I had not planned on visiting the University of Sydney but one Sunday morning I was having a look around Victoria Park before heading into the suburb of Glebe to do a bit of exploring when I noticed the clock tower of the university from the park and decided to go up and have a quick look at the building.
The University, Australia’s first, was established in 1850 and opened in 1852 in the Big Schoolroom in what is now Sydney Grammar School. In 1859 it moved to its current site in the suburb of Camperdown, about three kilometres form the city centre.
The main University building, a Quadrangle and the Great Tower building, built in 1862, was designed by Sir Edmund Blacket in what he described as ‘Tudor Perpendicular Gothic – on the scale of the London Guildhall, the Banqueting House at Hampton Court Palace and Westminster Hall.’ While very British it does incorporate some Australiana with some kangaroo gargoyles replacing the more traditional form.
Inside the Great (Clock) Tower is a carillon which was dedicated on Anzac Day, 25 April 1928 to commemorate the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who had died in World War I. Originally, the carillon consisted of 62 bells but following a 1973 refurbishment the number was reduced to 54. The upper 33 treble bells were cast by the famous Whitechapel bellfoundry in London while the remaining bells were cast by the Taylor bellfoundry in Loughborough, England.
Visiting at 7.30am on a Sunday morning I, unsurprisingly, had to place to myself and so could admire the wonderful architecture in peace and quiet.
Again unsurprising the University’s Great Hall (seen on the right in my main picture) was not open at this hour and neither were a couple of museums and an art gallery I read about on one of the notice boards as I wandered around. I decided to come back the following day, though in the interim learned that the Great Hall was not generally open to the public.
When I returned the following day, to visit the Nicholson and Macleay Museums and the University Art Gallery (see my separate reviews on each) I espied that the doors to the Great Hall were open and a graduation ceremony was in progress therein. Though a little under-dressed for a graduation ceremony and lacking a graduate to justify my attendance I decided to take my chances and wandered past security and seated myself at the back of the Great Hall. Naturally people take photographs at graduation ceremonies and so did it.
While parents took photos of their darling graduating off-spring I settled for a few images of the interior of this wonderful building with its beautiful hammerbeam roof with twelve carved wooden figures of angels (as per Westminster Hall), stained glass windows, statues (including one of Charles Nicholson), busts and portraits and a remarkable marble floor which I couldn’t fully appreciate due to the assembled rabble of graduates.
Talking of angels, a stone statue of the Angel of Knowledge which was originally placed atop the eastern gable of the Great Hall was, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, in 1874 “very judiciously deposed from its windy perch at the eastern gable, where its weight, position and very insufficient fastenings have long endangered the whole eastern front”. While the angel’s head was kept in the chemistry laboratory for a few years its current whereabouts is unknown.
Alas, the Great Hall organ was obscured from my view by a projection screen being used in the graduation ceremony – I guess I can’t complain too much!
I resisted the temptation to later join the graduates and their families and friends for champagne and strawberries on the beautiful quadrangle lawns, though I could easily have so indulged.
Instead I visited the museums and the art gallery.
Among the universities alumni are two governors-general of Australia, six Australian prime ministers, four chief justices of the High Court of Australia and twenty other justices of the High Court.
While I didn’t take one, tours are available Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm but these must be booked two weeks in advance. They cost $13 ($7.50 for seniors) and last about an hour.
University Heritage Tours
Sydney University Museums
Rm S256, Quadrangle A14
The University of Sydney NSW 2006
Or via the telephone or email address listed below.
Address: The University of Sydney, NSW 2006 Australia
Directions: Off Paramatta Road
other contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 61 2 9351 8746