The Quadrangle

Senate and the Quadrangle

Between 1825 - 50, the rising class of bankers, manufacturers and professionals saw a growing need for the state to establish an institution of higher learning.

William Charles Wentworth, colonial landowner, editor and lawyer, former radical and later Whig aristocrat, played the predominant role in initiating the foundation of the University of Sydney.

Eventually an Act to incorporate and endow the University of Sydney was passed on 1 October 1850.

The University began its teaching in 1852 with 38 students and three academic staff using a building in College Street formerly occupied by the Sydney College.

However this was only intended as a temporary measure and a Senate committee was appointed to investigate a suitable site for a permanent, purpose-built university campus.

In July 1854 the Senate was authorised to take possession of land at Grose Farm as a site for the University and Colleges.

While it was always intended to build on a grand scale, the Senate committee recommended to Senate:

  • that initial construction be limit to buildings that were essential for the working of the University, with more elaborate parts, e.g. a grand hall, added as funds became available.
  • that the Elizabethan style of architecture be adopted
  • that Mr Edmund Blacket, Colonial Architect, be commissioned as University Architect


In 1854, Blacket resigned to take up the invitation to design the buildings of the University of Sydney.

When Blacket laid his designs for the University buildings before the Senate in June 1854, however, it was decided that a Great Hall should form part of the principal design and be constructed simultaneously with the remainder of the building.

Blacket envisaged that an enclosed Quadrangle would eventually be built. However the initial phase constructed to his designs comprised the Great Hall and East Wing, built 1855 - 1863.

Such lavish plans were made possible by the Gold Rush of 1851 which had increased the population and filled the Government’s coffers.

The buildings were officially opened on 18 July 1859 at the Annual Commemoration, a ceremony at which degrees were conferred in the name of the Senate and an important annual event in the life of the early university.

Externally and internally the buildings reflected the founding Senate’s affection for and allegiance to a British heritage and their aspirations to follow in the tradition of the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The subsequent stages of construction of the Quadrangle – between the 1900s and the 1960s – were similarly approved and overseen by Senate, although there were persistent funding issues, e.g. the cloisters are incomplete.