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Rockhampton Botanic Gardens

  • 601819
  • 100 Spencer Street, Rockhampton


State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
23 July 1999
Parks/gardens/trees: Garden—botanic
2.6 Exploiting, utilising and transforming the land: Managing flora and fauna
2.7 Exploiting, utilising and transforming the land: Experimenting, developing technologies and innovation
6.3 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Developing urban services and amenities
Pennycuick, G
Construction periods
1873–1930, Rockhampton Botanic Gardens (1873 - 1930s)
1911–1997, Rockhampton Botanic Gardens - Kiosk (1911 - 1997)
1924, Rockhampton Botanic Gardens - War Memorial (1924 - 1924)
1938, Rockhampton Botanic Gardens - Hugo Lassen Fernery (1938 - 1938)
unknown, Rockhampton Botanic Gardens - Curator's Cottage
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


100 Spencer Street, Rockhampton
Rockhampton Regional Council
-23.40092225, 150.49155388


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, gazetted in 1869 are important as the premier recreation and botanic retreat for Rockhampton. They demonstrate the importance of Rockhampton as the major urban centre for the central Queensland region, and the city’s desire to sustain a scientific, educational and recreational centre of international repute.

As one of the first parks established by the Rockhampton City Council, the gardens demonstrate the commitment to provide recreational and educational facilities for the people of Rockhampton.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The place’s botanical collection includes specimens rare in cultivation or of great maturity or both, including the remnants of a 19th century experimental garden. The Hugo Lassen Fernery is a very uncommon example of a large Queensland bush house.

The zoological park, once an integral part of many botanic gardens, is now an uncommon feature, making the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens important in demonstrating the historical development of botanic gardens in general.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

As a regional botanic gardens, the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens maintained a position within a national and international network of botanic gardens of which the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was the originating hub. It demonstrates the principal characteristics of a provincial botanic reserve, with a greater emphasis placed on the creating of an exotic collection of living botany rather than providing herbarium and library facilities. The early layout, established by JS Edgar, is substantially intact and exotic plantings dating from the 19th century include aesthetic, economic and experimental botany. Significant architectural features include the original curator's cottage (1884), the Kiosk and tool shed (1912), the War Memorial (1924) [QHR 601818] and the Hugo Lassen Fernery (1938).

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens is significant as a Rockhampton landmark and for its visual amenity. The grounds, comprising formal and informal landscaped areas with early and substantial plantings, slope down towards the Murray Lagoon and offer striking vistas from the western slopes of the Athelstane Range.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens is held in high regard by the community and has been a popular place for events and recreation, and for visitors to Rockhampton, since the late 19th century.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens have a special association with the pioneering work of curators James Scott Edgar (1873-1902), Richard Jacob Simmons (1903-1931), Henry George Simmons (1932-1957), Kenneth Clive Baker (1957-1972) and Thomas Wyatt (1974-1997).


Rockhampton Botanic Gardens are located on a 33-hectare site west of the Athelstane range and bordered by the Murray and Yeppen-Yeppen lagoons. A series of established gardens combine to create an education and recreation retreat at the southern edge of the city. A complex site, now incorporating both built and natural environments, the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens has enjoyed continuous use since opening in 1873.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens was gazetted as public gardens in 1869. Between 1868 and 1872, three sites were gazetted as botanic gardens for Rockhampton. The influence of Anthelme Thozet, a local botanist and collector, is thought to have prevailed in the selection of the Spencer Street site, a former reserve for the Commissioner of Crown Lands and site of a native police camp.[1] The proximity to a constant water supply, in the adjacent Murray Lagoon, and striking vistas from the western slopes of the Athelstane range were primary considerations for a successful botanic gardens site. [2]

The development of the first ten acres (4ha) of the 100-acre (40.5ha) site commenced after the curator James Scott Edgar took up residence in a modified dairy shed on the grounds in 1873. Edgar was trained in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and this first section to be developed is still known as the lower gardens. Local botanist Thozet, Ferdinand von Mueller of Melbourne Botanic Gardens and Walter Hill of Brisbane Botanic Gardens contributed material for the garden. The Queensland Acclimatisation Society was also active in providing plant stock and seed material to the new curator. Edgar maintained a professional link between these and other international botanic gardens, collecting specimens and distributing seed stock developed in Rockhampton as well as receiving plants and seeds for propagation in the gardens.[3]

Plant collections were also distributed for educational purposes, with the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens being the key regional distribution point to primary schools for Arbor Day trees. The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens were second only to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens in volume of supply; 1000 trees were distributed from the nurseries. The gardens developed experimental and economic botany while also accommodating the recreational needs of the district.

Edgar cleared land near the Murray Lagoon and established the lower gardens, which included lawn areas and a six-acre ‘experimental garden’. Plantings included ‘Mango, Jaca, Breadfruit, Mangosteen, Mamee Apple, Date Plum, Longan, Leechee and Wampee’, as well as palm varieties including Coconut, Date, Wine, Oil and Sago.[4] A grove of Banyan Figs (Ficus benghalensis) was also planted to the east, near the site of the later kiosk, and other more formal arrangements included a central avenue of Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii), aligned north-south, and rows of Tamarinds (Tamarindus indica) and Oleanders (Nerium oleander), some of which survive along the eastern boundary of the reserve.[5] In 1884, a curator’s cottage was built near the Spencer Street entrance; it was home to the first three curators and their families until a new residence was built in the 1960s, near the Ann Street entrance.[6] Other structures from Edgar’s time included a finch aviary constructed in the lower gardens during the 1890s.[7]

The Murray Lagoon was Rockhampton's original bathing spot. Edgar introduced a diving pontoon and sand to create a beach-like atmosphere on its banks. He used bamboo stands to separate the male and female bathing areas and the original rules and regulations restricted the hours of use at the discretion of the trustees. The Murray Lagoon in the Botanic Gardens was a popular picnic area for the Rockhampton district in the late 19th century. The Lagoon provided the necessary water to the gardens and was also part of a broader lagoon system that constituted the original water supply for the city of Rockhampton.

In 1905 the deed of grant for the reserve was issued to the Rockhampton City Council. The reserve was enlarged to 197 acres (79.7ha). By this time Richard Simmons had assumed the role of curator of the gardens and set out to bring more of the land under cultivation. During his time at the helm, a packing or tool shed was built and a children's playground, animal section (moved to its current location in 1925), bandstand and kiosk were added to the recreational facilities available in the gardens.[8]

The kiosk was erected in 1911 and opened on New Year's Day 1912. Rockhampton City Council's chief engineer, Mr G Pennycuick, designed the octagonal shaped building. At a cost of £340, it was open on five sides with two rooms at the rear, the ladies' dressing room and a kitchen/storeroom. A small cupola and a number of decorative gables surmounted the roof. In 1966, the kiosk underwent modifications that included the removal of the roof decorations and the addition of an amenity block for the gardens. Further modifications in 1997 upgraded the catering facilities of the kiosk.

The Department of Agriculture and Stock financially supported the gardens with an annual grant of between £300 and £500. This was supplemented by annual subscriptions to the Botanic Gardens trust and nursery sales. Simmons's experience as a local nurseryman prior to his appointment as the curator was crucial in maintaining the flow of funds for the gardens. Catalogues of available plants were distributed on a regular basis and orders were taken not only from throughout the central Queensland, but as far afield as the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Links to the international botanic gardens network were maintained.

Plantings undertaken during Simmons’ curatorship enhanced the pleasure and recreational aspects of the gardens, with new ornamental species and beds containing colourful plants added to the lower gardens. He also extended the avenue of Bunya Pines to the south, with an alignment of Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghamii) opposite a row of palms previously planted by Edgar.[9]

In the aftermath of World War I (WWI) the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens underwent major changes. The additional land received in 1905 was removed from the reserve to create Diggers Park and a section of the Botanic Gardens was set aside for the War Memorial for Rockhampton and the surrounding district. The War Memorial is separately listed in the Queensland Heritage Register [QHR 600818].

In 1932, the curator's position passed to the deputy curator, Henry George Simmons, son of Richard Simmons. During his time as curator, limited financial arrangements impeded the expansion of the gardens and the popularity of the gardens declined. The beachside resorts of Emu Park and Yeppoon had become more easily accessible for the people of Rockhampton. However it is during this period that the Hugo Lassen Fernery was built in 1938. Hugo Lassen was a local dentist who bequeathed money to the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. The fernery, a sophisticated cross form bush house, contains extensive rockeries and houses an impressive exotic fern collection. George Simmons is responsible for the pinetum, developed in the upper gardens, that included Kauri (Agathis sp.), Radiata (Pinus radiata) and Hoop pines.[10] A vehicle terminus was built in the centre of the gardens in 1923, and entrance gates commemorating King George V were erected in 1953 at the Spencer Street entrance.[11]

Throughout the history of the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, labour was sourced from pools of unemployed and itinerant workers. At the turn of the century the Labour Bureau supplied men to work in the gardens. During the 1930s, the Intermittent Relief Scheme provided the labour for the extensive stonework throughout the lower gardens, particularly providing culverts and drains for the water course through the centre of the park. In the 1990s, the ‘work for the dole scheme’ provided many young unemployed people work alongside staff of the gardens.

Major developments at the gardens from the 1960s to the 1990s included the formalisation an upgrading of the animal section into a Zoo and formation of the Arid gardens, under the direction of Ken Baker (curator 1957-1972), and construction of the Japanese Gardens during the time of Tom Wyatt (curator 1974-1997). A floral clock, built by Rotary, was moved to the gardens in 1987.[12]

In recent years, various structures and landscape features have been added to the gardens including new zoological enclosures and habitats, pathways, park shelters and other amenities. In 2015, seven of the Canary Island Date Palms were destroyed by Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia, and along with remaining aged palms were subsequently replaced with mature specimens of the same species.[13] The 1890s finch aviary was dismantled and placed in storage in c2002.[14]

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens remain a popular recreational feature for the people of the district. The barbeque and playground areas are busy throughout the week and particularly on the weekends. Although the scientific arm of the gardens is no longer a predominant aspect of its operations, present staff are keen to create links between the gardens and the University of Central Queensland. The mature 19th and early 20th century plantings are indeed spectacular and the gardens provide a cool leafy oasis in the dry, hot, tropical climate of Rockhampton.


Rockhampton Botanic Gardens are located on a 33ha site west of the Athelstane Range and bordered to the west by the Murray and Yeppen-Yeppen lagoons. The northern boundary is the Rockhampton Golf Club and residential development spreads to the east of the site. The adjacent, partially developed Diggers Park establishes the southern boundary. The slope of the range creates a gently falling gradient from the entrance of the gardens to the banks of the Murray Lagoon. The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens comprise a series of gardens including: the lower gardens, the upper gardens, outer gardens, the War Memorial gardens and arid gardens.

The formal entrance (east) to the botanic gardens is from Spencer Street through a set of masonry pillars with decorative iron gates. The informal entrance (north) from Ann Street comprises an avenue of Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii) interspersed with Bougainvillea. The Rockhampton Croquet Club, the Athelstane Bowls club, Athelstane Tennis Club, Rockhampton City Council Works Depot and the Rockhampton Golf Club are located along this avenue.

The administration and visitor information centre, a small open truss steel and glass structure on a concrete block base located in the main circular drive is surrounded by established decorative gardens. The Hugo Lassen Fernery is located behind this building. The Fernery is a timber slated structure, built into the shape of a cross with eye-shaped openings cut into the slated walls. The Fernery houses a series of rock gardens with an established and mature exotic fern collection.

A floral clock, on a concrete base planted with flowering annuals, and is the centrepiece of the circular drive. The clock face presents to the northern entrance to the gardens. A small plaque commemorating the donation of the clock from the Rotary Club of Rockhampton is located at its base.

The kiosk is located to the south of the visitor information centre and fernery and is approached by a series of concrete steps. Mature Banyan Figs (Ficus benghalensis) form an impressive shaded cove in which the kiosk is located. The kiosk building consists of three sections: the original 1912 octagonal core, the 1966 toilet block and the 1997 kitchen and servery. Tables and chairs occupy the understory of the Banyan Figs for kiosk clientele.

The children's playground located in the understorey of a series of mature shade trees including, Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) and other fig shade varieties. An open barbeque shelter is located adjacent to the playground.

During the 1930s, the Intermittent Relief Scheme provided the labour for the extensive stonework throughout the lower gardens, particularly providing culverts and drains for the water course through the centre of the gardens.

Other significant gardens include: the lower gardens remnants of the experimental garden and the mature Mango orchard; the arid garden; the pinetum with mature stands of Kauri (Agathis sp.), Radiata (Pinus radiata) and Hoop (Araucaria cunninghamii) Pines, and rows of Tamarinds (Tamarindus indica), in the upper gardens; the outer garden’s Figs (Ficus hillii) with associated Ginger underplantings and water course; the zoological gardens and picnic area associated with the Murray Lagoon.

Other Structures

Modern structures and landscape elements on the site, including toilet blocks, shade structures and sheds, are not of cultural heritage significance.


[1] Survey Plan L16801 (1859).
[2] John Taylor (Park Planning and Management), Jane Lennon, Patrick O’Connor, Russell Girle and Sharon Bell, ‘Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, Conservation Management Plan’, report prepared for Rockhampton City Council, 2001, p7; Rockhampton Botanic Gardens Conservation Management Plan, Riddel Architecture, A report for the Rockhampton Regional Council, 2012, p7.
[3] Report on the Botanic Gardens, Rockhampton and Maryborough, Queensland Votes and Proceedings (QVP), September 1876, p993; John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p7; Riddel Architecture, A report for the Rockhampton Regional Council, 2012, p8.
[4] QVP, September 1876, pp993.
[5] Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, The Queenslander, 18 August 1883, p39; Riddel Architecture, 2012, pp8-9.
[6] Jodi Frawley, 1999, p10.
[7] John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p10.
[8] John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p18; Riddel Architecture, 2012, p26.
[9] John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p20.
[10] A pinetum is a plantation of pine trees or other conifers planted for scientific or ornamental purposes.
[11] John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p17.
[12] John Taylor Park Planning and Management et al., 2001, p24-26; Riddel Architecture, 2012, pp18-20.
[13] Exemption Certificate CHCH05952816, 2016, EHP.
[14] Riddel Architecture, 2012, p36.

Image gallery


Location of Rockhampton Botanic Gardens within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022