Oxford University Museum of Natural History

"By the 1840s the neglect of science education in Oxford, and the decay of some of its collections, was a scandal that attracted national notice"1.

After a few unfortunate attempt, "the University's Convocation voted in favour of a new museum in 1849, and established an Honour School of Natural Science in 1850. In 1854 the University finally agreed to spend up to £40,000 on a new building on land it had bought from Merton College in the south-west corner of the University Parks. A competion for the architectural design attracted 32 entries: by the end of the year the winner was the design in the Gothic style proposed by Benjamin Woodward of Deane and Woodward in Dublin. The foundation stone was laid on 20 June 1855 and the building was structurally completed by June 1860, in time for the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The exhibits were installed under the direction of the first Keeper, the geologist John Phillips, early in 1861"2.


"The most remarkable feature of the Museum's interior is its extensive decoration. This was not included in the original budget, but Ruskin, Acland and Phillips all helped to raise sponsorship so that Woodward's full conception coul be realised"3.


"Standing thoughtfully against the pillars are 19 statues of great men of science, including Aristotle, Galileo, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. There are also a number of busts of scientists associated with the museum, such as John Phillips, Henry Acland and William Buckland. In 2010, the year of the Museum's 150th anniversary, the first new bust for more than 100 years appeared: that of Dorothy Hodgkin, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964 and who carried out her crystallographic research in the Museum for more than 20 years"4.

The Museum "originally included offices, laboratories and lecture rooms for the professors" of the University, such as the Regius Professor of Medicine: among the others, John Scott Burdon-Sanderson and William Osler had their offices in the Museum.

  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (August 2011)

Related items:


- G.Ferry, A wonderland of natural history. A souvenir guide, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford 2011, pp. 64

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License