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First UWA graduation

The first honorary Doctorates of this University were presented at a colourful Inaugural Graduation ceremony conducted at Government House Ballroom over one hundred years ago. There was individual recognition to over 60 members of the inaugural Convocation ‘ad eundum gradum’ and the first Pass Degree to geologist E. S. Simpson.

Described as an historic gathering, the West Australian of July 30, 1914 gave readers a detailed account of the event the previous evening. The speeches made by the Pro-Chancellor, Cecil Andrews of the Education Department and His Excellency the Governor, Sir Harry Barron, the first Visitor to the University make lively reading. The address presented by Dr A. C. Haddon, Reader in Ethnology at Cambridge University, on behalf of the group of Honorary Doctorates awarded at the ceremony, had a theme appropriate for the new University, namely that of aboriginal studies. The young Registrar, Samuel Townsend was singled out for praise for the organisation of the event. Sadly he was to die at Gallipoli the following year.

  • First Commemoration Ceremony

    The gathering which filled the great ballroom at Government House last night was historic and unique. It represented the first commemoration ceremony of the University of Western Australia - the youngest university in the British Empire - and the conferring by that University of honorary degrees upon members of the British Association who have come to Australia to take part in the largest and most important gathering of that body that has ever happened in its long and honourable history.

    For an hour before the doors were flung open an impatient crowd surged outside the building waiting to gain admittance. Inside the hall presented an interesting spectacle; there was seen the mingling of the robes of graduation and honours from the universities of many lands, and the representatives of the civil, naval, and military departments of the State attended in regalia. His Excellency presided and as he entered the building there followed in his wake a procession in the following order:- Candidates for admission to degree, teaching staff, Senate, Registrar, Vice-Chancellor, Warden of Convocation, Pro-Chancellor.

  • Admission Degrees

    Following are the candidates who were admitted to degrees (ad eundem gradum):

    Members of the Senate

    Charles Owen Leaver Riley, M.A. (Cambridge), Warden of Convocation, to the degree of Master of Arts; James Walter Smith, LL.D. (London), to the degree of Doctor of Laws (in absentia).

    Faculty of Arts (Presented by Professor Murdoch, Dean of the Faculty)

    Master of Arts (M.A.): Henry Joseph Cooke, M.A. (Dublin); Robert Alexander Farquharson, M.A (Oxford); James Joseph Fitzgerald, M.A. (Melbourne); Frederick Wm. Goldspink, M.A. (Oxford); Charles Hugh Duffy Grimes, M.A. (Cambridge); Alma Howard, M.A. (Cambridge); Cuthbert Huddleston, M.A. (Oxford); Henry Frederick Mercer, M.A. (Western University, London, Ontario); Robert Henry Moore, M.A. (Dublin); Kate Parr, M.A. (New Zealand).

    In absentia: Henry Joseph Adams, M.A. (Cambridge); Joseph Parsons M.A. (Sydney); Edward Poynton, M.A. (Melbourne).

    Bachelor of Arts: David Isaac Freedman, B.A. (London); Archibald Emilius Gosset-Tanner, B.A. (Oxford); Catherine Pauline Riley, B.A. (Cambridge); Katherine Robinson, B.A. (Sydney); Allan Leslie Whitehorn, B.A. (Dublin); George Herbert Wright, B.A. (Adelaide).

    In absentia: Maurice Anthony Browne, B.A. (Cambridge); Ernest Albert Coleman, B.A. (Sydney); Pearson Lyon, B.A. (Sydney); Leslie Herbert Nicholls, B.A. (Adelaide); Ethelwyn Potts, B.A. (Adelaide); Gertrude Mary Walton, B.A. (Adelaide).

    Faculty of Science (Presented by Professor Ross, Dean of the Faculty)

    Master of Science (M.Sc.): George Tattersall, M.Sc. (Manchester); Alfred Tomlinson, M.Sc. (Manchester).

    Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.): Ordinary Degree, Edward Sidney Simpson, Thesis: The Tantalum and Niobium Minerals.

    Admitted ad eundum gradum: Reginald Robert Baxter, B.Sc. (Adelaide); Catherine Mary Gladys Dakin, B.Sc. (Liverpool); Raoul Robellaz Kahan, B.Sc. (Adelaide); Henry Ernest Pearson, B.Sc. (Adelaide); Euphemia Welch Ross B.Sc. (Glasgow); William Herbert Shields, B.Sc. (Glasgow).

    In absentia: Augustus Frederick Heseltine, B.Sc. (Adelaide); John Parr, B.Sc. (New Zealand); David Stevens, B.Sc. (Edinburgh).

    Faculty of Engineering (Presented by Professor Whitfeld, Dean of the Faculty)

    Master of Engineering (M.E.): Neil McQueen, M.E. (Melbourne).

    Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.): Athylstan Markham Martyn, B.E. (Sydney); Edward Tindale, B.E. (Melbourne); Edmund George Turnbull, B.E. (Melbourne).

    In absentia: Edward Thomas Stuart O'Brien, B.E. (Royal University of Ireland); William Henry Young, B.E. (civil) (Melbourne).

    Faculty of Law

    Doctor of Laws (LL.D.): William John Parish, Mus.Bac. 1894, B.A. 1895, M.A. 1901, LL.D. 1901 (Trinity College, Dublin).

    Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.): B. R. McDonald, LL.B. (Adelaide); John Briar Mills, LL.B. (Adelaide); Edgar B. Robinson, LL.B. (Adelaide), in absentia.

    Faculty of Medicine

    Doctor of Medicine (M.D.): Alfred Webster, M.D. (Glasgow).

    Bachelor of Medicine (M.B.): Roberta Henrietta Margaretta Jull, M.B. (Glasgow); John Henry Saunders, M.B. (Melbourne), in absentia.

  • Honorary Doctorates

    Doctor of Laws

    • Sir Winthrop Hackett, K.C.M.G., M.L.C., LL.D., First Chancellor of the University and Founder of the Chair of Agriculture (in absentia)
    • Sir Harry Rudolf Reichel, Kt., LL.D., Principal of the University College, Bangor, North Wales, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales

    Doctor of Science

    • William Bateson, M.A., F.R.S., Hon.D.Sc., Director John Innes Horticultural Institution, Moreton Park, Surrey, Fullerian Professor of Physiology, Royal Institution (in absentia)
    • Frank Watson Dyson, F.R.S., LL.D. (Edin.). Astronomer Royal, London
    • Alfred Cort Haddon, M.A., Sc.D., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.Z.S., M.R.I.A., Reader in Ethnology, Cambridge
    • liam Abbutt Herdman, D.Sc., Hon.D.Sc. (Harvard), F.R.S., F.L.S., Professor of Natural History at the University of Liverpool (in absentia)
    • Augustus Desire Waller, M.D. F.RS., LL.D., Director of the Physiological Laboratory, University of London, and a member of the Senate
    • Gunnar Andersson, Professor of Geography, University College of Commerce, Stockholm
    • Johannes Walther, Ph.D., D.Sc., Professor of Geology and Palaeontology, University of Halle (in absentia)
  • Pro-Chancellor's address

    The historic gathering being grouped according to honour and place, was there upon addressed by the Pro-Chancellor (Mr. Cecil Andrews, M.A.). He said that this was the first occasion on which members of the University of Western Australia had met together for the purpose of conferring degrees.

    There were, at this early stage, 118 matriculated students, beside some sixty or seventy un-matriculated students. (Applause.) The University began with a staff of seven professors and three lecturers, and now had eight professors and nine lecturers and assistant lecturers. There was little doubt that next year the numbers of additional students who were coming forward would make a serious demand for further increasing the teaching staff in the three faculties - Arts, Science, and Engineering.

    The life of the University had been too short to allow any student to have been through the full course of any faculty that would entitle him to a degree. One student, however, who had taken the greater part of his work in another university, was admitted here, and had completed his course. That student - Edward Sidney Simpson - would receive that night the first ordinary degree conferred by the infant University of Western Australia. (Hear, hear.)

    Many citizens of Perth who possessed degrees from other universities had wished to show their interest in and their desire to be associated with the new University, and, accordingly, had applied to be admitted to similar degrees here. These ladies and gentlemen would form the great majority of those who would come forward for degrees that evening.

    But the special reason which had brought them all together on that special night was the presence among them of so many visitors from other universities. (Applause.) There were in Western Australia to-day many distinguished representatives of the older universities of the British Isles, as well as of those newer universities some of which had come into existence within the memory of the people of this generation. To all of these visitors the youngest University in the British Empire extended the warmest of welcomes. (Hear, hear.) Not less warm was the welcome which would go out to those members who had accompanied them from universities in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. (Hear, hear.) The University of Perth trusted that in their short stay in this country they would find much to interest them, not only in its natural features, in its geology, its zoology, and botany; not only in its aboriginal inhabitants, but also in the work that had been accomplished here by the people of our own race in the application of science to industry, in engineering, in mining, and in agriculture, and in the social and economic conditions that had been established. He trusted that study of these phases of Australia and its peoples would repay the visiting scientists for their investigation. It was hoped that their short stay would prove a profitable one to the people of this State as well as to them. The University felt that it was highly honoured in being enabled to place. upon its roll the names of those who had won high distinction in other parts of the world. (Applause.)

    Concluding, he said that it had been thought fit that the first degree given by this new university should be conferred upon Sir Winthrop Hackett, - (cheers) - one who had laboured so long for its establishment, and who had assisted so generously in its endowment. All present deeply regretted that he was absent from their grand function that night, but he (Mr. Andrews) was glad to say that he had just been handed a cablegram from Sir Winthrop, who had forwarded his warm congratulations for the function he was unable to attend. (Loud applause.)

    Unfortunately also, Professor Johannes Walther, of Halle, and Professor Herdman, the general secretary, had both been compelled to leave that day for the East, and the degrees of Doctor of Science which it was proposed to confer upon each of them would have to be done in absentia. In expressing his regret, Professor Herdman had written:- "It is with deep regret that I find it will be impossible for me to attend - as I had hoped to do - the University Graduation ceremony this evening, in order to receive the Honorary Degree you have kindly offered me. We sail for Adelaide at 5 p.m. and I must go in order to carry out arrangements made months ago. Would you kindly convey my apologies and regrets for unavoidable absence to the proper body in the University, and to any others concerned." Professor Walther expressed his regret, in the following terms:- "Professor Walther regrets his unavoidable absence, and feels this to be an honour of honours, being the first honorary degree received from a scientific body, especially being offered from one of the youngest and most enterprising universities of the world. A university founded on richness of a land overflowing with new problems of every realm of natural science. As he viewed this virgin land this morning from the Darling Ranges, standing on a lateritic platform surrounded by marvels of Nature, so exquisite, overshadowed by the beautiful blue heavens, the glory and majesty of the scenery was beyond description. In this situation Professor Walther wishes to give thanks for this great honour conferred on him." (Applause.)

    The ceremony concluded, his Excellency addressed the gathering, remarking that it was a red-letter day, not only for the University, but also for the State. Now that the people of Western Australia had what they so long had craved for, they should speed it onward to a great success by their enthusiasm. Already he could see the Pro-Chancellor leading a little army of mendicants to the poor Government for more money - that happening had been fore shadowed by Mr. Andrews in his speech. (Laughter.) If the University was so cramped for room as it was said on all hands that it was, he might possibly have a word later on with Lady Barron and see if she would not grant a corner of her garden to some poor, crowded out professor and his class of students. (Hear, hear.) This State had a wonderful climate, and there would be many worse things than receiving a University training in a secluded corner of a garden. (Laughter.) One thing had particularly impressed him, and that was the extraordinarily good behaviour of the undergraduates. (Laughter.) He had been looking over to their corner with rather apprehensive eyes during the progress of the ceremony, and he was glad to see that they had realised that the present was an occasion which called forth their manliness and respect for their University rather than an exhibition of "playing the fool." (Laughter and applause.)

  • A vanishing study

    Dr. Alfred Cort Haddon, Sc.D., F.R.S., F.RG.S., F.Z.S., M.R.I.A., and University reader in ethnology, Cambridge. said that he very much regretted the absence of Professor Herdman, who, as general secretary of the British Association, could have thanked the University of Perth for the exceedingly warm welcome that had been extended to the visiting scientists. It was with very great pleasure that the members of the British Association had come to this island continent of Australia. Some of them had been here before, but they had looked forward to the second visit even more eagerly than they had to the first. (Hear, hear.) Western Australia had many features which differentiated it from the rest of Australia, and he and his colleagues were looking forward to a pleasant and profitable sojourn here. (Hear, hear.) If he might speak personally for a minute he would like to inform his hearers that this was the first time he had received an honorary degree, and it was interesting that, coming from the second oldest university in the British Empire, he had received the distinction from the newest. (Applause.) He had accepted it as a recognition by the University of Perth of the extreme importance of the subject he represented - ethnology. Here in Australia there was an aboriginal population of extreme interest, but the population was one that was decreasing, and one which, therefore, required immediate study. It was one of the great misfortunes of our civilisation that it eventually destroyed the weaker peoples. In Australia was to be found one of the most ancient, and in some respects, most primitive and interesting races of the world. These people were now fast disappearing. It was the duty of Australians to garner and save all the knowledge it was possible to get concerning those aborigines. So it was that he hoped that in giving him the honorary degree of D.Sc. the University had given an indication that it recognised the value of the study of ethnology in this great continent. It did not matter when one investigated many branches of science, but the subject of ethnology was entirely different. The material on which its students worked was fast disappearing, and if the work, so far as the Australian aborigines were concerned, was not done immediately it never could be done. It was a vanishing study. In two or three thousand years' time, or even long before that, the people of these times would cry impatiently, "Why did the early Australians go to the South Pole and study this or that subject and neglect that which they alone could study?" That was the great responsibility that was upon the Australians of to-day - the saving for posterity of knowledge that was fast vanishing. The function ended, the procession was reformed, and to the strains of the orchestra, returned to the ante-chamber, and the gathering dispersed amidst a babel of mutual congratulations.

    Many words of praise were to be heard throughout yesterday in the British Association reception room at the University concerning the brilliant success of the graduation ceremonies which had occurred on the preceding night in the ballroom of Government House. Well-merited applause was bestowed upon the very excellent arrangements which had been thought out and carried through by the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Whitfeld) and the Registrar (Mr. S. E. Townshend, B.A., LL.B.) and their assistants. It was asserted by several visitors that the ceremony was not only brilliant but was organised in a manner which would have showered great credit upon the offices of any old university men who had grown up amid such ceremonial functions.

First UWA graduate

First UWA graduate, Edward Sydney SimpsonOver the period 2011 to 2013, UWA had a number of opportunities to celebrate the centenary of its establishment. During 2011, we were able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the University’s legal creation exactly 100 years after the University of Western Australia Act received the Governor’s assent on 16 February 1911.

The centenary of the appointment of the first members of the Senate occurred on 13 February 2012, and the centenary of the first meeting of the Senate was reached on 13 March 2012.

On the 4th March 2013, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of Convocation and on 31st March 2013, we commemorated the centenary of the commencement of the first student classes at UWA.

While many believe the festivities were then over, 2014 marked the centenary of another very significant event – the graduation of the first ever UWA student - Edward Sydney Simpson.

Simpson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology (for which he attained First Class Honours) was awarded his degree in a ceremony conducted in the Ballroom of Government House on 29th July 1914.

For a mineral-rich State, he is the “first graduate from central casting” given that during his career he was the Chief Chemist to the WA Mines Department and later Government Mineralogist and Analyst. As well as making a substantial contribution to the scientific literature, including the ground-breaking “Minerals of Western Australia”, he took on an extensive number of voluntary leadership roles, including an appointment as a member of the UWA Senate, and he was a key player in the development of many of WA’s scientific institutions.

Based on the excellent research undertaken by Jenny Bevan from UWA’s School of Earth and Environment, we now know far more about Edward Simpson and his studies at UWA. He was born in Woollahra, a suburb of Sydney, on 11th March 1875 into a reasonably well-to-do household. An outstanding student at the Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, he won numerous prizes and scholarships, and graduated in 1895 with a Bachelor of Engineering (with Honours) in mining and metallurgy.

His first appointment was as a research chemist at the Russell Silver Mine in New South Wales and then as an Assayer at the Mt Morgan Gold Mine in Queensland.

In 1897, when only 22 years of age, he was offered the position of Mineralogist and Assayer and Chief Chemist in the WA Mines Department, at a salary of £350 per annum. After seven years in these roles, during 1904 Simpson departed on a world tour during which he married Muriel Griffiths in London, and together they returned to reside in Perth in January 1905. Over the years, they had a daughter and two sons and subsequently a number of grandchildren.

By 1913, Simpson had been working in responsible positions for almost 18 years and because of his obvious potential, he was encouraged by his colleagues to undertaken a BSc Geology degree at the new University. At nearly 38 years of age, Simpson would have been amongst the oldest of the 184 new students in 1913.

Because of the credits he obtained for the geological units he had completed in his Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Sydney, Edward Simpson was able to complete his Bachelor of Science in geology with First Class Honours in 1914. In doing so, he became the first ever student to obtain a degree from UWA. In 1917, he applied for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science and was awarded his DSc in 1919 for his geological thesis “The Minerals of Western Australia”. Again, he was the first student to earn a Doctorate of Science at UWA.

In 1922, the Geological Survey Laboratory was amalgamated with the Government Chemical Laboratory and Simpson, now in his late forties, was promoted to Government Mineralogist and Analyst in charge of the combined health, mineral and agricultural laboratories.

During this period, he and his family lived on the foreshore in South Perth and he travelled to work by ferry each day. Sadly, in 1934, his wife Muriel died (aged only 59) and in the September of 1936 he married his second wife, Ruth Alcock.

Over his lifetime, he devoted himself to the service of the State and the Commonwealth, specialising in mineralogy and geochemistry (but including positions such as director of the State's 18-pounder Shell Factory during World War I). He described and named a number of minerals new to science and wrote over a hundred learned papers and monographs as well as reference books like his 1932 “A Key to Mineral Groups, Species and Varieties” and “Minerals of Western Australia” (published posthumously). To honour him for his researches into minerals, a new mineral first discovered in the Pilbara was named after him (Simpsonite).

Prior to his death (of a heart attack) on 30th August 1939, at the age of 64, he was accorded many honours. His legacy includes his invaluable three-volume “Minerals of Western Australia”, still the main source of information on minerals in our State; the Edward Sydney Simpson Prize, awarded annually to the best third year student in mineralogy at UWA; and the Simpson Collection of 5,500 geological samples he collected during his lifetime, still available for reference at the WA Museum.

Download Jenny Bevan's presentation on Edward Simpson [PDF 1.1 MB]

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