In 1860 Alfred Denison, brother of the then Governor-General, was leaving the colony and donated his collection of birds to the government. The only condition was that a suitable home be created for them.
The site chosen was in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, on the eastern boundary of the upper garden walk. Constructed of wood on stone foundations, it measured sixty four feet in length and was fourteen feet wide. There were eight separate compartments, with a man-made stream winding through them. (Sydney Mail July 28 1860)
A letter was sent out to the regions by the Colonial Secretary’s Office requesting donations of native birds;
An aviary having been established in the Botanic Garden in Sydney, and it being desirable that additions of such wild birds of the country as can be procured should be made to the collection, I am directed by the Colonial Secretary to request that you will take any opportunity that may offer for forwarding to Mr Moore, the Director of the Gardens, any live birds, which persons in your district may be disposed to contribute, and which you consider would be an acquisition to the Aviary. It is presumed that such contributions might be forwarded by the Wool Drays, but any small expense for their care and conveyance will be arranged for by Mr. Moore.
By 1862 the aviary had expanded, with an adjoining paddock containing animals. It was effectively Sydney’s first zoo. You can spot the decorative ridge-capping of the original building on the far right of the photo below;
The following list of public contributions is from 1864.
Contributions had declined by 1871. The Sydney Mail reported on a couple of other problems too, including, it was hinted……theft!
The aviary continues to be a source of much attraction to visitors. It has, however, been found to be expensive and difficult to keep up the interest of the collection in consequence of the losses sustained by deaths and the mysterious disappearance of some of our rarest birds. Donations to this department have been of late comparatively few, although in exchange donors are entitled to such plants as can be spared. Under the circumstances resort had been had to purchasing, from dealers and others, such birds and animals as might be required – otherwise the collection would have dwindled down to perfect insignificance.
I was amused to read an earlier report in The Sydney Mail (1868) stating that the brush turkey was becoming rare. The aviary keepers were delighted that a pair had reproduced in captivity for the first time. The reason for the scarcity was that the flesh made excellent eating and the eggs were considered a delicacy. Today they are all too common in Sydney. The construction and maintenance of their giant nesting mounds might tempt Sydney gardeners to follow the example of their ancestors.
The oldest inhabitant of the aviary paddock zoo in 1933 was a tortoise, estimated to be 140 years old. He had arrived on a steamer from South Africa in 1895 and was presented to Mr H.A. Lenehan, the Government Astronomer. After constantly escaping from his North Shore home he was banished to the Gardens.
Over the years many animals and birds were relocated to the fledgling Moore Park Zoo. The aviary itself was removed in 1940 and the site is now home to the cacti and succulent garden.