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15 May 2018

Re-visiting treasures from the past in the Red Box Gallery

The National Herbarium of NSW has undergone many transformations including name changes, locations, technology upgrades and scientific focus. One thing remains the same, for almost two centuries scientists here have been collecting and studying plants to help expand our understanding of the botanical world around us.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the historical collections from the original Ethnobotanical Museum at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney are on display in a new exhibition. The Botanical Museum: old and new science in the Red Box Gallery brings the scientific technology and tools that were once used together with those of today.

Among the treasures and specimens, you will find a first edition of The Origin of Species written by Charles Darwin, a Lodoicea maldivica fruit or “sea coconut” which boasts the title of the world’s largest seed and a taxidermied tortoise that once roamed freely in the Garden.

A History of the Ethnobotanical Museum

As part of the Sydney Culture Network, the Garden is joining thousands of museums across six continents to celebrate International Museum Day. The theme, Hyperconnected Museums: New Approaches, New Publics, highlights the connections that tie museums to their communities, cultural landscapes and natural environments.

To highlight the importance of the original specimens collected and housed at the Garden the exhibit, Botanical Museum: old and new science, tells the story of a new colony focused on economic botany. In 1800s, the Botanical Museum was regarded as an essential educational adjunct to the herbarium, and included timbers, leaves, fibres and much more from around the world. Director Joseph Henry Maiden increased the number of items exhibited to 7,000 that were displayed in newly built showcases.
For a brief time, the Museum was closed during the Second World War but was once again reopened to the public. However, by 1958, the National Herbarium of NSW shared the space and was in desperate need of extra room for the specimen collection. The Museum was packed away until now, with some of the collection items contrasted with modern tools and work from scientists like Dr Matthew Renner, Dr Shelley James, Dr Maurizio Rossetto and Dr Herve Saquet. 

From art exhibitions like Botanica and Margaret Flockton, to heritage tours and the opera, the Garden is a cultural organisation with so many collections and stories to share with the community. Our newest exhibition, Botanical Museum: old and new science, showcases key historical pieces from the Garden’s original Ethnobotanical Museum for the first time in 50 years to celebrate International Museum Day.
Kim Ellis, Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands

Science in the Garden

To celebrate International Museum Day, the Garden will be hosting a special behind the scenes tour for visitors looking to discover the work and treasures of the Herbarium collection.  To book a spot for the Secret Science tour on 17 May 2018 visit the website here.

What is the Sydney Culture Network

The Garden is part of the Sydney Culture Network, a group of more than 30 cultural institutions and creative sector organisations working together to promote our city as a global leader in culture. SCN includes leading arts, educational and cultural institutions and organisations of all sizes. 

About International Museum Day

With the other cultural institutions from  SCN, the Garden is celebrating International Museum Day on 18 May 2018. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) established International Museum Day in 1977 to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society, and it has been steadily gaining momentum ever since. In 2017, International Museum Day garnered record-breaking participation with more than 36,000 museums hosting events in 156 countries.

A small piece of the old Botanical Museum history by Honorary Research Associate, Dr Barbara Briggs, can be downloaded here.  The full map of global activity across the ICOM network can be viewed below or here

Category: Events
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