The McCoy Project

by Robin Hirst
Publish date
1 October 2013
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Dr Robin Hirst is the Director of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at Museum Victoria.

On Wednesday 18 September, Museum Victoria and the University of Melbourne launched the McCoy Project. This initiative will foster collaborative research between our two institutions, formalising a tradition that stretches back almost 160 years.

Event Organisers of the McCoy Project Launch At the McCoy Project launch: (L-R) Dr Robin Hirst, Director, Collections, Research and Exhibitions, Museum Victoria; Susannah Morley, Research Collaboration Manager, University of Melbourne; Ms Christine Tipton, Business and Grants Manager, Collections, Research and Exhibitions, Museum Victoria; Professor Mark Hargreaves, Professor, Department of Physiology, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Partnerships), University of Melbourne.
Image: Les O'Rourke Photography
Source: University of Melbourne

The McCoy Project is named after Irishman Fredrick McCoy, one of four inaugural professors appointed by the University of Melbourne in 1854. When he arrived, the newly-established National Museum of Victoria occupied a couple of rooms in the Old Assay Office in La Trobe Street.

McCoy was desperate to have the museum and its collections at the university in Carlton, despite fierce public opposition. McCoy had a victory when the University Council provided funds to build a museum wing on the north side of the Quadrangle. Now he just needed the collections.

In July 1856, McCoy took direct action and transported the contents of the museum from the city to the university. Melbourne society was outraged. The Melbourne Punch had a field day, and published a highly critical poem. It talks of McCoy, William Blandowski the museum’s first curator, and Ferdinand von Mueller, the colony’s botanist.

There was a little man,
And he had a little plan,
The public of their specimens to rob, rob, rob,
So he got a horse and dray,
And he carted them away,
And chuckled with enjoyment of the job, job, job.

Blandowski’s pickled possums,
And Mueller’s leaves and blossoms,
Bugs, butterflies, and beetles stuck on pins, pins, pins,
Light and heavy, great and small,
He abstracted one and all –
May we never have to answer for such sins, sins, sins.

There were six foot kangaroos,
Native bears and cockatoos,
That would make a taxidermist jump for joy, joy, joy,
And if you want to know,
Who took them you should go,
And seek information from McCoy, Coy, Coy.

When one’s living far away,
Up the country dare I say,
It’s very nice to have such things at hand, hand, hand,
Yet it don’t become professors,
When they become possessors,
Of property by methods contraband, band, band.

cartoon in Punch, 1856 Caroon titled 'The successful foray: or the professor's return'
Source: Melbourne Punch, 14 August 1856

McCoy’s museum outgrew the space in the Quadrangle, and he had a new National Museum building erected on adjacent land (where Union House now stands). The public were gradually persuaded to make the trip to the ‘country’ to visit the thriving new museum and its big new exhibitions. And so the progenitor of Museum Victoria remained on University of Melbourne turf until McCoy died in 1899, when the authorities moved everything back to a city site - the State Library building.

With this shared history in mind, the university and the museum held a workshop in September 2012 to explore how we might work more closely together for our mutual benefit. From that sprang the Research Discovery Day in May 2013, where 100 researchers gathered to look at our collections and discuss research projects. Their enthusiasm was palpable and the McCoy Project was born. Its first initiative, the McCoy Seed Fund, will help get new collaborative projects off the ground.


The McCoy Project

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