Macleay Museum closes its doors to make way for new museum

22 November 2016

The Macleay Collections (along with the University's Nicholson Museum and art collections) will be incorporated into the University's new Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Old black and white image of the Macleay Museum's interior

Macleay Museum of Natural History Sydney University, c. 1893 

The Macleay has been part of Sydney’s cultural fabric since it opened in 1892. Its eponymous origins can be traced to Alexander Macleay who came to Australia in 1826 to serve as New South Wales’ Colonial Secretary. Macleay brought with him an extensive entomological collection – widely acknowledged as one of the three best of its type at that time. That collection was on view at the family house in Elizabeth Bay for important visitors – Charles Darwin among others – but it wasn’t until Alexander’s nephew, William John, furnished the University with the money for a curator in perpetuity, along with the collections, that it became a public institution.

The museum originally occupied the entire Macleay Building but, a mere 30 years later, was downsized to occupy the third-floor attic of the building where it has remained ever since. Because of its size, the museum has only ever been able to display around one percent of its massive collection at any time. The new Chau Chak Wing Museum will provide an opportunity for more of the collection to be displayed to the public in exhibitions, study centres and education spaces.

The Macleay Collection includes:

  • The oldest collection of insects in the Southern hemisphere;
  • One of two known taxidermied spiders in the world.
  • An extensive ethnographic collection, including items from Australia’s first scientific expedition to Papua New Guinea;
  • A collection of scientific instruments based on the heritage of the University; and
  • A 60,000-strong collection of historic images from our region, including  photographs from the 1850s of Sydney’s Aboriginal and settler peoples. 




Jocelyn Prasad

Media and Public Relations Advisor
  • Level 7 Jane Foss Russell Building G02