Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Garden Palace Exhibition Building Sydney International Exhibition of 1879


James Barnet  


Royal Botanic Gardens




Victorian Italianate


wood and stucco 64 m 210 ft 


The Garden Palace was a large purpose-built exhibition building constructed to house the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879. It was designed by James Barnet and was constructed at a cost of 191,800 Pounds in only eight months - largely due to the special importation from England of electric lighting which enabled work to be carried out around-the-clock.

Visually similar in many respects to the later Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, the Sydney building consisted of three turreted wings meeting beneath a central dome. The building was sited at what is today the southwestern end of the Royal Botanical Gardens (although at the time it was built it occupied land that was outside the Gardens), and was of primarily timber construction - a fact that was to assure its complete destruction when engulfed by fire in the early morning of September 22, 1882.

The only extant remains of the Garden Palace are its carved sandstone gateposts and wrought iron gates, located on the Macquarie Street entrance to the Royal Botanical Gardens. A 1940s-era sunken garden and fountain featuring a statue of Cupid marks the former location of the Palace's dome. The only artifact from the International Exhibition to survive the fire - a carved graphite statue of an elephant, from Ceylon - is on exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum.
- With it's massive dome it was the tallest building in Sydney when completed, surpassing the 57m tall Town Hall clock tower built 4 years earlier. 
- Early on the morning of September 22, 1882 the complex was completely destroyed by a 6-hour fire. All that remains from the palace are the steel gates which can be seen on Macquairie Street. 
- The cruciform shaped structure had halls that stretched 244m x 152m long. At the end of the halls were stone towers 36m high for observation. 
- Builder John Young built the massive structure in only 8 months out of Oregon timber shipped from America. 1500 men worked around the clock (3 shifts), using powerful arc lights at night. 
- The 31 meter diameter dome was the world's 6th largest. 
- Architect James Barnet prepared plans for the building to hold an International Exhibition. 
- The northern tower housed Australia's first hydraulic passenger lift. 
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