The RHSV Augustus Wolskel Lecture

Augustus Wolskel (1867-1949) was a technical chemist, Founder and General Manager of the Phosphate Co-operative Company of Australia until 1938, and a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

He also happened to be keen on history and joined the Historical Society of Victoria as a member in 1921. He became a Council member in 1926, and Vice President in 1931. For four of the war years (1939-42) he was President of the RHSV. When he died in 1949 he left a £3000 bequest fund whose beneficiaries were the Economics Institute, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the RHSV.

In practice the three bodies received a distribution once every six years. RHSV was initially encouraged by the Trustees to use its share ‘for the purpose of awarding sextennially a prize or prizes for the best essay or essays upon such subjects as the change in the economic and/or political positions of the masses of the peoples as shown by the history of the State of Victoria.’

From the 1960s successive Councils of the RHSV interpreted the terms of the bequest broadly to sponsor a featured lecture by a prominent historian. In the 1980s a policy statement by the RHSV recorded:

“The terms of his bequest to us specified that it be used for educational purposes and some years ago Council decided that the best way of implementing his wishes was to use the income to establish a series of lectures in conjunction with our Biennial Conference.”

Although the funds were received six-yearly, the lectures were at two-yearly intervals.

Lecturers have included Manning Clark (the inaugural lecturer in 1967), Russell Ward, Michael Roe, Senator Douglas McClelland, Mr Justice Else-Mitchell, Geoffrey Blainey, Ken Inglis, Geoffrey Bolton, Eric Willmot, Peter Milner, Bill Russell, David Merritt, Patricia Grimshaw, Graeme Davison and Bart Ziino.

Manning Clark said in his own inimitable way of Wolskel, ‘It was not my good fortune to know him, but I gather that, like his friend Bernard O’Dowd, he cared passionately about Australia – that he was sustained by the great dream that millennial Eden might one day dwell here.’ This might give a clue to the sorts of lecturers or topics that have been invited to deliver the Wolskel Lecture.

Wolskel’s bequest still delivers funds to the RHSV each year nearly 7 decades after his death – a testament to his vision and generosity. The Augustus Wolskel Lecture is now annual and is given by a distinguished speaker on some aspect of Victoria’s history. Keeping Wolskel’s reputation alive is also the Society’s way of recognising the great contribution made to preserving and valuing our history not only by professional historians but also by amateurs – those who love history. Wolskel’s diverse interests also highlight the ways in which history always should have reference to other intellectual disciplines and the practical world.
Dr Andrew Lemon, 2015

Note: For whatever reason, there are no concrete sources that properly indicate what were the lectures between 1991 and 2012. The Victorian Historical Journal mentions what articles were initially lectures, but never specifies what is a Wolskel lecture. For example, Gary Presland’s ‘People, Land, Spirit Koorie Life on the Yarra Yarra’, is mentioned to have come from “200 years on the Yarra Yarra” conference in November 1999, but it’s never specified if this is a Wolskel Lecture or not. If you have information regarding the Wolskel Lectures, please contact us so that we may update this page.


The Hon. Simon Molesworth AO QC (History-in-the-round, The Evolving Role of Heritage Conservation – Taking history to the People).  


Dr Peter Edwards (Know We Know: A Half-century Perspective on Australia’s Vietnam War)


Honourable Marilyn Warren AC QC (What the Dosquicentennial of the Supreme Court means for Victoria)


Bart Ziino (At Home with the War: The Great War in Victorian Private Life)


Graeme Davison (Fifty Years of Victorian Local History)


David T Merrett (Preventing Bank Failure: Could the Commercial Bank of Australia have been saved by its peers in 1893?)


Edward William Russell (Builders of Public Enterprise in Victoria)


Dr Richard Broome (Reflections on the Flesh and Bones of Local History)


Edward William Russell (Taking the Past into the future)


Peter Milner (Gold Mining and the Development of Engineering Firms in Victoria)


Eric Wilmot (The Embeddings – Sharing the past)


Geoffrey C Bolton (The Belly and the Limbs)


Kenneth S Inglis (Young Australia 1870-1900: The Idea and the Reality)


Geoffrey Blainey (The History of Leisure in Australia: the late colonial era.)


Justice Rae Else-Mitchell (Territorial Conquest – Phillip and Afterwards)


Senator Douglas McClelland (Industry of Knowledge)


Michael Roe (An Historical Survey of Australian Nationalism)


Manning Clark (Inaugural lecturer) (The Writing of History)