Museum Without a Home


In November 1827 Governor Darling received a letter from Lord Bathurst, Secretary of state for the Colonies, authorising the expenditure £200 a year on founding and maintaining a museum for “the many rare and curious specimens of Natural history” that were to be obtained in Australia.  It was known as The Colonial Museum.

At a later date, Bathurst hinted, funds would be made available for a building;  meanwhile, he advised, he was sending a young zoologist to the colony to get the project under way.  The zoologist, W. Holmes, duly arrived, but his term in office was cut short when he was “shot by accidental discharge of gun while collecting birds and other curiosities” at Moreton Bay in 1831.

Bathurst moved from the Colonial Office soon after he had written to the Governor, and neither his successor nor apparently Darling himself showed any great enthusiasm for the museum.  The only positive step Darling took was in 1832, when he reserved some land for a privately run library on condition that when it was erected some rooms would be set aside for the museum.

For several years, therefore, the embryo museum had no permanent home.  In 1830 it was housed in the shed and outhouse of a building that previously housed the first Post Office in Australia.  After Holmes death it was moved to the Legislative Council building in Macquarie Street.

In 1836 the museum changed its name to The Australian Museum.

In 1841 it was transferred to the office of Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell, and in 1842 to the newly built Darlinghurst courthouse.

First Site

As early as 1836 Governor Bourke, who was much more interested in the project than Darling, had persuaded the Colonial Office to approve the expenditure of £3,000 on a building to house the ever-growing collection.  But it was not until 1846 that actual building began on a site in College Street opposite Hyde Park, and four more years elapsed before the collection was moved into what was to become its permanent home.

In 1854 the building was opened to the public with an exhibition of NSW products on their way to the Paris International Exhibit of 1855.

For 30 years the museum had been located in various government buildings but now,  with the opening of this handsome building of Sydney Sandstone in May 1857, with one exhibition gallery, it finally had a place to call home.

Barnet Wing, 1870

By 1859 Lobbying began for a new museum to be built in College Street and building began in 1861.  The Barnet wing was opened in 1868.

This year is the 190th birthday of The Australian Museum, the oldest museum in Austalia.

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