Students at the University of Sydney

The first 24 students

Robert Speir Willis

Robert Speir Willis was admitted to the University of Sydney in 1852 in the first cohort of students, graduating Bachelor of Arts in 1856 and Master of Arts in 1862.


His early years

Robert Speir Willis was born in Surrey, England in 1817 and came to Australia as a child with his father, Joseph Scaife Willis, a merchant and businessman.

Willis was educated in the colony at William Timothy Cape’s school.

His student days at the University of Sydney

Robert was 15 when he was admitted to the University of Sydney in 1852 in the first cohort of students.

He was Scholar in December 1852, and won both Deas Thomson's Physical Scholarship and the Provost's Medal (for the best composition in English Verse) in 1854.

He graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1856 as one of the first graduates of the University of Sydney, and Master of Arts in 1862.

His career

He was for many years a close friend of the David Mitchell, the founder of the Mitchell Library, who also was one of the first to graduate at Sydney University, along with Mr Justice Windeyer.

After a somewhat varied experience, Willis became an Anglican clergyman under the late Bishop Barker. During the long term of his ministry he had charge of parishes on the South Coast, at Manly, Sutton Forest, Mosman's Bay, and other localities.

After his retirement from active church work in 1907, he gave the whole of his attention to the imparting of religious instruction in the State schools, and to the advancement of Sunday school work and the temperance movement.

He died of pneumonia in 1912, aged 75.

From 'The Sydney Morning Herald', 16 & 17 September 1912