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This Day in History

Australian History

Thursday, June 13, 1816. :   Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are founded.

     The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney are located in the heart of the city’s CBD, at the edge of Sydney Harbour. Besides being the oldest Botanic Gardens in Australia, they are also the home of the oldest scientific institution in the southern hemisphere. Taking up an area of approximately 30 hectares, the land was originally used as an initiation ground by the indigenous Cadigal people, who referred to the area as Woccanmagully. After the First Fleet arrived in 1788, the land was cleared for farming, giving rise to the name Farm Cove. The first crop of grain was harvested in July that year.

Governor Arthur Phillip laid the foundation plate for Australia’s first Government House, and reserved Farm Cove as crown land. By 1802, the gardens had begun to be planted with a collection of native and exotic plants. Between 1794 and 1807, with the desperate need for farmland, plots of ground adjoining Farm Cove were leased privately and houses built. Part of the land originally set aside by Arthur Phillip was the Governor’s demesne, later The Domain. This, too, had been encroached upon by private farms so, in 1807, Governor William Bligh began to remove the private farms and houses to reclaim the demesne, and began the construction of a road system. After Bligh was deposed during the Rum Rebellion, Governor Lachlan Macquarie formally established ‘The Demesne’ for Government House, removing all remaining buildings. Originally, the Governor’s Demesne extended from present-day Circular Quay to Woolloomooloo, and included Bennelong Point, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Lady Macquarie’s Chair and the Domain.

Governor Macquarie completed the road system which Bligh began. This included the ring road now known as Mrs Macquarie’s Road. The road was finished on 13 June 1816, on a date that has come to be regarded as Foundation Day for the Botanic Gardens. Gradually over time, the size of the Governor's Domain shrank, while regulations against the use of the area by the public were relaxed. The Royal epithet for the Botanical Gardens was granted in 1959.

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