Sydney’s Garden Palace 1879-1882

My GGgrandfather George Coleman Robinson was born into a coach building business at Cheshunt on the northern outskirts of London.  The London to Greenwich railway was completed between 1836-38 and in his memoirs, he tells of his father taking him to see it and declaring that it is going to spell the end of coaches and their coach building business. 

As a consequence, George was apprenticed to a blacksmith or metalworks where he completed his apprenticeship making gas lights for the new Crystal Palace Exhibition building.   In 1852 as the Duke of Wellington lay in state, he sailed off to Victoria to try his luck on the gold fields.  And lucky he was.

The connection for me?  The Garden Palace building for the 1859 Sydney International Exhibition. 

While the Crystal Palace building, which was built for the 1851“Great Exhibition, was a cast iron and sheet glass structure designed to demonstrate the new technologies of the industrial revolution, the Garden Palace was a timber and brick clad building. 

Crystal Palace was 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) of exhibition space and 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m).

The Garden Palace was over 244 metres long and had a floor space of over 112,000 metres.  The dome was 65 metres high. 

It’s only when you look at photographs taken from a distance, particularly from the north side of the harbor that you appreciate what a massively large building it was.  “It was”?   On the 22nd September 1882 it burned to the ground.

I’ve been aware of the building for many years and always lamented that it burned down, and we in Sydney don’t have a building that is very similar to the Melbourne Royal Exhibition building. Always lamented, however recently I felt saddened.  How stunning would Sydney’s city skyline be with the Opera House in the foreground, the Garden Palace in the middle ground and the business center high-rise as the background?

I can’t do a better job of describing the history of the Garden Palace than the State Library of NSW has at this site:

It’s worth the visit.  So is the State Government’s State Archives & Records site:

What I can do is share some images that should stun you and hopefully sadden and gladden you, as they do me. I’v eposted a large number of photographs and paintings at “Behance”, just click through fro the home page.

Published by gavinhamiltoncrawford

Retired from paid work but not from living. Actively engaged in writing cultural, social and family histories, reflecting on a meaningful life and volunteering.

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