Royal visitors

Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York, 1927

The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) were on a five week tour of Australia, beginning in NSW on 26 March 1927, as part of a tour of the British Empire. The main purpose of their visit to Australia was for the Duke to formally open the new Commonwealth Parliament building in Canberra, which he did on 9 May.

View a film clip of the official opening of Parliament House, 9 May 1927, National Film & Screen Archive.

During their visit to Australia, Their Royal Highnesses visited the University of Sydney on Tuesday 29 March 1927. On this webpage:

Reception attended by the Duchess of York, 29 March 1927

Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, with Lady Cavan (who, with her husband Lord Cavan, accompanied the Duke and Duchess on their 1927 tour), attended a reception at the University Union* at 4.00pm arranged by the National Council of Women.

*The Union building (renamed the Holme Building in 1975) was constructed in 1910-1912 on a site on Science Road and adjoining Parramatta Road, to designs by the Government Architect. The Union Hall was completed by B J Waterhouse & H V Vernon in 1916. However, in 1960-1961 a clubroom was built along the north side of the Pleasance and the Union Hall was replaced by the new Union Theatre, opened on 16 September 1961 and renamed the Footbridge Theatre in 1981. In the 21st century, the theatre has been converted to a seminar / lecture / conference venue.

The Duchess was received by the wife of the Governor of NSW, Lady de Chair, and by the President of the National Council of Women, Lady MacCallum, on behalf of the Council and fifty other women organisations.

The Duchess made a short speech in reply to the presentation of an address from the National Council of Women, and then had afternoon tea on the picturesque lawn of the University.

By a Special Correspondent in The Argus, Thursday 31 March 1927: "Wednesday - Woman was on a pedestal at the University yesterday. For this elevation she was indebted to herself. It is true that the Duke of York, as well as the Duchess of York, was visiting the University, but what the men of the institution achieved was trifling, compared with the success of the women. No greater tribute has ever been paid to women in this State than that of yesterday when the National Council of Women was permitted to occupy the Union Hall in order to welcome the Duchess. The National Council of Women represents by delegation most of the women's associations, leagues, clubs and societies of New South Wales, consequently a concession to the National Council was a concession to womanhood generally. No doubt there will be something about it in the songbook issued by the undergraduates at Commemoration. Lady MacCallum, wife of Sir Mungo MacCallum, vice-chancellor of the University and associated with it for many years as a professor, is president of the National Council, and that happy circumstance was, perhaps, responsible for the gathering. It was completely representative of the womanhood of the State."

Honorary degree for the Duke of York, 29 March 1927

His Royal Highness the Duke of York was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Laws ad eundem gradum by Deputy Chancellor Mr Justice Street at a ceremony in the Great Hall.

Guard of Honour

On arrival al the University at 4.00pm, the Duke inspected a special guard of honour in front of the Clock Tower paraded by the Sydney University Regiment.

The Guard of Honour

The Australian Army Guard of Honour (Sydney University Regiment) for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York to Sydney University, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_06642.

The Duke inspects the guard of honour

The Duke inspects the guard of honour, photo, 'The University of Sydney Gazette', October 2000.

Guard Commander Captain Victor Windeyer, later Commanding Officer and an Honorary Colonel of the regiment, was on duty. "Afterwards, he was asked if he had any conversation with the royal guest," said his son Justice William Windeyer, also a former Commanding Officer and now Honorary Colonel of the regiment. "He replied that it had consisted of one hyphenated word: 'Good- oh' ."


Following inspection of the guard of honour, HRH was received at the main tower gate by the Governor (Sir Dudley du Chair), the Deputy Chancellor (Mr Justice Street), the Vice-Chancellor (Sir Mungo MacCallum) and the members of the Senate.


The Duke being received by the Deputy Chancellor Mr Justice Street, photo, The Sydney Mail, 6 April 1927, Google News Archive.

Prior to the ceremony in the Great Hall, His Royal Highness attended in the Senate Room, where earlier in the afternoon a meeting had been held to authorise the bestowal of the degree, and signed the documents relating to the degree.

The ceremony

A procession then formed and headed by the Esquire Bedell bearing the University mace, proceeded to the platform, to the accompaniment of the reverberating welcome of the organ, played by Mr Arnold Mote.

The Government was represented at the ceremonv by the Minister for Education (Mr Mutch), and the City Council by the Lord Mayor (Alderman Mostyn). In addition to the Deputy Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor the following membors of the Senate were present: Dr G H Abbott, Judge Backhouse, Sir Henry Barraclough. Dr C B. Blackburn, Dr J J C Bradfield, Dr Constance D'Arcy, Mr A M Eedy, Professor C E Fawcit, Mr Justice Ferguson, Mr C I Brunsdon Fletcher, Mr Frank Leverrler, Mr Daniel Levy, Mrs Eleanor McKinnon, Mr B B O'Conor, Dr Cecil Purser, Professor Welsh and Professor Woodhouse. Among others seated on the dais were Heads of colleges and Professors.

Due to the absence through illness of the Chancellor (the Hon Sir William Cullen), the Deputy Chancellor (the Hon Sir Philip Street, Chief Justice of NSW) welcomed His Royal Highness to the University - Read the welcome

The Deputy Chancellor then invited the Dean of the Faculty of Law (Professor Peden) to present the Duke of York for the
degree - Read the Dean's address

The Deputy Chancellor, clasping the Duke of York by the hand, said: "In the name of the Senate and by my authority as Deputy Chancellor. I admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws in this University."

After the applause, whlch followed the completion of the ceremony, had died away, the Deputy Chancellor announced that the Duke of York did not propose to address the people in the main hall, but would say a few words later, on the occasion of the undergraduates' welcome in the Quadrangle.

Following the ceremony

Before receiving the address from the undergraduates, the Duke of York unveiled portraits of Sir Alexander MacCormick by John Longstaff and the late Professor Warren, which were hung upon the walls of the Great Hall. The Duke remarked, 'Why, I thought MacCormick was still alive." The Deputy Chancellor said that the portrait of Sir Alexander MacCormick had been presented to the University by his former students, and the portrait of Professer Warren had been presented by some of his colleagues and students.

The procession, headed by the Yeoman Bedell (William Barber), the Esquire Bedell (Colonel R J A Massie), the Duke and the Deputy Chancellor, then left the Great Hall.

Another view of leaving the Great Hall

The official party leaving the Great Hall: the Yeoman Bedell (William Barber) preceding the Esquire Bedell (Colonel R J A Massie) (not visible), the Duke and the Deputy Chancellor (Mr Justice Street) (also not visible), and a guard of honour by the Sydney University Regiment, photo, Hood collection, State Library of New South Wales, HA 6634.

 Leaving the Great Hall  Leaving the Great Hall
Preceeded by the Esquire Bedell
(Colonel R J A Massie), the Duke and
the Deputy Chancellor (Mr Justice Street)
leave the Great Hall,
photo, 'Western Mail,' 28 April 1927,
National Library of Australia.
The Duke followed by the Vice-Chancellor
(Sir Mungo MacCallum),
photo, The Sydney Mail, 6 April 1927,
Google News Archive. 

Up till this moment, the proceedings had been of a formal and dignified character, but when the procession appeared within view of the undergraduates massed in the Quadrangle, the academic staidness was shattered in an instant. The greeting was spontaneous, and characteristic of youth, the cheers for the Royal guest being given with boisterous unrestraint, a contrast to the calm of the earlier proceedings.

The dais upon which the reception took place had been specially decorated by the different faculties with their representative colours, and with a humour peculiar to functions of this character, there had been suspended from the awning such objects as gigantic spanners, bones of various shapes and sizes, even a human skull.


After receiving the honorary degree, the Duke (on the left) addressed the students, photo, Queensland Times, 2 April 1927, National Library of Australia. Note the ironmongery, bones etc hanging from the awning.

The Duke of York addresses the huge crowd from the dais

The Duke of York addressing the huge crowd, photo from 'The Brisbane Courier', 1 April 1927, National Library of Australia.

The Duke of York was received on behalf of the undergraduates by Mr H M Saxby, President of the Sydney University Undergraduates' Association, and by Miss Wilga Moore, President of the Women's Undergraduates' Association, who were presented by the Deputy Chancellor. - Read the address by Mr Saxby.

Other members of the executives of the associations present on the dais were Misses Edna Bayliss (Vice-President), Miss Oosterveen (Secretary) and Miss Peden (Treasurer) of the Women's Association; and Messrs C R Laverty, V W Bayldon and V J Flynn (Vice-Presidents), Messrs J M Gosper (non-medical Secretary), C A McDermott (medical Secretary) and K A Flavelle (Treasurer) of the Undergraduates' Association.

Although the address was presented with gravity and in all sincerity, anatomical specimens and empty bottles were dangling from the canopy of the dais, and irrepressible students on the roof chanted humorous parodies, which caused the Duke at one stage to turn with sudden laughter to a group which clamoured for "Good Old Albie".

The Duke laughed at the students' parodies and jokes as he stood in his scarlet gown amid the somewhat scandalised members of the University Senate.

As soon as His Royal Highness began his reply, however, all ribald interruptions ceased - Read the reply

At the conclusion of his speech the crowd sang with much enthusiasm "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and a number of students' songs.

At 5.00pm, the Duke was joined by the Duchess of York, and the Royal party returned to Government House.


Welcome by the Deputy Chancellor, the Hon Sir Philip Street, Chief Justice of NSW

"On behalf of every member belonging to this University from the Chancellor down to the newest undergraduate I offer to you a very respectful, a very loyal, and a very hearty welcome. From the point of view of imperial sentiment and imperial unity, it is no small thing that almost every part of the Empire should have been visited first by your Royal father, His Majesty King George, and afterwards by two of his sons. Such visits with the personal knowledge and the personal and sympathetic understanding that come from them are of infinite value in strengthening the ties of allegiance which bind the Empire together. The spirit of nationality as we know it in Australia today finds no expression in desire for separation. To us it is a connecting force binding the autonomous units of the Empire into a harmonions whole under the sovereign authority of the Imperial Crown. That is, the true temper of the British Empire and the British people, I believe, and it is the hope of all Australians that the Empire may long remain a powerful and enlightened and a united Empire.

As was pointed out in the address which I had the honour to present to you yesterday, this University has the distinction of being the oldest University in Australia. It is just on seventy-five years ago since it first opened its doors to students, and some six years or so after that Her Majesty Queen Victoria was pleased to declare by Letters Patent that the degrees conferred by the Senate should be recognised as academic distinctions throughout the British Dominions, and should be entitled to rank throughout those Dominions as fully as if they had been granted by any University of the United Kingdom. The mace, which was carried before Your Royal Highness this afternoon, was also the gift to the University of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. "Doctrina Paret Virtutem" is the maxim inscribed upon it, and it is the hope of those who have at heart the welfare of their University that our scholars who receive the sacred gift of learning within our walls may at all times accept that gift with that high resolve. The ties of gratitude and devotion to the Royal Family, inspired by the interest which Her Majesty Queen Victoria was graciously pleased to take in this new seat of learning in the Southern Hemisphere, have been strengthened by the fact that it is privileged to account among its members King George and the Prince of Wales, and are still further strengthened by the fact that Your Royal Highness is graciously pleased to honour us this afternoon by becoming a Doctor of Laws of this University."

Address by the Dean of Law, Professor Peden

"Mr Deputy Chancellor, twice before in its history the University of Sydney has had the honour of admitting to its membership a royal prince of our race, one a prince who was then His Royal Highness the Duke of York and is now His Majesty the King, the other His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Each came into our midst as the representative of a Sovereign reigning over British peoples within and without the British Isles. Each bore a message of goodwill from the homeland to Australia. Each in witness of the unity of the British Commonwealth of Nations crossed the seas to be present on occasions memorable in the history of Australia as a nation within the British brotherhood. His Majesty the King came to take part in the inaugural ceremonies and solemnities that befitted the opening for the first time of the Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales came to this as well as to other British lands after the Great War, and added to the service rendered by His Majesty a further service by laying the foundation stone for a Parliament House at the Seat of Government.

Today it is our privilege to welcome once again a Duke of York. His Royal Highness has come in his turn to represent His Majesty, and to render a like service. Ever since the Australian Commonwealth came into being, the people of Australia have looked forward to the day on which the Australian Parliament will meet at the Seat of Government. The Parliament, opened twenty-seven years ago by the King, will presently meet in the Parliament House commenced by the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness the Duke of York will take part in the ceremonies and solemnities of that memorable meeting. The University of Sydney again desires to offer due and loyal tribute, and to have the honour of admitting His Royal Highness to its membership and to the degree accepted and held by His Majesty and by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales."

Address of welcome by Mr H M Saxby, president of the Sydney University Undergraduates' Association

"May it please your Royal Highness, the undergraduates of the University of Sydney beg to join in welcoming you to the oldest Australian University and to its membership. We welcome you in person and as a member of our Royal family. We declare our unswerving loyalty to their Majesties, the King and Queen, to his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, to yourself, to the other members of the Royal House, as the foundation upon which rests the whole fabric of the British Empire, that Commonwealth of Nations which is, under God's providence, at once the power that ensures the safety of our country and the greatest agent of justice in the world. With gratitude and pride we remark the long journey that you, with her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, are undertaking for the advancement and good of the Empire, and we pray that you may both return safely and live long to appreciate the results of your mission. We petition that you will convey to his Majesty the homage and loyalty of the undergraduates of the University of Sydney."

The Duke's reply

"I thank the Deputy-Chancellor and the Senate for the honour they have done me of conferring upon me the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. I count it as a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of my father and brother in receiving this degree from tho oldest University in Australia. I am very glad to have thls opportunity of seeing you all here. ! have heard much of what you have clone and what you are I doing - (laughter) - and I thank you very much indeed for the welcome you have given me here this afternoon." (Applause)