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The Grahamstown Botanical Gardens were founded in 1853 by Deed of Grant on the slopes of Gun Fire Hill. It was the second botanical garden to be established in the Cape Colony, the first being in Cape Town in April 1849. As early as August 1846 a prospectus was compiled by George Jarvis and William Shaw and proposed the establishment of a small garden which would lead to the growth of Horticultural Society and Botanical Garden. However, the outbreak of the 7th Frontier War (1846-47) delayed the establishment of the garden. At the close of the war Jarvis approached the Cape Colony Governor, Sir Harry Smith, both for financial support and land. Smith gave Jarvis a twenty-pound subscription and promised that he would examine the land Jarvis had asked for and give it to Grahamstown.

There was an impressive drive for support and Jarvis managed to obtain a hundred –pounds in subscriptions. However, before any further action could be taken, the 8th Frontier War broke out. At the close, Jarvis and other citizens approached Smith’s successor – Sir George Cathcart – for a site on which to establish a botanical garden. Cathcart agreed to give them whatever Smith had promised and so, on 19th October 1853, a grant of 3 morgen 444 square roods and 72 square feet of Government ground was made to the Committee for establishing a Botanical or Nursery Garden. It was advertised in the Graham’s Town Journal, calling for subscriptions and donations. It informed the public that all donors would be considered as share-holders to the extent of their donations. Annual subscribers would be entitled to select from the stock in the Garden to the full extent of their subscription.

According to the Story of Settlement published in Grahamstown in 1884, the Botanical Garden was originally laid out as a garden for the Lieutenant-Governor or Officer commanding the garrison residing at Government House close by. A second, larger grant of land was made by Cathcart to the Botanic Garden Committee in 1854 in condition that the land would be used exclusively for a Botanical or Nursery Garden and that the Bridle Road and public right of way leading from the back of the Drostdy Barracks to the swimming bath should remain open.

Ornee Cottage
Ornee Cottage

The objectives of the Committee for the establishing a Botanical Garden included procuring from England and elsewhere fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs, vegetable and flower seeds to improve and add to frontier stocks. The garden would have nurseries to cultivate these and make them available to subscribers and the public. The grounds would have to be laid out attractively and made suitable for recreation. Income would come from annual public subscriptions and from the sale of plants. Subscribers of one-pound or more would be able to select plants or seeds to the full amount of their annual subscriptions.

The first curator of the Garden was Thomas Draper. He was employed from October 1855 to 1860. In 1861 Mr Baum succeeded Draper, and in 1864 Mr W Tuck was appointed in his place. In November 1870 Mr Edwin Tidmarsh was appointed and became the man to serve for the longest term of office of over 40 years. There was a large staff under him and prison labour was supplied when ever required. This proved indispensable in drought years when so much watering was needed to be done. It was Tidmarsh’s iron bands, ties and railings that supported the giant oak, planted in 1820 adjacent to what became the Beaufort Street entrance to the Gardens, giving it an extra 50-years of life! When it finally felled by a storm in 1960, Mr J D Cameron, then Superintendent of the Gardens, planted one of its seedlings in the same place... more>
 
The Gardens Sundial
The Garden's Sundial donated by the British Government