History of the School


First lectures in Chemistry at the University of Melbourne


John Drummond Kirkland appointed Professor of Chemistry

1886 (till 1923)

David Orme Masson (later Sir David Orme Masson) appointed Professor of Chemistry


Society of Chemical Industry established in Victoria


Melbourne University Chemical Society established

1923 (till 1928)

David Rivett (Head of School)

1928 (till 1956)

Ernst Hartung (Head of School); and
secured funding and oversaw building of the chemistry buildings during that tenure.

The first lectures in chemistry at the University of Melbourne were given in 1856, only three years after the University was founded. The first lecturer in chemistry was Dr John Macadam, the Government Analyst, who held a part-time appointment and lectured to medical students.

In 1882, John Drummond Kirkland was appointed the first Professor of Chemistry. In 1886, Kirkland was succeeded by David Orme Masson, who was appointed from the University of Edinburgh, after an extensive international search. Masson (later Sir David Orme Masson) led the School from 1886 to1923, establishing chemistry firmly as a discipline in its own right and creating a thriving and successful research School.

Among Masson's many accomplishments were the establishment of the Society of Chemical Industry in Victoria (1900) and the Melbourne University Chemical Society (MUCS, 1903), the first of the University Chemical Societies in Australia. Masson Road and the Masson Theatre in Chemistry commemorate the Masson years.

Following Masson's retirement, the School was led first by David Rivett and then by Ernst Hartung from 1928 to 1952, who secured the necessary funding and oversaw the building of the chemistry buildings which house the teaching activities of the School today.

Since Hartung's years, the School has grown rapidly and now has approximately 90 academic and professional staff involved in teaching and research, with 2500 undergraduates enrolled in chemistry subjects and 150 BSc (Hons), MSc and postgraduate research students.


Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology was opened


The School of Chemistry undergoes a major building refurbishment with completion in 2014.

Chemistry Building East Wing

More infromation

In 2005 the $100 million Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology was opened, incorporating state-of-the-art research laboratories for a number of research groups in the School of Chemistry fostering research in a dynamic interdisciplinary environment.

From late 2007 the School has undergone a major refurbishment with modern teaching laboratories in the West wing and new research laboratories in the East wing completed in 2014.

[For further information about the history of the School of Chemistry see 'Masson of Melbourne' by Len Weickhardt, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (1989); 'The Chemistry Department of the University of Melbourne - Its Contribution to Australian Science 1854-1959' by Joan Radford, Hawthorn Press (1978); 'Chemistry @ Melbourne 1960-2000' by Valda McRae, School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, (2008)]

Chemistry @ Melbourne, 1960 to 2000

Chemistry@Melbourne, 1960 to 2000

The story of four decades in the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne.

Author: Valda M McRae
Published by: The School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, 576pp, 2008

To purchase a copy of the book please fill in the order form and send it via email to Ms Liz Mills: emills@unimelb.edu.au.

Download order form

Price: $45 (inclusive of GST)

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Within Australia: $13.20 (inclusive of GST)
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Enquiries can be directed to Ms Liz Mills email: emills@unimelb.edu.au