For three short years, the ornate glory of the Garden Palace dominated the Sydney skyline, “reminding one of the fabled palace of Aladdin in the Arabian Nights“, the Sydney Morning Herald gushed at the time.
Built for the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, the building was 244 metres long and housed countless artefacts and records, artistic and literary, scientific and industrial, Indigenous and foreign.
But it was not to last.
Early one Friday in September 1882, a huge and devastating fire took hold.
“In less than an hour the whole edifice with its contents was totally destroyed,” the Herald reported.
Of the fire’s ferocity, the watchman’s hose was “only a drop to quench a furnace”, the paper said.
The sheer scale of the loss of contents was a disaster for the colony. Rumours of the fire’s cause abound, and the wealthy residents of Macquarie Street who had seen their harbour vistas blocked have been perennially viewed with suspicion.
It was also a huge blow for the organisation from which the Powerhouse Museum was born, the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum. It had been set to take ownership of many of the items from its grand opening but only around half a dozen small items survived.