Last week I was delighted to take a group of conference visitors on a tour through the City Botanic Gardens.
Although I'd picked up a few interesting facts about the gardens over the years, this was a great opportunity to delve in more detail into what the Queensland Heritage Register describes as "the most significant, non-Aboriginal cultural landscape in Queensland, having a continuous horticultural history since 1828, without any significant loss of land area or change in use over that time."
Establishing the Gardens
Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens opened in 1828.
In the same year:
- Chocolate milk powder was patented;
- Noah Webster registered the copyright for the first American dictionary;
- Zoological Gardens at Regent’s Park opened.
- The first bank robbery in the country occurred (in Sydney);
- First postman appointed (also Sydney);
- First census held: Aborigines not counted; white population 36,598 - 638 living in Queensland.
The Gardens site was selected by Charles Fraser, who was the New South Wales Colonial Botanist. European settlement at Brisbane had been established 3 years earlier. At the time, this site was planted by convicts with food crops to supply the colony. A very few river gums on the eastern banks of the garden are believed to have survived from pre-European times.
Walter Hill was the first Curator of the Gardens
He and his wife had one child, a daughter, Ann, who sadly died. She was the second person buried at the Toowong Cemetery, which was so new that it had not yet been officially opened.
In his 26 years as Curator and Queensland Colonial Botanist, Hill travelled across the state collecting specimens, many of which were sent to herbariums around the world, including Kew Gardens.
Hill experimented with acclimatizing plants, seeing what would grow here and what could have a potential commercial use.
Queensland’s first sugar was produced at the Botanic Gardens, in 1862. Hill also started cultivation of the macadamia nut, which was local to the state.
Bears and Tortoises
At one time there was a zoo at the gardens. It included such attractions as a bear enclosure, the remnants of which survive as a shelter structure.
The zoo was also home to a tortoise reported to have been collected from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin and donated to the gardens.
The tortoise came to Australia with John Wickham, the former commander of the Beagle. It was named Harry in honour of Harry Oakman, who was gardens curator at the time, and creator of the zoo. When the zoo closed in 1952 Harry moved to a wildlife sanctuary at the Gold Coast, where it was discovered he was in fact Harriet.
Harriet lived out her final years at Australia Zoo, beforelumbering to the Big Shell in the Sky in 2006.
On the Waterfront
From the time of its inception the gardens was flooded numerous times, resulting in the loss of many collections.
The 1974 floods provided the catalyst for the establishment of the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, directly opposite the Toowong Cemetery where Walter Hill and his wife Jane were eventually reunited with their daughter Ann.
Between the river and the cafe housed in the Curator's cottage (built to replace the earlier one lost to flood), stands a bronze sculpture on permanent loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. By artist Lindsay Daen, it depicts Jemmy Morrill, the sole survivor of an 1846 shipwreck on the outer Great Barrier Reef.
Morrill was rescued by local aboriginal people with whom he then lived for 17 years. After eventually returning to European settlement near Bowen he spent the rest of his life working to improve relations between indigenous people and settlers.
Despite having grown up in northern Queensland and lived in Brisbane for many decades, I had never before heard this story. Wouldn't it be great if there was also a sculpture celebrating the generosity of the people who saved Jemmy Morrill and shared their shelter, food and lives with him for all that time.
All images: State Library of Queensland, unless noted otherwise. Copyright expired.