Royal Botanical Garden: Ghosts and Mysteries at Sydney Landmark


One of the country’s best-known landmarks bustles with people during the day, but many unexplained incidents have been reported.

It is one of Australia’s most visited tourist attractions. Its green expanse appears in a million tourist snaps, the perfect foreground for any shot of the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

On a blue sky day, with the sun setting, Sydney’s Royal Botanical Garden is wonderfully serene as it bustles with joggers, picnickers and walkers.

But those who have spent more time in its 26 hectares suspect something darker might lurk among the rare plants and heritage buildings.

“I don’t like being here all alone,” says a Royal Botanical Garden (RBG) staff member of the Rathborne Lodge built in 1856, nestled within earshot of the constantly rumbling Cahill Expressway.

“I just heard so many ghost stories. Last week it was thundering and so dark I thought, ‘Are there any ghosts here today? Well, we hang out well. “

In this lodge, a mysterious woman has been located; another would haunt the main building of the Garden; elsewhere, the so-called “umbrella man” was seen wandering after dark looking for a place to rest.

“The history of this place is very deep,” Garden librarian Miguel Garcia told

“The Gadigal people had a dream place here; Aboriginal ceremonies were held here. And the Garden has been the center of science, society and culture and of Sydney itself since the First Fleet.

“You could say that the colony’s survival depended on the garden because the first nine acres of corn were planted here.”

Lady without legs of the Herbarium

The garden was created in 1816. And perhaps there are still echoes of the people who passed through the area during its illustrious two-century history.

“Look over there,” Mr Garcia says, pointing to the dimly lit and quiet hallways of the NSW National Herbarium – located in the RBG administration block – where plant specimens are packaged in boxes. airtight crates and stacked from floor to ceiling.

“Imagine the night when all the lights are out. It’s really scary.

Indeed, a disturbing spirit would haunt the Herbarium.

Currently, the 1.4 million plants stored in the garden grounds are being moved to a new, purpose-built facility at the RBG site in Mount Annan, near Campbelltown in the southwest of the city.

A herbarium is like a physical encyclopedia of plant life. The specimens are carefully dried, pressed and stored so that they can be examined decades, if not centuries, later. Some of the specimens here date back to the 18th century and Captain Cook’s voyages around the Pacific or were collected by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

As the plants are moved, approximately one million of them are digitized – carefully photographed – so that the delicate contents of the Herbarium can be accessed online.

When the final staff member takes the final specimen to its new home later this year, it will leave one thing behind: a very unwelcome visitor.

“People have told me that while working here late at night they heard strange noises and a few people actually told me that they saw a half-torso image of a woman,” Mr Garcia said. .

He never saw or smelled the legless lady from the Herbarium. But Juliet Scrine, who leads the garden ghost tour, tells she feels a tingle in her bones in some corners of the park.

“I would say a third of the people who go on the tour feel something,” she says.

Twice a month, she takes Sydneysiders and tourists on a circuit of the park – a mostly outdoor exploration of a side of the garden that few people get to see.

After dark, when all the other visitors have left, it’s just her, her guests, and any ethereal figures who decide to join the party that night.

Eleanor’s Mystery

“We know there is definitely a body in the garden, and others that have been documented,” Ms Scrine said.

The remains of botanist Allan Cunningham are interred in an obelisk in the park. Arabanoo, a native who was kidnapped as part of a somewhat brutal plan to facilitate understanding between settlers and locals, is also believed to be buried in the area. It sits somewhere between the RBG and the nearby site of First Government House. It’s possible he ended up buried under the Cahill Freeway, Ms. Scrine said.

Neither Mr. Cunningham nor Arabanoo are thought to haunt the parks. But it is possible that a woman called Eleanor does.

Potentially, she was residing at Rathborne Lodge, and that’s where Mrs. Scrine sometimes gets a chill.

Like many of the other modest but beautiful old pavilions that dot the park, it was primarily used as accommodation for field staff before becoming the offices or event spaces of today. Rathborne Lodge was the largest of the lot, having been built as a residence for the Governor’s Gardener.

It was a gardener who first saw the woman, dressed head to toe in Victorian attire, framed in one of the lodge’s windows, looking out. This is an almost impossible feat because when you enter the lodge the window is on a staircase and not somewhere you could easily climb too.

“I can feel something in my fingers in this room,” Ms. Scrine says as we enter what would have been the living room of the lodge.

A guest, she said, told her they thought the attendance was of a woman called Eleanor who loved music.

“Some people can feel things. A guy felt a hand on his shoulder. I’ve had people come into this room and they had to leave.

The man with the umbrella

It is unknown if an Eleanor ever lived at the lodge. Indeed, there isn’t much of a story for many Specters; few appear to have ties to known residents of the Garden.

But that’s not the case with the so-called “umbrella man,” which is said to be the apparition of a homeless man who made RBG his home instead until his untimely demise.

“He had a small cabin in the Domaine (next to the RBG). But because it was unsightly, it was demolished,” explains Mr. Miguel.

“So he had loaded all his personal gear into a shopping cart and when he wanted to go to bed for the night he would take out the umbrellas and make himself a little shelter, hence his name.

“And unfortunately the poor man was murdered. I don’t know if the police found out who murdered him. I don’t think anyone really cared enough about it, which is very saying,” he says.

In November 1998, the body of a man identified as Adam Murray was found at the Estate. Mr Murray was a former art dealer and technician who found himself on the streets after the breakdown of his marriage, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

He spent his days watching the “nine to five” rush by, and at night he went home with his umbrella.

“The Rangers have told me stories of how sometimes in their wanderings they have seen someone walking around with a cart, much like this man, and when they go to investigate there is no one there. the low.”

Mr. Garcia is not necessarily seduced by such flights. But there is no doubt that the park is rich with the history of the colony and the indigenous people who lived there long before the arrival of the British.

“Some people say they are psychic imprints, echoes of very charged and dramatic emotional events.

“If you believe in it,” he adds.

But on a lonely night, after the sun has finally set over the harbor and all the visitors have left, when the garden is left to bats and roosting birds and the town seems distant, you may feel – also be a tingle.

The Royal Botanical Garden’s ‘Ghostly Garden Tours’ take place every few weeks with the next tour at 8pm on Friday 28th January.

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