Students at the University of Sydney

Commem Days in the 1890s

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Briefly

Rowdy student behaviour continued at Commemoration Days in the 1890s and although various changes and measures were introduced to restore order, the problem persisted.

Consequently, in 1896 Senate moved the Commemoration Day ceremony to the Town Hall, banned songs and banners, and refused the undergraduates permission, which they had sought, to hold a procession from the University to the Town Hall. In retaliation, the students did not attend the ceremony apart from their conferring of degrees.

However, the following year Senate revoked its prohibitions, and the undergraduates were allowed to hold their first city procession to the Town Hall and to sing their songs during the ceremony.

Gallery

1890

Commemoration Day, Monday 14 April 1890 (Great Hall):
– "The undergraduates are evidently not disposed to sit quietly for something like two hours to witness ceremony and listen to speeches. In past years they have quietly submitted to being dumb onlookers, but as year by year passes they become more determined not to remain silent on the occasion which of all others brings to them and all to whom they are related a large amount of joy."
– The preparations for enabling the students to share in the celebration were two-fold. The one solitary emblem which at one time was used in the Great Hall and a banner had disappeared in favour of ten or a dozen banners and bannerettes, most of which were of excellent colours and highly artistic in design. The other departure was in respect to the preparation of a program of songs, arranged by "The Commemoration Songs Committee", to be sung by students.
– While people were arriving and taking their places in the Great Hall, and the organist Mr Augustus Gehde was contributing a selection of music on the organ, the students were mustering in the tennis court behind the Quadrangle, where they formed into procession. Carrying banners, shortly before 12 o'olock they marched into the Great Hall and set at the back of the dais.
– Printed copies of the students' songs were distributed in the hall. The singing was under the conductorahip of Mr Otto M Bohremann, secretary to the University Musical Society. The songs, which were preceded by a stanza of the National Anthem, were sung on the arrival of the Governor.
– "However, during the proceedings a section of the students was so rowdy in their conduct as to deserve a sharp remonstrance from Judge Faucett whose reproof, however, was unheard owing to the noise".
(SMH, 15 April 1890, Australian Town and Country Journal, 19 April 1890)

1890

Headline from Evening News, 15 April 1890, National Library of Australia.

 GAUDEAMUS IGITUR 
(Despite its use as a formal graduation hymn in many coutries,
this is a jocular, light-hearted composition that pokes fun at university life.)

Latin words:
Gaudeamus igitur
Luvenes dum sumus
Post iucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem,
Nos habebit humus,
Nos habebit humus.

Vivat academia,
Vivant professores,
Vivat membrum quodlibet,
Vivant membra quaelibet;
Semper sint in flore.

Vivant omnes virgínes,
Faciles, formosae;
Vivant et mulieres,
Tenerae, amibiles,
Bonae, laboriosae.

Vivat et res publica.
Et qui illam regit;
Vivat nostra civitas
Maecenatum caritas,
Quae nos hic protegit.

Pereat tristitia,
Pereant osores;
Pereat diabolus,
Quivis antiburschius,
Atque irrisores.

Translation:
While we're young, let us rejoice,

Singing out in gleeful tones;
After youth's delightful frolic,
And old age (so melancholic!),
Earth will cover our bones,
Earth will cover our bones.

Long live our academy,
Teachers whom we cherish;
Long live all the graduates,
And the undergraduates;
Ever may they flourish.

Long live all the maidens fair,
Easy-going, pretty;
Long live all good ladies who
Are tender and so friendly to
Students in this city.

Long live our Republic and
The gentlefolk who lead us;
May the ones who hold the purse
Be always ready to disburse
Funds required to feed us.

Down with sadness, down with
gloom, Down with all who hate us;
Down with those who criticize,
Look with envy in their eyes,
Scoff, mock and berate us.


STUDENTS' CHORUS
(tune: Botany Bay)
From lecture-room, study, and cottage
A motley assemblage are we;
We represent all kinds of knowledge,
We are students of every degree.

In front sit the reverend twenty
Who portion our destinies out;
Behind are the yearmen in plenty –
They will pass in a crowd, we've no doubt.

We can each of us blow our own trumpet,
Though we're rather deficient in brass;
For the drum, there are plenty to thump it,
And our belles you could hardly surpass.

We have ladies to sing the soprano,
And the bass part is taken by Jones;
We've an organ in place of piano,
And the medical chaps bring the bones.

We think you'll agree it's a pity
That the Registrar made such a choice;
For his solo was not very pretty,
Though he was in excellent voice.

We hope that the songs we have sung you
With your taste and your fancy agree,
And that all the reporters among you
Are pleased with our annual spree.


1891

Commemoration Day, Saturday 11 April 1891 (Great Hall):
– When the Chancellor took his seat, the hundreds of students present forced their way into the hall through the main entrance. They rushed towards the platform, jumped over the seats, treading upon people's hats, in fact behaving in a most boisterous manner, all eager to get a seat on the platform, which was monopolised by about 500 graduates and undergraduates. They had come provided with whistles and bells, as well as with an effigy of a professor, determined to create an uproar.
– Whilst the Registrar was reading the list of benefactions, they were especially disorderly, creating so much uproar as to render it absolutely impossible for anyone to understand what was being read.
– The names of the various successful candidates for degrees were announced, and they were accordingly presented to the Chancellor, who congratulated each student amid the yells and shouts of all the undergraduates.
– When the Chancellor began to read his address the undergraduates behaved in a most disgraceful manner, and the scene bore a close resemblance to a Bedlam. The Chancellor's voice was inaudible, and at intervals the undergraduates amused themselves by singing music hall melodies. The Chancellor, who was continually jeered at, tried in vain to quell the disturbance, and ultimately had to discontinue his address, although he had not read one quarter of it.
– His Excellency Lord Jersey rose amid prolonged cheering, and although he spoke very loudly, it was with considerable difficulty that he could be heard in consequence of the frequent and continued derisive yells of some of the undergraduates. He finished his address very abruptly, and sat down in apparent disgust.
– The graduates immediately commenced singing, " For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," after which continued calls were made for Lady Jersey. " Come on, Mrs J" and " Trot her up" were the cries of some of the ungentlemanly undergraduates.
– The organ then again struck up "God Save the Queen" and a terrible rush was made for the doors. The general audience, which comprised a large number of fashionable ladies and gentlemen, behaved most orderly. The undergraduates were the cause of the disgraceful and unparalleled disorder.
(Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1891)

1891

Headline from Evening News, 13 April 1891, National Library of Australia.

1892

Commemoration Day, Saturday 23 April 1892 (Great Hall):
– Various changes were made to the proceedings to maintian order: the undergrads were now seated in the Hall in front of the dias; the commemoration of benefactors ceremony now preceded rather than followed the conferring of degrees; the Undergraduates Association was now put in charge of the "unofficial program", with all undergrads assembling on the tennis courts at 10.30am and then moving into the Great Hall in a set order; there was now a set an order of their songs; and the Chancellor's address was distributed through out the building and taken "as read".
– Although this program did not go entirely to plan, "it was nevertheless marked by an entire absence of rowdyism on the part of the undergraduates, who carried out an orderly program of choruses and songs".
(Launceston Examiner, 25 April 1892, SMH, 25 April 1892)

1892

Headline from The Brisbane Courier, 28 April 1892, National Library of Australia.

1893

Commemoration Day, Saturday 8 April 1893 (Great Hall):
– Nearly all the conditions which the students had longed for were present, and the conduct of the undergrads, with two or three exceptions, was of the most exemplary nature conceivable (SMH, 10 April 1893).
– The proceedings opened by Mr Wiegand, the city organist, playing a number of selections on the organ, after which the Chancellor declared the meeting duly convened.
– The pent-up feelings of the undergrads then found relief in "Gaudeamua Igitur" which they thundered forth in almost as many keys as there were voices. The list of benefactors having been read by the Registrar, an "original" song, entitled "Cap and Gown", composed for the benefit of the press, was sung by the students, to the air of "Round the Town". On this occasion, however, it is gratifying to be able to congratulate the undergrads on the marked improvement in their manners during the past year.
– Again, the Chancellor's address was distributed through out the building and taken "as read", to the delight of the audience.
(Australian Town and Country Journal, 15 April 1893)

1893

Headline from The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1893, National Library of Australia.

1894

Commemoration Day, Saturday 14 April 1894 (Great Hall):
– Before the official proceedings commenced Mr Wiegand gave a recital on the organ from 11 to 11.30am, when the official ceremony would commence.
– The students were beyond the walls, as was manifest from the determination which a battering was kept up against the entrance doors. At 11.25am, as prearranged, the doors were thrown open, and the students swept in. Running up to the doorway was a large bench with a high back, and the students carne in with such a rush that one end of this was swayed opposite the doorway in such a way as to constantly place the ribs of some of them in jeopardy. The students brought with them less parapharnaha than hitherto. The number of banners had greatly diminished, but there was a new effigy, possibly intended to represent a professor, but it did not bear any resemblance to any one of the University staff. The engineering model was carried as usual, and there was also a strangely designed contrivance, which seemingly had crucibles and other appliances attached to it. The other equipment of the students consisted of foghorns, trumpets, mouth organs, whistles, and other baubles in which children delight. The students had also come with a book of songs, which they were permitted to sing from time to time during the official proceedings.
(SMH, 16 April 1894)

1895

Commemoration Day, Saturday 20 April 1895 (Great Hall):
– Commemoration Day passed off in a very quiet manner, as compared with former years. The undergraduates, to be sure, accentuated the address of the Chancellor by shrieking, over-turning a bench, letting off crackers, and playing some instrument resembling the bagpipes, but there were no topical songs of a boisterous character and only two banners. An attempt was made to impart a little harmony to the proceedings by the singing of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" but the effort was abortive. The reason the students refrained from introducing the usual topical songs is said to have been out of regard for the recent deaths of Sir Robert Duff, the University's Visitor, and Sir William Manning, for many years Chancellor of the University.
(Freeman's Journal, 27 April 1895)

Rowdy student behaviour at the 1895 Commemoration  The Chancellor's address 
Sketch, The Gazette, July 1973,
University of Sydney Archives.
Sketch from the Sunday Times, 21 April 1895
National Library of Australia.
 The women graduates cheering  Some fireworks varied the proceedings
Sketches from the Sunday Times, 21 April 1895, National Library of Australia.

1896

Commemoration Day, Saturday 25 April 1896 (Town Hall):
– For the first time the ceremony took place at the Town Hall instead of at the University. In addition, Senate had prohibited singing of choruses and display of banners by the undergraduates, and refused permission for a procession from the University to the Town Hall. The students met and passed a resolution disapproving of the action of the Senate, and tore up the invitation tickets.
– As a result, only those students who had to receive degrees or prizes put in an appearance and so the rowdyism which was so prominent in past commemorations of the Sydney University was absent from the ceremony. The affair consequently was the flattest of ceremonies, but everything was in good order.
(Kalgoorlie Miner, 18 April 1896, Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 1 May 1896)

1896

Headline from the Kalgoorlie Miner, 18 April 1896, National Library of Australia.

1897

Commemoration Day, Saturday 1 May 1897 (Town Hall):
– While Senate had revoked the prohibitions of 1896 (no singing, banners or procession), it expressly stipulated that there should be no horseplay or jocularity after the Chancellor occupied the chair.
– Commemoration Day was again held in the Town Hall and students held their first city procession. Starting from the University before noon, about 300 students formed a procession headed by a Bavarian Band. Next was a donkey with two students sitting on it. The other students followed, singing songs which had no relation to the tune played by the band. Each school had its distinctive banner and many also carried effigies including a scarecrow attached to a pole and carried high above the heads of the students. Four lorries with medical students and intermediate students brought up the rear. This curious procession, the first of its kind in Sydney, as it proceeded down Pitt Street, up Hunter Street and along George Street to the Town Hall, presented a funny spectacle and created much merriment.
– When they reached the Town Hall, the stduents left the vehicles and fled into their places in the building, with one placing the scarecrow in a prominent position in front of the organ.
– The proceedings were very quiet and decorous, notwithstanding the interpolation by the undergrads of some of their own songs, with unmusical effect, immediately after Mr Wiegand's organ solo. The songs evidenced a lack of tune and other important incidentals; noise was the main object. This singing threatened at one time to overpower the organist, who eventually left the conductor and singers to finish on their own.
– As the Chancellor commenced his address many of the undergraduates with rustling ostentation produced the daily papers in which they appeared to be profoundly absorbed. There was, however, an absence of any rowdyism, and a word from Professor Gurney was sufficient to induce the students to permit the Chancellor to finish his address without serious interruption.
(SMH, 3 May 1897, Evening News, Sunday Times, 2 May 1897, South Australian Register, 3 May 1897).

1897

Headline from the Sunday Times on 2 May 1897, National Library of Australia.

1898

Commemoration Day, Saturday 23 April 1898 (Great Hall):
– Many of the students had come armed with children's trumpets, squeakers and other toys. When the organist, Mr A Wiegand, played one of Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words", some of the students introduced variations of their own. The students were allowed to sing songs that had been specially composed for the occasion, and made full use of these instruments. One song related to Federation, in which the students declared their intention of hoisting Federal flag. At the close of the proceedings the students gave cheers for "United Australia".
– The Chancellor had contemplated delivering a speech which was of reasonable length, but soon after the first half had been spoken, some of the students suddenly broke out with the national anthem as if they would at once put an end to the proceedings. A mild remonstrance came from Dr MacLaurin, but he deemed it wise to leave out a section of his address and hastened to the end of it.
– "But for the boisterous outbursts of a number of the undergrads, this would have been a most successful function".
(SMH, 25 April 1898)

1898

"THE SYDNEY UNDER-GRAD ON COMMEMORATION DAY", Illustration from The Arrow, 30 April 1898, National Library of Australia.

1899

Commemoration Day, Saturday 22 April 1899 (Great Hall):
– A second Commemoration Day city procession of about 500 male students set off from the GPO in Martin Place in the morning. The procession along George Street and Parramatta Road to the University was a source of great fun for thousands who lined the streets.
– Fitzgerald Bros lent many of their circus animals to the students.
– When the procession reached the University, a stampede was made for the Great Hall.
– For the first time, the organ was played by a student, Mr Arthur Mote (Arts I), but his efforts were for the most part drowned by his fellow students, who carried out with more or less harmony a program of songs arranged and composed tor the occasion.
– The commemoration of benefactors was accompanied by the students' songs, and then the students sang, whistled and trumpeted during the conferring of degrees.
– A subsequent letter to the Editor read "A more sorry spectacle than was witnessed on that occasion could scarcely be imagined in connection with a University. I refer both to the Undergraduates' childish "procession", and also to the proceedings in the Great Hall.
(SMH, 24 & 28 April 1899).

1899

Napoleon headed the procession through the city on Saturday 22 April 1899, along with an Indian chief, a Spanish picador and a Chinese grandee on a bicycle, photo, The Sydney Mail, 29 April 1899, Google News Archive.

1899

Fifth Year Medicine students, who appeared in grey belltoppers, decorated with skulls and crossbones, and long green streamers, photo, The Australasian, 6 May 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

Fifth Year Medicine students in the procession, photo 842_07 from C R B Blackburn's personal archives, University of Sydney Archives.

1899

Part of the procession, photo, The Sydney Mail, 29 April 1899, Google News Archive.

1899

Arts and Laws, photo, The Australasian, 6 May 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

Science and Engineering, photo, The Australasian, 6 May 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

"Robo, four bob, ho!", photo, The Australasian, 6 May 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

The Commem Day fancy dress parade, photo from the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 29 April 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

A group of students in fancy dress, photo from the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 29 April 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

A Sydney lancer and two famous politicians, photo from the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 29 April 1899, National Library of Australia.

1899

A mohawk and a Chinaman, photo from the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 29 April 1899, National Library of Australia.