Image: Lewis Wing c. 1870s

Lewis Wing c. 1870s

The original Lewis Wing of the Australian Museum on William Street c.1870s. The recessed entrance was remodeled with the addition of a third storey in 1890. Image from the Australian Museum Archives.

H. Barnes
© Australian Museum


1846-1852: Mortimer Lewis Wing

William Street
Greek Revival Style

In 1844, the Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis, was directed by the Governor to prepare plans and estimates for a building to house the Australian Museum. Two acres of land on the eastern side of Hyde Park at the corner of William and College streets, adjacent to the grant to Sydney College, had been chosen as the site.

'Lewis ... built a competent, solid, dignified structure in the Greek Revival Style. It was quite impressive in scale when compared with other contemporary Sydney buildings. Its recessed entrance was flanked by two fluted Corinthian columns. It possessed a Long Gallery behind the curatorial rooms at the font, which rose to the full height of the building, with a balcony at first floor level.' [Proudfoot 9]

A scandal about the mismanagement of public funds allocated to the building led to Lewis' resignation in August 1849. The building stood unroofed until work resumed in 1850: an intended dome was discarded for skylights. On 14 November 1854 the Long Gallery was used for the first time to display the exhibits intended for the Paris Exhibition of 1855, recorded in a lithograph by FC Terry published in the 'Illustrated Sydney News'.

The building was eventually opened to the public in May 1857. With only one hall for displays, it was immediately inadequate.

Subsequent alterations to the Lewis Wing involved a staircase at the western end to access the Barnet wing in 1866, and the addition of a third storey in 1890-1892, at which time the central recess (housing an aviary in 1888) was eliminated, moving the front door forward. In 1888 the Curator and his family stopped living in the Museum and the front rooms became available for museum purposes.

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