In 1864 Sydney's colonial society was eagerly anticipating the imminent arrival of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. The Ladies Committee was planning a Ball to celebrate the occasion. But where in Sydney was there a grand building to host this salubrious reception?

The Colonial Secretary stepped in, writing to the Board of Trustees of the Australian Museum asking for the use of the newly completed, though not yet opened, museum extension (now known as the Barnett Wing). The grand neo-classical edifice was indeed suitable.

Crowds in the Museum
First exhibition held in the museum in 1855 Image: Illustration
© Australian Museum

Obviously feeling honoured the board agreed. But Mr Macleay objected and called for a special meeting to discuss rescinding the decision. With Mr A W Scott's support we can only imagine the robust debate that ensured as unfortunately the minutes do not record the nature of the discussions, only that the decision was not overturned.

The Ladies Committee was pleased but could not proceed with planning the Ball as the Prince's itinerary was not known. The idea seems to have drifted away.
Despite this the Trustees wrote to the Colonial Secretary asking for a special grant to fit out the new space for the Ball and the "vast numbers of visitors who will be in town on that occasion".

People flocked to see the new exhibits. On Thursday 26th of December 3234 people came, many were forced to wait outside before being admitted.

Is it auspicious that a ball was not held at the museum? The Prince attended a picnic at Clontarf in March 1868, where he was shot and seriously wounded by Henry James O’Farrell. O’Farrell was executed for his crime. If the ball had been held at the museum would O’Farrell have attempted to shot the Prince at the ball? The shooting of a Prince at the museum would have been the seed of many fabulous stories of fact and fiction.

Despite this the Australian Museum has become the venue of choice for many magnificent and fun social events.