About Senate

Senate history

William Charles Wentworth advocated a university for Sydney in a speech to Parliament, 6 September 1849

From the address given by the Chancellor, Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn, at the Ceremony held on 6 October 1950 to commemorate the passage of the Act Incorporating the University which received the Assent of the Governor on 1 October 1850:

On 4 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.