Scientific Instrument Collections
in Australian Universities


By Julian Holland


NOTE:  This report was prepared in 1995.  Since then I have become aware of an important collection of surveying instruments at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.  No attempt has been made to bring the report up to date but where collections have web sites links to these have been added.



University collections in many countries are a hidden resource.  In many instances they preserve types of material not well represented in other public collections.  Sometimes they preserve items or suites of items of unique value.  This is notably the case for scientific instruments.  Some university scientific instrument collections contain equipment used to discover basic scientific principles which have transformed modern life.  Lord Kelvin's instruments at the University of Glasgow are an example of this.

      What scientific instrument collections are held in Australian universities?  And how do these compare with instruments in other public collections?  To begin to answer these questions a survey of Australian universities was undertaken in 1993.  The collections range from large formal museum collections through department collections and minor components of museums to very informal accumulations of instruments in departmental cupboards.  Many of the collections are uncatalogued and so detailed information is not readily available.  The primary purpose of the survey was to identify collections and characterise them in the most general terms.


What is a Scientific Instrument?

"Scientific instrument" is to some extent a term of convenience.(1)  It includes instruments described in earlier centuries as mathematical, optical or philosophical.  Scientific instruments fall into the following categories of use:

*      observation and measurement (telescopes, microscopes, precision balances, galvanometers, &c)

*      lecture demonstration (instruments which illustrate scientific principles)

*      professional technique (drawing instruments, surveying and navigational instruments, calculating and computing instruments, industrial testing equipment such as thermometers and hydrometers)

As well as precision instruments the term is used here to indicate laboratory equipment such as Bunsen burners and chemical glassware.


National Inventories

Interest in historic scientific instruments has grown considerably over the last 75 years.  The opening of the Lewis Evans Collection in the Old Ashmolean Building in Oxford in 1925 was a pioneering recognition of the importance of preserving historic scientific instruments.  In 1946 A. Leveillé‚ proposed a world inventory of scientific instruments.  It was a further ten years before the Commission pour l'Inventaire Mondial des Appareils Scientific d'Intérêt Historique was set up by the Union Internationale d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences, Division d'Histoire des Sciences.  With sponsorship from UNESCO the Commission encouraged the production of national inventories.  These were not intended to be comprehensive but rather to identify instruments with significant scientific associations or which represented progress in the development of science.  Belgium, Italy and France were prompt in preparing national inventories.  Inventories were also produced by Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia.  In Britain a committee established by the Royal Society oversaw the production of an inventory.  Rather than concentrating on the six major museum collections of instruments, the committee saw the value of identifying instruments in as wide a range of institutions as possible.  This ambitious undertaking eventually bore fruit with the publication in 1992 of Science Preserved.(2)  Preliminary versions of an Irish national inventory have also been published in 1989 and 1990.(3)

      It is not clear that any attempt has so far been made to undertake a national inventory of historic scientific instruments in Australia.  In 1960, Renzo Cianchi, General Secretary of the Commission pour l'Inventaire Mondial des Appareils Scientific d'Intérêt Historique, wrote to the directors of the Museum of Applied Science of Victoria, Melbourne, and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, and presumably other Australian museums, regarding the World Inventory of Scientific Instruments of Historical Interest.  The Victorian museum responded with records for a small number of instruments.(4)  There is no indication of a response from Sydney.  The request for information from the Commission does not seem to have stimulated any local initiative to prepare an Australian inventory.  The survey discussed below indicates that if an Australian National Inventory of historic scientific instruments were to be undertaken university holdings would have to be taken into account.


The Australian Survey

The information tabulated on the following pages is based on a survey conducted in 1993 supplemented by information subsequently received and in some instances personal knowledge of individual collections.  It is intended to provide an overview of the range of scientific instrument collections in Australian universities.  The level of information available regarding individual collections is very variable.  Many of the collections are uncatalogued and are maintained without any official curatorship.  It is hoped that this preliminary survey will be helpful in encouraging formal recognition of the value of many of these collections so that improved management strategies can be developed.  The following table indicates the information recorded in each field.  An asterisk after the name of the department or museum indicates that I have visited it.



X.X      Department/Museum
a.      Nature of instrument collection (approx. number of items)
b.      Display
c.      Internal catalogue
d.      Publications
e.      Comments


New South Wales

1.      University of Sydney

1.1      Macleay Museum*
a.      Scientific instruments - general, especially laboratory apparatus (1000)
b.     Yes
c.     Yes
d.     Julian Holland, Microscopes and Microscopy - Instruments and Related Items in the Macleay Museum (1989: Macleay Museum)
e.      Primarily a museum of natural history and anthropology founded in the 1880s.  Scientific instruments held in Museum since 1972; mainly transferred from University departments, some acquired by donation and purchase.

1.2      Pathology Museum*
a.     Microscopes and medical research instruments (200) 
b.    Yes 
c.     Partly 
e.     Mainly teaching collections of pathology specimens. Instrument display opened 1986.

1.3      Department of Psychology*
a.      Psychological and testing apparatus (300)  
b.    Yes 
c.    Yes 
e.    Mainly derived from departmental equipment; collection established in early 1960s.  Associated documents and photographs relate the instruments to the history of the department.

1.4   J.L. Shellshear Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Physical Anthropology, Department of Anatomy and Histology

a.      Anthropometric instruments (40-50)
e.      Collection mainly of crania and skeletal remains, instruments forming only a small component.


1.5   School of Civil and Mining Engineering* - Surveying Lab.

a.     Surveying and drawing instruments (50)
b.    No
c.    Partly
d.    Julian Holland, 'John Roach's Instruments in Sydney', Rittenhouse 6/1 (1991): 20-24 (Two of the instruments described in this article are held in this collection)
e.    Some important 19th century instruments


1.6   School of Physics*

a.      Physical laboratory and lecture demonstration apparatus (220)
b.     No (except a few items on display in Science Foundation for Physics board room)
c.     Yes
e.      Entirely derived from within department (including some items donated to the University at an early date)

1.7   School of Mathematics and Statistics*

a.      Calculating instruments (100)
b.     Yes

1.8   Basser Department of Computer Science*

a.      Calculating and computing instruments
b.      Yes
d.      Brochure

1.9      Biochemistry*

a.      Chemical instruments (20)
b.      Yes

1.10      Veterinary Science

a.     Microscopes
b.    Yes
e.    Mainly instruments for veterinary surgery

1.11      Department of Physiology*

a.      Physiological research and demonstration apparatus (30)
b.    No
c.    No
e.      Includes some very early physiological instruments made by the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Co. and supplied to the university in the 1880s.

1.12      Botany*, School of Biological Sciences

a.      Biological laboratory instruments (microscopes, microtomes, slide preparation equipment)
b.    No
c.    No


2.      University of New South Wales

2.1   Museum of the History of Science*, School of Chemistry

a.      Scientific instruments - general (300)
b.    Yes (since 1989)
c.    No
d.    (Some press reports)
e.      Associated with a General Education teaching programme.

2.2   School of Surveying*

a.      Surveying, calculating, drawing instruments (50)
b.     Yes
c.      No


3.      Macquarie University

3.1   School of Mathematics, Physics, Computing and Electronics

a.      Astronomical equipment
c.    No
e.      Telescopes, plate-reading equipment and photographic plates from Sydney and Melbourne observatories, transferred when Sydney Observatory ceased.


4.      University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury

4.1   School of Science

a.      Chemical and biological instruments (10)
c.    No
e.    "A very informal collection"


5.      University of Wollongong

5.1      Biological Sciences

a.      Biological teaching and research equipment
b.    No
c.    No
e.    "An assortment of old and outdated equipment that has ended up at the back of cupboards or on top shelves."



6.      University of Melbourne

6.1      Medical History Unit*

a.      Scientific instruments including microscopes, microtomes, Grayson's microruling engine (c. 1894) and early X-ray tubes (1890s); also surgical and pharmaceutical instruments.
b.    Yes
c.    Yes

6.2   School of Physics*

a.      Physics teaching and research instruments
b.    Yes
c.    No
e.      Important collection, some instruments dating from the early decades of the University.  Optical instruments include Grayson ruling engines and examples of WWII Optical Munitions work.

6.3      Surveying and Land Information*

a.      Surveying instruments and calculators (40)
b.    Yes
c.    No


7.    Monash University

7.1      Faculty of Science Museum*

a.      Scientific instruments - general, especially balances (60)
b.     Yes (opened 1993)
c.     Yes
d.      Faculty of Science Instrument Collection - Catalogue, 1993


South Australia

8.      University of Adelaide

8.1      University of Adelaide Historical Collections

a.      Scientific instruments - general
b.    (See e. and next entry)
c.    (See d.)
d.    P.C. Runge, Scientific Apparatus, A survey of apparatus of significance to the development of science and research at the University of Adelaide (University of Adelaide, 1986), 61pp.  Covers 11 departmental collections and collections centrally held transferred from four departments (incl. 3 of the 11).
e.      Collections mainly in storage, "may become part of a museum to be established at the Waite campus in 1994."

8.2      Physics Museum* (established 1986)

a.      Physics instruments (several hundred)
b.     Yes
c.      No (incomplete listing in Runge, pp. 14-37, 53-61 - see previous entry)
d.      (See c.)
e.      Museum founded as part of celebrations of centenary of appointment of W.H. Bragg as Professor of Physics.  The museum preserves some early and significant instruments including ten items from a list of apparatus donated to the University by Professor Horace Lamb in 1876 and an X-ray tube made by Bragg's assistant, Rogers (1896).



9.      University of Tasmania

The University of Tasmania holds collections of instruments in at least three departments: Geology (microscopes), Physics, and Surveying.  Physics holds a Dallmeyer transit telescope purchased in 1862 by Francis Abbott, Tasmania's leading amateur astronomer in the 19th century.  The collection also includes prisms made as part of the department's optical munitions work during WW2, electrical and optical instruments and others related to mechanics and properties of matter.



10.      University of Queensland

10.1      Physics Museum* (established 1985)

a.      Physics research and demonstration apparatus (250)
b.    Yes
c.    Yes
d.    N.R. Heckenberg, Catalogue for a Display of Calculating Devices (1991); Norman Heckenberg, 'The Physics Museum at the University of Queensland', Australian and New Zealand Physicist 29 (1/2) 1992, pp. 13-14

e.      Instruments almost entirely derived from university departments; related books and documentation also held.

10.2      Microscope Department*

a.      Microscopes and accessories (150+)
b.    Yes
c.    Yes
e.      Collection begun about 1960.  Instruments mostly transferred from University departments, some acquired by donation.


11.   James Cook University of North Queensland

11.1  Museum of Tropical Anthropology, Material Culture Unit

a.      Weighing and measuring instruments (10)
b.    Yes
c.    Yes
e.    Museum of ethnographic material from tropical, non-Western societies, focusing on tropical Aboriginal material.  A very small number of Chinese measuring and weighing devices are included.

11.2  The Monkman Collection, School of Biological Sciences

A collection of microscopes and slides used by Noel Monkman, an early pioneer of cinemicrophotography.  The microslide collection contains preparations made by Monkman, together with commercially prepared slides of antiquarian value.  The collection was used and developed between the 1920s and 1960s, and has been at James Cook University since the 1970s.


Western Australia

12.      University of Western Australia

12.1  Botany Department

a.      [Unspecified] (20)
b.    No
e.    All instruments derived from within department.

12.2      Psychology Department Museum (established 1981)

a.      Experimental psychology apparatus
b.    Yes
c.    Yes
d.    Alan Richardson, 'The Psychology Museum at the University of Western Australia', The Bulletin of The Australian Psychological Society, August 1992, p. 13.
e.      Collection also includes some scientific instrument catalogues and early textbooks.

12.3      Geology and Geophysics

a.      Laboratory and field equipment (50)
b.    No
c.    No
e.      Instruments derived from within department; laboratory and field equipment, some old photographic equipment, glass slides and projection apparatus.


Northern Territory

13.      University of Northern Territory

13.1  School of Nursing, Museum and Historical Collections

a.      Nursing and medical artifacts, particularly those related to the Northern Territory (100-200 instruments; 1/3 of collection)
c.    Yes ("in a primitive fashion")
e.      Instruments mainly derived from within department, a small number purchased.



The survey identified more than 30 collections comprising or containing scientific instruments.  Undoubtedly there are many smaller collections which remain to be identified.  Australia's oldest universities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Queensland and Western Australia) are well represented.  Some of the more recent universities, such as the University of Western Sydney, incorporate long-established colleges which could be expected to have accumulated scientific apparatus.  The rapid changes in science in recent decades is reflected in changing instrumentation so it is not surprising that recent universities have accrued obsolete equipment which is increasingly seen to have historical value.

      Few of the collections identified are part of recognised museums and are mainly derived from a single university department.  In some cases museum and departmental collections include items donated to the university or the specific collection.  Several collections at Sydney University contain items donated in the distant past which were recognised at the time as having historical interest.  While no collection has a formal acquisition budget for purchasing historic scientific instruments, several collections are not limited to acquisition from within their own department or university.  The Museum of the History of Science at the University of New South Wales has probably been the most active in acquiring instruments by purchase in recent years.

      Few of the collections have a formal role in teaching.  The Museum of the History of Science (UNSW) has been the basis for a General Education course on the history of scientific instruments which has been run since 1988.  This course requires students to examine instrument displays in other museums (including the Macleay Museum).  Antiquated computers are used in a teaching program in Computer Science at Sydney University.  For the most part where collections are on display - in departmental corridors and lecture theatre foyers - they are reminders of the development of the discipline, but are little used in teaching programs.  The use of students in cataloguing the collection of the Physics Museum at the University of Queensland shows one way in which such collections could be incorporated into teaching programs.  (This even brought money into the department as a quality teaching initiative.)

      Little research has been undertaken on most of the collections although some articles and catalogues have been published which draw the existence of the collections to wider notice.  Detailed scholarly research must await basic cataloguing which in many cases has yet to be undertaken.

      The cataloguing of collections is fundamental to their long-term maintenance.  A sound catalogue will not only facilitate researchers, but provide a basis for collection management policy.  A well documented collection will be more accessible by exhibition planners and easier to incorporate into teaching programs.  It also allows for proper monitoring of physical damage or deterioration, and increases the possibility of recovery of stolen items.  Levels of cataloguing and other documentation are conspicuously poor for many university instrument collections.

      In the absence of formal university heritage policies the preservation or gathering of historic instrument collections has depended on a combination of the longevity of occupation of buildings and the initiative of individual members of staff of departments or museums.  In a number of instances these are academic staff with full teaching loads, technical staff or retired members of staff working in an honorary capacity.  Over the years several collections of instruments have been transferred to state museums as a more secure basis for their long-term preservation.  An extensive collection of instruments was transferred from Sydney University to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science in the 1950s and a collection of apparatus from the Chemistry School of the University of Melbourne was transferred to the Science Museum of Victoria (now Scienceworks, Museum of Victoria) in the late 1970s.(5)  While such transfers have preserved instruments which may otherwise have been lost, it is preferable that universities manage their historic collections on a formal basis wherever possible.  Maintaining collections in close association with their context of acquisition and use is more likely to preserve the particular historical significance of individual items.  State museums are more likely to see instruments as representative types with less reason to contextualise their background.  Most state museums lack specialised instrument collections and associated staff expertise.

      Only one or two collections contain 18th century instruments, but at least a dozen of the collections listed above contain 19th century instruments, many of them unique examples of their type in Australia.  As we approach the turn of the millennium the antiquity of 20th century instrumentation will become increasingly apparent.  This valuable historical resource scattered through Australia's universities deserves better recognition.  To protect this resource each university - even newer universities with as yet small collections - should establish a formal heritage management policy ratified by its governing body.  Such a policy should include procedures for identifying collections of historic material and individual items not part of such collections.  Provision should be made for preserving approved collections in adequate storage conditions.  Individual items and small collections should be consolidated into approved departmental or university museums or collections.  A catalogue or register should be made and maintained for each approved collection and museum, and a copy of all such catalogues lodged with an office designated under the university's heritage management policy.  Universities should recognise the work of academic and technical staff on approved collections by appropriate relief from other duties.  The Federal Government should recognise the value of the unique heritage preserved in university collections through appropriate changes to university funding formulae.


University Collections Overseas

In Europe and North America there are several national and regional museums famous for their valuable collections of historic scientific instruments.  The Science Museum in London, the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, and the National Museum of American History in Washington are examples of these.  Nonetheless, there are also outstanding collections of historic instruments in European and North American universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Pavia and Harvard.  In some instances the university museums where these collections are held are not merely repositories of scientific relics but active centres of scholarly research regarding historic instruments.  The Whipple Museum of the History of Science at Cambridge has been the outstanding example of this in recent years.  To set Australian university holdings of historic scientific instruments into context the following information is provided on holdings in universities abroad.



In the 18th century Britain became the leading centre of manufacture of scientific instruments.  Most of this was based in London with many instrument makers supplying European and American markets as well as British demand.  While French, German and American manufacturers of instruments became increasingly significant after the middle of the 19th century, British manufacture remained prominent well into this century.  This is reflected in the numerous instrument collections in British museums and university collections.        The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford (originally the Lewis Evans Collection opened in 1925) and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge (founded in 1944 when R.S. Whipple presented his collection of scientific instruments and antiquarian books to Cambridge University) have been important centres of scholarly research and publication on the history of scientific instruments as well as being repositories of major collections.  The Whipple Museum has been very active in publishing catalogues of its collections.(6)  It has also maintained a program of special exhibitions with associated publications.  Due to the terms of its establishment and other funding the Whipple Museum has been able to add to its collections by purchase as well as donation.(7)  The Whipple Museum is participating in a three-year project commenced in 1994 to provide a Virtual Teaching Collection, a computerised visual database for history of science teaching.(8)  More than thirty instrument collections have been identified in British universities as well as several in Eire.  These are listed in Appendix 2.


Continental Europe

Information on scientific instrument collections in continental European museums is not readily available.  Perhaps the strongest recognition of the value of university collections has been given in Italy.

      Italy has made great advances in recognising and preserving collections of historic scientific instruments in its universities over the last decade.  Paolo Brenni reports a museum of the department of physics in each of the following universities: Bologna, Genova, Naples, Padova, Pisa, and Rome.  There are also cabinets of physics at the universities of Catania and Urbino.  These are all significant collections of late 19th and early 20th century instruments.  These collections as well as scientific instrument collections in non-university museums preserve what is increasingly recognised as an important part of the national cultural patrimony.  National funding has been directed to the systematic investigation of Italy's scientific collections (including natural history).(9)

      Indicative of the attention scientific instrument collections are now receiving in Italy is the growing list of catalogues and guide books.  Three parts of the catalogue of the collection of early apparatus of the Institute of Physics at the University of Naples have recently been published, covering optical instruments(10); fluid mechanics and meteorology(11); and electricity and magnetism.(12)  While physical instruments have been the subject of several other catalogues, instruments in other university collections are also receiving attention, for example the anthropometrical and psychological instruments at the University of Bologna.(13)

      Not surprisingly, the majority of instrument collections in universities have their origins in physics departments.  This is reflected in publications from the University of Coimbra in Portugal (14) and Tartu University in Estonia.(15)


North America

In the 18th century the North American colonies were largely dependent on Europe for the supply of scientific instruments.  American colleges were among the most important markets for instruments.  When Harvard College lost its teaching instruments in a disastrous fire in 1764, replacements were purchased from leading London makers.  Many of these survive and are discussed by Wheatland (see Appendix 3, note 5).  Other 18th century instruments survive in American university collections.  In the years following the Civil War colleges were being transformed into universities and new universities were being founded.  Vanderbilt University in Nashville is an example of a new university which sought to develop an extensive collection of science teaching instruments in the 1870s.  This was a period when German methods of laboratory-based science teaching were beginning to affect university science around the world.  Just as the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Co. was founded in 1880 to meet the increasing need for instruments in Cambridge, England, the Harvard Apparatus Company was established in 1904 in close proximity to Harvard University.(16)  To what extent the rise of American manufacturing is represented in university instrument collections is unclear.  It would be interesting to know whether the rise of the United States to scientific prominence from the middle of the 19th century is reflected in surviving instrument collections.  Besides collections derived from the work of universities themselves, some university collections also contain instruments from other sources.  Some of Joseph Priestley's apparatus is preserved at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania (see Appendix 3, note 24), and Harvard University has an extensive collection of ivory diptych dials.  A list of US universities known to hold scientific instrument collections is given in Appendix 3.

      Several Canadian universities have scientific instrument collections.(17)  The Physics Department of Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, has a good collection of physical instruments which are being restored with assistance from the university's Department of Conservation Studies.  The Rutherford Museum in the Physics Department of McGill University, Montreal, contains instruments used by Ernest Rutherford in his research on the structure of the atom in 1901-1907, for which he received the Nobel Prize.  Physics at McGill also houses the MacPherson Collection of 19th and 20th century laboratory apparatus.  Other collections are held at the Bryden Jack Observatory, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton; Physics, Engineering, and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Toronto; the Physics Department, University of Guelph, near Toronto; and the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Waterloo.  Canada is well advanced in preparing computer databases of its museum collections.  A Paradox database of scientific instruments in Canadian museums and universities has been prepared under the direction of Randall Brooks of the National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa.  On the basis of his own research and data from the Canadian Heritage Information Network a database of nearly 11,000 artifacts had been established by the end of 1993.(18)  This clearly provides a strong basis for assessing the importance of university collections in relation to the holdings of provincial and national museums in Canada.



Scientific instrument collections are an important part of Australia's cultural heritage.  They are an indication of the resources available for science teaching and research at different periods of our history, of our relationships with scientific centres abroad and of our own scientific creativity.  The role of science in Australian culture, and in particular the institutionalisation of science in Australia has been inadequately studied.  It has been the prime purpose of this report to identify the broad range of scientific instrument collections held in Australian universities in the hope that this will encourage more systematic preservation of, and more active research into, this aspect of Australian history.



1.      University of Sydney

2.      University Instrument Collections in Britain and Eire

3.      Instrument Collections in United States Academic Institutions



Appendix 1:  The University of Sydney


The University of Sydney - the first university in Australia - was founded in 1850.  In the century and a half since its founding science has risen from a gentlemanly interest to the key determinant of social change.  Science at Sydney University mirrors this change in science at large.  In its early years the University was a small institution and science teaching was largely lecture based.  A major expansion of science teaching came in the 1880s and early 1890s, reflecting a world-wide trend to laboratory-based science teaching.  The face of the university changed markedly with the erection of new buildings for  Medicine (1888), Chemistry (1890), Physics (1890), and the School of Mines, subsequently Geology (1894), as well as a scientific museum (Macleay Museum, 1886).  With the exception of Medicine, these buildings were all built in close proximity on what was to become Science Road.  This period of building probably represents the most dramatic shift in the physical character of the University proportionately at any time after its move from College Street to its present site in the 1850s.

      The survival of historic scientific instruments at Sydney University has largely been serendipitous.  Nevertheless, several large and numerous small collections survive in various departments.  Some instruments reflecting the developments of the 1880s survive although most instruments are more recent.  Some collections have received active attention in recent years and have been listed (Psychology and Physics).  Other collections are uncatalogued but in some cases displayed (Biochemistry).

      In 1972 the Macleay Museum held an exhibition of 'Historical and Interesting Scientific Instruments', mainly borrowed from university departments.(19)  As the authors of the catalogue pointed out in the introduction, "The instruments which appear valueless and old-fashioned today, and take up storage space which apparently could be used to better purpose, are the historical and interesting instruments of tomorrow."  At the conclusion of the exhibition some departments invited the museum to retain the instruments as the appropriate place for historic artifacts to be held.  Other items were returned to their departments.  In the two decades since, numerous instruments have been transferred to the museum from throughout the University's scientific and medical departments.  The Museum's holdings are particularly strong in microscopy and electrical instruments.

      A Committee of Review of the Macleay Museum and Historical, Cultural and Scientific Collections within the University, chaired by Associate Professor R.I. Jack, in 1991 recognised the importance of the University's scientific instrument collections and proposed that a curator should liaise with departments to compile a comprehensive catalogue.(20)  Few recommendations of the Committee of Review were acted upon and no specific action was taken with regard to scientific instrument collections.  A subsequent Review of the Macleay Museum held in 1993 and chaired by Professor Carrick Chambers also recognised the need to co-ordinate the management of scientific instrument collections throughout the University.  Recommendation 5 of the Executive Summary reads: "To enhance the collections of scientific instruments relevant to the history of the University, improve storage facilities, eliminate duplication by co-ordinating holdings of departments, and plan for controlled growth in this area."  Implementation of the Chambers Report has awaited the appointment of a new director of the Macleay Museum.

      By the foresight of its staff twenty years ago, the Macleay Museum - primarily devoted to natural history and ethnography - began to take responsibility for scientific instruments and other University heritage.  This was not matched by any formal policy development within the University administration.  The two recent reviews both recognised the value of the Museum's endeavours in this area and the inadequacy of the resources it was able to devote to the task in terms of staff time and storage facilities.  It is to be hoped that the appointment of a new director and the outcome of the AV-CC review of Australian university museums and collections in 1995 will lead to the establishment of a formal policy within the University of Sydney regarding scientific instrument collections and other University heritage, supported by the resources to make such a policy meaningful.


Appendix 2: University Instrument Collections in Britain and Eire

listed in Science Preserved (page numbers in brackets):

United Kingdom

Aberdeen, University of Aberdeen:
      Anthropology Museum (81)
      Cromwell Tower Observatory (81)
      Department of Anatomy (81-82)
      Department of Physics (82-85)

Aberystwyth, University College of Wales
      Department of Physics (85)

Bristol, University of Bristol:
      Library, Special Collection (102)

Cambridge, University of Cambridge:
      Department of Physics, Cavendish Laboratory (107)
      Gonville and Caius College (107)
      Department of Earth Sciences (108)
      Queens College (108)
      Trinity College, Library (108)
      Whipple Museum of the History of Science (108-111)

Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh:
      Department of Chemistry (120-21)

Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University (121)

Glasgow, Glasgow University:
      Department of Astronomy (130)
      Department of Natural Philosophy (131-32)
      Hunterian Museum (134)

Glasgow, University of Strathclyde: 
      Department of Natural Philosophy (133-34)

Liverpool, University of Liverpool:
      Department of Physics, Oliver Lodge Laboratory (145)

London, University of London:
      Department of Human Genetics and Biometry, Galton Laboratory (156) 
      Institute of Ophthalmology (157)

Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Newcastle: 
      Museum of the Department of Mining Engineering (185)

Nottingham, University of Nottingham:  
      Department of Physics (189)

Oxford, University of Oxford:
      Ashmolean Museum (190) 
      Merton College (190-91)
      Museum of the History of Science (191-94) 
      Pitt Rivers Museum (194-95)

St Andrews, University of St Andrews: 
      Department of Chemistry (201) 
      Department of Physics (201-03)
      University Library (203)

Swansea, University College of Swansea:
      University College of Swansea and Royal Institution of South Wales Museum (211-12)



Cork, University College:
      Experimental Physics Department (225-26)

Dublin, Trinity College
      Chemistry Laboratory (232)
      Physical Laboratory (232-33)
      School of Engineering (233-34)

Dublin, University College:
      Department of Physics (234)

Galway, University College:
      Physics Department (235-37)

Maynooth, St Patrick's College (Maynooth College) (237-39)


Appendix 3: Instrument Collections in United States Academic Institutions (21)

Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina (22)

University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (23)

Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania (24)

Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts (25)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

University of Mississippi

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska (26)

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Portland State University, Portland, Oregon (27)

Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

Transylvania College, Lexington, Kentucky (28)

Union College, Schenectady, New York (29)

United States Military Academy, West Point, New York

United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (30)

Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts

College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia (31)

Yale University (Peabody Museum of Natural History), New Haven, Connecticut (32)


(1).    For a more comprehensive consideration of the term, see Deborah Jean Warner, 'What is a scientific instrument, when did it become one, and why?', British Journal for the History of Science, 23 (1990): 83-93

(2).    Mary Holbrook with additions and revisions by R.G.W. Anderson and D.J. Bryden, Science Preserved. A directory of scientific instruments in collections in the United Kingdom and Eire. (London: HMSO, 1992).  Much of the discussion above on national inventories is based on this reference, p. 11.

(3).      Charles Mollan, Irish National Inventory of Historic Scientific Instruments: interim report 1990 (Dublin: Royal Dublin Society, 1990)

(4).      Information supplied by Ruth Leveson, Scienceworks (Museum of Victoria).

(5).      Melbourne Chemistry collection: Joan Radford, personal communication, 14/1/1988.  "I had the Chem School make the arrangement, thro' the Central Administration, for the Museum to hold it but it must not destroy or transfer any of it, without the permission of the University."

(6).      Whipple Catalogues: 1. Olivia Brown, Surveying (1982), 2. Olivia Brown, Balances & Weights (1982), 3. J.A. Bennett, Astronomy & Navigation (1983), 4. Olivia Brown, Spheres, Globes & Orreries (1983), 5. J.A. Bennett, Spectroscopes, Prisms & Gratings (1984), 6. David J. Bryden, Sundials & Related Instruments (1988), 7. Olivia Brown, Microscopes (1986), 8. Kenneth Lyall, Electrical and Magnetic Instruments (1991).  The Whipple Museum has also published an important series of exhibition monographs and exhibition catalogues over the same period.

(7).    J.A. Bennett, A Decade of Accessions (1992).  The Whipple Museum's "accession register grew by some 1200 items between 1980 and 1990".

(8).    The Whipple Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge applied to the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Wales to finance the Virtual Teaching Collection to facilitate object-based teaching in archaeology and history of science.  For the latter component the collections of the Oxford Museum of the History of Science will be used as well as those of the Whipple; J.A. Bennett, 'The Whipple at 50: the Sphere of the World, the New Age, the Virtual Collection', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 42 (1994), pp. 25-26

(9).    Paolo Brenni, 'Scientific Instrument Collections in Italy: The Bologna Meeting', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 25 (1990): 17-18

(10).    Ezio Ragozzino and Edvige Schettino, La Collezione degli Antichi Apparecchi dell'Istituto di Fisica: Gli Strumenti Ottici (1840-1890) (Naples: Facolta di Scienza M.F.N., Universita degli Studi di Napoli, 1984)

(11).    Ezio Ragozzino and Edvige Schettino, La Collezione degli Antichi Apparecchi dell'Istituto di Fisica: Meccanica dei Fluidi e Termologia (1840-1900) (Naples: Facolta di Scienza M.F.N., Università degli Studi di Napoli, 1985)

(12).    Ezio Ragozzino and Edvige Schettino, La Collezione degli Antichi Apparecchi dell'Istituto di Fisica: Elettricita e Magnetismo (1835-1900) (Naples: Facoltà di Scienza M.F.N., Università degli Studi di Napoli, 1986)

(13).      Elisabetta Calanchi, La Collezzione degli strumenti del Museo di antropologia (Bologna: Università di Bologna, CLUEB, 1991)

(14).    Romulo de Carvalho, Historia do Gabinete de Fisica da Universidade de Coimbra (Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra, 1978)

(15).      Physics Instruments from the Beginning of the 19th Century in Museum of History of Tartu University (Tartu, 1989)

(16).      Merriley Borell, "Instruments and an Independent Physiology: The Harvard Physiological Laboratory, 1871-1906', in Gerald L. Geison (ed.), Physiology in the American Context, 1850-1940 (American Physiological Society, 1987), pp. 293-321 (302-03).  An important part of the business of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Co. in its early years was the supply of Zeiss microscopes and apparatus (see Julian Holland, 'Relations between Scientific Instrument Manufacturers', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 38 (1993): 15-16).  Carl Zeiss had established his business in 1847 primarily for supplying the requirement for instruments of the University of Jena.

(17).      Randall C. Brooks, 'The Instrument Scene in Canada', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 26 (1990): 18-19

(18).      Randall C. Brooks, personal communication, 8/11/1993

(19).    P.J. Stanbury, L. Kennedy & E. Bonelli, Historical and Interesting Scientific Instruments (The Macleay Museum, 1972)

(20).      Recommendation 11 reads in full: "That the relevant part of the collection of scientific instruments [of the Macleay Museum] become the core of a collection of historic instruments associated with the University's teaching and research; this would involve a full-time curator liaising with departments, compiling a University-wide catalogue and organising long-term displays of this equipment in the Macleay Museum Gallery."

(21).      Deborah Jean Warner, 'Some Collections of Scientific Instruments in the U.S.', Rittenhouse, vol. 7, no. 4, August 1993, pp. 97-105.  Most of the references concerning individual collections are mentioned in this article.

(22).      Barbara Hughes, Catalog of the Scientific Apparatus at the College of Charleston: 1800-1940 (Charleston, 1980)

(23).    Allen L. King, Dartmouth College from Natural Philosophy to Contemporary Science, 1769-1969 (Hanover, 1969)

(24).    A Catalog of Priestley Apparatus at Dickinson College

(25).    David P. Wheatland, The Apparatus of Science at Harvard, 1765-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., 1968); Exhibition catalogue, Early Science at Harvard, Innovators and Their Instruments 1765-1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1969); Stephen Lloyd, Ivory Diptych Sundials, 1570-1750 (Cambridge, Mass., 1992)

(26).      [Exhibition booklet], An Exhibition of Antique Scientific Instruments (Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1978).  The exhibition was based in part on the collection of instruments preserved in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

(27).    Peter Abrahams, 'A Museum of Teaching Instruments in Oregon', Rittenhouse, vol. 7, no. 4, August 1993, pp. 111-13

(28).    Leland A. Brown, Early Philosophical Apparatus at Transylvania College (Lexington, Ky., 1959)

(29).    Ellis Kellert and Leonard Clark, The Microscope Collection at Union College (1967)

(30).    Robert T. Lagemann, The Garland Collection of Classical Physics Apparatus at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, 1983)

(31).    John McKnight, 'Philosophical Apparatus at William and Mary', Rittenhouse, vol. 3, no. 2, February 1989, pp. 64-69

(32).    Ellen Warren Faller and Barbara P. Moore, 'Historical Scientific Instruments at Yale University', Rittenhouse, vol. 7, no. 4, August 1993, pp. 106-07


© Julian Holland 1995, 2001