The University of Melbourne differed in significant ways from all the models available in the United Kingdom and Ireland, most notably in its strictly secular constitution (professors were not to be ordained clergymen) and its decision to appoint professors who would both teach and examine non-residential students in their particular academic expertise. They would communicate their knowledge to students in a public and open way, not cloistered in a small college tutorial as in the Oxford/Cambridge model, nor would they merely examine those who had been tutored elsewhere as in the London model. The first four professors were, therefore, selected at least partly on their perceived ability to impart knowledge to students and to a raw colony with only a handful of university-educated men among its citizenry, but a profound desire to change that situation quickly. A committee of eminent Englishmen chaired by Astronomer Royal G. B. Airy was invited to advise on the selection of the foundation professors, who would receive £1,000 and a free house for life (a handsome inducement), and recommended from among the 90 candidates who presented themselves:
Frederick McCoy, Professor of Natural History 1854-1899
McCoy did not have a University degree but had been professor of Geology and Mineralogy and Senior Dean in the Faculty of Arts in Queen’s College, Belfast. He lectured in geology, zoology, chemistry, mineralogy and botany, but with the passage of the years, the increasing complexity of the natural sciences and the creation of new chairs, he tended to concentrate on geology at the expense of other subjects. In 1856 he was appointed Government Palaeontologist and director of the National Museum of Victoria in 1858.
Martin Howy Irving, MA Oxford, Professor of Classics, 1856-1871, member of Council 1875-1900, Vice-Chancellor 1887-1889. Appointed hastily on the death of the initial appointment W.P. Rowe soon after his arrival in Australia, Irving lectured in modern languages as well as Classics and made a notable contribution to the development of sport within the University before resigning to make a career as a leading educator at the secondary level. A strong advocate of a 'modern' curriculum he exercised considerable influence on University development from within the Council.
William Parkinson Wilson, MA Fellow of St John’s College Oxford, Professor of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 1854-1874
Wilson taught Mathematics, Astronomy and Natural Philosophy (Physics). He introduced the engineering certificate course in 1861 and contributed significantly to the development of the Melbourne Observatory.
William Edward Hearn, MA Trinity College, Dublin, Professor of Greek, Queen’s College, Galway, Professor of Modern Historyand Literature, Political Economy and Logic, 1854-1873, Dean of Law 1873-1888 and Chancellor 1886-87.
Hearn lectured in a broad range of subjects common to an Arts degree, wrote a number of significant text books and contributed materially to the development of the Law Faculty from 1860 of which he was appointed Dean in 1873.