The first thing I must say about this small but wonderful natural history museum is that it on the top floor of the Macleay Building on Science Road and you must enter the building at the end furthest away from the University of Sydney’s Great Hall (where you will see a sign for the museum) and not the other end as I did, only to have to clamber back down three flights of stairs and up them again at the correct end of the building.
That out of the way, this collection originated with the collection of Alexander Macleay (who wasn’t a scientist but rather a private collector) which he started to pull together in the late 18th century in England. By the time he arrived in Australia in 1826, as Colonial Secretary, he had one of the largest privately owned insect collections in the world. After Macleay’s death the collection was much expanded with additions from family members, including his son, and close friends. In 1887 the collection was bequeathed to the University of Sydney and today it is one of the oldest and most historically important natural history collections in the world.
Like all museums, only a fraction of its holdings is on display and accessible by the average punter. While the museum looked modest at the outset, a closer look through its wonderful old wooden display cases revealed a massive range of items from all sorts of insects (there are 600,000 plus in the full collection) from across the world to vertebrates and invertebrates, to animal skeletons, to ethnographic and cultural objects from Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, to crabs from Cuba and a range of old scientific instruments and photographs, to cite but a fraction of what’s on show. In here you will find stuff collected by explorers James Cook, Charles Darwin and Nicholas Miklouho-Macleay.
From a jar of pickled rats to a stuffed koala, this place has everything and is well worth at least half an hour to an hour of your time.
You can certainly sense the Macleay family’s labour of love here and only imagine the time and effort involved in pulling together a collection like this.
Combine a visit here with the Nicholson Antiquity Museum, the University Art Gallery and a wander around the beautiful University buildings and quadrangle and you have a great way to pass the best part of a morning or an afternoon.
Monday to Friday 10am – 4.30pm
First Saturday of month 12 noon – 4pm
Other Saturdays, Sunday and Public Holidays Closed
Entry Fee: Free
Address: Sceince Road, The University of Sydney
Directions: Off Paramatta Road
Phone: 61 2 93512222