Visit the real places in Dr Huxley’s Bequest

“Rosy, Jaz and all the people working at the university are figments of my imagination, but the historical people, medical discoveries and scientific facts described in this book are all real and the university bears a strong resemblance to the University of Sydney. If you walk around the University of Sydney’s Camperdown campus, you too will be able to see Mephistopheles spitting in his pool, Gilgamesh strangling his lion, William Harvey and Louis Pasteur (or at least, their stone heads) sitting outside the Blackburn Building, the mummy of the boy Horus in the Nicholson Museum, the Future of Pharmacy picture in the Pharmacy building and exhibitions of rare books in Fisher Library…”

Author’s Note, Dr Huxley’s Bequest

Most of the places that Rosy and Jaz explore in Dr Huxley’s Bequest exist in the real world. If you happen to be in Sydney, you can visit those places at the University of Sydney, which offers guided tours of its Camperdown campus. However, for readers who can’t visit the university, here’s a Dr Huxley’s Bequest virtual tour.

Let’s start at the grand entrance on Parramatta Road. Stroll up University Avenue and you’ll see, on your right, a brand new university museum and art gallery, which opened in 2020. On your left is Victoria Park, which contains the swimming pool that Rosy declined to swim in and was once a cow pasture featuring “a noisome dam in which horses were washed or sometimes ended up as corpses”. Continue walking up the hill, across the front lawn and underneath the ornate, ivy-smothered Clock Tower. Pause, as Rosy and Jaz did, to appreciate the Gothic Revival architecture. If you’re very observant, you’ll find gargoyles and grotesques in the form of a kangaroo, a crocodile, a kookaburra and a frog amongst all the usual European monsters and dragons, as well as a lot of “wasteful grandeur” in the form of finials, pinnacles, quatrefoils, parapets, stone tracery and ornate stained glass, all designed by Edmund Blackett. The construction of the front of the University Main Block went on until 1860, “hampered from time to time by workmen downing tools and hurrying away to join whatever was the latest goldrush”.

Main Quadrangle of the University of Sydney

Once inside the Main Quadrangle, turn left and walk along the cloisters until you come to the vestibule of the former Nicholson Museum. Admire the elaborately carved vaulted ceilings and the first century BC marble statue of a Roman Republican, as Rosy did. Walk to the far end of the vestibule and through the Nicholson Gateway, where you can turn around and see the lion and the unicorn that may or may not have been mutilated by Hildegard of Bingen.

Nicholson Gateway, University of Sydney

This part of the university used to be the Nicholson Museum, where you could see hundreds of Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Etruscan antiquities. The entire Nicholson Collection has now been moved to the new university museum. Of particular interest to Dr Huxley’s Bequest readers will be Padiashaikhet’s coffin, Horus the Boy Mummy, some preserved crocodiles, a pair of tiny mummified legs in a glass bell jar, the mummified head that freaked out Rosy and Jaz, and of course, a beautiful wedjat-eye amulet.

Walk back out to the Main Quadrangle and across to the northern end. Go through the Northern Vestibule and turn left into Science Road. Directly across the road is the Macleay Building, which used to house the Macleay Museum of Natural History. The Macleay Museum has now closed, with the collection moved into the new university museum. You will just have to gaze up at the attic windows and imagine the museum as it used to be, with its Chippendale collecting cabinets filled with fascinating curiosities and the whale skeleton dangling from the rafters. Hopefully the new museum will display the Macleay Museum’s stuffed possum, pickled rats and giant tapeworm in a prominent position.

Across the road from the Macleay Building is the Faculty of Pharmacy. Go through the front doors and turn right to examine a display of vintage pharmaceutical equipment and medicines, including the bottle of ‘Ferrous Carbonate et Strychnine’ that horrified Jaz and the imaginatively-named ‘Grey Powder’ and ‘Blue Pills’ that Rosy commented on.

Display of pharmacy bottles, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney

Also on display is a series of framed prints by Robert Thom depicting the history of pharmacy, beginning with ‘Pharmacy in Ancient China’ and progressing through ancient Greece and Rome, and medieval Europe and Arabia, all the way to ‘Pharmacy Today and Tomorrow’, depicting futuristic pharmacists passing on their skills ‘from father to son’. (Sorry about the quality of these Pharmacy photos, but the Future of Pharmacy was glowing with self-importance and interfered with my camera. I’m sure you can imagine how the Galen print turned out.)

Future of Pharmacy print, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney

Walk back outside, continue down Science Road and you will see the Mephistopheles fountain, possibly designed by Leslie Wilkinson, possibly inspired by the art of Norman Lindsay.

Mephistopheles fountain, Science Road, University of Sydney

Go down the steps into the Graffiti Tunnel, then follow the path until you come out at Manning Road. Turn right and walk past the Old Teachers’ College and when you reach the end of the road, turn left into Western Avenue. Just before the Sports Union you will find the magnificent statue of Gilgamesh, hugging (or perhaps strangling) a lion. Stop, as Rosy and Jaz did, to read about his quest for immortality.

Gilgamesh statue, University of Sydney

Gilgamesh plaque, University of Sydney

Then cross the road and continue along Western Avenue, past the sports oval, then turn right into Blackburn Circuit. At the bottom of the hill was the Blackburn Building, which had a lovely Art Deco entrance foyer, flanked by sculptures of William Harvey and Louis Pasteur, each with a Rod of Asclepius carved into its plinth. The Blackburn Building has now been replaced with the new Susan Wakil Health Building, due to open in 2021.

Blackburn Building, University of Sydney

The Blackburn Building used to house The Interactive Centre for Human Diseases and Pathology Museum, but this collection has now been moved to the Charles Perkins Centre. (You'll need to make an appointment with the curator if you want to view the collection.) Among the pathology specimens and historical medical equipment are that famous flask of broth prepared by Louis Pasteur in 1888 and the letter about its purpose.

Walk back up the other side of Blackburn Circuit until you reach Western Avenue. Directly ahead is Wesley College, one of the residential colleges of the university and the real-life inspiration for New College. On the right you might be able to see Rosy’s open window …

Wesley College, University of Sydney

Walk back along Western Avenue and turn right into Physics Road. Cross to the path running alongside the hockey field so you can look up at the Physics Building, completed in 1926, and read all the names of famous physicists and mathematicians, including Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Huyghens, Dalton, Fresnel, Fourier, Carnot, Faraday, Maxwell, Helmholtz, Kelvin, Bolton, Roentgen and Becquerel.

Physics Building, University of Sydney

Notice who’s missing? You’ll know if you’ve read Dr Huxley’s Bequest. Hint: this scientist remains the only person to win Nobel Prizes for both Physics and Chemistry. Continue up Physics Road until you reach Fisher Road. On the right is the Edward Ford Building, formerly the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and named after a renowned malaria expert. However, we will turn left, cross the road and walk up to the Anderson Stuart Building, also known as the Old Medical School, on the corner of Fisher Road and Manning Road. Inside is the J.T. Wilson Museum of Human Anatomy, but it’s restricted to medical students and graduates.

Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney

Instead, keep walking along Manning Road to the last stop on our tour, Fisher Library. The Library’s Rare Books collection includes a number of antiquarian medical texts, including works by Dioscorides, Andreas Vesalius, Ambroise Paré, James Lind, Louis Pasteur and David Ferrier. There’s usually an interesting exhibition or two to explore, including online exhibitions.

All photographs of the University of Sydney © Michelle Cooper 2017
Quotes about the history of the university come from University of Sydney Sketchbook (1977) by Tess van Sommers, illustrated by Allan Gamble.

Download the teaching resources for Dr Huxley's Bequest