The University's first graduation ceremony, 18 February 1856

The early ceremonies were known as the Encaenia or the annual Commemoration of the founding of the University.

The first two Encaenia were held on 10 October 1853 and 11 December 1854, when Senate met for the purpose of giving the prizes to undergraduates of the past year who had been the successful competitors in the various classes and also to students who had passed their examinations as matriculated members of the University.

Degrees were for the first time conferred by the University at the Encaenia held on 18 February 1856, 'decidedly the most oppressive day we have experienced this summer, a not wind prevailing with unwonted intensity' ... Even so, the hall was crowded with visitors of every class, all of whom seemed to take a deep interest in the proceedings' (SMH). Seven undergraduates from the original cohort, having attended Lectures and otherwise complied with the Regulations of the University during the prescribed period of three years, and having satisfactorily passed the required examination, were admitted as Bachelors of Arts.

The ceremony was held in the building previously known as Sydney College (now Sydney Grammar School) and which was where the University was situated before it moved to its current location.

On this webpage:

The information on this webpage is from a Sydney Morning Herald report the following day and from an article by Dr Peter Chippendale.

Background — the first students

Read about the first intake of 24 students in 1852, which the first 7 graduates came from.

Distinguished guests

Guests included:

  • His Excellency the Governor, Sir William Thomas Denison and Lady Denison
  • His Honor Sir Alfred Stephen and Lady Stephen
  • His Honor Mr Justice Therry and family
  • His Honor Mr Justice Milford and family
  • The Rev R Allwood, the Rev Horatio Walsh, the Rev W B Clarke, the Rev Dr Steele, Rev Dr Fullerton and other clergy of the Church of England
  • His Grace Archbishop Polding, the Vicar-General the Right Rev Abbott Gregory, the Very Rev Dean McMacroe with several ministers of other denominations
  • A number of members of the Legislative Council, comprising: Messrs D Cooper, Wilshire, Fitzgerald, William McLeay, Bligh, G Bowman, Icely, Hood, Dr Douglass, Mr Broadhurst etc.
  • Many other distinguished notabilities, including officers of the garrison and of the ships of war in port: the Hon Colonel Bloomfield, the Solicitor-General, the Sheriff, Captain Freemantle RN and officers of the HMS Juno, Captain Denham RN and officers of the HMS Herald, Officers of the 11th regiment, Captain Ward RE, Captain Hawkins RE and the Emigration Agent.


At 12 o’clock, the procession entered the Hall in the following order:

  • Bedel of the University
  • Undergraduates
  • Trustees of the Grammar School
  • Fellows of St Paul's College
  • Registrar (Hugh Kennedy)
  • Professors
  • Senate
  • Macebearer
  • Provost (Sir Charles Nicholson)
  • Visitor (the Governor) (His Excellency Sir William Thomas Denison)
The Provost's speech

The formal proceedings were in Latin (English was not used until 1869) and commenced by a short speech from the Provost, Sir Charles Nicholson, stating the objects for which the meeting was convened.

Presentation of undergraduates who had won prizes and honours in 1855

Dr Woolley, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, then read the list of the undergraduates who had won prizes and honours during the past year (1855):

  • English Essay - "Athens in the time of Pirecles" - William Charles Windeyer
  • Latin Verse, translation form T Moore - "When he who adores thee" - George Salting
  • 1st Class Honours in Annual Examination:
    – Classics - 2nd year - James Paterson, George Salting, William Severin Salting, John Stack
    – Classics - 1st year - Stuart Hawthorn
    – Mathematics - 2nd year - James Paterson, Arthur Renwick, George Salting
    – Mathematics - 1st year - Stuart Hawthorn, Reece Rutland Jones
    – Chemistry - 2nd year - Sydney Burdekin, Arthur Renwick (and Professor's Prize)
    – Logic - 1st year - James Paterson, George Salting, William Charles Windeyer
    – Moral Philosophy - 1st year - George Salting, William Severin Salting, William Charles Windeyer
    – French - 1st year - George Salting, William Severin Salting
  • Scholars (winners of University Scholarships - Ordinary)
    – 2nd year - Rees Rutland Jones
    – 1st year - Gustavus Innes
  • Special Scholarships:
    – University Classical Scholarship - George Salting
    – Barker Mathematical Scholarship - James Paterson
    – Deas Thomson's Physical Scholarship - William Severin Salting

– Update: William Charles Windeyer graduated BA at this ceremony and all the others listed above later graduated BA.

Read the Latin for the presentation of prizes and honours which give the words to be spoken by officials and candidates, as well as directions for the sequence or physical movements to be observed.

Dr Woolley then presented the list to the Senior Proctor, who presented it to the Provost. Professors Pell and Smith officiated as Proctors.

The prize compositions were then read, and the candidates for honors presented in order by the Professors to the Provost.

Conferring of degrees

The candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees then withdrew, and the Dean presented each "supplicant" to the Proctors, who handed them to the Provost. The Provost, having taken the votes of the Senate, declared the following candidates for the Bachelor of Arts degree accepted:

Read the Latin for the conferring of degrees which give the words to be spoken by officials and candidates, as well as directions for the sequence or physical movements to be observed.

The Dean then retired for the candidates and, preceded by the Bedell, re-entered the hall with them, attired in hoods of black stuff lined with white fur (the Bachelor of Arts academic dress).

The Dean presented them to the Provost, Senate and Proctors.

Professor Pell administered to the senior candidate (William Charles Windeyer) the promise of obedience to the statutes.

Professor Smith administered the promise of peace and concord.

The Senior Proctor then demanded the consent of the other candidates to the same promise.

The Registrar testified that the candidates had signed the University Roll.

After this the Dean conducted the candidates severally to the Provost, who, taking each by his right hand, said, " Domine, admitto te ad gradum Baccalaurei in Artibus; necnon ad orania facienda abeunda, usurpands, quo ad istum gradum spectant."


The Provost addressed the assembly.

Read the Provost's address.

The Visitor, His Excellency Sir William Denison, then spoke briefly.

Conclusion of the ceremony

The proceedings were then terminated by the Provost in the following words:" Prorogamus hoc concilium in ante diem IX. Cal. Mart.”