History of the Natural History Museum
In 1901 when Cecil Rhodes visited Bulawayo for the last time he received two requests, the first from the Chamber of Mines to appoint a Geologist and the second from the Rhodesia Scientific Board who wanted a museum to house their growing collection of minerals. It was suggested that the two bodies get together and on 1st January 1902 The Rhodesia Museum came into being. Mr F.P. Mennell a Geologist, after which the Geology Gallery is named, took up his post as the first Curator. Initially the ‘new’ museum occupied a room at the Bulawayo Public Library which the growing collections soon got too small for.
In 1905 the Museum Committee bought and moved to the former Congregation Chapel. This, the second museum was opened by Professor G Darwin, President of the British Association in September 1905.
In 1910 a much larger building on the north-east corner of Fort Street and 8th Avenue (now the Parcels Office) was donated to the Museum Committee by the British South African Company. This was informally opened on 21st August 1910, although it was not until late November that it was officially opened by the Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria.
As the museum continued to grow so the impressive 8th Avenue frontage, the fourth museum, was built in 1922. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the entrance porch initially doubled up as the cenotaph. Further extensions were added in 1930 and 1936. In 1936 the Government acquired the museum that was renamed the National Museum of Rhodesia.
The Bulawayo City Council made available land in Centenary Park and the present building begun in 1960 is the fifth museum. The unique round museum was opened to the public on 20th March 1964 but completion of new public galleries and individual displayed has continued up to the present time.
Initially the museum had a focus on economic geology but with time successive curators have introduced new fields of interest. Many of these researchers have been leading world figures in their fields (see part curators). They have left us with one of the best collections of Zimbabwe’s, and indeed the region’s, natural heritage. In 1981, under a policy of centralization, the National Museums and Monuments streamlined the operations of its five museums and as a result the National Museum was renamed the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe (NHMZ) occupying the Western region of the country. All the natural science collections from the other museums were moved to the NMHZ. Today the museums research collections and exhibits include geology and fossils, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, as well as broad cross-section of the social history of southern and central Africa.
In line with the museums policies for research and conservation, the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe offers education programmes to both students and the public. It has, and seeks to renew, collaboration with other research institutes and museums both in the regional and internationally.