At night it is the resort of the scum of Melbourne. People have been grossly insulted whilst passing through at night. The tool house has been broken into three times and pounds worth of tools stolen … One of the black swans … was carried off a few nights ago.
John Guilfoyle, 6 July 1898, PROV, VPRS 3181, Unit 755
Often called the Exhibition Gardens, the Carlton Gardens were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman in 1856. They were a World heritage site.
It was an ongoing battle to maintain adequate fencing around the site, with broken fences and gates failing to prevent the entry of goats, as recorded by gardener William Hyndman in 1859:
They [the goats] stand around the gates in flocks waiting until they get an opportunity of rushing in when any person is going through very much to the annoyance of nervous ladies who are sometimes knocked down by them.
Hyndman to Town Clerk, 10 February 1859, PROV, VPRS 3181, Unit 731
Early plantings in the gardens comprised of cypresses, pines, gums, wattles, cordylines, poplars and willows. The overall effect was informal and was poorly regarded by the press. In 1870. The Argus reported that:
From end to end of this parallelogram there is little else but the very squalor of vegetation. The Corporation Gardener (WM Hyndman) has seemed always to be contemplating some brilliant success, but never achieving it.
Argus, 28 April 1870
Hyndman was suspended from duty in 1870, after which management became the responsibility of Clement Hodgkinson, Inspector General of Metropolitan Gardens, Parks and Reserves.
Hodgkinson’s hard work was obliterated when the gardens were redesigned for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and the central third excised to accommodate Joseph Reed’s Royal Exhibition Building. Reed was also the architect of the south garden, which was conceived as an extension of his Italianate palace. Josef Hochgurtel’s fountain, representing trade between nations and ornamented with Victorian flora and fauna, stands at the intersection of a series of radiating paths. The ceremonial entrance to the building opens onto an avenue leading past the fountain to the perimeter of the gardens. This main central avenue, 24 metres wide and lined with plane trees, was likened to gardens of the Versailles Palace in France.
William Sangster of the nursery firm Taylor & Sangster carried out the planting. It included colourful bedding plants arranged in decorative patterns, of which the existing beds of annuals near Hochgurtel’s fountain are a reminder. The north garden has many fine avenues of oaks, elms and plane trees dating from the period aftermath the 1888 Centennial Exhibition. During the exhibition, the garden had been dug up to make way for exhibits, but was subsequently replanted.
The new Melbourne Museum was opened in 2000 within the central reserve next to the Royal Exhibition Building.