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.
Passport style season’s tickets were available to those who wanted to make multiple visits,
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
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.
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.
Watercolour sketch of the disaster by an unknown artist.
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.
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.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON…..
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.
There are very few relics from the Garden Palace, but pictured below is a very poignant one;
A statue of Queen Victoria had pride of place under the dome. That’s how it was back in the day.
Just one fragment was salvaged. How intense the heat must have been.
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?