Foundation records of the University of Sydney

The University Archives is pleased to present this new online exhibition of some of the earliest records of the University, documenting major governing and academic decisions, examination and building records, and correspondence from 1851. Many record series continue beyond these initial volumes and are available for access in the University Archives. These copies have been digitised from the preservation microfilms rather than the original item. At times, pages can be difficult to read.

Senate Minutes Vol 1 1851-1855
Initial Professorial Board Minutes 1853-1862
Building Committee Minutes 1852-1862
Letters Received 1851-1855
Letters Sent 1851-1888
Matriculants, Graduates and Post Graduate Degrees Register 1852-1914
Public Examinations 1867-1884
Additional record series


Senate Minutes G1/1/1 Senate Minutes Vol 1 1851-1855
The Senate is the governing authority of the University of Sydney. The Act to Incorporate and Endow the University of Sydney [Assented to, 1st October, 1850] provided for the appointment of a Senate of Sixteen Fellows. In addition to the entire management of the educational and financial affairs of the University, the Senate had the power to make by-laws “as to discipline, degrees, honours &c, which when duly approved of by the Governor and Executive Council, have the force of law”. It also had authority to confer Bachelor and Master degrees in Arts, Laws and Medicine. (Calendar 1852-53 pp iii-iv). The Fellows of the Senate first met on the 3rd February, 1851.

In 1851 the Provost and Vice-Provost (which changed to Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor respectively in 1861) were chosen by the fellows out of their own body. The appointment of the Vice-Chancellor as we currently understand the position dates from 1924 when the Senate was required to elect a Deputy Chancellor to fulfil the duties of the then Vice-Chancellor and to appoint a permanent executive officer to take over the duties of Warden, who would be styled Vice-Chancellor (Calendar 1925, p 23).

For more history of the Senate click here

G2/3 Initial Professorial Board Minutes 1853-1862
The initial Professorial Board in 1852 was comprised of the Professors and Lecturers, with the Vice-Provost as ex officio member, to consider all questions relating to the studies of the University. In 1856 both the Vice-Provost and the Provost became ex officio members, the Board being constituted 'for the consideration of all general questions relating to the studies of the University, or which may be referred to them by the Senate'. (‘By-law 20’, Calendar 1856, p50).

However, in 1862 a ‘Conference Board’ was established by the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor, and the Professors of the three several Faculties for the consideration of all general questions relating to the studies of the University, or which may be referred to them by the Senate'. (section 5 of By-law X, Calendar 1862, p73). The name of this Board was changed to ‘Board of Studies’ in 1876, and in 1886 the Senate amalgamated the Board of Studies and the Proctorial Board to form the Professorial Board. In 1976, the Professorial Board was succeeded by the Academic Board. The only Minutes of the Board of Studies which have survived, other than as reports to Senate, date from 10 April 1883 (G2/1/1).

G1/4 Building Committee Minutes 1852-1862
These are the minutes of the committee created to oversee the construction of the Main Building and Great Hall by University Architect Edmund Blacket 1854-62. The Letters Sent and Letters Received (see below) contain additional correspondence about the building, including tenders and contracts. From 1862 reference to building works can be found in the Senate Minutes, until the Building Committee was re-instated in 1883 to assist with the planning of the New Medical School (G1/1/6 p249), while the Senate Building and Grounds Committee was created by on 7 October 1889 "to take charge of the building and grounds of the University and to have a general control over the votes for building and improvements." (G1/1/8 p 179)

G3/82 Letters Received 1851-1855
There is an incomplete index to the Letters Received, and the original correspondence has been pasted into a volume chronologically. Contents include applications for academic and general positions, student matters, development of Grose Farm, tenders for building work and the establishment of the colleges. Note: The original letters vary in size and readability, and a few have not reproduced well.

From 1855 until the start of the Registered File Series in the mid-1920s there is no central point for the retention of letters received. There are letters on specific matters (for instance the Challis Bequest), and others which form part of personal archives series or are included in departmental correspondence files. From 1891 to 1904 there is register of letters received (G1/49), and copies of letters relating to bequests were transcribed into the Benefactions Book.

G3/45 Letters Sent 1851-1888
This volume consists of copies of letters sent by primarily the Registrar on behalf of the University. There is an index to the Letters Sent, and the letters have been transcribed by hand into the volume. From 1880 the University started using carbon copy letter books (G3/46) with the registered files series starting in the mid-1920s.

G3/70 Matriculants, Graduates and Post Graduate Degrees Register 1852-1914
The register lists all students entering University from 1851-1882; Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts graduates, Bachelor of Laws and Doctor of Laws (for which the University was an examining body until the establishment of the teaching school), Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine (again, the University was an examining body and the teaching of medicine only began in 1882), the Faculty of Dentistry (1901-14). In 1861 a separate Register of Graduates (G3/39) was begun, which duplicates and then continues the graduate listing in this register.

Please note that the results are split into terms. The following is from the 1854 Calendar:
Lent term – from the second Monday in February, to the end of the third week in May, with a short recess, not exceeding one fortnight, at Easter.
Trinity Term – From the second Monday in June, to the end of the last week in August
Michaelmas term – from the first Monday in October, to the end of the second week in December

Pasch term – this term is not mentioned in the Calendar but the definition of Pasch is Easter.


G3/135 Public Examinations 1867-1884
This register records the public examinations run by the University from 1867 rather than the results of the University’s own undergraduate examinations. The University set examinations for Junior and Senior school students in NSW (including, from 1870, regional areas in NSW, Brisbane and lower Queensland towns), until they were replaced by the government-run Intermediate and Leaving Certificates in 1913. This volume also includes the Civil Service Preliminary Examinations (from 1871). Additional volumes in the series include the Articled Clerks examinations. The registers include details of schools and tutors.

The University Archives holds additional record series dating back to the 1850s

Day Book 1851-1852 (22 pages) (G18/1)

Cash Books 1851-1910 (G18/2) and Ledgers 1851-1923 (G18/3)

Benefactions Book 1853-1930 – Volume 2 (G18/7) Contains the transcriptions of complete wills. In many cases, copies of letters relating to the will or bequest, and both contemporary and later comments on both the donor and the purposes to which the funds were put.

Building plans and drawings of Main Building and Great Hall, Edmund Blacket 1854 (G74/2) and some additional drawings in the Blacket Personal archives.

Photographs of the construction of the University by Professor John Smith 1854-62 These can be viewed on Archives Mediabank

NSW Parliament - digitised records

Documents relating to the establishment of the University from the first NSW Legislative Council.