South Australia’s first University and Adelaide’s first Vice-Chancellor

Founded in 1874, the University of Adelaide is Australia’s third oldest university and the first to be established in South Australia. The first Vice-Chancellor of Adelaide, Dr Augustus Short was elected to his role in December the same year, however Short’s contribution to the University and Adelaide more broadly, was far beyond his capacity as Vice-Chancellor and later Chancellor. Short championed the value of education, and it was Short who first seriously proposed that the colony of South Australia required a higher standard of education in the form of a university.

Short’s belief in, and dedication to, education preceded his arrival in Australia. As a brilliant Oxford don, Short had taught at Christ Church College in the 1830s, producing from his students a staggering succession of world leaders: Governors-General of India and Canada, British parliamentarians and, most notably, W.E. Gladstone, the longest serving British Prime Minister.

In 1847 Short arrived in South Australia after being consecrated as the first Anglican Bishop of Adelaide. This set South Australia’s history in motion as Short would become an influential pioneer of Adelaide, leaving a lasting legacy in his wake. From his arrival, he helped with the establishment of the Collegiate School of St Peter and North Adelaide’s iconic St Peter's Cathedral and laid the foundation stones for both in 1849 and 1869 respectively.

Short campaigned for 20 years to establish a university in Adelaide believing that
‘Whatever tends to make this City the abode not merely of material wealth, and order, and respectability, but of mental culture, science, and art will add greatly also to its material prosperity and the enjoyments of its inhabitants’.

Finally, through the generosity of wealthy benefactors Sir Walter Watson Hughes and Sir Thomas Elder, the much talked about idea of a university for Adelaide could proceed. And so the University of Adelaide was founded with a noble goal: to prepare for South Australia young leaders shaped by education rather than by birth or wealth.

Short threw open scholarship enrolment to any citizen of the colony, recruited professors internationally and pursued the latest in curricular innovation. He was also determined that the University would be open to the investigation of new fields such as the sciences, modern literature, art and moral philosophy. Teaching began in 1876. The Bachelor of Arts was the first degree offered and by 1882, a science degree was established. At that point the University became the first in Australia to grant degrees in science.

Short’s founding vision for the University of Adelaide remains true in the ideals and traditions adopted today. As a place for higher learning we believe in our cultural value to the community and we remain earnest in the goal to prepare the educated leaders of tomorrow. The University can undertake its valuable work today in education and research because of the generosity, tenacity of belief and spirit of its pioneers and early founders; visionaries such as Dr Augustus Short.

Dr Augustus Short
(1802-1883)

Reverend Augustus Short
Bishop of Adelaide, Vice-Chancellor