The first collections for the teaching of Biology at the University of Auckland were made by Prof. A.W.P. Thomas in 1884. Stuffed bird specimens were also purchased from the Austrian collector Andreas Reisheck in 1889 at a cost of £35 and remain in the museum today. Prof. McGregor joined the University staff in 1918 as a laboratory assistant, and is recorded as the “Curator in Zoology” from 1930.
Prof. McGregor’s aim was to build a world-class teaching museum, and the search for specimens to fill the museum was a focus of his time at the University of Auckland. Several field trips were organized in the 1920s to the forests of New Guinea, where 28 porters helped carry the food, tanks and preservatives for his collections of birds and reptiles, including several birds of paradise. He also obtained many specimens during the dismantling of exhibits at the Regent’s Park Zoo; these specimens, including an elephant skull, returned in crates to New Zealand.
Originally housed on the first floor of the Old Choral Hall, the museum was moved into purpose-built space in the Old Biology Building in 1939. The museum was named “in honour of the work of Prof W.R. McGregor who during his time as Head of the Department of Zoology, designed the area, and collected and displayed many of the exhibits” on the 18th July 1975.
During renovations of the Old Biology Building in 1991 the original two-storied museum was converted into a lecture theatre and three seminar rooms, which house some of the original collections of New Zealand birds, Australian mammals, and a extensive primate collection.