Monday, 1 August 2011

Vintage views of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

An early 20th century view of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Many years ago I came across a book titled Postcards from Kew. This well illustrated work highlighted a collection of old postcards of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. Inspired I decided to search for similar postcards showing views of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney (RBG). Within weeks I had discovered a couple of dozen images dating from the early years of the last century. As a garden historian I was intrigued by these images and went in search of more at markets and postcard fairs. Within a couple of years I had a collection of several hundred cards. Clearly the botanic gardens in Sydney was just as popular with postcard collectors as was Kew.

In this beautifully printed German card we see a
 glimpse of Sydney Harbour from the Botanic Gardens

Several years ago I showed part of my collection to Judy Blood and Miguel Garcia of the RBG research library. Fascinated by these images they asked permission to scan the works for research purposes. Recently a series of these images have been printed by the RBG for sale at their bookshop. Many of thepostcards used come from my collection while others come from the album of RBG guide Jenny Pattison, a fellow postcard collector. The ‘Vintage Views’ cards sell for $1, and there are mounted prints which sell for a very reasonable $9.95. These images were recently used in an interactive walk in the gardens where the vintage views where set up at the same spot where the original photographs were taken.

In the back ground of this postcard
is the Chess Pavillion built in 1897

One of my cards being used in the Vintage Views
 self-guided walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
While the Chess Pavillion is still on site the ornamental
 fountain in the postcard image is long gone

Why we think of the brief text based message as correspondence from our time - think of  Twitter, SMS and e-mail - but the succinct message dates from the mid 19th century when the telegram was invented. Later in the century the postcard was introduced. The collecting of postcards became a craze around the world from the 1890s to the time of World War One and many photographers and publishers produced cards with tempting images of people and places, including public parks and gardens.

Classically inspired statuary near the Levy Fountain

Swiss printed view of the Botanical Gardens
looking east towards the palm grove

While most of my postcard images are Sydney based I also have some fine views of other towns and cities in Australia and around the world. Every few weeks I will post some more postcard images from my collection.  Any requests?


  1. Hi Silas,
    So interesting that you've been able to build such a unique collection from scratch, and put it to good use. Without your work it would all have remained lost or unseen. I wonder if you have any postcards of William Guilfoyle's regional Victorian gardens, particularly the Camperdown Botanic Gardens?

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