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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Question

What Irish scholar was the first departure from "only English staff" at U of T's precursor, King's College?

Answer Against the wishes of the president, the Reverend John McCaul was appointed vice-president and professor of classics at King's College. He would become U of T's first president.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.


"If we are to commence King's College in an imposing, popular, and effective manner, the President and leading professors must without exception be from England."

Against the wishes of President Strachan, the governor general, Sir Charles Bagot, hired the Reverend John McCaul, the principal of Upper Canada College and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, as vice-president of King's and professor of classics. Strachan wanted only English staff. "If we are to commence King's College in an imposing, popular, and effective manner," Strachan wrote Bagot, "the President and leading professors must without exception be from England." The Irish McCaul was hired, however, and later became the first president of the University of Toronto.

Sir Charles Bagot
Sir Charles Bagot

A number of staff were hired from England, though often with considerable difficulty. To make recruiting easier, the college council had fixed the summer vacation period so as "in these days of steam navigation [to] allow a visit to England." Bagot had asked specific persons in England in whom he had confidence to find suitable professors. The great scientist Michael Faraday, for example, filled that role in the finding of a chemistry professor.

Henry Croft
Henry Croft

After four chemists turned down Faraday's invitation to come to King's College, an offer was accepted by the 22-year-old Henry Croft, who had worked with Faraday and then had spent more than three years studying at the University of Berlin under a number of distinguished professors. Croft taught effectively and imaginatively in the University of Toronto until his retirement in 1880. (The round Croft Chapter House attached to University College and initially used as a chemistry laboratory is named after him.)


After four chemists turned down Faraday's invitation to come to King's College, an offer was accepted by the 22-year-old Henry Croft.

A Cambridge graduate - the son of a good friend of Bagot's - helped find a professor of mathematics and physics. Graduates standing high in the mathematics program at Cambridge are called "wranglers."

"Can you," Bagot wrote, "amongst the wrangling triangling Cantabs of your acquaintance, fix upon some man, eminent for his knowledge of Mathematics pure and mixed whose prospects in England are not either brilliant or certain ... who you think can be persuaded to come out to this Country as the Mathematical Professor."

High-ranking wrangler after wrangler turned down the invitation. They finally secured a person who had stood sixth in his year. He came out to Canada but left after a year. A wrangler who had stood second in his class, James Sylvester, had actually applied for the job, but was not acceptable because he was Jewish and therefore could not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, a requirement for King's College professors. Sylvester, it should be noted, went on to be the brilliant Savilian Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and the winner of the highest academic honour accorded to British mathematicians, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society.

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