The earliest students at the University included in their degree not only Greek and Latin but also the 'Elements of Natural Philosophy [Physics] and Astronomy'. These subjects along with mechanics, hydrostatics, pneumatics, heat, meteorology, optics, electricity and magnetism were taught by Professor W. P. Wilson (1854-1874).
Indeed he turned more and more towards Physics, made valuable observations in astronomy and devised the first courses in engineering and surveying offered by the University. H.M. Andrew, who had lectured in Surveying and Geodesy from 1864-68, studied mathematics and physics at Cambridge and had been headmaster of Wesley College since late 1875 until appointed lecturer in Natural Philosophy on the death of F.J. Pirani in 1881.
As a member of the University Council he was one of the 'school masters' who were responsible for the elevation of science in both the schools and the University and the only candidate when the chair in Natural Philosophy was created. Andrew designed new laboratories and apparatus and was on his way to Britain to ease his sense of intellectual isolation when he died in 1888.
Professor [Sir] Thomas R. Lyle, graduate of Trinity College Dublin, arrived to take up the chair in mid 1889. A brilliant scholar with valuable practical experience and an outstanding sportsman, he joined Masson and Spencer to create a powerful triumvirate of talented and effective scientific teachers and researchers who established the science degree on a sound footing in the University and to a very large extent in the wider community, at both state and national level.
Planning for a building for Natural Philosophy began under Andrew, but it was Lyle who developed and carried out the ideas. Reed, Henderson and Smart designed a building for be erected in stages. The first, adjacent to the north west corner of the Quadrangle, was completed in 1889.
It is now the ground floor of the radically altered south section of the building. (In 1933 the south western section was raised to two storeys). Stages two and three were completed in 1891 and 1919. The second stage was substantially demolished in 1975 to make way for Deakin Court. None of the original spaces dedicated to lectures and laboratory experiments survives.