Students at the University of Sydney

Commem Days in the early 1900s

On this webpage:


Briefly

By 1903, the students' procession through Sydney streets had become a firmly established event.

For the rest of the decade, the students held their annual procession from the University to the Town Hall where the Commemoration Day ceremony was held.

Gallery

Early 1900s

Male undergraduates in fancy dress, probably in the early 1900s, photo G3_224_2829, University of Sydney Archives.

1900

Commemoration Day, Saturday 21 April 1900 (Great Hall):
– Saturday 21 April 1900: Because of particularly poor student behaviour at the 1899 ceremony, Senate decided that the degrees would be conferred privately at a ceremony on 21 April 1900 where the proceedings were purely formal and undergraduates not invited.
– Saturday 28 April: In response, the Undergraduates' Association held a procession which was not as extravagant as in 1899, and had no trollies or horses or carts. Following the procession, they held a burlesque commemoration at the Town Hall.

1900

A brass band in the Undergraduates' procession on Saturday 28 April 1900, photo 842_06, from C R B Blackburn's personal archives, University of Sydney Archives.

1900

A comment: "The University undergraduate - and yet we send missionaries to China!", cartoon from The Arrow (Sydney), 28 April 1900, National Library of Australia.

1901

Commemoration Day, Friday 31 May 1900 (Great Hall):
– First there was an organ recital by Mr Mote.
– Next came a program of songs, as arranged by the Undergraduates Association on its own account, by the students
– Then their Royal Highnesses the Duke and the Duchess of Cornwall and York and the academic procession entered the Hall.
– The proceedings were purely academic, and consisted solely in the conferring of degrees. Unlike previous commemoration days, there were no speeches, but despite the formal nature of the
function the undergraduates from their point of view had a very enjoyable time. Throughout the proceedings they carried out an impromptu programme of their own. It had an appropriate limit, however, but it was remarked afterwards that for years things had not been so lively at a commemoration gathering. Everything, however was good-humoured, and the Duke throughout looked anything but displeased. The Chancellor having formally declared the meeting convened, the registrar gave the commemoration of benefactors, and then the conferring of degrees by the Chancellor upon the candidates presented to him by the deans of the several faculties took place. The first candidate presented was his Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York. The Chancellor, addressing the Duke, said "In the name of the senate, and by my authority as Chancellor, I admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws in this University." He handed the Duke his diploma, handsomely illuminated and bound. The Duke bowed and resumed his seat amidst cheers, the undergraduates singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" (SMH, 1 June 1901).
– The undergraduates were very noisy. One of the noisiest undergraduates at the Sydney University Commemoration, when the Duke, and Duchess were present, was a young lady armed with a tin whistle.
(Sunday Times, 9 June 1901)

1901

The students cheering the Royal Party, image, 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 8 June 1901, National Library of Australia.

1902

Commemoration Day, Saturday 10 April 1902 (Great Hall):
– Those of the students who were not listed for the purpose of receiving their degrees were conspicuous by their absence, the reason given being that their behavior at the previous commemoration, at which the Duke of York was the central figure, and who formed the subject of some curious doggerel, was of such a character that the Senate decided to exclude them from participating in the present function. Indeed, with the exception of two years ago, when the degrees were conferred at a special Senate meeting, this is the first occasion such a step has been deemed necessary. Consequently, the familiar display so dear to the hearts of the undergrads was on this occasion entirely out of the picture.
(Evening News, 21 April 1902)

1902

Headline, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1902, National Library of Australia.

1903

Commemoration Day, Saturday 2 May 1903 (Town Hall):
– For the undergraduates' procession, about 700 undergraduates - not in fancy dress but many wearing masks and with toy trumpets and barrel organs - lined up at the University and at 9.30am drove to the Town Hall where the official ceremony was held. Preceded by a brass band, the procession included every kind of vehicle as well as horses with pyjama trousers or decorations.
– Once at the Town Hall, the vehicles were left outside and the students trooped inside for the ceremony.

1903

The procession in George Street on Saturday 2 May 1903, photo, The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1903, Google News Archive.

1903

Some of the vehicles, photo, The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1903, Google News Archive.

1903

The students arriving at the Town Hall, photo, The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1903, Google News Archive.

1904

Commemoration Day, Saturday 30 April 1904 (Town Hall):
– The students' procession took place before the official ceremony in the Town Hall. Nearly every description of vehicle, from the juvenlle woodcart to the carriage, was pressed into service, while the horses that had been requisitioned were mostly of the "robbo" diameter. As a matter of fact, some of the animals were so frail that it was a with considerable difficulty those in charge of them kept them to their work. As for mottoes, masks, and costumes, there were enough and to spare (Richmond River Express and Tweed Advertiser).
– Not only was their procession quietly conducted, but in the hall, where disturbances are emphasised, and are so regrettable, they behaved with model decorum.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post)

1904

The Rajah of Bhong and Joan of Arc, photo, The Australasian, 7 May 1904, National Library of Australia.

1904

In his second year, and his nurses, photo, The Australasian, 7 May 1904, National Library of Australia.

1904

A float referring to the dilapidated state parliament, photo, The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1904, Google News Archive.

1904

Medical students driving the "pale horse", photo, The Australasian, 7 May 1904, National Library of Australia.

1904

A float by fourth year mechanical and electrical engineering students, photo, The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1904, Google News Archive.

1904

The procession leaving the University gates, photo, The Australasian, 7 May 1904, National Library of Australia.

1904

A Medical students' float, photo, The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1904, Google News Archive.

1904

The procession passing the General Post Office (GPO) in George Street on Saturday 30 April 1904, photo, The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1904, Google News Archive.

1904

The procession at the Town Hall, photo, The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1904, Google News Archive.

1905

Commemoration Day, Saturday 6 May 1905 (Town Hall):
– The annual students' procession and the offical ceremony took place on a wet Saturday morning. The procession, like its predecessors, was a noisy congregation of exuberantly frolicsome undergraduates who, in the most grotesque manner, caricature popular institutions, their professors, current political questions. They gave pride of place to the battle which has been undertaken by the Federal Prime Minister, and depicted the socialists' ideal, by a group of happy indolent students at rest under spreading palm, and fortified by comfortable luxuries. There were travesties on matters social and industrial, and the undergrads did not forget the trades union objective of State-made locomotives and a "White Australia", those subjects receiving humorous and ingenius treatment.
(Goulburn Herald)

1905

Headline and sketch from the Sunday Times, 7 May 1905, National Library of Australia.

1905

Students preparing for the Dental display before the procession on Saturday 6 May 1905, photo, The Sydney Mail, 10 May 1905, Google News Archive.

1905
1905

Setting off in the rain, photos, The Sydney Mail, 10 May 1905, Google News Archive.

1905

General Booth, photo, The Sydney Mail, 10 May 1905, Google News Archive.

1905

"The Rev Mr Stiggins" and party, photo, Evening News, 8 May 1905, National Library of Australia.

1905

Andy and John's green Jericho hen, which was meant to caricature one of the professors, photo, The Sydney Mail, 10 May 1905, Google News Archive.

1905

"Andy and John and the Jericho Hen (a sly dig at three professors)", photo, The Australasian, 13 May 1905, National Library of Australia.

1905

"A fashionable turnout", photo, The Australasian, 13 May 1905, National Library of Australia.

1905

The Medical Students' Death Dance float , photo, 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 10 May 1905, National Library of Australia.

1906

Commemoration Day, Wednesday 11 April 1906 (Town Hall):
– The students marched through the city streets to the Town Hall. The Sydney University Students' turnout today was further confirmation that there is nothing new under the sun. The ideas were about as old as the ramshackle vehicles groups of them rode in. There was the usual assortment of masks, the vegetable green whiskers, knights on broken-winded horses, fireman who squirted water on those of the crowd within range, and cardboard trumpets supplied the noise that heralded the approach of the procession to the city ... The procession seemed to greatly delight the students. They got plenty of fun out ot it. From the Railway Station to Barrack street, George street was lined with people the procession attracted. These, too, caught the spirit of the tomfoolery, and laughed at the undergrads in their motley.
(Northern Star)

1906

'Sketches of the Sydney University Students' Procession through the city streets' on Wednesday 11 April 1906, image, Evening News, 14 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

Medical students in the procession, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

Fancy dress in the procession, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

More fancy dress, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

c1906

The procession on Broadway near the City Road intersection c1906, photo from the NSW Postcard Collectors Society Inc.

1906

The procession at the Town Hall, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

All Scotch, photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

Flossie and Gwendoline on their day out, photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

"The whole dam family", photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1906

Reid-Holman debate, photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 April 1906, National Library of Australia.

1907

Commemoration Day, Saturday 27 April 1907 (Town Hall):
– The earlier part of the proceedings was as usual given up to the students. Assembling at the University at 8 o'clock they formed their burlesque procession, and about an hour later started on their tour of the city. The route was lined by a large number of sightseers, and a crowd of fully 5,000 must have been waiting at the corner of George street. In the matter of fantastic and ridiculous dressing the students reached heights of imagination hitherto considered impossible. Fully half were attired in female cosume, which might have been designed by some degenerate Worth in the last stages of ankylostomiasis. Many public questions were travestied – the threatened Asiatic invasion, the capital site, and surf bathing – symbolised by a lorry load of bathers, provided with life lines and all the other appurtenances of the beaches ...
– The procession broke up at the Town Hall, where the students held their burlesque commemoration before the serious business commenced.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post)

1907

A group of students in fancy dress in the procession on Saturday 27 April 1907, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

Another group of students in fancy dress, photo from the Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

Engineering students 'Shackleton's expedition' float, photo G3_224_1884, University of Sydney Archives.

1907

Defending Defiance, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

The Chicago 'Sossidge' exhibit, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

"One of the bands in the procession", photo, The Australasian, 4 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

A bevy of masquerades, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

Prohibited immigrants in the procession, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

"Arrival of imported domestics", photo, The Australasian, 4 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

More horseplay, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

Photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

Photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

"Exhibition of practical dentistry", photo, The Australasian, 4 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

At Commem At Commem 
 Photos, Australian Town and Country Journal,
1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.
 

1907

"The soldier's parting", photo, The Australasian, 4 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

A charming trio, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

A demure group, photo from The Sydney Mail, 1 May 1907, Google News Archive.

1907

Photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1907

Photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 May 1907, National Library of Australia.

1908

Commemoration Day, Saturday 2 May 1908 (Town Hall):
– The students' procession was marshalled in the University grounds at 9.30am and then proceeded along George to Barrack Street, then to York Street, and back to the Town Hall. A genuine brass band headed the procession, and blared martial music along the route; but there was a students' band, seemingly bom of the brain of some unfortunate conductor in the last stages of delirium tremens. Every instrument was there, and a different tune was lustily played on each, the ensemble being comparable only to a score of gramophones bolting backwards. As might have been expected the main feature of the display was illustrative of Professor David's (Antarctic) Odyssey, and it afforded a wild burlesque on the Shackleton expedition. A polar bear drove the trolly, whereon were a Nimrod and a shanty labelled "winter quarters" under the shadow of Mount Erebus, and, further on, the South Pole itself. A pall of white was over all, and the members of the expedition looking parboiled in their antarctic clothes were in ludicrous contrast to the shivering but intrepid Scotsman in abbreviated kilts shimming up the pole (The Sydney Morning Herald). Two camels on loan from Wirth's circus were an unusual feature of the procession.

1908

The Engineering School's representation of the Antarctic expedition in the procession on Saturday 2 May 1908, photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

1908

Penguins and polar bear from the Antarctic exhibition, photo, The Australasian, 9 May 1908, National Library of Australia.

1908

Second year medical students, plus horse wearing trousers, hit at the railways, photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

1908

Death and the doctors, photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

1908

Visit of the American fleet, photo, The Australasian, 9 May 1908, National Library of Australia.

1908

'The dentists' den', photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

1908

Two men students dressed for the procession, with one dressed as a bride, photo G3_224_1480, University of Sydney Archives.

1908

'The lady dandies', photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

1908

'Scots wea ha'e!', photo from The Sydney Mail, 6 May 1908, Google News Archive.

continued

1909

Commemoration Day, Saturday 1 May 1909 (Town Hall):
– The students' procession preceeded the Town Hall ceremony. Beautiful weather prevailed. The streets along the line of route were densely packed by crowds, who participated in the humour of the procession. Some skits on topical events were exceedingly grotesque, particularly those dealing with recent political matters and women's attire.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post).

1909

One theme in the procession held on Saturday 1 May 1909 was flight, with the Engineering School demonstrating the future means of transport across the harbour as alternatives to the bridge and the tunnel – a vessel that was a weird combination of a Zeppelin and an aeroplane. "Wait till the ship stops before dropping off" was the advice to passengers of the future, photo, The Sydney Mail, 5 May 1909, Google News Archive.

1909

An aeroplane in the procession, photo from The Sydney Mail, 5 May 1909, Google News Archive.

1909

Mr Fisher's army gave a bad account of the state of the armed forces, photo from The Sydney Mail, 5 May 1909, Google News Archive.

1909

"Merry widows", photo, The Australasian, 8 May 1909, National Library of Australia.

1909

A skit on the women's hats craze, photo from The Sydney Mail, 5 May 1909, Google News Archive.

1909

"What to do with our girls", photo, The Australasian, 8 May 1909, National Library of Australia.

1909

The Broken Hill Band, photo from The Sydney Mail, 5 May 1909, Google News Archive.