Moore Park is home to many great things – green spaces, sports fields, an entertainment precinct, a golf course, an international athletics track and an equestrian centre. But did you know it was also home to a zoo?

Australia’s first zoo was set up in 1848 in Hyde Park, Sydney, operated by the Australian Museum. However only lasted two years before (bizarrely?) it was “presented” to two publicans of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, Botany Bay.

An advertisement at the time boasted that this relocated menagerie featured “…a real Bengal Tiger, a Black Bear of the Himalaya Mountains, and an Ape of extraordinary size and appearance”. Read more here.


Moore Park Zoological Gardens

After a failed attempt by the NSW Government to establish a new ‘official’ zoo at Watsons Bay, in 1879 the Zoological Society was formed (prior to this, it existed as the ‘Acclimatisation Society’, and its primary role was to import English birds and distribute them in various locations around Sydney).

In 1883, the Sydney City Council granted the new Zoological Society “permissive occupation” of an area of Moore Park, known as Billy Goat Swamp (where Sydney Girls’ High School now stands), for the purposes of establishing a public zoo. The zoo originally covered 7½ acres but grew greatly over the years.

Charles Moore, then director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens and member of the Zoological Society, laid out the Zoological Gardens. It included a bear pit and an elephant house!


Elephant at Moore Park Zoo - image from Sydney Living Museums

Elephant at Moore Park Zoo – image from Sydney Living Museums


A few bumps in the road to progress…

The Zoo was closed for six weeks in 1902, during an outbreak of bubonic plague, when the keeper and a number of animals contracted the disease. In September 1906 the Zoo council was sued under the Sunday Observance Act for opening on Sundays (the plaintiff, Edward Ballard, lost his case).


Moore Park Zoological Gardens c1885

Moore Park Zoological Gardens c1885


The zoo becomes too popular!

The Zoological Gardens became a popular recreational venue and increased visitors to Moore Park. However by 1910 Moore Park Zoo was deemed to be too small and Taronga Park in Mosman was chosen as a new location.

In July 1916, Moore Park Zoo ceased to exist when the Trustees of Taronga Park took over responsibility for all the employees and animals (believed to be 177 animals and 329 birds).


Article in the Sydney Morning Herald - 30 August 1916 (source: Trove, NLA)

Article in the Sydney Morning Herald – 30 August 1916 (source: Trove, NLA)


Just another fascinating piece of history from Centennial Parklands. You can actually still see the remains of the original bear pit today within the grounds of nowadays Sydney Girls High School (see image here).


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