The data on graduates cover all graduates of Australian universities from 1856 (when the first degrees were conferred by The University of Sydney) to the end of 1945. Apart from Sydney, the universities included are Melbourne (also from 1856), Adelaide (1876), Tasmania (1890), Queensland (1911) and Western Australia (1913). The dataset also includes graduates of the Melbourne College of Divinity from 1913 to 1944 (1945 data are not yet available). More than 37,000 individuals and 50,000 degrees are included in the data set.
Some settlers and immigrants, and some native-born Australians, obtained degrees from universities overseas, mainly in the British Isles. Some of those overseas graduates also obtained degrees from an Australian university, and are thereby included in the data set. However, graduates of universities overseas who did not obtain a local degree are excluded from the data.
Where a graduate in scope is known to have obtained a degree overseas, or obtained a degree in Australia after 1945, those degrees are noted in the “Career” section of the individual’s entry.
Types of degrees
The large majority of degrees conferred on the graduates in the data set are “regular” or “standard” degrees, obtained after passing examinations in the relevant subjects. However, universities also conferred a significant number of degrees ad eundum gradum (aeg: “at the same grade”), which were granted to graduates of another (overseas or Australian) university to provide the recipient with the formal benefits of a graduate who had obtained a regular degree. Universities also conferred a small number of honorary degrees (conferred honoris causa) on distinguished visitors to the university; aeg degrees also served this function in a small number of cases.
Unless otherwise stated, all degrees were “pass” degrees rather than honours degrees. Policy on honours degrees varied between universities: some universities did not confer honours degrees (at least for some periods or in some faculties); other universities conferred an honours degree instead of a pass degree for students who excelled in their examinations; while yet others conferred an honours degree on the best students who had already graduated with a pass degree.
Medical and surgical degrees
Older universities (Sydney and Melbourne) conferred medical (MB) and surgical (BS or ChB) degrees separately, and not all graduates in medicine also graduated in surgery. In contrast, the practice at the newer universities (and at Melbourne from 1911) was to confer the two degrees jointly in a single award (for example, MB BS at Melbourne). Degrees conferred separately are shown as such in the individual entries, while degrees conferred jointly are treated as a single degree (such as “Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery”).
For a time, The University of Sydney, uniquely in Australia, conferred the degree of Master of Surgery (abbreviated as ChM) as a first degree (following the practice at Scottish universities at the time). However, from 1927 the university aligned its practice with those of other Australian universities and instead conferred the degree of Bachelor of Surgery (BS) as a first degree; from 1935 it conferred a new Master of Surgery degree as a higher degree. This new Master of Surgery degree was abbreviated MS to distinguish it from the earlier ChM degree, and that distinction between the two degrees is shown in the entries.
The principal source I have used for the names of graduates is the university calendars. These publications are annual handbooks for each university containing details of courses and subjects, regulations, personnel and sometimes examination papers. They usually also include an annual report for the prior year, and the annual reports usually include a full list of the names of students who graduated. Some calendars include that information but not in the annual report. Calendars also often include cumulative lists of graduates (either from the foundation of the university, or for a shorter period). Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide universities have scanned copies of their calendars on their respective websites. Queensland’s calendars for the period covered are available online on third-party websites. Calendars for the universities of Tasmania and Western Australia are only available in reference libraries.
The source for names of graduates of the Melbourne College of Divinity is a manuscript ledger of graduates held in the State Library of Victoria. This source does not include graduates for 1945.
Biographical information about graduates has been taken from many sources, including especially those listed on the Links page. Other critical sources are registries of births, deaths and marriages (in Australia and elsewhere), and repositories of wills and probate records, especially those in Victoria and Tasmania.
The University of Melbourne’s Archivist kindly supplied me with a copy of a database of students who matriculated in the University between 1855 and 1899.
Dr Peter Moore, of Crossing Press, has generously supplied me with information on South Australian lawyers.
All newspaper articles used in my research were obtained through the National Library of Australia’s magnificent Trove service.
I transcribed from the calendars the graduate names, degree names and years of conferral for the 50,533 awards of degrees from 1856 to 1945. I checked all instances where the same graduate name matched two or more degrees and determined when the names belonged to the same person, and when they belonged to two or more persons of the same name. Similarly, I determined when two different names actually referred to a single individual (the differences between the names usually being a small variation in spelling or the inclusion of an additional forename in one of the records). Multiple degree entries pertaining to a single individual were consolidated; this resulted in 37,535 records of individuals.
Following the creation of the list of graduate names I obtained from the sources mentioned above the basic biographical details for many of the graduates. To some extent this process worked in parallel with the process of finalising the list of names described in the previous paragraph as extraneous evidence was sometimes needed to discriminate between graduates with identical names. At present only about one graduate entry in five has those basic biographical details; but that proportion will steadily grow as updated versions of the data are uploaded to this website in coming years and will, I hope, eventually reach close to 100 per cent.