The garden was effectively built with prison labour. The bare former quarry where prisoners toiled required soil to be transferred onto the site. The crushed limestone paths in the rock gardens are part of the story of the quarry. Look in the lower garden for the historic wells used to supply water to the colonial troops garrisoned at the top of the hill as well as supply water to the developing garden. Today pumped water creates a waterfall encouraging lush growth on cliff rock faces.
The 40metre waterfall is luminated at night creating a great photo moment.
In 1858, colonial forces (65th Regiment) were stationed at the barracks on the hilltop above the gardens. Wastewater from washing clothes was tipped down the slope, giving the area the nickname “Soapsuds Gully”. The site of the first well, in the lower southeast section of the gardens, is marked with an ornamental stone parapet built in 1964.
The upper gardens are adjacent to the historic Napier cemetery. Opposite the gardens on a hillside across Coote Road, the historic former prison has been preserved and now has a new life as a tourist site, offering both guided and self-guided tours, as well as escape rooms.
Check the guttering and retaining walls in the heritage precinct. They were often built by prisoners who were chained while undertaking the heavy work. Dressed limestone from the quarry was known locally as “shell rock”.