George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, in 1854.  
Selwyn was a brilliant public figure who showed how
the College might exist in connection with both
the Church and the University,
as simultaneously a place of faith and of free inquiry. 
He imagined it as a focal point for intellectual life in
Australasia & the western Pacific. 

St Paul’s College has its origins in the early colonial period, and in the intellectual ferment of the mid-nineteenth-century British Empire. An embryonic Church of England college was formed in Sydney on 16 March 1846, by W.G. Broughton, Bishop of Australia, with classes in the vestry of St James's church, King Street, and was fully established in premises in the Glebe by the end of that year, with the title "St James's College".  It was designed as the basis of an Anglican university, of which there were already various well established examples in England and North America - Oxford and Cambridge being the original models. Its President was the rector of St James's church, the Reverend Robert Allwood, a graduate of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

Overseas experience might have led the founders to imagine that their College would receive government sanction, with the authority of a University, as soon as it was in working order.  However, by 1849 there were new plans afoot which would have made St James’s a constituent part of a proposed University of Sydney (founded 1850).  The failure of the College in its original form ended this possibility and resulted in a new effort, with Allwood again to the fore.  After considerable debate about the way a Church college might work within a non-denominational university (see the reference to Bishop Selwyn, above), in 1854 a number of Anglicans, now led by Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen, secured the passage of an Act opening the way for a college "of and within" the new University, and renamed St Paul's (after the neighbouring parish of St Paul's, Redfern).  The College, thus reconstituted, was established in law by Governor's proclamation, 15 January 1856, and the foundation stone was laid ten days later (St Paul's Day, 25 January).

The main founders of the College were therefore Broughton (1788-1853), Allwood (1803-91), Selwyn (1809-78) and Stephen (1802-94), though Stephen's son, the Revd A.H. Stephen (from Trinity College, Cambridge), rector of St Paul's, must take credit for the main principles of its constitutional and physical arrangement.  The original sandstone buildings were designed by the great ecclesiastical architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-83), in neo-Gothic style, with a spacious Hall.  A large, open quadrangle was also essential to the plan. As in self-sufficient academic communities of Europe, the students were to live around their own open space. Though it was not fully enclosed until 1999, the great grassed central space has been essential to College life from the start.

The first students of the reconstituted College enrolled in February 1857, and they moved into the new buildings a year later. After a slow start, numbers increased markedly from the 1880s, and this was a time of remarkable flowering for the College. Meanwhile, St John’s College and St Andrew’s College had opened, and in 1892 the Women’s College, our closest neighbour. During the last decades of the nineteenth century the main traditional features of the Paul’s community emerged, including a keen collective spirit and various sporting and cultural activities. Debating and public speaking flourished. With the gradual evolution of student self-government within the University and College, in 1906 a regular process of election (prefiguring the Students' Club) came into existence.  The intercollegiate Rawson Cup was established in 1907 by Governor Sir Harry Rawson, whose son was at Paul’s. The magazine, The Pauline, dates from 1910.

By this time the College had its own distinct intellectual tradition, foreshadowed by the founders, a liberal Anglicanism which took seriously the challenges involved in combining religious and secular knowledge and in making the English Church useful to the Australian nation, and in some sense indigenous to Australians as a community.  This has involved, on the one hand, a forward-looking concern for social justice and a form of public leadership which has asked questions about community (A.B. Piddington, Gerry Portus, A.P. Elkin, Gough Whitlam, Edward St John, etc).  Equally importantly, this tradition has had strong literary associations. Several former students (Frederick Watson, H.M. Green, Gavin Long) have been significant Australian historians, while Tom Inglis Moore, together with H.M.Green and two or three others, led the movement to introduce Australian literature to universities and schools, as a deep expression of the Australian spirit.   The number of Paulines from as early as the 1880s who are now listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography is evidence of the way the College has been in step with the times.  (See Achievements.)  In that sense it has eminently fulfilled the aims of its founders.

Twenty Old Paulines (including Wyatt Rawson) died in World War I, when the College population was still less than 45. (See War service.)  The effect of the War on College ethos was profound.  During and after the War the College was extended, with the completion of what is now Radford and the building of Garnsey wing. The Oval was also added.

World War II saw the deaths of 25 former College men (War service). At the end of the war, the Denison Wing was built on the north side of the Quad, to house returning servicemen.  In the early 1960s, contemporaneous with the expansion of the Australian university system, a new courtyard was added to the south (Arnott and Chapel Court), and the population of the College was increased by forty percent. With the Tower (1966) and the Albert Wing (1999), Paul’s now holds about 195 men. The Chapel (1960), the Mansfield Library (1968) and the Salisbury Bar (1989) together round out the life of the College.

Since the 1990s intellectual and cultural activities have multiplied. The Senior Common Room has grown, so as to constitute in some years nearly one fifth of the College, and the Paul’s community is now a strong mix of senior scholars, graduates and undergraduates, roughly as the founders intended (though much larger).  The original vision, looking back as it did to college life in Oxford and Cambridge, is a continuing inspiration, but driven forward, complicated and enriched by the extraordinary changes and new demands of our day.

The historical records of the College are preserved in its Archives.  See also


  • Hamish Milne, The Origins of St Paul's College (BA thesis, University of Sydney 1995) and St Paul's College: Another Fifty Years, 1900-1950 (MPhil thesis, University of Sydney 1997).
  • Alan Atkinson, Building Jerusalem: A History of St Paul’s College, University of Sydney (in progress).

The College Coat of Arms

The College coat of arms was designed by the first Warden, Henry Judge Hose.  It was slightly altered in the 1940s and the Grant of Arms dates from 1961, when the Earl Marshall of England authorised the necessary Letters Patent, the design having been affirmed by the College of Heralds. The Maltese cross is a reminder that St Paul converted Malta to Christianity and is that island’s patron saint. The crossed swords symbolise his martyrdom in Rome, where he was supposedly beheaded.

The motto, Deo Patriae Tibi, means "For God, for Community, for Yourself", echoing the spirit of self-improvement and service which was, and is, central to liberal Anglicanism, and which is spelt out in the Revd John Keble's Assize Sermon at Oxford, 1833. The College usually displays its colours as gold and maroon, but the Grant of Arms only stipulates gold and "gules" (the heraldic term for red), which allows for some variation.