Drawing on funds raised by members, the present two storey, brick structure was erected in several stages, beginning with the original, red brick Meeting Hall, which was completed in 1859. Designed (pro-bono) by renowned Melbourne architect Joseph Reed (who also designed such buildings as the State Library, the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne Town Hall, Trades Hall, Scots Church etc), the building was officially opened by the Victorian governor, Sir Henry Barkly, who was the Society’s President on December 10, 1859.
Originally a two storey, vaulted Meeting Hall, remodelling in 1867-1869 saw internal structures and partitions added to create a separate second floor with the Cudmore Library and Ellery Lecture Theatre upstairs and the Burke and Wills, Phillip Law and Nancy Millis Rooms downstairs. The rendering of the exterior was completed in 1880.
A strategic alliance with what became the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) permitted an extension on the south side in 1954 – the Arthur Wilson Memorial Wing, named for a member and benefactor of the College – to create the overall cube-shaped building visitors see today. The creation of this new wing produced the Von Mueller Room and office spaces upstairs, and the current Royal Society Office and kitchen facilities downstairs. RANZCOG have since moved to a new, purpose-built facility, and these rooms are now variously utilised by the Society’s members, tenants and clients.
We are fortunate to be one of the few learned societies in Australia with its own building, built specifically for the Royal Society of Victoria. It has been of great value as a cultural focal point for our activities; it is our place to meet, our place to learn, and our place to debate contemporary scientific and cultural issues. It is a symbol of the importance of science and technology in our lives and of the Royal Society of Victoria’s continuing role in the promotion of science and scientific endeavour for the benefit of all Victorians.
The building also presents its challenges, particularly in terms of accessibility. The first floor and toilets are all only accessible by stairs and, as a very small NGO, we continue to seek funding and regulatory support to extend our facilities – the installation of lifts and accessible facilities for our members, clients and guests is a high priority, yet will be an expensive and time-consuming project to realise.