One historical event I really wish I could have attended is London’s  Great Exhibition of 1851.  Those  inventive, enthusiastic Victorians  put on a display that dazzled the world. It was housed  in a building so innovative it scarcely seemed real; the remarkable Crystal Palace. Of course eventually it burned down, which was a tragic loss.

To my shame, it is only quite recently that I discovered Sydney held its own International Exhibition, in an equally spectacular building. The  doors of The Garden Palace  opened to the public on September 17 1879. It was located just south of the Conservatorium of Music, at the southwestern end of the Botanic Gardens. Built in less than a year, the Palace was mostly wooden.

Sydney International Exhibition.
Sydney International Exhibition.
The dome of Sydney's Garden Palace, home of the Exhibition.
Constructing the crowning glory.

Passport style season’s tickets were available to those who wanted to make multiple visits,

"passport style' tickets were issued for the Exhibition.
Season ticket for those making multiple visits to the Exhibition.

The whole nation was  represented, including my home state of Tasmania. Two of Tassie’s exhibits created quite a stir and have since been the subject of an interesting mystery. To read the story, click HERE

Sydney International Exhibition
Within the Exhibition – the Tasmanian Section

The building provided a great backdrop to early photographs.  I wonder whether that sapling tree is still there? It looks like a Moreton Bay or Port Jackson fig.

Garden Palace from the Botanic Gardnes
Looking towards the Palace from the Botanic Gardens.

The motto of the Exhibition was;

Newly risen, how brightly you shine.

Just three years  later, like London’s Crystal Palace,  the remarkable  structure  was razed to the ground.  Fire broke out at dawn on September 22 1882. The bright light that shone shocked the city and was captured by several artists.

By this time the building was being used as a storage centre by  a number of government departments.  For future historians, it was a disaster.  The colony’s census of 1881 was lost, along with other priceless documents, such as those documenting land holdings

An unidentified  resident of  Darlinghurst sketched the inferno as it raged.

Sketch of the disaster by an unknown artist.

Watercolour sketch of the disaster by an unknown artist.

The dreadful scene from across the harbour.
The dreadful scene viewed  from across the harbour.

When the foundation stone of the building was laid, a ‘time capsule’  bottle had been added. It was retrieved when the ruins were being demolished and placed in Mr Edward Fallick’s  private museum. Sir Henry Parkes visited the museum and made of point of saying that the bottle was actually government property.

Relic from the Garden Palace Exhibition.

It was donated to the State Library of New South Wales in 1954.   No doubt Sir Henry would have been pleased. Below is the only reminder of the Palace….the impressive memorial  gates  It’s worth going along to have a look.

The gates to the Garden Palace still stand.
Only the gates to the Garden Palace still stand.


Greg Mountjoy, dressed in period costume, is pictured  serving tea at  the centenary of the Exhibition in 1979. That looks like Premier Neville Wran  holding the  teacup. And Governor Sir Roden Cutler on the far left.

Centenary of the Exhibition.
Photo courtesy of Greg Mountjoy

There are very few relics from the Garden Palace, but pictured below is a very poignant one;

A precious memento from the Exhibition.

A statue of Queen Victoria  had pride of place under the dome. That’s how it was back in the day.

Queen Victoria's statue in Sydney's Garden Palace Exhibition..

Just one fragment was salvaged. How intense the heat must have been.

Relic from Sydney's International Exhibition of 1879

The object I covet most from the Exhibition is a small silver pillbox containing a thimble, now held in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. It was donated in 1985 by Margot Riley.  I have a huge collection of pillboxes, but not one original Australian example. Oh dear, why couldn’t Margot have been my Grandmother, and bequeathed it to me?

Silver pillbox and thimble from Sydney's Great Exhibition
Image of the pillbox and thimble from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
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