History of the Museum

The Tiegs Museum of the University of Melbourne, established in 1887, is Australia’s oldest university museum of zoology.  The collection, accumulated over 120 years, has specimens contributed by the first Professor of the department,  Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer.

It has an extensive collection of specimens representing the whole animal kingdom, ranging from small invertebrates to prepared whole-mounts and skeletons of vertebrates including an African lion, and a moa (an extinct emu-like bird from New Zealand).

A comprehensive range of Australian animals comprises the skulls of many marsupials and others of increasing significance as the species becomes endangered.

The collection also includes eleven ‘type’ specimens of marine invertebrates; these are the original specimens used to describe new species.  There is also an extensive collection of microscope slides, with contributions from Professor Spencer and other former researchers in the department, and a large number of reprints and other historical documents of cultural significance.

Professor O. W. Tiegs (Chair of Zoology, 1948-1956) substantially improved the collection, which was housed in its own room in the old Zoology building. The room was named The Tiegs Museum and this title is engraved on a splendid glass panel.

When the Department of Zoology moved to its new premises in 1988, the collection was transferred to its own room adjacent to the teaching laboratories on the first floor, where it remains a crucial part of the undergraduate teaching in vertebrate and invertebrate zoology.

Visitors from outside the university, such as students from nearby high schools, continue to visit The Tiegs Museum by arrangement.

More about the history of the museum

A History of the Tiegs Museum 1887-1959 (PDF 3.0 MB)
A chronological biography of the Tiegs Museum, highlighting important donors and particular highlights of the museum, and discussing the museum as a product of trends in zoology and in science over time.

Georgina Sweet and the Tiegs Museum (PDF 1.2 MB)
Georgina Sweet (1875-1946) was a student, lecturer and demonstrator in biology at the University of Melbourne. Throughout her career, Georgina travelled extensively, returning with zoological specimens that made their way into the Tiegs Museum.

Oscar Werner Tiegs

Oscar Tiegs was born in Brisbane on 12 March 1897. From a young age he had a fascination with insects. He attended the University of Queensland on scholarship where he specialised in biology and was provided with ‘classical’ training in animal morphology. In 1922 he moved to South Australia to help establish a new Department of Zoology at the University of Adelaide.  After three years he obtained a Doctor of Science for his thesis on the histology of the metamorphosis of a Chalcid wasp, Nasonia.

In 1925 Tiegs joined the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne.  He worked as a senior lecturer, Associate Professor, Professor and from 1950-1952 served as Dean of the Faculty of Science.  Tiegs' interests did not lie in administration however and he much preferred to spend time in the laboratory or the departmental museum.  His firm belief in teaching undergraduate students a solid background in comparative morphology led him to spend considerable time and care extending and improving the collection.

Tiegs' extensive research ranged from 'physiological analysis of nervous and muscular action to studies in classical invertebrate embryology'.  His findings led to the division of the phylum Arthropoda into two distinct parts: one comprising the insects, myriapods and Peripatus: the other trilobites, crustacea and arachnids.  His research required meticulous labour over microscopes and was often accompanied by his own beautiful illustration.

After his sudden death in 1956, an obituary from the Fellows of the Royal Society read, 'he was at the height of his intellectual power, and in him we have lost a great biologist of his generation'.

Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne, Tiegs, Oscar Werner (1897 - 1956) Biographical entry

Pantin, C.F.A., Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society Vol. Nov.1957 pp.247-255