User:Enochlau/History of the University of Sydney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The University of Sydney was established via the passage of the University of Sydney Act [1] in 1850. In 1852, the University was inaugurated in the Big Schoolroom of what is now Sydney Grammar School, and in 1858 received its Royal Charter from Queen Victoria, giving degrees conferred by the University equal rank and recognition as those given by universities in the United Kingdom [2]. By 1859, the University had moved to its current site in the Sydney suburb of Camperdown.



During 1848, William Wentworth proposed a plan to expand the existing Sydney College into a university in the New South Wales Legislative Council. Wentworth argued that a state university was imperative for the growth of a society aspiring towards self-government, and that it would provide the opportunity for 'the child of every class, to become great and useful in the destinies of his country'. It would take two attempts on Wentworth's behalf however, before the plan was finally adopted.

Members of the Legislative Council had complained in 1849 that a university education for their children required passage back to the UK or foreign territories, which was '[detrimental] to their morals... without any compensating improvement in their minds.' In hindsight, the establishment of the University required significant optimism from the colony's lawmakers, occurring before construction of any railways and before Australia's first gold rushes in Bathurst.

A Bill to incorporate and endow the University of Sydney was passed by the Legislative Council in September 1850, and subsequently approved by Governor Fitzroy on 1 October 1850. The preamble to the Act stated that the University provided 'for the better encouragement of religion and morality and the promotion of useful knowledge... [to encourage] all classes and denominations to pursue a regular and liberal course of education.' The Act restricted the award of degrees in the area of arts, law and medicine.

Seat in the Legislative Council[edit]

In 1858, the passage of the Electoral Act [3] provided for the university to become a constituency for the Legislative Assembly as soon as there were 100 graduates with higher degrees. This seat in Parliament was first filled in 1876, but was abolished in 1880 one year after its second Member, Edmund Barton (subsequently the first Prime Minister of Australia), was elected to the Legislative Assembly.

Governing fellows[edit]

The University was to be governed by a body named the Senate, consisting of 16 fellows appointed by the Governor. The original fellows included the colonial secretary, the attorney-general, the auditor-general, the speaker and five other members of the Legislative Council (including the 'father of the University' William Wentworth), a judge and three ministers of religion. The original fellows were influential members of the colony, and were able to negotiate large grants of land and finance needed to construct the Great Hall, Great Tower, and the original structures of the Quadrangle.

The fellows' decision to require completion of an arts degree encompassing studies of Greek, Latin, mathematics and chemistry, prior to enrolment in a law or medicine degree, proved to be a substantial disincentive for students to matriculate in Greek, Latin and mathematics, encouraging them to instead enrol in general education courses. The result was a particularly low level of enrolment with an average yearly enrolment of only 50 students for the years 1852-1880. Graduations averaged about 10 per year for the same period.

Initial construction[edit]

Teaching at the University was initially conducted in the Sydney College building on College Street (now a part of Sydney Grammar School in East Sydney). The site ultimately proved to be too small for effective teaching. The auditor-general, Francis Merewether persuaded Deas Thompson, the colonial secretary (both original fellows of the University) to make available for the University 128 acres of land at Grose Farm (modern day Camperdown). Edmund Blacket, then government architect, was commissioned to design the buildings, and the transfer from College Street took place in 1857.

The Senate did not use the provisions of the original 1850 Act [1] to draw and portion of its endowment to build and maintain a university college. However, a subsequent Act in 1854 provided for the construction of St. Paul's College [4], which was competed in 1857. Further Acts established St. John's College [5] (completed in 1861), St. Andrews College [6] (completed in 1876), Women's College [7] (completed in 1892), Wesley College [8] (completed in 1917), and Sancta Sophia College [9] (completed in 1926). International House was completed in 1967 and Mandelbaum House in 1997.

Early years[edit]

While the University was established as a secular institution, lobbying from the Churches resulted in an 1854 Act requiring a certificate of 'competent religious attainment' as a condition of graduation. Though the provision was met with acceptance by the Senate, University professors objected, arguing the requirement was at odds with the original 1850 Act [1] establishing the University. The Legislative Council repealed the provision in 1858.

The University's original academic program was set by the Senate, with three professors teaching Greek and Latin, mathematics, and chemistry. The original three professors, John Woolley, Maurice Pell and John Smith opposed moves by the Senate to seek funds for the teaching of medicine until the calibre of education within the Faculty of Arts was strengthened.


When the University was first established, appointments to the Senate had life tenure. The University Act [1] was amended in 1861 to provide for at least three, and no more than six professors to be fellows of the Senate, and for the election of new fellows by existing fellows, professors, superior officers, principals of the colleges and graduates with higher degrees. Life tenure in the Senate remained until 1912. Following these changes, the Senate contained stronger representation of the professions of law and medicine.

Prominent among the more diverse Senate was Sir William Manning, elected in 1861. Manning pushed for the formation of the Faculty of Science and for the removal of the requirement of the degree in arts as a prerequisite for enrolment in other degrees. His election to the University Chancellorship in 1878 was opposed by many who disapproved of his reformist views, particularly his belief that the design of the University should be altered to suit the coming scientific age.

Challis bequest[edit]

John Henry Challis, who had lived in Australia from 1829 to 1855, bequeathed the University £250,000 (over $15 million in today's currency) at the time of his death in 1880, to be made available to the University at the time of his wife's death. The bequest allowed Manning to make extensive changes to the University. However, before the passing of Mrs Challis, Manning and Vice-Chancellor Canon Allwood had to request an increased endowment from the government. The government initially refused, but in 1882 increased the University's endowment from £5000 to £10,000.

In May 1882, the Senate used the increased endowment to establish a Faculty of Science, and to require all undergraduates study at least one year in the Faculty of Arts. The Senate also voted to allow enrolments in science and medicine after completing one year, and enrolments in law after two years of study. Further, examinations were required before students could matriculate in English grammar and composition, Latin, arithmetic, algebra and geometry, and one of Greek, French, German, elementary physics and elementary chemistry. In 1889, the government provided finance for construction of the Medical School Building, which matches the main Quadrangle architecturally.

Between 1882 and 1891, an additional ten professors were employed to provide for the new faculties of science, medicine and law, and for new subjects in the humanities. Chief among them was Anderson Stuart, who became a fellow of the Senate in 1883. Stuart, a graduate of medicine from the University of Edinburgh, rejected the idea that an arts degree was essential for a liberal education. He argued it was 'possible to train minds by technical learning as well as by learning for which there is no immediate use.' Anderson's views were supported by Archibald Liversige and Normand MacLaurin, and by 1890 the Senate had decided to drop the requirement of a year of arts study to enrol in science, medicine or law. The increased endowments, and improved resources of the University proved to be a boon for research, which flourished during the period. Four of the professors appointed in that period became Fellows of the Royal Society of London.

Changing academic programs[edit]

Enrolment at the University of Sydney, 1880-1920
Year Enrolments
1880 76
1890 409
1900 583
1910 1342
1920 3356

By 1891 the Faculty of Arts has increased its scope to the extent that the single professor of classics had been replaced by a professor for each of Greek, Latin, logic and mental philosophy, modern literature and history. In the Faculty of Science, where there had been two professors - in chemistry and physics, and geology and mineralogy - there were professors of physics, chemistry, biology, geology and engineering.

The increased number of professors and subjects offered meant that changes to academic programs had to be made so that students could specialise in particular areas. Hence, from 1888, arts students were no longer required to study mathematics and science after their first year. Manning said that the changes were designed 'to avoid burdening students with too great a diversity of subjects, and forcing on them uncongenial branches of study.'

The Senate resolved in 1881 to admit women students, though there was nothing in the University Act [1] that required such action.

Wartime years[edit]

World war I[edit]

During World War I, the University co-operated with the Commonwealth Department of Defence by accelerating teaching courses so that staff could be released for intelligence work, testing of materials and equipment and to provide scientific advice on tunnelling in France. Approximately 1800 members of the University, staff and students, were in active service, with about one-tenth killed during the war. A plaque listing the names of all enlisted personnel is fixed to the wall of the archway under the Great Tower. In 1928 a war memorial carillon was installed in the tower.

Enrolments at the University were steady during the war, but rose sharply afterward, with enrolment numbers in 1920 being approximately double of those in 1917. The increased enrolment was not matched by increased staff, briefly damaging the quality of teaching at the University.

Inter-war years[edit]

The inter-war period saw many academic changes at the University. New chairs were created, and new courses established, in areas such as oriental studies, anthropology, divinity and aeronautical engineering. The time taken for a medical degree was increased and an additional year added for honours bachelor degrees in arts, science and agriculture. Master's degrees were introduced for science, medicine and dentistry and and honours master's degree was introduced in arts. Diplomas were introduced in pharmaceutical science, journalism, anthropology, social studies and anaesthesia. The Professorial Board however, did not introduce PhDs.

McCaughey bequest[edit]

On the passing of Sir Samuel McCaughey in July 1919, the University was bequeathed with extra funds. The annual income from the McCaughey bequest increased the University's annual grant by 25%. In honour of McCaughey, chairs were established in his name in English language, French, surgery, physiology and dentistry. Associate chairs were established in German, psychology, geography (which later became full chairs) and in physiology. The bequest allowed the University to increase its teaching staff to meet the growing demand for university education.

McCaughey funds were also used to increase academic salaries which by 1920 had fallen, in real terms, to 60% of their 1900 level. Extra funding was also given to the library grant, central administration, and the establishment of a research fund.

George Henry Bosch made large donations to the University in 1927 and 1928 which were used to improve staffing and equipment in the Faculty of Medicine. He provided £27,000 to establish a chair of histology and embryology. His 1928 donation transferred to the University almost £200,000 in property and securities. The income from the donation was to be used for chairs of medicine, surgery and bacteriology. During the same period the Commonwealth government provided funds for the chairs of oriental studies (1919), anthropology (1925) and aeronautical engineering (1938). At the time, education was not a significant area of Commonwealth responsibility, such that the Commonwealth's contribution was marginal at best.

The University was fortunate to receive the Bosch and McCaughey requests because as a consequence of the great depression, state government funding was cut in 1930 from $70,355 to $58,857, and then to $52,838 in 1931. The decline in funding forced the University to make drastic cuts, including the abolition of full-time chairs in medicine and surgery, and a reduction in academic salaries. By the end of 1930s, the economy had recovered, and the University's annual grant was increased to $100,000.

World war II[edit]

After the war[edit]

Whitlam reforms[edit]

Dawkins revolution[edit]

Howard and Nelson reforms[edit]

Campus 2010[edit]




  • Williams, B, 2002, Liberal Education and Useful Knowledge: A brief history of the University of Sydney 1850-2000, The Chancellor's Committee, The University of Sydney. ISBN 1864874392