University anniversaries

Centenary 1950-1952

Commemoration Ceremony, 6 October 1950

The University of Sydney Centenary celebrations commenced in 1950 and commemorated various important phases in the foundation of the University.

On 6 October 1950, the University of Sydney began its Centenary celebrations with a Ceremony to commemorate the passage of the Act Incorporating the University which received the Assent of the Governor on 1 October 1850. The Commemoration Oration was delivered by the Rt Hon Robert G Menzies, KC LLM MHR, Prime Minister of Australia.

The Commemoration Oration delivered by the Rt Hon R G Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia

The Rt Hon R G Menzies, KC LLM MHR, Prime Minister of Australia, delivers the Commemoration Oration, Sydney Morning Herald photo, copies held by the University of Sydney Archives.

The Commemoration Ceremony

The Ceremony was held in the Great Hall. Invitations were restricted to 700 official representatives since accommodation was limited.

Visitors taking part in the procession were greeted by the Chancellor Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn and the Deputy Chancellor the Honourable Mr Justice E D Roper at the main entrance to the quadrangle and were escorted to robing rooms in the Vice-Chancellor's block.

At 2.45 p.m. His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott inspected a Guard of Honour from the Sydney University Regiment under the command of Captain A. C. Pepper.

Prior to the ceremony a Carillon Recital of "Campanarum Canticum" and " Gaudeamus Igitur" was given by Mr. John Gordon. The ceremony in the Great Hall was preceded by an Organ Recital given by Mr. Faunce Allman.

The procession of 300 assembled in the Vice-Chancellor's Quadrangle and proceeded across the main quadrangle to the Clock Tower. The procession entered the eastern doorway of the Great Hall.

Members of the procession took their seats on the dais.

The fanfare of trumpets was sounded.

The Chancellor greeted visitors. Congratulatory addresses were then presented by the Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable James McGirr, and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, the Right Honourable Ernest Charles O'Dea. The Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, introduced the Commemoration Orator, the Right Honourable R G Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, who then delivered the Commemoration Oration.

The addresses were broadcast to the adjacent lawns and the quadrangle where some 4,000 graduates, undergraduates and members of the public gathered to view the procession.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the procession left the hall and returned to the Vice-Chancellor's Quadrangle before dispersing.

Distinguished visitors were entertained by the Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Professor S. H. Roberts and Mrs. Roberts at a reception in the Senate Room.

The Deans of the ten faculties were " at Home" to the graduates immediately after the ceremony and some 3,000 availed themselves of the opportunity to meet their former teachers and fellow students. Many graduates expressed the hope that such a reunion might become an annual event.

During this part of the proceedings student songs and folk tunes rang out from the carillon.

Members of the academic procession

The procession entered the eastern doorway of the Great Hall in the following order:

Yeoman Bedell
Students' Representative Council
Advisers to students
Secretary of the Appointments Board
Senior Lecturers
President, Standing Committee of Convocation
Deputy Registrar
Heads of Colleges
Professores Emeriti
Members of the Professorial Board
Warden of the New England University College
Deans of Faculties
Fellows of the Senate

The Town Clerk: Mr. Roy Hendy

Representatives of Universities and University Colleges of Australia:
- The Right Hon Sir Earle Page, University College, New England
- Sir Robert Garran, University College, Canberra
- Mr. W. C. Wurth, University of Technology
- Mr. A. Denning, University of Technology
- Professor R C. Mills, National University of Australia

Former Vice-Chancellor: Sir Robert Wallace

Representatives of the Services:
- Rear Admiral H. A. Showers, Flag Officer-in-Charge, NSW
- Air Vice-Marshal J. P. J. McCauley, A.O.C. Eastern Area, R.A.A.F. - Lieut.-General F. H. Berryman, G.O.C. Eastern Command

Minister for Education: The Hon R. J. Heffron

Lord Mayor of Sydney: The Right Hon E. C. O'Dea

Representatives of Churches:
- Rev. B. T. Butcher, Congregational Church
- Rev. C. L. Connor, Methodist Church
- Rev. Dr. V. C. Bell, Presbyterian Church
- His Eminence Norman T. Cardinal Gilroy, Roman Catholic Church
- His Grace Archbishop Mowill, Church of England

Vice-Chancellor: Emeritus Professor S. H. Roberts

Deputy Chancellor: The Hon Mr. Justice E. D. Roper

Premier of New South Wales: The Hon J. McGirr

Prime Minister of Australia: The Right Hon R G. Menzies

Esquire Bedell: Lieut.-General Sir Iven MacKay

His Excellency The Governor of New South Wales: Lieut.-General Sir John Northcott

The Chancellor: Lieut.-Colonel Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn

The address by the Chancellor, Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn

It is my privilege as Chancellor to extend to you all a very warm welcome, both personally and on behalf of the Senate and the whole corporate body of the University.

You have been invited here this afternoon to take part in a ceremony commemorating a very notable event in the history of this Commonwealth - the foundation of its first University on the 1st of October, 1850.

On that day a hundred years ago, an Act incorporating the University of Sydney that had been passed by the Legislative Council, the Single Chamber then entrusted with the Government of the Colony, received the Assent of the Governor and became operative.

The ceremonial observance of a centenary is a long-established University practice, and possibly had its origin in the division of the Christian era into centuries, since all the early Universities were semi-monastic institutions and under ecclesiastical control. The practice in vogue now of organising quarter century celebrations as twenty-five, fifty and seventy-five years anniversaries is a comparatively recent innovation, and they are regarded as relatively minor functions. It is the centenary that continues to rank as the really great occasion - a landmark in the University's history, and it is by common consent accepted as one to be commemorated by a series of social and academic functions to which sister Universities throughout the world are invited to send delegates.

When, however, the time for celebrating a first centenary has drawn near, the problem has no doubt often arisen of deciding just at what stage in its establishment the official life of a University is to be regarded as having begun.

In the case of our own University the present Senate was relieved of any anxiety about determining this question since the Senate that organised the jubilee celebrations had already decided that the University began to function when it opened its doors, and that it had completed its first fifty years in 1902.

In accordance with this precedent preparations are already being made to insure that that epoch-making event, our first centenary, will be celebrated in 1952 in full conformity with traditional academic usage.

The Senate, however, decided that the passing of "The Act of Incorporation" which received the assent of the Governor, Sir Charles Fitz Roy, on 1st October, 1850, was of such historical importance that its commemoration should be made the inaugural feature of an extended series of centenary celebrations.

As some of those present may be unfamiliar with the early history of the University, it will be in keeping with the spirit of this occasion to give a brief account of the events leading up to the passage of what was then known as the University Bill.

The first step was taken when, on 4th September, 1849, William Charles Wentworth presented a petition to the Legislative Council from a majority of the proprietors of the Sydney College praying for the adoption of a measure to convert the College into a University.

It may be interpolated here that the Sydney College, which functioned on the site where the Sydney Grammar School now stands, had been opened in 1835, but by 1849 had not proved as successful as had been anticipated.

Apparently the idea of taking over the College had not been well received, for two days later, on the 6th September, Mr. Wentworth moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the matters contained in the Petition and to report upon the best means of instituting a University for the promotion of Literature and Science, and to be endowed at the public expense. After this no further reference to the College appears in the discussion.

The Committee, whose names appear upon the programme in your hands, seem to have acted very expeditiously, for their report was presented a fortnight later - on the 21st of September. On the 4th October, 1849, Mr. Wentworth moved the Second Reading of the University Bill. It was seconded by James Macarthur; Alexander Berry, James Martin and Henry Dangar spoke in favour of it. This second reading was carried without a dissentient voice.

Outside the Legislature, however, the measure aroused a great deal of public opposition. This was based mainly on the secular character of the institution as planned, and on the composition of the proposed Senate.

It is of especial interest to us today to note that a number of petitions were presented protesting that the Colony - with a population of 187,000 - was not yet ready for a University.

Apparently the members of the Legislative Council refused to face the storm, for towards the end of the session the Bill lapsed through want of a quorum.

Wentworth and his committee were, however, not to be denied, and in August 1850 the Bill was reintroduced and on the 11th September the Second Reading was passed and when the Assent of the Governor was received on the 1st October, the University was finally established.

In our celebrations today we gratefully commemorate all those who contributed to the foundation of our University on that first day of October a century ago. Especially do we pay a tribute to the memory of the members of the Select Committee to whom the passage of the Act was actually due.

But for their foresight and perseverance the establishment of the University might have been deferred for many years.

Their leader, William Charles Wentworth, whose personal history is so intricately interwoven with that of the early years of the nation he served so well, has the uncontested honour of being the founder of the University. It was Wentworth who in 1849 moved in the Legislature for the appointment of a Select Committee. It was he who drew up the Committee's report, and who moved the reading of the Bill for the Act of Incorporation that lapsed in 1849, and it was he who revived it in 1850 and on this occasion succeeded in seeing it carried.

In the years that followed Wentworth, whose statue stands in this Hall, gave much of his time to the development of the University, and served on the Senate for twenty-two years.

Time will not permit of more than a grateful recitation of the names of the remaining members of the Committee - names that frequently recur in the annals of our national history - Edward Deas-Thomson, John Hubert Plunkett, Charles Cowper, Robert Lowe, Charles Nicholson, Robert Nichols and James Macarthur. The portraits of two of their number, Sir Charles Nicholson and Sir Edward Deas-Thomson, look down upon us from the walls of this exquisite hall that they helped to build.

With the passage of the Act of Incorporation the work of the Committee had been done, and when the first Senate was appointed by proclamation on the 24th December, 1850, another phase in the history of the institution had begun.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the birth of a University that now, one hundred years later, is one of the greatest in the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Those who guide the destiny of the University today and its twenty thousand graduates, invite you to join with them in joyous commemoration of the day of its incorporation and in paying homage to the memory of all those who by their foresight, patriotism and love of learning contributed to its foundation.

The congratulatory address by the Premier of NSW, the Honourable James McGirr

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Government of New South Wales, I desire to express to the Senate of the University of Sydney our felicitations on the occasion of the celebration of the University's centenary.

It is interesting to recall that this University was founded at about the same time that the then Colony of New South Wales was attaining full and responsible parliamentary self-government. While the University was established in 1850 and received its Royal Charter in 1858, it was in 1855 that New South Wales became a fully self-governing colony. Nor, indeed, were these events merely coincidental; for they and other developments of that period were all essentially connected with one another in the logic of history.

Yet neither the University nor the system of political self-government developed along the line which its founders had originally planned. Both alike were transformed when the course of history and the whole life of the Colony were changed profoundly as a result of the Gold Rush and, in ten years, the threefold increase of Australia's population.

Now, a hundred years later, we celebrate this anniversary of the establishment of Sydney University; and again it is a period of growth and far-reaching change in the State of New South Wales. Once again we are experiencing and endeavouring to absorb a rapid increase of population; and at the same time we are passing through a period of social and industrial development of which no man can foresee the outcome.

As a result, the University, like the State, is confronted with many new problems to solve and difficult new tasks to accomplish.

For the University, as for the State itself, the present time is a challenge. According to your success and our success in meeting this challenge, so will be shaped the future of science and culture, the future of social democracy, and the future of civilisation in this land.

The congratulatory address by the Lord Mayor of Sydney, the Right Honourable Ernest Charles O'Dea

At a meeting of the Council of the City of Sydney held on 3rd October, 1950, the Lord Mayor made reference to the significance of the date, 6th October, 1950, which marks the centenary of the passing of the Act of Incorporation of the University of Sydney. The Council expressed the wish to be associated with the Commemoration Ceremony by extending, through the Lord Mayor, its greetings, congratulations and best wishes on the historic occasion.

The influence of the teachings of the University has been manifested over the years in making a valuable contribution to the progress and development of a city, which after only one hundred and sixty-two years of existence ranks as the second white city in the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The University has the tremendous responsibility of educating our professional men and women to assume the obligations and duties of good citizenship and leadership, not only in the City, but throughout the Commonwealth of Australia. So well has this been achieved that graduates of the University of Sydney have made their mark throughout the world.

In recognition of a magnificent record of achievement, the Council of the City of Sydney is privileged to extend sincere congratulations to the Senate of the University of Sydney, and at the same time to convey best wishes for the continued growth and successful development of the University in the years that lie ahead.

The introduction of the Commemoration Orator by the Governor of NSW, His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott

I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity this afternoon of joining with this great distinguished gathering on such a notable occasion as our Commemoration Day. It is my privilege also to be called upon to introduce to you the Right Honourable R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia. He needs no introduction. When I asked him what I should say when introducing a Prime Minister he said, "Well, give them my name, and tell them the least said about him the better".

But we have heard his voice throughout the length and breadth of Australia calling to all of us to respond to the responsibilities which we now find upon us, if this great country of ours is to develop and take its place as it should. A few weeks ago we followed with great interest his visit overseas. His voice was heard on behalf of Australia in Great Britain, in Canada, in the United States, and everywhere he was received with great enthusiasm. The name of Australia had lustre added to it because of his visits.

So, I say, he needs no introduction. But there is a personal commendation that I can make which perhaps will appeal to you. He comes from the countryside in Victoria where I came from. There they have produced former Prime Ministers and other well-known Australians, so that I give it to you as a commendation that is worthwhile.

But today we are privileged indeed to have with us the Right Honourable the Prime Minister, the Honourable the Premier, My Lord Mayor, the heads and leaders of Australia, of New South Wales and of the City of Sydney, and we are heartened that they should in their busy and exacting lives find time to come and join with us today in this notable occasion which we celebrate. It is all-important that their interest should be maintained and that it should be an active interest.

We have heard from the Chancellor something of the history of this great University. Looking back over a hundred years we now, with grateful appreciation, realise something of what the foresight, the energy and initiative of the pioneers of this State meant in the establishment of this University. We look back over the years and we realise the great men, the great Australians, that have passed through this Hall and have contributed so much in every avenue of our development, and we are grateful and thankful for all that past history of this great University.

But today we look forward to the next century and we are the pioneers of what is going to happen in the next century. Are we going to hand on to the generations in the future what has been handed on to us as a noble heritage? We have to think very deeply in regard to the expansion and the development that will be required in the future in Australia to meet its requirements.

So, Sir, I say to you that we are delighted today to have you with us to show your active interest and support in this great institution. Now, ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege and honour to introduce to you the Right Honourable R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia.

The Commemoration Oration delivered by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable R G Menzies

1850 was indeed a very remarkable year, as we have been reminded in the address presented by the Honourable the Premier. I must confess that the other day I went to the fount of all terrestrial knowledge, the Year Book of the CommOlHvealth, because the Year Book of the Commonwealth contains in suitable summary form fit for a busy man the entire history of Australia.

Notable events are gathered together into about eight or nine lines for each year. It is so compact indeed a summary of the history of Australia that I regret to say that my own name appears in it only once, and that in a rather melancholy fashion. But the entry for 1850 shows that that year was perhaps as remarkable a year in the broadening of horizons as we have yet seen in Australia. Here is the actual note. It is really staggering to look at it. In New South Wales, the final abolition of transportation, in other words a great and revolutionary change in the outlook that had once existed upon the new colonies; the turning of the first sod of the first Australian Railway ushering in a revolution in transport; the establishment of the University of Sydney. In Victoria, the discovery of gold at Clunes, the establishment of Representative Government. In South Australia, the establishment of Representative Government. In Tasmania, the establishment of Representative Government. What a remarkable short catalogue of events we have there! What more could we require to prove that in 1850 men's imaginations were being stirred and that they were really seeing over the horizon.

I enjoyed so much all that the Chancellor said to us about William Charles Wentworth and those who laboured with him, because these were men who saw far over the horizon. They were precisely the kind of men who were responsible for all the other technical developments without which we should not be here, or at any rate, we should be here in some much more limited fashion.

There is no need for me to dwell on the record of the University of Sydney. It is a University whose members, whether graduate or undergraduate, in the arts, in the sciences, in war and in peace, have given superb service, not only to Australia but to the world.

I refer to "in war as in peace" because of a very striking memory that I shall always carry with me. It was the memory of a University function in 1941 which occurred under the Chancellorship of Winston Churchill, who went down from London in the middle of the war, in the middle of all his trials, to put on his Chancellor's robes and to confer a degree of the University of Bristol upon the Ambassador of the United States and upon myself as Prime Minister of Australia. A few hours before the ceremony was to begin Bristol was blitzed and the Great Hall of the University of Bristol was by way of being a smoking ruin when the time came. Outside in the streets fires were still burning, smoke was still rising, people were still searching in the debris, but the ceremony went on magnificently and eloquently in the comparatively small anteroom.

Into this small anteroom came the members of the faculty with their academic robes hastily put on over their battle dress. There they were, stained with smoke and with water, begrimed and hastily adorned for the ceremony as if no war were on, though some of its crackle could still be heard. The greatest wartime leader our race ever had took an hour off to say something about a University, and to confer the honour of that University upon two men who in their own fashions represented their own countries.

It was to me the most eloquent proof of the fact that there is something indestructible and continuous about the function of a University. We must never allow ourselves to think that any circumstances could arise in which the work of the University can be put on one side, in which the process of learning can be arrested. It is indeed a continuous process, in war as well as in peace.

I do not want to dwell on the past. I want to say a few very brief words in an endeavour to answer the question "What is the University for?" I believe that this question still needs, indeed it constantly needs, asking, because this is an age of increasing cleverness but it is not necessarily an age of increasing profundity or wisdom. Learning has, even today, a constant battle against illiteracy and if I may say so without being controversial, I scarcely ever pull a certain switch without realising how many instruments illiteracy has at its command, and how few are the true friends of learning. Indeed, Sir, we may say that the contest of our time is a contest between true values and the easy shoddy substitute. The function of the University is to get its values right, to get all the values of the public right, and to help to get the values of the public right. Civilisation, properly understood, has right through this century conducted the queerest paradoxical kind of battle against scientific knowledge and skill and all those things so superbly good in themselves, but so shockingly uncivilised in uncivilised hands.

Civilisation is engaged in a battle today. It is a battle against the state of mind of people who believe that the aeroplane is proof of civilisation, that because we have. modern machines, because things that are heavier than the air float through the air, because a piece of metal suitably stimulated can both listen and talk, here we have civilisation. Yet civilisation exists in none of these things. These are mere inert instruments. Civilisation exists in the heart of man and in the mind of man and never in the creation of man's hands.

In 1852 the University was in due form inaugurated. I had the great fortune the other day to come into possession of the address or, if you prefer it, oration delivered on that occasion 98 years ago by Professor John Woolley on the 11th October of 1852. I read it with profound interest. It was delivered in a style which is now no longer current. It was delivered in that rich and rotund manner, garnished with classical allusions, that has now passed away because even the University staffs can no longer translate the classical allusions. In the course of his address Professor Woolley said this, and I adopt his words just as he was adopting the words of Sir William Hamilton:

" The Idea of the University is two fold; it is first, what its name imports, a school of liberal and general knowledge, and secondly a collection of special schools, devoted to the learned professions. Of these, the former is the University, properly so called; the second is complementary and ministerial. The former considers the learner as an end in and for himself, his perfection as man simply being the object of his education. The latter proposes an end out of and beyond the learner, his dexterity, namely, as a professional man."

Mr. Chancellor, I believe that this point was magnificently taken, but it is a point we are ever under pressure to forget. We are always under pressure to believe that the University has as its prime function the creating of the skilled technical expert, whereas the truth is that if it creates technical experts and nothing more, it may very well have rendered some disservice to the world. The prime function of a University is to seek the perfection of the men and women, as individuals, who pass through it. The process of education is a process of civilising the receiver of the education and not merely a process of enabling him to earn a fee or to perfornl an operation or to argue a case in court. If I may just emphasise that, I would say that a lawyer who is no more than a technician will never be a great lawyer, however perfect his technique, that a surgeon who is merely the most magnificent of operators will never really be a great man unless there is something above and beyond his technique.

In all these things there is a requirement of statesmanship, statesmanship in the broadest sense, and the business of statesmanship is not to be the slave of technique but to be at all times its master. In brief, Universities were designed to produce individuals and were never designed to produce the easy mob mind.

Those reflections bring me to what I must make my final observation. I am sure I am very properly suspected of having very strong views on how some elements of action in this country should be treated, but I hope, Sir, that I shall never be suspected of wanting to set up barriers against thought and education. I want, with your permission, to establish a very vital distinction in this, because I should hate, as every sensible person would, to be a dictator. But if I could be one for ten minutes and claim the right to make one decree that should endure forever, it would be that every University in Australia should possess complete academic freedom. It is vital that every professor and lecturer and student should be at large to pursue truth and if possible to capture it, in so far as you can ever say that we have captured truth. That is vital to the very notion of the University. Quite frankly I do not like political control of seats of learning.

If a University professor detested my politics, as many do, but was a master of his business, a genuine student of his branch of learning and a genuine teacher of his own learning, I should be his supporter against all attack. After all, it is not his politics that I am interested in, or indeed that you are interested in. If I may say so very bluntly I have known many University professors who would have done well not to talk of politics at all, but the point, Mr. Chancellor, is to be made abundantly clear because my distinction is between the world of thought and the world of action of a political nature. As any man thinks, So he shall go free; as he acts so like every other citizen he shall be judged by his actions. If his actions are a challenge to the safety of the state, then the state must restrain and discipline him, and in certain circumstances must destroy him. But that is no limitation on the freedom of thought, properly understood. It is merely an insistence upon the fact that if free thought expresses itself in subversive action then the state cannot give immunity to the act. Now let us be clear about that.

There are far too many people who think education in certain things shall not be free. This is seeking to place the human mind in chains. Don't believe it for a moment. Let the human mind run free, and the more freely it runs the more will the thinker realise that action is something which has an immediate impact upon the people, and perhaps upon the state itself, and that the ordinary law of the land must take its course.

Sir, I do not propose to weary this audience on an occasion of this kind, a great and joyful occasion, but I would like to conclude by going back to my friend Professor Woolley. In the same lecture he made a remark which I think might well do as a little piece of advice to all people entering or passing through or leaving this University, a piece of advice that no doubt we still need. The Professor was letting himself go on the subject of our undergraduates, always a fruitful topic, and he said this:

"Subjected to such training, our undergraduates will not, indeed, embrace in their capacious and undiscriminating memory the whole encyclopaedia of literature and art. They will not, like the Hippias of Plato, boast their skill to make their own shoes, weave their own clothes, manufacture the ink and the paper which is to record and perpetuate their own wisdom, and heal all the disorders of the body and the distempers of the soul. But they will, we may reasonably hope, possess a well-cultivated and vigorous understanding; they will have formed the habit of thinking at once with modesty and independence; they will not be in danger of mistaking one branch of science for the whole circle of knowledge; nor of unduly exaggerating the importance of those studies which they select as their own."


University of Sydney Archives