History

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The establishment of the Interactive Centre for Human Diseases as it exists today is not the work of one inspired person but the result of many people's endeavours over many years. The Centre, as an educational institution, plays a vital role in the present teaching of pathology to medical, dental and paramedical students.

The Medical School of the University of Sydney had very humble beginnings. It was founded in 1883 and it was housed in a small cottage on a site near the Old Geology Building (A11). The first Professor and Dean of the Faculty was Dr Thomas P Anderson-Stuart (later Sir Thomas P Anderson-Stuart). The Sydney University Medical Journal recalls that he "was so impatient to begin work that he did not wait for the windows and doors of this cottage to be completed" and in its first year of operation there were only four students. The Chief Demonstrator at that time was Dr Alexander MacCormick (later Sir Alexander MacCormick), a celebrated surgeon of the day who provided the majority of pathological specimens used in the Centre in order to illustrate his lectures. All the specimens were preserved in formalin solutions and mounted in glass containers.

In 1887 a new extensive building - The Anderson-Stuart Building (F13) - was completed, which nowadays is referred to as the "Old Medical School". Within this building a special room was allotted for the collection of pathology specimens, along with zoological and biological objects. This room was called The Museum of Normal and Morbid Anatomy. The first record of this Museum appeared in the 1889 Calendar of the University of Sydney. Among its Regulations we read the following:

Regulations of the Museum of Normal and Morbid Anatomy
Committee of Management for 1889:
The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine
W Camac Wilkinson, M.D.
JT Wilson, M.B., M.Ch.


  1. The Museum shall be called the Museum of Normal and Morbid Anatomy and shall be established for the benefit of all the Medical Departments of the University.
  2. The Museum shall be under the control of a Committee of Management, to be appointed by the Senate of its first meeting in Lent Term.
  3. The Committee shall consist of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine for the time being, together with two members of the Medical Teaching staff to be chosen by the Senate.
  4. The working Curator shall be under the control of the Committee of Management and in the second Thursday of each term he shall transmit to the Dean, for the Senate, a report to be written in a separate book kept for that purpose, of all the work that has been done since the last report.
  5. Requisitions for the expenditure of money in connection with the Museum shall be submitted by the Committee of Management to the Finance Committee of the Senate for its approval.

The Faculty appointed the first Honorary Curator, S Jamieson, B.A., M.B., Ch.M. in 1893. The first Acting Curator of this Museum was Mr John Shewan who was also the Acting Curator of Macleay Museum from 1913-1934. He was remembered as a 'universal man' and in an Obituary from the Medical Journal of Australia, 19 July 1945, we read that he "made the model of the original four-roomed Medical School at Sydney, the artificial larynx and the famous casts of snakes which were of interest to many early settlers". At that time the cataloguing of the exhibits was just simple personal notes and the representational aspect of the museum was not considered, so it resembled a big store-house rather than a museum. The majority of specimens themselves were placed in glass containers and preserved in a 10% formalin solution with some additives for preserving pigments in the tissue. The more interested students took advantage of visiting and learning in the museum but it was not a compulsory requirement at the time, most made use of the museum notes which only comprised of some 20 pages.

The Medical School in those days had only the Chair of Anatomy and Physiology and it was not until 1902 that the Chair of Pathology was founded and Professor DA Welsh appointed to this position. He was in charge of the Museum until 1936. At the time of his appointment the Management of the Museum was rephrased in the Regulations of the University Calendar as follows:

Museum of Normal and Morbid Anatomy
Committee of Management
The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine
The Challis Professor of Anatomy
The Professor of Pathology
Honorary Curator - Professor DA Welsh, M.A., B.Sc., M.D., M.R.C.D./Edin


Due to the generosity of a Sydney businessman, Mr George Henry Bosch, the other Chairs of Medicine were founded and these included: Embryology, Histology, Surgery, Medicine and Bacteriology. Mr Bosch donated £25,000 in 1924 and £225,000 in 1927 with the aspiration of the Medical School to widen its functions by extending into the field of scientific investigation and research. The problem of permanent housing for these new departments, with the possibility of each having its own systematic research groups, presented a new problem to the University. The Anderson-Stuart Building, because of the steadily increasing number of students, could not provide the required space for such extra new activities. However, this problem was solved in 1930 when we read in "The Sydney Morning Herald", 3rd of June, the following news:

"At the meeting of the University Senate yesterday afternoon it was announced that the Rockefeller Foundation of New York had decided to contribute £100,000 to Sydney University for the purpose of providing laboratory facilities for the Departments of Medicine, Surgery, Pathology, Bacteriology and allied subjects of the Medical Curriculum.

The University had been in communication with the Foundation for some months and in January Mr Bosch and Professor Stump crossed to America to explain in person the plans which the University had in view. The result was the munificent gift".


Time was not wasted on plans and designs with a site chosen close to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital because of the beneficial cooperation between these two institutions. The plans of the new building were signed by Mr Ewan Smith, F.R.I.B.A., Government Architect (14 October 1931) with the front elevation of the building and a description of the proposed New Medical School being published in the Sydney Morning Herald. It prompted a quick reaction and we read the following letter dated 11 November 1931:

"Sir, in today's issue of your paper is a picture of the proposed New Medical School to be built in the grounds of the University of Sydney. On looking at it one is struck by the absence of beauty in its architecture and by the factory-like appearance of its general contour. The present Medical School Building - a monument to the untiring efforts of the Late Sir Thomas Anderson-Stuart - and the main university buildings are examples of beautiful architecture.

Signed
I am a Medical Graduate"


The proposal was, however, accepted with all its details. Apparently the Rockefeller donation was generous indeed, and the New Medical School was completed and officially opened on the 28 September 1933 by His Excellency Air Vice-Marshall Sir Philip Woolcott Game, G.B.E., K.C.B., D.S.O., Governor of New South Wales and Visitor to the University.

The general plan is shown in this sketch. It comprises the main bulk of the building (D) which is composed of research laboratories, the Western (W) and Eastern (E) corridors connecting with the central octagonal block (O), which is flanked on either side by light courts (L).

Museum Layout

The rectangular extension (A) on the Western side accommodates the teaching laboratories and theatres. The same Western corridor also connects the whole building to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The building contains five floors in all, with each floor in the octagonal block housing different medical teaching activities. The Museum of Pathology was situated on the fourth level with the rooms (M) and (N), next to the Octagon, being the Curator's Office and Curator's laboratory workshop, respectively.

The transfer of the museum to the new Rockefeller Building, now called the Blackburn Building (D06) or (New Medical School), took place under Professor Welsh and its Acting Curator, Mr MJ Morrissey (later Dr MJ Morrissey). At this point in time the name of the museum was changed from the "Museum of Normal and Morbid Anatomy" to the "Museum of Pathology". However, it was not until 1937 that there was a recorded formal change of the name which was registered in the University Calendar. All specimens exhibiting normal features were either given to the Museum of Anatomy or Museum of Obstetrics, which was established in 1928, and the specimens relating to Australian fauna were donated to the Australian Museum.

In 1934 Mr HW Chambers was appointed the new Acting Curator of the Museum of Pathology and he held that position for the following 32 years. In 1936 Professor Welsh retired from the University, and Professor Keith English M.D., Ch.M., F.R.A.C.P. took up the Chair of Pathology. He is remembered as an energetic and colourful personality who served in the A.I.F. during World War I and returned to Australia in 1920 with a valuable collection of pathological war specimens, which were distributed among some of the Australian Universities. This collection of specimens contained various gun lesions and gangrenous examples in different organs and tissues. Professor Inglis was also very intrigued with congenital malformations and for this reason the collection contained a large number of congenital monstrosities. The main source of collected specimens came through the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, but in 1946 Professor Inglis cut off all ties with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and declared that he "would never cross the viaduct between the New Medical School and Royal Prince Alfred again". Subsequently, the main supply of pathological specimens now came from the Sydney Hospital, and this arrangement persisted while Professor Inglis held the Chair of Pathology.

The first cataloguing attempt for specimens in the Museum was made by Professor Inglis using his own cyclic system. He loved to lavishly illustrate his lectures with examples of pathology specimens, and the Curator had to prepare up to forty specimens for a single lecture. It was probably due to this detail that pathology became the "best taught subject in the Medical course" according to Professor Frank Magarey.

The Museum at that time actually occupied two floors of the octagonal centre of the Rockefeller Building. The lower floor contained fourteen free-standing cabinets, which were accessible from both sides, radiating from the centre of the octagon. Along the walls of the Museum there were benches which supported microscopes for students studying examples of pathological histology. The stairs at the Western end of the Museum led directly to the upper galleries where large cupboards housed rarer pathological specimens, collections of peculiar pathology cases, old surgical instruments, and microscopes of historical interest.

In 1952 Professor Inglis retired and Professor FR Magarey M.D., B.S., M.R.C.P., M.R.A.C.P. became the Head of the Pathology Department and was also appointed to the Chair of Pathology. One of the tasks he set for himself was to reorganise the Museum of Pathology. According to Professor Magarey the Museum was part of the teaching of the Medical Curriculum, and as such, must cover the basic principles, without any undue emphasis on extraordinary and spectacular examples. It must contain a balanced representation of common and original diseases to give the students a basic grasp of pathology and its processes. Therefore he decided to remove the excessive representation of extraordinary specimens and supplement the essential and more common examples. He diplomatically renewed contacts with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and it was due to his intervention that it was agreed that the University staff would again undertake autopsies two days a week in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. This meant that most of the current and common cases were again easily available. The more interesting and rarer cases, occurring on the other days of dissection, were also offered to the University. This arrangement proved very beneficial.

After deciding on the new contents of the Museum, Professor Magarey introduced the internationally valid cataloguing system, invented by Maud Abbott. This system is an adaptation of the Dewey System used in most libraries around the world. The number in front of the dot is an anatomical reference number, and the reference number on the right side of the dot indicates the pathological condition, e.g. heart as a whole (Number 11), atrophy of a whole organ (Number 21) therefore, atrophy of the whole heart 11.21. Of course, it becomes much more complicated for more accurate subclass of the different tissue layers in the same organs showing different types of lesions.

Professor Magarey also introduced compulsory attendance and study in the Museum for all 4th Year Medical and 3rd Year Dental students. To make this system operate successfully all students were examined on the Museum exhibits. In order to give some guidance to the collection of these specimens, a comprehensive catalogue was printed in book form with the first edition printed in 1958. This individual catalogue for students was discontinued in 1977 under the instructions of the new Head, Professor DA Cameron. The catalogue contained one hundred and sixty pages of specimens for the Medical students, with a smaller number required for the Dental students, each with a history containing a brief description of the relevant exhibit. For example:

"11.21.1 - Heart showing brown atrophy.

The patient was a woman of fifty one who died of carcinoma of the stomach.

Macroscopic: The heart is very small and weighted only 110 gm. The muscle is brown in colour and the coronary vessels stand out prominently.

Microscopic: There is diminution in the size of the muscle fibres and increase in intracellular brownish pigment. The epicardial fat has been absorbed, leaving myxomatous tissue".

To make the use of the collection even more convenient, Professor Magarey decided to print another smaller catalogue book for each of the cabinets, containing all of the specimens with additional detailed microscopic pictures describing the specimens' minute features. Because of such constant use, each leaf of this small book was placed in a plastic envelope, with the whole contents bound in a sturdy leather cover which was kept in a permanent pigeon-hole on the same cabinet. This proved to be a great success as students had easily available material close at hand.

Shortly after the Second World War plastics appeared on the Australian market. Amongst other things, this major event revolutionised not only the container industry, but for the Museum of Pathology this meant a great saving in the breakage of glass specimen containers. With students studying the various pathology examples they had to handle the specimens and examine them closely from all sides; subsequently accidents were unavoidable, which often meant the loss of specimens. Mr Chambers, the then Acting Curator, eagerly started the investigation of plastic material, methyl methacrylate, and its application to suit the Museum's requirements. He contacted the dental profession which already used this material for construction of dental prosthetics and had therefore some experience in handling this medium. The plastic for the Museum specimen containers was provided in solid sheet form and the problem then became that of cutting and 'soldering' of this material in the construction of the properly measured containers. Such a provision for individually sized containers at last gave a chance for the precise accommodation of the specimen, so as not to be too large, which made the specimen float in the formalin solution at the slightest movement. Thus, the methodical replacement of glass bottles for plastic containers was commenced.

In 1961 Mr Chambers was sent overseas to collect further professional information concerning plastics in a 3 month tour sponsored by the Bushell's Trust, who allocated £1,200 for this purpose. Mr Chambers visited Pathology Museums in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Montreal, London and Zurich. At that time the Americans had commenced experimentation with a new plastic material called polyester resin, which resulted in the solid plastic embedment of the whole specimen. This new discovery produced a practically ever-lasting exhibit in one solid block but Mr Chambers discovered that the cost of such equipment alone, at that time, was about exorbitant. The large expense was due mainly to the complicated dehydration apparatus required for organic tissue and certain requisites for cellular injection with polyester resin material.

Gradually it was realised that the complete dehydration of the organic specimen prior to solid mounting was really not necessary. The experiments confirmed the fact that surface dehydration of only 2-3 mm would suffice and Mr Chambers followed these lines and achieved good results in a number of hard specimens, such as bones.

Back in Sydney the idea of a 'wet specimen in a solid mount' was shelved for a more urgent problem, namely the lack of space in the Museum. With the ever increasing number of students and increasing tutorial groups, the Department was presented with the eventual problem of over-crowding. Professor Magarey decided to gain an extra floor by eliminating the upper galleries of the Museum, and use this new space for student tutorials and the study of pathological histology. He modernised and simplified the Museum of Pathology by disposing of the legal-medical specimens (including evidence from some of the Nation's sensational murder cases, such as the 'pyjama-girl murder'), which were studied by members of the NSW Police Force training in Forensics, by transferring them to the New South Wales Government Division of Forensic Medicine. The old medical instrument collection was either presented to the University Macleay Museum, or the Royal College of Surgeons.

In 1966, after 32 years of service, Mr Chambers retired and Mr GL Morrison took on the position of Acting Curator. He continued to experiment with polyester resin and subsequently produced a new method of embedding. Instead of the solid mount for a huge femur bone which would end up extremely bulky, Mr Morrison decided to coat the large bone with the polyester resin and leave it free-standing on a base of resin. By doing this he achieved the best possible visibility and offered the student a greater opportunity to inspect the specimen. Mr Morrison continued experimenting with solid mounts of wet specimen tissues, which required extremely careful techniques. In time he was able to produce many magnificent specimens with such delicate tissues, but many unsolved 'minor' technical problems, such as contraction of the specimen or loss of colour after embedding, were still encountered.

Over the years Mr Morrison reached a high level of craftsmanship in producing both solid plastic exhibits and precise plastic specimen containers for suspension of wet mount specimens. He emphasised the aesthetic presentation of the Museum to make it more appealing to the teaching process. Amongst other things, the hard fluorescent lights were changed to a softer De-Luxe pink light in order to enhance the colour of the tissues.

In 1975 Professor Magarey officially relinquished the position of Honorary Curator of the Museum of Pathology in favour of Mr Morrison (included in the 1976 University Calendar). Mr Morrison developed many Medical Museum methods, some in collaboration with Mr R Bullock, the Honorary Curator in the Veterinary Anatomy Museum (now the Raymond Bullock Museum of Veterinary Anatomy). He improved and modified mounting techniques, effected plastic embedment procedures and simplified macropathological staining. Most of these advanced skills have ensured that old classical conditions as well as the more recent specimens are maintained and displayed at a high degree of presentation.

It was also the aim, under Mr Morrison's guidance, for the Museum of Pathology to instruct other staff in the complexities of Medical Museum Techniques. Both overseas and local workers have availed themselves of this collaboration. Two notable overseas trainees were Mr K Tapora, a Churchill Fellow from Papua New Guinea (1965) and Mr A Dias, a Colombo Plan Fellow from Sri Lanka (1979) who spent 1 year and 6 months, respectively, training in the Museum of Pathology with the intention of developing museums in their respective countries.

Such was Mr Morrison's considered expertise in Museum techniques that in 1979 he was called upon, by the Department of Administrative Services (Australian Exhibit Organisation), to prepare displays for the Australian Fauna Exhibition to China. These exhibits included Kangaroo Joeys (eleven in total) which were presented to the Museum of Natural History, Peking. This was one of a number of requests for assistance with regard to museum techniques to Mr Morrison.

Audiovisual equipment was first introduced into the Museum of Pathology by Mr Morrison in 1979 in the form of tape/slide projectors and play-on slide projectors which gave the students a medium whereby lectures and tutorials could be revised in the Museum. These programs consisted of 35 mm photographic transparencies with taped description of the slide on view. This method of teaching was further upgraded in 1997 when computers were introduced into the Museum of Pathology.

Professor SE Dorsch proposed that old medical instruments be re-introduced into the Museum. In 1986 when the Faculty of Medicine celebrated the Centenary of Medicine at the University of Sydney, Mr Morrison solicited various medical organisations to raise finance for the purchase of special cabinets to be installed in the Museum to cater for these items. Many of these exhibits praised the achievements of past graduates. This display was officially opened by the Dean of Medicine, Professor R Gye, in August 1986.

In 1986 Mr Morrison introduced miniaturised radiological displays which complemented the various pathological conditions seen in the Museum. The radiological descriptions were added to the existing catalogue books to give some specimens a clinical, macroscopic, microscopic as well as radiological description. The concept for this display was afforded by Associate Professor J McCredie while the funding was provided by Dr A Goldin. This display however was removed in early 1997 to make way for the computers being introduced into the Museum.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital autopsies ceased to be performed by staff from within the Department of Pathology in 1990, resulting in the Museum of Pathology becoming starved of a constant supply of new specimens. Mr Morrison was forced to become more directed to maintaining the current examples, some of which were obtained during the early years of this century. In 1992 Mr Morrison was forced to compromise his Museum duties when his work situation changed considerably, with his duties expanded to include that of Laboratory Manager for the Department of Pathology in addition to his Museum Curatorship.

In 1987 Mr GJ Holden commenced as Assistant Curator. He continued the skills passed on from Mr Morrison and in 1996 won the Centenary Fellowship for Medical Technicians Scholarship which allowed him to visit Medical Museums in the United Kingdom. His knowledge of computer skills allowed him to develop extensive programs for computerised learning now being utilised in the Museum of Pathology.

The Interactive Centre for Human Diseases section of the Museum of Pathology was officially opened by Professor G Brown, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Sydney, in August 1997.

Mr Morrison retired in 1998 and the museum was then in the care of Mr G Holden until 2001. The current Curator is Dr M Kekic. Mr Morrison continues assisting Dr Kekic on a casual basis.

At present the Museum is highly organised and appropriate in subject matter, with more than 1,600 pathological exhibits on display providing both an efficient educational and aesthetically acceptable environment for the teaching and learning of pathology.