Music in the Gardens – 1869 style

Music in the Gardens has been a popular summer event in the Geelong Botanic Gardens over the last decade or more. Sadly, the Friends of Geelong Botanic Gardens have decided that it is beyond their capacity to continue to run this event. However, music and our Gardens have always been a popular combination.

The Band Played the Corio March

The Band Played the Corio March

In the 1860’s and 1870’s the Geelong “Botanical” Gardens hosted a very different style of “Music in the Gardens”. These popular concerts were “promenade” concerts, held in the cultivated area of Eastern Park, possibly in the vicinity of the parterre gardens in front of the curator’s cottage, more or less where the PlaySpace is today. The band of the Geelong Volunteer Rifle Brigade provided a range of popular music including selections from opera, dance music and original compositions, always finishing with “God Save the Queen”.

The ladies and gentlemen of Geelong came to listen from their horse and carriage, while others enjoyed the music while promenading along curator Bunce’s walks and and through the parterres. Sometimes a little dancing occurred on the grass – not so very different from the more recent Music in the Gardens concerts.

Providing the money to pay the band to perform at the concerts was a continual challenge. Initially, subscriptions (what we’d call donations today) were collected from the public at each concert, but this did not provide a sufficiently secure income. Concerts in the Gardens ceased for a while due to lack of funds, but restarted when subscriptions were sort in advance of the season, payable at local banks or directly to curator Bunce.

By the summer of 1868/9, the Geelong Volunteer Artillery band, under the leadership of bandmaster Walker was playing weekly concerts in the Botanical Gardens on Saturday afternoons.

The Geelong Advertiser (25/1/1869) reported:

The music played by the band in the Botanical Gardens on Saturday afternoon is increasing in popularity, and the spot chosen is now the great place of resort every week. On Saturday there was a large attendance, carriages filled with pleasure-seekers, equestrians and pedestrians being present in large numbers. The programme which was as well selected as any that has been played this season, included, by special request, the grand march “Corio,” composed by the Rev. H. B. Power, and played for the first time on Saturday week.

The timing of this concert unfortunately clashed with the regular cricket matches played on Corio Oval (now the site of the Eastern Park conference centre). The Advertiser went on to say:

There was a good attendance of players on the Corio cricket ground on Saturday, but was not so good as the beautiful weather would have led us to anticipate. Visitors, there were few or none, the attractions offered by the performance of the band in the gardens adjoining being irresistible; several of the players themselves —gay butterflies of fashion—leaving the reserve directly they heard the band commence to bask in the eyes of beauty; this to a great extent tended to spoil what would otherwise have been an interesting game.

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