Garden Island

Sydney, New South Wales

Today an Australian navy base, Garden Island is a historic part of Sydney that was adopted by European colonists mere months after they arrived in NSW.

- Public Domain

Garden Island Is Planted

In 20th January 1788 the HMS Sirius arrived into Sydney's Botany Bay, ending its 252 day voyage. A week later the NSW colony was established in nearby Sydney Cove, and a couple of months after that an island a little to the north was planted to serve as a kitchen-garden for the Sirius' crew. 'Garden Island' it was christened.

It soon became the home of what may well be Colonial Australia's oldest and least creative piece of graffiti. In a sandstone rock, ship steward Franklin Meredtith immortalised himself in the form of the inscription 'FM 1788'.

- © Hpeterswald

Garden Island Passes Hands

in 1811 the island was made part of the Governor's Estate and its produce was reserved solely for those dining at Government House. The island remained navy property in the eyes of the law however and, in 1866, they successfully reclaimed it, complete with the changes it had undergone.

Visit the island today and you will notice sandstone fortifications. These were added in the 1820s as a deterrent against a feared Russian invasion.

- © Nick D

Russo-Australian Tensions

The first Russian ship landed in Sydney as early as 1807 but this was at the time no cause for alarm. Britain and Russia were allies, fighting a common enemy in the form of Napoleon. Russian vessels were welcome in the colony's ports.

This began to change in 1814 however, when Russia captured Paris. Napoleon was in the decline and was defeated a year later at the Battle of Waterloo. Russia on the other hand was on the rise and had, the British feared, colonial aspirations to rival their own.

Russian ships continued to visit the NSW colony with alarming frequency, prompting the British to build several fortifications, including those which can still be seen today on Garden Island.

Russo-British tensions deteriorated throughout the 1830s and 40s until, in 1853, outright war broke out in the form of the Crimean War. Fears of a Russian invasion gripped NSW and further fortifications were built, but conflict never reached Australian shores.

- © Saberwynn

Garden Island Naval Base

Back under navy control, the island saw a host of military updates in the 20th century. Before this however it also became home to what might be Australia's oldest lawn tennis court. Built in the 1880s, the court is still in use today, albeit with an updated 1960s lawn.

On the eve of WW2, in 1938, plans for a large naval dock in Australia were approved, the nearest sizeble dock prior to this having been in Singapore. Several locations were considered but in the end Garden Island was chosen.

The dock was completed in 1944 and from then onwards has only been an island by name, it having been connected to the mainland via land reclamation. It saw the emergency docking of the HMS Illustrious the following March and has been used by the military ever since. That could soon change however.

- © Saberwynn

Garden Island Today

The island is currently split into a military-access section to the south and a public-access section to the north. The public-access section features a museum dedicated to the Royal Australian Navy (the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre). This is made up of historical relics, naval monuments and heritage buildings, among other things.

The military-access section has in recent years begun to allow a limited number of cruise ships to dock in its wharves and there are calls for this to be increased and even for the navy to relocate altogether. The navy is resisting but the fact of the matter is cruise companies would get much more use out of the island than the navy currently does. It seems a matter of time before they are forced to relinquish control.

Interested in finding more places like this? Why not try one of our Scavenger Hunts in Sydney - work as a team to overcome cryptic riddles and allow yourselves to be swept off the beaten track on a journey to discover all the quirky bars and unusual sites Sydney has to offer. 


What you need to know

Garden Island
Potts Point, NSW, Australia
Tips before you visit