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Lilley Medal

Medals, scholarships, bursaries and prizes were an integral part of life in Queensland State schools up to the 1970s. They included the Lilley, Ryan, Thallon and Byrnes medals, the Corporal Jack French Memorial Prize, the John Black and Queen's scholarships and the James Brunton Stephens Essay Prize. The awards were generally linked to academic excellence within the system of public examinations and concluded with their abolition in the 1960s and 1970s.

The awarding of medals for outstanding academic achievement has its origins in classical antiquity. There was a revival of this custom in England when the Neo-classical style became more popular. This tradition was later adopted by some Australian schools to reward academic excellence.


See also:

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Legacy of Sir Charles Lilley

Photograph: Sir Charles Lilley

Photograph: Sir Charles Lilley.

Sir Charles Lilley was a former Premier (1868-70) and Chief Justice of Queensland (1879-93). He had a significant influence on the form and spirit of State education in colonial Queensland which lasted well into the twentieth century. Lilley:

  • was responsible for the introduction of free education in Queensland in 1870 (the first Australian state to do so);
  • had a substantial influence on the Education Act 1875 which, while amended on several occasions afterwards, sufficed until the Education Act 1964;
  • influenced later debates on a university and on adult education.

The Lilley Medals

The Lilley Medals had a long history and recognised excellence in academic achievement. There were two types of Lilley Medal including:

Lilley Medal

Sir Charles Lilley was an inaugural trustee of the Brisbane Grammar School when it opened in 1869. Named after him, the Lilley Medal was first presented by Sir Charles in 1869 for:

  • distinction in Greek, Latin and English in Brisbane Grammar's Upper School
  • English in the Lower School.

There were two medals (one gold, one silver) in the Upper School and one medal (silver) in the Lower School.

The medal itself featured:

  • a laurel wreath encircled by the words, 'Brisbane Grammar School'
  • the school motto, 'Nil sine labore', crowning the winner symbolically
  • the reverse featured the Muse Clio in profile, seated on a low column named after her. She held a spray of laurel in one hand and an open scroll in the other and was encircled by the words, 'Lilley Medal'.

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Lilley Memorial Medal

Spencer Routh's Lilley Medal (both faces).

Photograph: The Lilley Medal won by Spencer Routh in 1949.

The Lilley Memorial Medal was directly associated with public examinations in Queensland. It was awarded to encourage students to further their education by attending Grammar or other secondary school. Sir Charles Lilley died in 1897 and shortly afterwards, a Lilley Memorial Trust was established to perpetuate his memory and contribution to education in Queensland. The Trust achieved this by making an annual award to the Queenslander receiving the highest marks in the Sydney University Junior Examination. There was no Queensland Junior Examination until the establishment of the University of Queensland.

The Lilley Memorial Medal itself was provided for out of funds contributed and invested for the purpose. The amount subscribed, £105.2.4d (105 pounds, 2 shillings and 4 pence) was deposited in the Government Savings Bank.

The medal itself was:

  • made of a gold coloured material
  • about the size of a ten cent piece
  • engraved on one side comprising a lamp placed on a book, next to a quill, encircled by the words, 'Knowledge is Power'
  • the reverse side was engraved with the words, the 'LILLEY MEDAL WON BY ...' and the name and year the medal was won by the successful candidate.

Early medals:

  • appear to have been first awarded to a Brisbane Grammar School boy in 1901 and 1902
  • 1901 may have been the first year of the award
  • appear to have been monetary initially, amounting to three guineas and later became a medal.

Winning the medal was a very prestigious event. It gave great status to the successful boy or girl, as well as their school and scholarship teacher. The school attended by the highest scoring candidate may have been granted a holiday.

Changes with the Byrnes Memorial Medal

The establishment of the Byrnes Memorial Medal (circa 1904) changed how the Lilley Memorial Medal was awarded. The Byrnes Memorial Medal came to be presented to the top Queensland candidate at the Sydney University Junior (from 1910, the Queensland Junior). The Lilley Memorial Prize of three guineas was then awarded to the boy or girl achieving the highest aggregate of marks in the examination of candidates for Grammar School scholarships (i.e. the State scholarship examination).

This change occurred from 1904.

Trustees' changes

In 1904, the Trustees proposed that funds from the Lilley Memorial Trust be devoted to the encouragement of State school pupils, either a boy or girl who obtained the highest aggregate marks in the State scholarship examination. The Department of Public Instruction supported their proposal.

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In 1905, the first Lilley Memorial Medal was awarded under these conditions. The successful candidate could undertake their secondary education at either a Grammar or Catholic school or a school run by Christian Brothers.

Administration of Lilley Memorial Trust

The Trustees of the Lilley Memorial Trust included the then headmaster of the Brisbane Grammar School, RH Roe and a barrister, PB McGregor. They managed the funds until 1922 when they decided that a permanent trustee should administer the Trust. Accordingly, they passed the administration of the fund to the Public Curator. At this stage, the value of the fund had increased to £110 and was invested in the State 6.5 Loan.

Further changes

  • In 1922, the Trustees advised the Department of Public Instruction that income from their investments had increased.
  • Sufficient funds were available to present two medals: one each to the boy and girl from any State school who received the highest aggregate marks in the scholarship examination.
  • From 1923, two Lilley Memorial Medals were awarded.

Medal presentations

The Lilley Memorial Medal was generally presented to the winner by either the Minister for Education, Director-General of Education, his representative or occasionally, the Premier of Queensland. The 1949 medal winner, Spencer Routh was presented with the Lilley Memorial Medal at his former school, Townsville Central by the Premier of Queensland, Hon E M Hanlon, in front of the school's 1950 scholarship class.

Two Lilley Memorial Medals continued to be awarded annually until the abolition of the scholarship examination in 1962. By the early 1960s, the Department of Education had begun to subsidise the cost of producing the medals as monies from the Charles Lilley Scholarship Fund had run short.

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Beyond 1962

After 1962, the Lilley Memorial Medal appears to have been presented to one candidate annually for academic excellence in a different examination. It was awarded to the first time student who obtained first place in the Senior Public Examination, based on the marks gained in the Open Scholarship competition. The last Senior Public Examination was held in 1972.

Minor changes to the actual medal were also made including:

  • Design changes in the casting of the medals to reflect the new awarding examination. The medal was now engraved with the words, 'Senior Public Examination' and 'Queensland' as well as the usual words, Lilley Medal and the name of the winner
  • Lilley Medal may have been slightly enlarged from one inch in diameter to one and a quarter inches, which would make it uniform in size with the Byrnes Memorial Medal
  • It was proposed that a die be made of the Lilley Medal from which future medals would be made.

The reverse side retained the words, 'Knowledge is Power', encircling the traditional central engraving of the lamp upon the book and beside it, the quill.

Medals and the future

While the awarding of the Lilley Memorial Medal has not recommenced in Queensland State schools, the TJ Ryan Memorial Scholarship and medal was reactivated in 1993. These awards recognise academic and community service standards among Year 12 students, while continuing to recognise the contribution made by the former Premier of Queensland, TJ Ryan (1915-19) and his dedication to public life.

A list of winners including names, school attended and result as a percentage (1904-72) is available at the Lilley Medal winners page.

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Last reviewed
31 May 2018
Last updated
31 May 2018