University of Sydney

2016
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University of Sydney

Beginnings

An early concern of many of Sydney's inhabitants was the need for an institution where their sons could be educated. In 1825 land was granted near the racecourse, now Hyde Park, for a school but little happened until 1835 when the Sydney College opened its doors on the site now occupied by Sydney Grammar School. [1] At about the same time, Governor Bourke decided to move the military barracks from the area now partly occupied by Wynyard Park and sell the site for development. William Charles Wentworth, lawyer, former Cambridge student and member of the Legislative Council, urged unsuccessfully that the proceeds from the sale be used to establish a university. Wentworth argued that a university was needed because those who wished to further their education had to travel to Great Britain to do so, and this difficulty caused many eligible persons to forego the benefits of higher education, to the 'colony's disadvantage'. [2]

The idea lay dormant until 1848 when Dr Henry Grattan Douglass returned to Sydney after several years' absence in Europe and raised the matter with Wentworth and other prominent residents. Wentworth became the prime mover behind the concept. [3] In 1849 a majority of the proprietors of the Sydney College, which was close to financial collapse, presented a petition to the Legislative Council asking that the government take it over and convert it to a university. Wentworth chaired a Select Committee of the Council which recommended the establishment of a university 'which shall be accessible to all classes'. [4] By this time there was sufficient support in government circles for a university with public funding and in 1850 the council passed An Act to Incorporate and Endow the University of Sydney . [5]

Getting started

The university was to be governed by a senate to which 16 prominent men were appointed. [6] They set to work at once. Edward Hamilton, a pastoralist, former member of the Legislative Council and a Cambridge graduate was elected Provost and Charles Nicholson, Speaker of the Legislative Council and a medical graduate of Edinburgh, Vice-Provost (the titles Provost and Vice-Provost were changed in 1861 to Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor respectively) [7]. Advertisements were published in England for professors of classics, mathematics and chemistry. The Sydney College closed and its building was taken over for the university.

Despite objections from religious leaders, the Act of Incorporation had specified that 'no religious test shall be administered to any person in order to entitle him to be admitted as a Student ... or to hold any office therein' [8] and the first major problem facing the senate was how to create a university which would be neutral on religious matters but at the same time acceptable to the main religious denominations. The concept which emerged was that of a secular non-residential teaching institution with affiliated colleges providing residence, religious instruction and tutorial assistance. [9] Thus, a founding principle was that academic merit, regardless of religious beliefs or social status, would be the only test for admission. Sydney can make a strong claim to being the first university in the world to admit students purely on the basis of academic merit. [10]

Between July and September 1852 the first professors arrived – Rev Dr John Woolley, Professor of Classics and also Principal; Morris Birkbeck Pell, Professor of Mathematics; and Dr John Smith, Professor of Chemistry and Experimental Philosophy. [11] The first matriculation examination was held on 4 October. Twenty-four candidates passed and a week later, on 11 October 1852, in the large hall of the former Sydney College, the formal inauguration of the first university in the southern hemisphere was celebrated and the first matriculates were enrolled. [12] Teaching began immediately in the college premises but it was obvious that the institution would need more and better facilities if it was to meet the expectations of those who had spoken so confidently at the inauguration of its future success.

Building for the future

Expansion adjacent to the Sydney College building was considered but the senate urged the government to provide a larger site on which suitable buildings could be erected, including the proposed affiliated colleges to be established by religious denominations. In 1853 the government offered 128 acres (51.8 hectares) about two miles (3.5 km) west of the city known as Grose Farm, then used principally for grazing dairy cattle. 'There was an outcry against the choice of this remote site, and some opposition to the University being built out in the wilds of the bush...it was so far away as to make it difficult of access.' [13] Grose Farm and the area surrounding the university site later became the suburb of Camperdown.

Plans for a building were drawn up by the Colonial Architect, Edmund Blacket, who subsequently resigned that post to work full-time on the university project. A keen supervisor of the planning and construction was senate member Francis Lewis Shaw Merewether whose main concern was that it be designed and built for future needs not present ones, earning him the nickname 'Futurity Merewether'. [14] Blacket chose Gothic Revival as his architectural style and Pyrmont sandstone as the construction material. Work started in 1854 and in 1857 the professors and their students, by then numbering 44, moved into their new premises. The building, now known as the eastern range, was completed by 1861. This imposing structure on high ground overlooking the city bore fitting testimony to the senate's far-sighted vision of a noble and enduring institution. [15]

Other achievements in the university's first years included a coat of arms designed by Nicholson and granted by the College of Heralds in 1857. It incorporates the Southern Cross, the lion which represents England (borrowed from the arms of the University of Cambridge) and an open book (borrowed from Oxford's). The motto, Sidere mens eadem mutato, devised by Merewether from Horace's Epistles, can be translated as 'the stars are different but the mind is the same'. Of more importance, again thanks to Nicholson's efforts, was the granting of a Royal Charter in 1858 which, inter alia, declared that the University of Sydney's degrees would be recognised as equivalent to those granted by universities in the United Kingdom. [16]

Slow progress

Enrolments grew slowly. To the original 24 students of 1852, 15 were added the next year and when the move was made to Grose Farm in 1857, there were 44 students. By 1861 the total enrolment was 'about 50' and by 1871 'about 70'. Not all who enrolled went on to graduate. The first examination for Bachelor of Arts in 1855 qualified only seven for admission to that degree. [17] It was a very small community despite the large sums spent on its establishment and maintenance and there was criticism of its cost in relation to its perceived achievements.

Futurity Merewether's grand visions were criticised in 1859 by a select committee of the legislature which deplored his attempt to raise 'all at once buildings not at present required, on a scale of magnitude which, in other parts of the world, has almost invariably been the growth of ages'. [18]

When the university had taken possession of its new building, Nicholson decided to donate to it his considerable collection of antiquities, particularly Egyptian, and for the rest of his life he continued to direct books, art and archaeological items to the university. The Nicholson Museum of Antiquities, the finest of its type in Australia, is named after him. [19]

By 1876 three religiously affiliated colleges had opened – St Paul's (Anglican) in 1858, St John's (Roman Catholic) in 1862 and St Andrew's (Presbyterian) in 1876. These three were joined in 1894 by the non-denominational Women's College and in the twentieth century by Wesley (Methodist), Sancta Sophia (Roman Catholic), International House (non-denominational) and Mandelbaum House (Jewish).

Expansion

The 1880s witnessed significant changes that increased the university's usefulness, increased its enrolments and led to its rapid transition from an institution concerned with the liberal education of gentleman scholars to one strongly involved in the preparation of both men and women for the learned professions.

In 1881, at the urging of Chancellor Sir William Manning, the senate had resolved to admit women students on the same basis as men, not the first university to do so but among a handful worldwide at the time.

During its first three decades or so the university depended almost entirely on annual grants from the government. The senate and professors worked hard to encourage donations for scholarships and prizes and the stained glass windows in the Great Hall were paid for by benefactors. In 1880 came the announcement of the first major private benefaction, a bequest from John Henry Challis, a businessman who had made most of his fortune in Sydney, estimated at £180,000 to be received on the death of his widow. This news stimulated the government to increase its annual grant and stirred the university to extend its teaching into other areas. Challis's bequest, received in 1890, eventually amounted to about £250,000 (about $32 million today) and transformed teaching and learning across the university, enabling it to create chairs in many disciplines and generally to expand its sphere of operations.

In 1885 came a bequest from Thomas Fisher, another Sydney businessman who lived near the university, of £30,000 (about $4 million today) to benefit the library. [20] In 1888 Sir William Macleay donated a unique natural history collection, 'one of the finest and most valuable in the world', [21] and endowed the curatorship of what became the Macleay Museum. In 1896 Sir Peter Nicol Russell, an engineer who had begun his career in Sydney and retained a strong interest in the colony, gave the first of two £50,000 (about $6.5 million today) endowments for a School of Engineering. [22]

By 1891 the university had 532 enrolled students, in 1901 it had 657 and in its jubilee year, 1902, enrolments stood at 730.

Twentieth century growth

Coinciding with the celebration of the university's jubilee, work began on a substantial building for the Fisher Library and the Nicholson Museum in the south-west corner of the planned quadrangle to balance the Great Hall in the north-east corner. The state government and a number of benefactors provided generous funding for other improvements in accommodation. The quadrangle was completed in the 1920s largely to the design of Leslie Wilkinson, professor of architecture. Other buildings quickly followed, several also designed by Wilkinson.

The 197 members of the university who died in World War I are commemorated by the War Memorial Carillon located in the quadrangle's clock tower, dedicated on Anzac Day 1928. [23] Those who died in World War II are commemorated by a War Memorial Art Gallery which spans Science Road at the quadrangle's northern gate.

Student numbers grew slowly. In 1911 there were 1,387 students, in 1921 there were 3,275 and enrolments remained at about that level until after World War II. [24] Ex-service personnel taking advantage of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme swelled student numbers to nearly 10,800 in 1948 placing a great strain on accommodation and services. As these students graduated enrolments dropped back, for example to just under 7,000 in 1953, but improvements in high school completion rates gradually increased the numbers eligible for matriculation. Enrolment quotas were imposed from 1961 to limit the number of students to the university's ability to accommodate them in lecture theatres and other facilities. Even so, by 1975 enrolments totalled 17,700. [25]

During the 1950s it became clear that the university's campus at Camperdown was reaching capacity so far as available building sites were concerned, and in 1959 the university began to expand across City Road into the small suburb of Darlington. Supported by government funds flowing from the Australian Universities Commission, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a major building program and the relocation of many disciplines to the Darlington area. Universities Commission funding also made possible the construction of new buildings on the Camperdown campus, including the award-winning new Fisher Library, and generally allowed the institution to expand in ways inconceivable in the 1930s. [26] The original Fisher Library, opened 1909, was renamed MacLaurin Hall after a former chancellor and now functions as a second Great Hall.

In 1989 the federal government changed its education policy and created a 'unified national system' of tertiary education which, essentially, abolished colleges of advanced education. The university acquired by mergers the staff, students and facilities of several such institutions – the Cumberland College of Health Sciences, the Sydney College of the Arts, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and several parts of the Sydney College of Advanced Education including the Institute of Nursing and the Sydney Institute of Education – formerly Sydney Teachers College, on the university's Camperdown campus since the 1920s. As a result of these changes the university's enrolments almost doubled overnight. [27]

The university presently conducts teaching and research on six campuses – Camperdown/Darlington, Cumberland at Lidcombe, Sydney College of the Arts at Rozelle, Nursing at Mallett Street Camperdown, Conservatorium of Music in Sydney city, university farms in the Camden area, plus the various teaching hospitals in medical and health-related disciplines. [28] It currently has more than 53,000 students, supported by more than 3,500 academic staff in 16 faculties, and the largest university library in the southern hemisphere. It is highly placed in most world rankings of universities. [29]

References

Barff, HE. A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1902.

Cable Kenneth, Turney, Clifford and Ursula Bygott. Australia's First: A Pictorial History of the University of Sydney 18501990. Sydney: University of Sydney, 1990.

Fischer, GL, The University of Sydney 18501975: Some History in Pictures to Mark the 125th Year of its Incorporation. Sydney: University of Sydney, 1975

Horne, Julia and Sherington, Geoffrey, Sydney: The Making of a Public University. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2012

Howells, Trevor. University of Sydney Architecture. Boorowa NSW: Watermark Press, 2007.

University of Sydney, Some Annals of the University of Sydney 18501975. Sydney: University of Sydney, 1975.

http://sydney.edu.au/about/profile/history/

Notes

[1] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902), 1–3

[2] GL Fischer, The University of Sydney 1850–1975 (Sydney; University of Sydney, 1975), 8

[3] Francis LS Merewether, Reminiscences (1898) in H E Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Angus and Robertson, Sydney), 1902, 68

[4] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney, (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902), 4

[5] New South Wales Legislative Council, An Act to Incorporate and Endow the University of Sydney, 1850, 14 Victoria, XXXI

[6] New South Wales Government Gazette, Supplement, Tuesday 24 December 1850

[7] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902), 87

[8] GL Fischer, The University of Sydney 1850-1975 (Sydney: University of Sydney 1975), 9

[9] Kenneth Cable, Clifford Turney and Ursula Bygott, Australia's First: A Pictorial History of the University of Sydney 1850–1990 (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1990), 12

[10] 'Our Story', University of Sydney, http://sydney.edu.au/about/profile/history/ viewed 24 March 2016,

[11] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902), 17

[12] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson,1902), 20–41

[13] KW Street, 'The Centenary Oration', in The University of Sydney Centenary Celebrations August 26–August 31, 1952, (Sydney: University of Sydney,1952), 66

[14] David Lawton and Jeremy Steele, Futurity's Folly: The Great Hall, the University of Sydney (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1981), 3

[15] Kenneth Cable, Clifford Turney and Ursula Bygott, Australia's First: A Pictorial History of the University of Sydney 1850–1990 (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1990), 17

[16] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902), 65. There are various translations of the motto but the intent of both it and the arms is clear – Sydney is the antipodean equivalent of the ancient English universities.

[17] University of Sydney, Some Annals of the University of Sydney 1850-1975 (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1975)

[18] David Lawton and Jeremy Steele, Futurity's Folly: The Great Hall, the University of Sydney (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1981), 6

[19] David S Macmillan, 'Nicholson, Sir Charles (1808–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nicholson-sir-charles-2508, viewed 24 March 2016

[20] Neil A Radford, 'Thomas Fisher and the Fisher Bequest' in Neil A Radford and John Fletcher, 'In Establishing and Maintaining a Library' (Sydney: University of Sydney Library, 1984), 5–27

[21] HE Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1902),119

[22] GL Fischer, The University of Sydney 1850-1975 (Sydney; University of Sydney 1975), 46

[23] 'The Carillon,' Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/visitors_community/places/carillon viewed 24 March 2016

[24] University of Sydney, Some Annals of the University of Sydney 1850–1975 (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1975)

[25] GL Fischer, The University of Sydney 1850-1975 (Sydney: University of Sydney 1975), 102–3

[26] Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington, Sydney: The Making of a Public University (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2012), 224

[27] Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington, Sydney: The Making of a Public University (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2012) 80, 134

[28] 'Our campuses', Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/about/campuses, viewed 24 March 2016

[29] 'Student Enrolment Reports', Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/staff/planning/information/enrol_index.php, viewed 24 March 2016: 'University Staff Reports', Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/staff/planning/information/staff_index.php, viewed 24 March 2016; 'Staff FTE', Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/staff/planning/statistics/staff/staff.php?yr=2015&type=1&fac=u, viewed 24 March 2016; 'Why study here?' Sydney University, http://sydney.edu.au/about-us/our-world-rankings.html, viewed 24 March 2016

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