Our History

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A Brief History of the South Australian Museum

The concept for the South Australian Museum originated in London with the foundation of the South Australian Literary Association on 29 August 1834. The object of the society was to satisfy intellectual pursuits such as literature, arts, history and natural science.

In June 1856, 20 years after Governor Hindmarsh proclaimed South Australia a province and in the same year South Australia established its constitution, an Act to provide for an institution that would incorporate a public library and museum was approved.

The Act promoted “the general study and cultivation of all or any of the branches or departments of art, science, literature, and philosophy” through lectures, classes and united cultural societies under one institution.

In June 1859, shortly after his arrival in the South Australian Colony, Frederick George Waterhouse offered his services as Curator of the South Australian Institute Museum. Waterhouse brought with him valuable experience following his work at the British Museum. Consequently, the Board appointed him as the first Curator (Director).

Eighty years later, legislation giving the South Australian Museum autonomy from the Art Gallery and Library was passed. This Act became operational in 1940.

Today, the museum has about 90 staff members, compared to about 40 in 1956. This reflects greater specialisation rather than embarkation on new fields of study. Staff numbers are bolstered with a greater number of volunteers, students and Honoraries.

The South Australian Museum is a custodian for State and national collections of cultural and natural heritage. The specialised data generated by collection managers, curators and scientists over the last 157 years is made available to the international community through publications, promotion, education and exhibitions.

Read the complete version of the history of the South Australian Museum