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Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

HH Bailey, 'R.S. [Royal Society] Garden, Hobart Town', 1875 (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are the second oldest in Australia, having commenced in 1818, two years after those at Sydney. At first they functioned as the lieutenant-governor's garden, with limited public visitation during the first superintendent William Davidson's time (1828–34). Lt-Governor Arthur had a heated wall and superintendent's cottage built (1829). Arthur requested seeds and plants and in 1829, in response to his initial request, possibly both were sent, primarily 'forest' trees, grasses, grains, and nuts.

By 1844, responsibility for the Gardens had been transferred to the new Royal Society of Van Diemen's Land. FW Newman was appointed Superintendent in 1845, and probably commenced the pinetum and the collection of conifers for which the garden is widely known. This pinetum was expanded under Francis Abbott (1859–1903), with certain conifers arriving almost at the same time as they were introduced into England (for example Sequoiadendron giganteum). Norfolk Island pines and Dicksonia antarctica (tree fern) plants were exported overseas as exchange plants while exotic trees and shrubs were sent back, and rose varieties and orchard trees were consistently added to.

Plant distribution by the Royal Society to public places and private gardens within Tasmania also occurred, its legacy immense. Franklin Square, Low Head Pilot Station and the Salmon Ponds are examples of this distribution. In 1856, a plan attributed to William Porden Kay appeared for the Gardens, probably allowing for a parterre garden section, promenade walks and orchard, and the major part was implemented. In 1939 the Conservatory was built and during the 1970s, more land was acquired and a Japanese Garden and French Memorial Fountain were created. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are intimate gardens which reflect the botanical scientific input of managers across time, coupled with the flavour of a nineteenth-century Victorian park space. The Gardens have an annual tulip festival and other colourful displays; those in the Conservatory are unique. (See also Acclimatisation of Plants.)

Further reading: G Sheridan, Queens Domain Cultural Heritage Management Plan, Part 2, Hobart, 2002; 'A report on the significant trees in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart', unpublished, RTBG, 2002; and 'Heritage trees across Tasmania', unpublished, RTBG, 2004; M Hurburgh, The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart, [1986].

Gwenda Sheridan