TheWits Life Sciences Museum was formed in 2003 when the Zoology Museum and the C.E. Moss Herbarium combined to form a vibrant teaching, learning and research facility.
The museum is situated close to the Biophy Library, lecture theatres and teaching labs in the Oppenheimer Life Sciences Building. Displays and exhibitions enhance the open areas of this building. Close to the museum are a young rainforest, a garden of ancient plant groups and displays of living medicinal plants.
The Zoology Museum was initiated in 1922 by Professor Fantham, the first head of the Zoology Department. The intention was to have a collection for teaching and initially a phylogenetic range of bottled specimens and articulated skeletons was purchased from European firms.
Over the years small reference collections of butterflies, shells, frogs and marine material were acquired. Under the headship of Professors Van der Horst and then Balinsky, an important research collection of over 40 000 embryological histology slides was built up and is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
The total collection comprises over 60 000 specimens.
The completion of the Biology Building was delayed in 1922 when Prof. Fantham insisted on top light for the Zoology Museum and Prof. Moss insisted on south light. Neither would budge from their position and all efforts at reaching a compromise failed. In the end the museums had top light which prompted Prof. Moss to leave the plant collection in boxes as no suitable alternative could be found.
C.E. Moss Herbarium
The C.E. Moss Herbarium of the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand, is named in honour of Professor Charles Edward Moss, the first professor of botany at the University. The herbarium was started in 1917 when Prof. Moss and the Rev. F.A. Rogers went on a collecting trip to Mpumalanga at the time Moss was professor of Botany at the South African School of mines and Technology. The Department of Botany at the School of mines was housed in a corrugated iron complex on Plein Square. The School of Mines became the University of the Witwatersrand in 1922, and the Department of Botany moved to the newly completed Biology building in 1923. Professor Moss enthusiastically built up the new department, a library of systematics references and the herbarium. It has excellent facilities, comprising several collections, a library and the necessary items of equipment.
Charles Edward Moss (1870 - 1930)
Charles Edward Moss was born in Hyde, Cheshire, England. He became interested in plants at an early age and was a pupil teacher before getting his B.Sc in 1898. He obtained his M.Sc. degree from Manchester University for ecological observations in Somerset and later played a prominent part in the formation of the British Ecological Society. After being awarded a D.Sc. at Cambridge in 1907 he was the curator of their herbarium until the end of 1916 after which he took up the post of professor of Botany at the South African School of mines and Technology. In the same year he began collecting what was to be the foundation for the present herbarium. The new Department of Botany at the School of mines was housed in a corrugated iron complex on Plein Square. The School of Mines became the University of the Witwatersrand in 1922, and the Department of Botany moved to the newly completed Biology building in 1923. Professor Moss enthusiastically built up the new department, a library of systematics references and the herbarium. He is commemorated in the genus Mossia N.E. Br. and in a number of species including Orthosiphon mossianus Good and Myrica mossii Burtt Davy.