Graduation Day, 1885
The University’s commemoration ceremony of December 1885 was held on a hot Wednesday afternoon in the Library of the newly constructed University (later Mitchell) Building. Degrees were granted to several students, most notably Edith Dornwell who in receiving her science degree become the University’s first female graduate, and among the first in the world. The ceremony also saw the unveiling of a bust of Walter Hughes, the University’s founding donor.
A speech was given by the Chancellor, Chief Justice Samuel Way, who praised the achievements of both Hughes and Dornwell. He was followed by Governor William Robinson, a career colonial administrator who had held posts throughout the Empire. According to his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry, Robinson was an accomplished musician who while in South Australia ‘associated with musical, literary and educational groups, and played a part in establishing a chair of music in the University of Adelaide.’
William C.F. Robinson, governor of South Australia, 1883-1889.
The language of Robinson’s speech is dense and dated, but the ideas are surprisingly contemporary – many might have been expressed at graduation ceremonies by dignitaries or government ministers a century later. His main points were that publicly sponsored education underpinned by a meritocracy ‘appears the most rational and just’ form of education, and that the funding of higher education was necessary for the economic prosperity and security of the state: ‘as times change, so men change with them, and many are beginning to perceive that the material life may be dependent on, and indeed the result of, the intellectual.’ Most striking, though, is his prescience on our future economic and cultural relations with asian nations:
In one point the Universities of the future must differ essentially from those of the past. The advantage that the latter had in the common language of the schools has been lost in the community of nations; the loss of the one can only be compensated by the knowledge of the many. Those with which men have intimate relations are, of course, the most important to them. For ourselves, though our present relations are rather with Europe than Asia, it is to the latter we must look for them in the future, and this should suggest to us the necessity for provision for the [learning] of the languages of that [sic] continent; and [it is] to be remembered that, from their literature and philosophy, much may yet be learned to our advantage.
Robinson’s address and reports of the 1885 commemoration from the South Australian Register and Adelaide Advertiser can be viewed on pages 65 to 70 of University Newscuttings Volume 2 [1884-1889]. Some 17 volumes of University related newspaper cuttings dating back to 1881 have been indexed, imaged and uploaded to the University’s digital repository by members of the Archives volunteer group. The indefatigable indexers have done a wonderful job making navigable the many thousands of articles on aspects of the University over almost a century. Special mention, however, must go to Brian O’Donnell who over several years has captured to a professional standard images of over 5000 pages!
(Note also that the bust of W.W. Hughes and a later bust of William Robinson can be viewed in Bonython Hall.)