Key 26: Biology (Zoology) 1887/The Biology Building (Baldwin Spencer Building) 1888


Professor Walter Baldwin Spencer arrived in 1887 to take up the foundation chair of Biology. On his assumption of full responsibility for the biological sciences of zoology and botany Professor McCoy’s intellectual territory was reduced to geology, palaeontology and his beloved National Museum.

Science students and staff, 1894.
Science students and staff, 1894.
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1500]

In 1899 Spencer succeeded Professor McCoy as Director of the National Museum when it moved from the University grounds. When he resigned in 1919 he was succeeded by W.E. Agar as Professor of Zoology (1919-1947) - since a separate chair of Botany had been created in 1906 - and O.W. Tiegs, 1948-1956.

Professor Walter Baldwin Spencer
Professor Walter Baldwin Spencer.
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1372]

Like his fellow foundation professors, Spencer set himself to ensure suitable accommodation for his department. Within six months of his arrival construction had begun on a Reed, Henderson and Smart building influenced by the latest laboratory designs of King's College, London. Picturesquely sited at the time, looking across the Lake towards the city, today it forms the north boundary of the 'concrete lawn'.

Biology building (later Zoology)
Biology building (later Zoology).
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-980]

Spencer designed the laboratories and museum himself to fit within a structure in which the architect Anketell Henderson, as George Tibbits puts it, 'creatively adapted traditional architectural motifs so as to express the structure and planning of a building in a direct and simple manner.' Recently the first floor laboratory has been refurbished and the University has also preserved the large lecture theatre more or less as it was in 1888, including the tiered seating and numbered places. In 1906 an extension was made to the north side to house Botany and further extensions were made to the west end and north side in 1961. Internal renovations in 1988 have 'revealed the long-hidden characters of parts of the interior.'