The foundation of the anatomy and pathology collections dates to 1859, when the University Council proposed the establishment of a museum of ‘anatomical, pathological, physiological and botanical’ specimens. Specimens were collected, mounted and maintained by Thomas Shearman Ralph (1813-1892) and were situated in a shed on the grounds of Melbourne Hospital – as the museum predated the establishment of the University’s Medical School.
In December 1876, pathologist Harry Brookes Allen (1854-1926) was appointed Lecturer in Descriptive and Surgical Anatomy and Pathology, and Sub-conservator of the Museum. By 1883, the museum had outgrown its small space in the hospital, and Allen proposed that it be relocated to the university and expanded under his supervision. In a letter to the Vice-Chancellor and Members of the University Council, Allen wrote:
One of the final objects which I set before myself is the creation of a large and efficient Museum of Anatomy and Pathology in the Medical School, a small but valuable nucleus being already in place.
In November 1883, the collection of specimens formed at the Melbourne Hospital was transferred by Deed of Gift to the University.
In 1906 Pathology and Anatomy were split into separate departments. Allen was personally responsible for building up the Medical School's large and varied collections and it seems that he retained the specimens, both anatomical and pathological, within his new department. Anatomy largely had to establish its new departmental museum from scratch. From the time of the split until the building of the new Anatomy Building in 1923, the two museums cohabited in what became known as the Old Pathology Building (and is now named the Elisabeth Murdoch Building); the Anatomy Museum in the north wing and the Pathological Museum in the south wing.
From the late 20th century onward the Anatomy Museum’s displays have focused on clinical anatomy specimens but in its early days the anthropological collections were considered equally important, being described as a ‘museum of anatomy, anthropology, and neurology ’. In 1914, on the jubilee of the Medical School, Allen wrote:
The great feature of the new [Anatomy] Museum was the series of frozen sections and of permanent dissections prepared by Professor Berry, and a complete department of anthropology was speedily organised and enriched with great numbers of specimens and casts.
Due to Allen's lifelong dedication to expanding and organising the pathology collections, the Pathology Museum was named in his honour after his death in 1926.