The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) Precinct including the Hospital grounds and gardens, contains an outstanding collection of significant trees and remnant cultural landscapes. There are two main parts to the collection – the Missenden Road group (upper level) and rear gardens (lower level). Although the gardens are collectively significant in terms of their historic, social and cultural overlays, they present as an ad hoc collection of trees rather than a landscape composition.
Missenden Road group (row plantation to façade of RPAH)
The existing gardens are a curiously eclectic mixture of native and exotic species including eight Crows Ash (Flindersia australis), seven Hill’s Weeping Figs (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii), a single American Bull Bay Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), a Smooth-barked Apple (Angophora costata) and Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus).
The American Bull Bay Magnolia (12 metres in height/ 10 metres canopy diameter) is a large specimen and may date from the earliest phase of planting. The Hill’s Weeping Figs (18-20 metres in height/ 22-25 metres canopy spread) and Crows Ash (15-18 metres in height) are believed to be representative of the planting overlay during the Inter-War period (late 1930s). Some of the Crows Ash are in decline. The Smooth-barked Apple (22 metres in height/ 12 metres canopy spread) is believed to be a Post-War period planting.
None of the trees are significant as individual specimens. Of further note are the similarities with Wynyard Park’s Inter-War period planting including the use of Crows Ash along the York Street frontage and Hill’s Weeping Figs on Carrington Street, Wynyard Park (refer to Listing in this Register).
Rear garden group (Gloucester House lawn area to gardens north of chapel)
This group has significance in being a remnant of mixed group planting designed as a dense vegetated buffer between the Hospital and mortuary. This planting scheme was established during the time of the hospital’s construction in 1874 and is an integral component of the overall design and philosophy. The approach is considered to be a “rare example of the scientific thought… and theories” of this period (“The Rear Gardens” – NSW State Heritage Inventory). The mixed tree group was originally part of a broader late-Victorian landscape of sweeping lawns, planted garden beds which included specimen planting of palms and accents, two rotundas and a tennis court in the high Gardenesque style of the period. The tree group’s location in a natural gully adjacent to an old creek-line has ensured optimum conditions for growth, particularly for native subtropical rainforest species which have benefited from the high moisture levels, good drainage, soil nutrients, north-easterly aspect and shelter from prevailing winds. A number of individual trees have achieved a substantial size, scale and proportions under this micro-environment.
The original design, plant selection and layout was typical of the approach of Charles Moore. Professor Waterhouse was responsible for later embellishment of these gardens, including additional Jacarandas and Camellias near the Nurses Home. The protection and management of important views linking the Medical School and the Hospital were primary considerations in this design. Although a Conservation Management Plan for the Hospital (RPAH CMP Vol.2) has been developed in recent years, the loss of historic views and contextual elements, new building and road works, alienation and fragmentation of historic planting has continued to have a cumulative negative impact on the site’s heritage values.
This rear garden group contains a number of notable individual specimens. The north-eastern lawn area near Gloucester House is dominated by a magnificent Jacaranda specimen (Jacaranda mimosifolia). This highly ornamental tree would date from the earliest planting phase and has an exceptionally large spreading canopy (14 metres in height/ 22 metres canopy diameter). This tree is much older and larger than the other Jacarandas planted by Professor Waterhouse.
A more or less contiguous lineal cluster of trees occurs between the new Hospital extensions and Blackburn pavilion, continuing through to the gardens north of the Chapel (near the Haematology and Blood Bank) and Centenary Institute Building. This mixed group is dominated by six particularly large Camphor Laurels (Cinnamomum camphora) ranging from 16-22 metres in height/ 18-22 metres canopy spread. Two of these multi-trunk specimens would be amongst the largest examples of this taxon in the City of Sydney LGA standing 20-22 metres in height, 22 metres canopy spread and up to 2m diameter bases. One specimen near the RPAH Chapel is shrouded with the exotic climber, Monstera deliciosa and native epiphyte, Elkhorn (Platycerium bifurcatum). Smaller Camphor Laurel regrowth also occurs in the group and is indicative of the vigorous reproductive strategy of this species. The introduction of this species in the early nineteenth century as an ornamental exotic has had a profound impact on our natural bushland, gardens and pasturelands. Although these larger specimens are of particular cultural, social and historic significance, the Camphor Laurel is generally regarded as a weed species throughout its naturalised range from the south coast and Sydney region to the NSW north coast and as far as the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland. Further voluntary colonisation by this species should be vigorously controlled in this location and within the City of Sydney LGA. The CMP proposes the potential use of this species for supplementary planting as part of a conservation strategy. This approach even within an urban heritage context is not recommended.
Other important species in this group include exotics such as the London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia), Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara), American Bull Bay Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and native rainforest species comprising a Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), two Port Jackson Figs (Ficus rubiginosa f. glabrescens) and a tall, emergent specimen believed to be Black Booyong or Black Jack (Argyrodendron actinophyllum subsp. actinophyllum). Most of these trees have achieved a significant size and scale in this location. Both of the Port Jackson Figs are of the glabrous-leaf form from the north coast of New South Wales or Queensland. These figs have sculptural forms with extensive buttressing, coalesced roots and large spreading canopies (16-18 metres in height/ 18-25 metres canopy spread). They create a distinctive cloistered character beside the RPAH Chapel (built 1955).
The tree believed to be a Black Booyong is of particular note being a very rare specimen in the City of Sydney LGA. Only two other mature specimens of similar age and size are known to exist – in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. This specimen in the grounds of RPAH is likely to be the largest extant in the City of Sydney standing approximately 22 metres in height, 12 metres canopy diameter and 1.2m trunk diameter with a buttressed base to 2m diameter. The massive buttressing is typical of this native subtropical rainforest species from the NSW north coast and south-eastern Queensland. At the time of the field survey, there was no available identifying material on the ground. Nevertheless, this specimen is believed to be Argyrodendron actinophyllum (syn. Heritiera actinophylla) rather than the related White Booyong (Argyrodendron trifoliatum).Other component species include Hill’s Weeping Fig (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii), Jamaica Fiddlewood (Citharexylum quadrangulare) and Lemon-scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora). These trees are generally supportive to neutral in the context of this heritage landscape.
The planting schemes are typical of the late Victorian period with overlays dating from the Federation and Inter-War periods. The areas defined as the Missenden Road – Main Front Garden, University Boundary and The Rear Gardens are all scheduled in the State Heritage Register. The Hospital and grounds are also classified by the National Trust of Australia (NSW). Notably, the historic landscape character, planting palette and thematic styling is consistent with the approach taken throughout much of the University of Sydney campus. Although fragmented and alienated by recent development (including construction of E Block and covered walkways), these last vestiges of an important cultural landscape continue to illustrate the historic, social and scientific links between RPAH and the University of Sydney.
Following the attempted assassination of HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in Clontarf in 1868, Parliament approved the construction of a new hospital in Missenden Road. The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Admission Block, designed by George Allan Mansfield (built 1876-1882), together with the later additions of the Victorian and Albert wings (c.1904 and extensions c.1943), are scheduled on the State Heritage Register. These buildings form a landmark group of exceptional architectural significance (NSW State Heritage Inventory).
The Hospital gardens were established in 1876 with the assistance of staff from the Sydney Botanic Gardens during the time of Charles Moore’s directorship (1848-1896). The original landscape approach drew on an eclectic range of native rainforest species and exotic evergreen and deciduous broadleaf species to create a lush, subtropical quality to the landscape. Professor Waterhouse (noted for the Jacaranda planting in the Quadrangle, University of Sydney) was involved in later work associated with both the RPAH façade planting scheme on Missenden Road and rear lower gardens of the Hospital during the Inter-War period (c.1915-1940). Refer to listing for University of Sydney – University Avenue (including Main Building & Quadrangle).
The front garden to the entrance of RPAH Admission Block was substantially altered in 1907, during the Inter-War period (late 1930s) and again during the Post-War period (1960). The Federation period planting, which is believed to have included palms and subtropical shrubs (NSW State Heritage Inventory), during the time of Joseph Maiden as Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, was later replaced and supplemented with new planting under the direction of Professor Waterhouse during the late 1930’s.