Key 1: The University Act and Royal Assent 1853


On 15 December 1852 the Auditor-General, Hugh Culling Eardley Childers, moved in the Victorian Legislative Council that a select committee be appointed to establish the principles on which a University should be established. The bill subsequently drawn up by Childers and Attorney-General Stawell, modelled in the main on the Sydney University Bill of 1850 and therefore on the Act which established the University of London in 1836, received Royal assent on 22 January 1853.

Select Committee Report
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives: University of Melbourne Select Committee, Accession No: 93.175]

The University thus established was state-funded, urban, secular, non-residential and open only to men. It was to offer the degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts, Bachelor and Doctor of Medicine, Laws and Music, but not Theology. The BA would be taken by all students who entered the University as a general, liberal or cultural education. This did not exclude science and mathematics, but assumed the classics were central to such study. The MA indicated the completion of such an education and gave authority to teach. It was not initially a title bestowed after the completion of course of study or examination. Students would undertake bachelor degrees in Medicine or Law after completing a BA. Doctoral degrees in these programs indicated completion of professional as distinct from cultural education, hence there was no doctoral degree in Arts. The first Bachelor of Arts degrees were conferred in 1858, the first Master of Arts in 1860 and the first Bachelor of Arts with honours in 1920.

Hugh C.E. Childers, c1870
Hugh C.E. Childers, c1870
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1674]

Hugh Childers held the (then non-executive) position of Vice-Chancellor in the newly created University until his return to England in March 1857. In 1882 he presented the University with a draft of the bill in his own handwriting. At the same time forty three Australians who happened to be in England at the time provided funds for a marble bust of Childers, by Warrington Wood, which stood in Wilson Hall until the fire of 1952.