Fellows of Senate
The Hon Sir William Portus Cullen KCMG
An early graduate of the University of Sydney (BA 1880, MA 1882, LLB 1885 and LLD 1887), the Hon Sir William Portus Cullen KCMG was a Fellow of Senate from 1896 to 1934, Vice-Chancellor from 1909 to 1911 and Chancellor from 1914 to 1934.
(1855 – 1935)
KCMG, MA LLD Sydney
Fellow of Senate 1896 - 1934, including election by Senate as
Vice-Chancellor 1909 - 1911
Chancellor 1914 - 1934
His early years
William Portus Cullen was born near Jamberoo in New South Wales. He attended a school in nearby Kiama, but it was only after he moved to Sydney at the age of 20 that the opportunity for further education arose.
His student days at the University of Sydney
Professor Charles Badham persuaded him to sit for a scholarship to the University. He was successful and graduated BA in 1880 with first class honours in classics, having been awarded other prizes and scholarships during his course. He then went on to graduate MA in 1882, LLB in 1885 and LLD in 1887.
Cullen was admitted to the Bar in 1883 and established a substantial practice, specialising in real property and equity.
He was a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1891-94 and the Legislative Council from 1895-1910.
Cullen was a strong nationalist and advocate of the Australian Federation. He was an adviser to (Sir) George Reid when the agreement on Federation was reached in 1899.
Cullen’s career at the Bar thrived after the opening of the High Court of Australia. He was appointed King’s Counsel in 1905 and was recognised as being in the first ranking of barristers practising there.
In 1910, he was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales and served in the position until his retirement in 1925.
Knighted in 1911, he was appointed KCMG in 1912.
He served as Lieutenant-Governor of NSW from 1928 until 1930.
He died in April 1935 in his eightieth year and was given a state funeral.
The biographical notes on the Chancellors contain information derived from a variety of sources including: Australia’s First: A History of the University of Sydney; University News; University of Sydney Archives; and Lawlink NSW: Law and History.
His membership of Senate
Cullen was elected as a Fellow of the Senate of the University in 1896. He served as Vice-Chancellor from 1908-11 and Chancellor from 1914-34, a record term at the time.
In addition, he was acting Dean of the Faculty of Law in 1897.
Senate's tribute on his retirement
The following resolution was adopted at the regular meeting of the Senate in December 1934, on his retirement:
"On the retirement of Sir William Cullen, KCMG, the Senate desires to record its warm appreciation of his faithful and distinguished service during the long period of the 38 years that he has been a Fellow of the Senate and the 20 that he has been Chancellor. It sincerely regrets that his health compels him to sever his official connection with the University, which he has loved so well, and in the life of which he has taken so large and influential a share, a share that will long be gratefully remembered by all who have had the privilege of benefiting by his guidance. It hopes that he may be spared many years to enjoy his well-earned and honourable leisure after a career of such public usefulness to the University and the State."
Senate's tribute on his death
In May 1935, the Senate adopted the following resolution in regard to the death of the Honourable Sir William Cullen:
"The Senate records its deep regret at the death of its former Chancellor, the Honourable Sir William Cullen; it reveres his memory, and expresses appreciation of the many great services he rendered to the University; and it offers its sincere sympathy to the members of his family on his passing.
Sir William Cullen died on Saturday, 6th April, at his home at Leura in his eightieth year. He was an outstanding figure among Australians, having had a long, active and distinguished career. After a brilliant career at the Bar, he filled the high offices of Lieutenant-Governor of the State from 1910 to 1930, Chief Justice of New South Wales from 1910 to 1925, and Chancellor of the University from 1914 to 1934. He was created a Knight Bachelor in 1911 and Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George in 1912. His active interest in the University extended over more than half a century dating from his student days. He was elected a Fellow of the Senate in 1896 and Vice-Chancellor in 1908. His name stands in a prominent position on the roll of those who have been responsible for the great progress of the educational system of the State during the last half century.
During his term as Chancellor, the University developed in a marked degree, and his re-election term after term was evidence o' hir great knowledge and wise counsel.
The Government of the State, with a desire to show respect to the memory of so distinguished a citizen, arranged a State funeral, which was held on Tuesday, 9th April."