Macleay Museum | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Macleay Museum

Item details

Name of item: Macleay Museum
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: University
Primary address: Science Road, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006
Local govt. area: Sydney


The University of Sydney: Camperdown Campus
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Science Road, The University of SydneySydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
University of SydneyUniversity 

Statement of significance:

The Macleay Museum was purpose built for a natural history collection of international importance and was the first significant addition to the original University buildings since its construction in the 1850s. It is the only building within the University to have been erected at the instigation of a private individual. The building is an example of the work of George Allen Mansfield, a respected architect and leading member of the architectural profession in the later 19th century. The building, originally constructed entirely of non-combustible materials was specially designed to protect the collections and represented a response to the Garden Palace Exhibition Building fire of 1882. A dominant feature of the Science Road precinct.
Date significance updated: 16 Aug 00
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: George Allen Mansfield
Builder/Maker: Unknown
Construction years: 1886-1887
Physical description: Designed by George Allan Mansfield as a 'fireproof' brick and iron museum, its internal cross section is churchlike, ie, with a nave and side aisles with gallery over. Above the gallery arcade is a clerestory. The interior was not elaborate and is no longer visible. It has been partitioned into a series of rooms. The iron staircases in the NW & SE towers survive. Externally the east facade is completely covered by the Botany buildings and the west is largely hidden by the Geology building. The junction with the bridge over Science Road was not well resolved. The building features unusual cast iron gutters, with the same profile as the string course. Although it initially appears that the building is constructed of polychromatic brickwork the arches have been raddled with red oxide to accentuate the keystone. The building is included within the Science Road precinct listed by the National Trust.
As originally constructed the building consisted of an open court on the ground floor paved with terracotta tiles with eleven open bays on each of the long sides, an upper gallery with nine open bays on each side and clerestory above providing natural lighting. The main entrance was at the east end. No artificial lighting or heating were originally allowed to prevent the risk of fire.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Refer to the 1999 University of Sydney Heritage Fabric Survey.
Date condition updated:19 Aug 00
Modifications and dates: 1915 - Alteration to form classrooms and laboratories, 1915-1918 - Connecting bridge (to Old Geology), 1918 - Concrete floors internally, 1924-1925 - Botany addition, 1945-1958 - Internal subdivision, 1990-1992 - Renovation and addition of research facilities.
Current use: University Museum
Former use: Museum


Historical notes: The museum was built at government expense to house the Macleay Natural History Collection, donated by the Hon William John Macleay for both University and public use. Designed by George Allen Mansfield, with input from the donor, as a fire-proof building, the museum was built in 1886-7. Transfer of the Macleay collections began in 1888 and the museum was opened to the public in 1891. The building was soon used for other purposes. By 1907 Geology occupied part and by 1914 so did Botany. Alterations in 1915 included a ground floor laboratory and classroom followed in 1915-8 by a connecting bridge over Gosper Lane to Old Geology (A11). In 1918 two concrete floors were inserted destroying the original open court, galleries and natural lighting. The Macleay collections were moved to the top floor accessed by a timber stair. In 1924-5 an extension for Botany (A12) was constructed across the east end with the loss of the original entrance. Between 1945-58 the east end of the ground floor and the whole of the first floor were extensively subdivided. In 1990-2 parts of the building occupied by biological sciences were renovated and refurbished to provide research facilities for molecular biology.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena (none)-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Possibly the first University Museum to be constructed in Australia (further confirmation required). A purpose built, fire proof museum constructed for a natural history collection of international importance. The only building at the University to be erected at the instigation of a private individual. For its association with the Macleay family.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
An example of a Victorian institution designed by the prominent architect George Allen Mansfield. Specifically designed to be fireproof (to protect the collection) the building was constructed of fireproof materials and contained no potential services which posed a fire risk: heating or lighting. The design reflected contemporary concerns regarding the loss of museum collections in the Garden Palace Fire. Modifications were also fireproof, including a relatively early use of re-inforced concrete floors.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Continuing it's role in as a university museum, a role it has fulfilled since 1891. As a public museum and collection of archival photographs.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
For it’s fireproof building techniques. Indicating Victorian scientists preoccupation with collecting and classifying all fauna and flora. Containing collections intended for study.
SHR Criteria f)
Containing a rare collection. As a relatively rare example of a purpose built university museum, in the Oxbridge tradition, intended for advanced study purposes.
Integrity/Intactness: The building has been substantially altered, however it retains it's collection.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

The preparation of a detailed Conservation Management Plan is recommended. Refer also to the 1999 University of Sydney Heritage Fabric Survey. Ensure that the impact of any proposal on the heritage significance of the buildings, and their setting, is assessed when planning new works. Further research to determine the cultural significance of this item is required.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerUniversity of Sydney    

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
The Macleay Museum & Botany Department (A12) :a chronology of their development1998 R Annable  No
Sydney University     No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1919Australasian Concrete 31 July
Written  Register of the National Estate and National Trust Listing Cards
Written  No original plans known. Plans for works in 1915 & 1918 : NSW Dept of Public Works & Services U2/A3434-A 3436
WrittenDPWS Heritage Group and Otto Cserhalmi & Partners1999University of Sydney, Heritage Fabric Survey
PhotographG. L. Fischer1975The University of Sydney 1850-1975 ‘Some history in pictures to mark the 125th year of its incorporation’
WrittenS Clarke1988'The Macleay Museum building' in P Stanbury & J Holland (eds) : Mr Macleay's Celebrated Cabinet : The history of the Macleays and their museum

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4726005

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