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A sepia photograph of the Garden Palace taken from the north side of Sydney Harbour looking back across the harbour with tall ships in Circular Quay

The Garden Palace

Sydney's Garden Palace captivated society from its opening in 1879.

An unknown artist’s sketch

Many accounts and illustrations of the Garden Palace fire can be found in contemporary newspapers and artworks. A recent acquisition by the Library is a rudimentary drawing by an unknown artist that appears to have been created as the Palace was burning. The precise time and location is recorded on the painting, suggesting it was painted from Eaglesfield, a school on Darlinghurst Road. With its sense of immediacy, the image gives some insight into the chaos and heat of the tragedy. A French artist living in Sydney, Lucien Henry, was among those who attempted to capture the fire. His assistant, GH Aurousseau, described the event in the Technical Gazette in 1912.

‘Mister Henry went out onto the balcony and watched until the Great Dome toppled in; it was then early morning; he went back to his studio procured a canvas, sat down and painted the whole scene in a most realistic manner, showing the fig trees in the Domain, the flames rising through the towers, the dome falling in and the reflected light of the flames all around’

The painting Henry produced is clearly not the Library’s recently acquired watercolour, however it is interesting to see how people were moved to document such a significant event in our city’s history.

Today, little is left of the captivating building that brought such enthusiasm and celebration. A lasting legacy may be the exhibition motto, which was adopted by the state of New South Wales in 1906, Orta Recens Quam Pura Nites or ‘Newly risen, how brightly you shine’.

Watercolour of the Garden Palace burning
Burning of the Garden Palace from Eaglesfield, Darlinghurst, sketched at 5.55am, Sep 22/82