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City Botanic Gardens Brisbane - Early History

Prior to the founding of the Colony of Queensland in 1859 the original plan for the area, which extended from the southern side of Alice Street, Brisbane to the southern end of the now existing City Botanic Gardens Brisbane and up to the western end of Alice Street (below Parliament House) was entirely different to the present layout.

The area of land which now comprises Queensland and of course, the present Brisbane Botanic Gardens site, together with the land occupied by the Old Government House (now a part of a University) Technical College, Parliament House and the Alice Street Naval Depot was under the jurisdiction of the New South Wales Government.

Plans had been drawn up some years prior to Separation to subdivide this area into twelve blocks which were respectively numbered 39 to 50 inclusive. These blocks were to be intersected by three additional streets running parallel to Alice Street. They were equivalent in area to that of a present day city block, e.g. a similar area to that bounded by Queen, Albert, Elizabeth and George Streets.

Those streets running parallel to Alice Street were to be respectively named Blanche, Maude and Eclipse Streets, while George Street was planned to extend right through the present Gardens area to the river bank opposite the South Brisbane Railway Coal Wharves.

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Albert Street was to run to the river frontage on the eastern side of the Gardens. Two short streets, namely Digit and Henry Streets were respectively situated at the southern end and the eastern side of the proposed George Street extension.

The present roadway in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, which extends from the Edward Street entrance, was to be named Eastern Quay and was planned to continue around the Gardens riverside frontage and at the southern end was to be known as South Quay. This planned roadway extended up the western side of the Domain area to Alice Street and was to be named Western Quay.

However, on the granting of Separation from New South Wales in 1859, and the consequent foundation of the Colony of Queensland as it was then called, the newly constituted Government abandoned the plan and the Government Residence and Parliament House were built on the western side of the area. The name of North Quay thus stems from this and is the only remaining link of this historic plan.

The original grant of land for the Botanical Reserve, as it was then called, only comprised six acres and was situated in the more elevated part of the present day Brisbane Botanic Gardens. On the western side the boundary was in line with that of William Street, while the eastern boundary line was halfway between George and Albert Streets.

The whole frontage of the area was set back about one hundred yards from Alice Street. The Botanical Reserve was actually designed by the New South Wales Government as an ornamental town square the size of a city block with George Street, as previously mentioned, running the centre of the area and flanked by connecting streets on both sides.

Walter Hill the Colonial Botanist and Curator of the Botanical Reserve was appointed at the end of 1855. He was given the sum of £500 by the N.S.W. Government to purchase rare and valuable plants. However, he soon realised that the area of six acres was not only too limited but it was also unsightly, it being then deprived of the present beautiful river frontage, a portion of which is most picturesque.

At his suggestion, the Reserve was increased to 28 acres in 1865. The old and unsightly wooden fence enclosing the Queen's Park which had frontage to Alice Street was removed in 1866 and another 10 acres were added to the Gardens Area, which now aggregates about 40 acres. The entrance at Alice Street and Edward Street was greatly improved by the inclusion of Queen's Park and the elevation of the riverside walk (the original Eastern Quay) was completed at a cost of considerable labour.

The Brisbane Botanic Gardens were laid out by Walter Hill and one of his first actions was to plant the now magnificent bunya trees which skirt the riverside walk as in this photo . A great deal of experimental and acclimatisation work was carried out by him in connection with cotton, sugar cane, arrowroot, ginger, indigo, allspice and many others he considered likely to suit the cool and temperate zones of Queensland. Thereafter, he journeyed in the tracks of the pioneers and obtained many valuable specimens of plants and trees.

Fortunate indeed, is the city that the pleasantly situated City Botanic Gardens Brisbane are still in their present spaciousness and available for visits by those who enjoy the beauties of plant and flower life as well as the peaceful quietude which raises the heart and refreshes the spirit. Firstly, there were a mere six acres planned as a city square by the N.S.W. Government.

The shadow of extrusion was still present even in the 1870's. When the place, i.e. the Gardens area was given over by the N.S.W. Government to the Moreton Bay Settlement in 1842, three trustees, viz. Sir Robert Mackenzie, Richard Jones and Captain Wickham were appointed and the land was to be available, when required, for wharfage purposes.

In 1873, proposals were put forward by commercial interests, in view of that fact, to obtain a river frontage 90 feet wide enclosed by an iron railed fence for that wharfage accommodation to meet the needs of shipping traffic of the growing town of Brisbane. The land at the rear of the Parliamentary Buildings, at one time, belonged to the Corporation of Brisbane but was taken by the Government of the day when the Houses of Parliament were built.

The wharf proposal also encompassed that land the contention being that as the iron railing was to be set back 90 feet, no injury would be done to the Gardens or the unused area surrounding the Parliamentary Buildings.

The scheme received little support and soon afterwards, wharves were constructed at Petrie's Bight and elsewhere on the Brisbane River banks.

Much has been accomplished in the first century of the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. It is now doubly opportune to ponder, compare and evaluate the strivings of Walter Hill (as well as his successors) who, from the small six acre Botanical Reserve hewn from the original native scrub of Brisbane Town, reclaimed, developed and beautified the City Botanic Gardens Brisbane as they are nowadays.

Walter Hill did not happily retire from his sphere of activity. Tranquility would even seem to now permeate the stones which form the base of the dwarf wall facing Alice Street. These blocks of stones once formed the walls of the early Brisbane Gaol in Petrie Terrace built by Andrew Petrie in 1854, and when the Gaol was demolished after the erection of the Boggo Road Gaol in 1881, an entirely different and peaceful environment from the turbulent former surroundings was found for them as a base in the City Botanic Gardens iron railed fence.

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