ plants already lost to drought.


Started 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.


Library established as ‘Public Botanical Library’.

c. 1852           

Herbarium collection established in conjunction with the library.

Jan 1855

Moore survives a harsh review by committee established by Governor William Dennison.


Moore 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 and 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 remained open 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 New South Wales, 110 from Australia elsewhere, 1860 from overseas and 230 horticultural hybrids)

29 - 31 January 1857 

Inaugural First-class game of cricket in New South Wales held in the Domain. New South Walesbeat Victoria, for the second time.


Fencing 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.

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.


Moore replenishes trees in the Domain, especially his signature tree, figs.


Moore builds and starts living in the new Director's residence (now the ‘Cunningham Building’). Old residence demolished in 1875.


Garden Palace built to house International Exhibition. Burnt down in September 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.


Nearly 400 grape varieties from Europe are planted.


Moore dies.

1896 - 1924

Joseph H. Maiden, Director for 28 years.


Fountain monument to Governor Phillip erected.

Domain lit in evenings by electric lights.

8 March 1901 

Herbarium officially opened.


Tropical Centre, Fernery, Herb Garden, Oriental Garden and Cadi Jam Ora open.


Artist Margaret Flockton appointed (on staff until 1927).


Camfield ‘enlisted’ to help with Census.


Herbarium narrowly missed being burnt in fire that came from a nearby boiler house.


A total of 586 species from Banks and Solander’s collections at the British Museum returned to Sydney.


Juvenile gymnasium in Domain.


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


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.


Maiden decided that the centenary of foundation day would be celebrated on 13 June 1916.


Botanical Library from Australian Museum transferred to Gardens Library.

May 1916       

Flying foxes heaviest invasion since 1900, then lighter invasion in June 1916 follow by the next major invasion in 1920. Maiden called in the rifle club to dispatch flying foxes.

11 June 1916 

Plantings of 15 ‘geographically appropriate trees’ in the Parade Ground area to represent various dominions and nations.


The plan, and some trees, still exist. Foundation stone for new Museum of botany and agriculture laid (near the herbarium building).

1924 - 1933

George Percy Darnell-Smith, first ‘graduate’ director, interested in ecology and physiology.

October 1933 

Darnell-Smith retires.

1933 - 1945    

Administration split - Gardens administered by Ward, followed by Hawkey, Herbarium administered by Cheel, followed by Anderson.

1945 - 1964

Robert Henry Anderson, Chief Botanist and Curator, appointed at age 46 as first Australian-born Director. Director for 19 years.

‘I wish’ sculpture replaces the Wishing Tree (next to current Wollemi Pine planting).


Anderson erects monument to first farm.

December 1958

Excavations 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 October 1958. Although the bestowal of Royal Patronage was gazetted on 4 February 1959, there is communication from the then Minister of Agriculture showing 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.

November 1959         

Barbara Briggs joins staff, later to become Senior Assistant Director of Plant Sciences.

1 March 1962 

Cahill Expressway opened.


‘A pleasant grassed bank adjacent to the appallingly ugly oil tanks was alienated for electricity sub-station’.

12 March 1964       

Anderson dies aged 65.

1964 - 1970

Herbert Knowles Charles Mair, Director

1970 - 1971    

Pyramid glasshouse built.

June 1970      

Mair retires after seven years as Director. Johnson acting Director until October 1970

1970 - 1972

John Stanley Beard appointed as Director.


Lawrie Johnson appointed as Director for 13 years and is on staff for the Gardens for 37 years. He established a strong scientific reputation for the Gardens and established the Flora of New South Wales 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 appointed as Acting Director after the retirement of Lawrie Johnson in 1985.


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

1986 - 1996

Carrick Chambers appointed as Director.

1 November 1987      

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

2 October 1988          

Opening of Mount Annan, native plant garden south-west of Sydney, by Duchess of York.


Rose Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.


Tropical Centre opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.


Fernery opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.


Herb Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.

Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation established.

Frank Howarth Acting Director from August 1996.


Frank Howarth appointed as Director.


HSBC Oriental Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.


Rare and Threatened Plants Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.

Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden opens.


Sydney Olympics


Tim Entwisle appointed as acting Director.


Tim Entwisle appointed as Executive Director and Government Botanist, as he is a specialist in freshwater algae and has a background of scientific journalism and media relations.

Hospital Road avenue replaced.

Leading role in the national funding campaign and implementation of the $10 million Australia’s Virtual Herbarium, a five-year project to database and make available all the information held in the major herbarium collections in Australia.


Auction of the first Wollemi pines available to the public.

Domain Garden Wall beside the Cahill Expressway erected.


Palace Rose Garden opens in Royal Botanic Gardens.


Appointed Government Botanist, long-term vision for 2016 bicentenary celebrations.

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


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

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

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

New Plant Pathology Laboratory building.


Capital funding of $20 million for new entrance and PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.


$7 million Central Depot works.

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

Professor David Mabberley appointed as Executive Director. He is a specialist in plant taxonomy and nomenclature, especially in economic plants, botanical art and history and author of The Plant Book

International Peer Review.

Merging of the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation and Friends of the Gardens to become the Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens.      

Awarding of the first Lachlan Macquarie Medal to Professor Hong De-Yuan


Opening of the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.


Operational integration with Centennial Parklands.

Kim Ellis appointed Director and Chief Executive of Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands.


Bicentenary of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. The Calyx opens.