The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

Author: Lionel Gilbert


The Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney, set on 30 hectares adjoining the magnificent Sydney Harbour, is a much loved and well frequented haven from city bustle.

Dr Gilbert has written a history of the Gardens which leads the reader along the paths of administrative wrangles, into the hothouses of professional jealousies and reveals vistas of backbreaking labour and devotion. With and eye for the incongruous and the ability to season his story with a good anecdote, his delightful dry humour makes this an entertaining history of human falibilities and stubbornness as much as that of the planning and nurturing of a now famous institution – The Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney.

Within seven months after the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788, convicts had cleared 9 acres of land to create a Government Farm at Farm Cove. This marked the commencement of horticultural and botanical activity on a site which, though commanding beautiful views was hardly ideal for practical gardening pursuits.

The area lacked a reliable water supply, it was exposed to spray-laden north-easterly winds, and was set on stony land, part of which was subject to tidal flooding. The early Colonial Botanists found the establishment of the Gardens required a constant battle to be waged with the elements, not to mention the often unsympathetic colonial administrators.

Insulated by a further 34 hectares of adjoining parkland in the Domain, the Gardens have survived and flourished. The opening of the new herbarium building in 1982 signified government acknowledgement of the priceless botanical, literary and scientific resources of the institution.

For the gardens are far more than a recreational area for mild botanical enjoyment. They are a place which aims to serve as the main centre of enquiry and information relating to the plant species of NSW. The work is complemented by the Mount Tomah and Mount Annan “satellite” Gardens.

Sale of this book will aid Royal Botanic Gardens projects.

The above text is quoted from the inside front cover of the book.


Lionel Gilbert (OAM) was born in Burwood, Sydney, in 1924. He joined the RAAF in 1943, and from 1946 to 1960 he taught in New South Wales state schools. From 1963 to 1984, when he retired as Acting Deputy Principal, he lectured at the Armidale College of Advanced Education, developing history courses and taking responsibility for the Museum of Education.

One of the first graduate external students of the University of New England, Dr Gilbert proceeded to history honours and PhD studies in the field of Australian botanical history. He was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1972 to study methods of display, administration and educational use of historical museums in the UK. His continuing close involvement with museums in New South Wales has included the establishment of the New England Historical Research Centre in 1974 and the Museum of Rural Life and Industry at Hillgrove in 1977.

Dr Gilbert has written more than fifty papers for learned journals. His other published works include “A Grave Look At History; Glimpses of a Vanishing form of Folk Art” (1980); with WP Driscoll and JA Sutherland, “History Around Us” (1974, revised edition, 1984); and contributions to the “Australian Dictionary of Biography”, 1966 to date.

He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Australian Genealogists in 1955, and since 1975 has served on the New South Wales State Archives Authority.

For the last twenty-five years he and his wife have lived in Armidale where there daughter is a librarian.

Source : the above text is quoted from the inside back cover of the book.

Two years after the publication of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney: a History, 1861 -1985 (1986), he was appointed an Honorary Research Associate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, and in 1995 was awarded an OAM for contributions to regional and community history.

His last publication, The Last Word, is the culmination of a lifelong dediciation to documenting Australia in epitaths.

The book cover is a reproduced Chromolithograph c 1885
by Gibbs, Shallard & Co
reproduced from a copy held bythe Royal Botanic Gardens

Published by
Oxford University Press
7 Bowen Crescent Melbourne

© Lionel Gilbert
ISBN 0195547195