The Museum represents a spectacular example of neo-Gothic architecture. It was designed to be a ‘cathedral to science’, and the stonework of the main court embodies this aspiration: columns of polished stone are capped by intricately carved capitals depicting different botanical orders; around the court are statues of eminent scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
There are nineteen statues in all. Most of the carvings feature an object that signifies the work of the man depicted: Isaac Newton stands with an apple at his feet, and William Harvey has a heart resting in his right hand.
The statue of Charles Darwin has special significance for the Museum. Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. His theory of evolution was highly controversial and sparked the famous ‘great debate’, an ideological clash between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley which took place here in the Museum in 1860. Huxley championed Darwin’s theories, but Wilberforce rejected the idea that Man might be descended directly from apes.