Misc //

Document cache uncovers sprawling USyd secret society: international links confirmed

Exposing a history of clandestine meetings, secret headquarters and shadowy influence.

Art by Shania O'Brien.

Like all great stories, this one is owed to the pluckiness of a whistleblower and no small amount of creative liberty. 

Recent documents reveal that a previously unknown secret society has been operating within the University of Sydney for almost two centuries. 

Founded in 1858, the House of Thisbe has historically included high-profile Australian politicians and prominent University donors, international royalty who famously studied at the University, and a variety of local actors and comedians.

The private notes of former Honi editor O.L. Edwards, which were collated over decades of research, claim that the House of Thisbe was originally founded in the United Kingdom by proclaimed members of the Thisbe bloodline from the original Greek myth, who exist in some capacity, and operate within the University. While Honi believes the society operates across a number of universities including Oxford, Brown, and the Sorbonne, their precise extent is unknown. 

Edwards passed away in August of this year, and left a manifesto of research and collection of witness statements to the current editors of the student newspaper in his will. 

The House of Thisbe meet monthly for evening soirees which include extensive feasts, drinks spiked with small quantities of Golden Wattle known for its psychedelic properties, and extensive discussions of Jack Kerouac, Nietzsche, and the aegis of free-thinking. The House of Thisbe is obsessed with the concept of legacy. They spend their time carefully crafting the perfect story, to influence those around them to fit their narrative. As children of powerful people who are seemingly destined for great things, the society centers itself within the grander scheme of things. They are rumoured to be at the heart of campus life but not the spotlight — the archivists of societies, the shadow managers of student politics campaigns, the secretaries of the Academic Board. They position themselves in roles which allow them to control how we remember the past rather than the direction of the future. Many students have reported archival documents disappearing from the online database without warning or notice. When they return, the documents often appear redacted and amended. This isn’t just limited to the University archives though, as sources have reported similar instances at both a state and federal level.

However, Honi understands that the hierarchy within the society does not have distinct levels, branches or a centre of control; it is based primarily on trust and the reliance that being hidden from the public grants far more power than being known. That being said, it is believed that there exists an inner circle which, while usually comprised of the society’s most powerful members, fulfills a mostly ceremonial role.

The House of Thisbe’s headquarters is rumoured to be located in the basement of the Bank building on Science Road. The building was closed throughout WWII, after the ARP classified the basement as a bomb shelter. Renovations were required to bring the space in line with national requirements, but this work was most likely undertaken in service of the society’s needs.

According to Edwards’ notes, the society was first established at USyd following Queen Victoria’s royal charter in 1858 proclaiming the authenticity of the University’s degrees. While the public version of this charter only includes this proclamation, a recently undiscovered addendum was uncovered in a cache of hidden university documents. This addendum established a branch of the House of Thisbe at the University of Sydney and appointed Henry Challis as their inaugural Grand Master. Challis left the University $200,000 in 1890 following his death. While this money was officially left to the University, the total sum went to the House of Thisbe. 

Challis’ connection to the society was originally established by the ship he arrived in Australia on. Pyramus, a convict vessel on which Challis was aboard as a steerage passenger, arrived to Australian shores in 1829. Port records from Bristol show that Pyramus had a sister vessel called the Thisbe. These same records show that the Thisbe departed for Sydney at the same time as the Pyramus, but its arrival was never recorded in Australia. Honi Soit believes that this ship carried precious cargo acquired in Oxford University. Oxford, home to a branch of the House of Thisbe, apparently contained artefacts significant to the society and with the establishment of each new branch an artefact is dispatched to its location. While the specific artefacts remain unknown, an anonymous source told Honi that certain artefacts were on display at the Nicholson Museum before it was shuttered and are currently cared for by a member of the society.

The society’s vade mecum is bound in a full-grain leather book, and buried amongst the books underneath the Quadrangle. Several pages of the handbook were provided to Honi by O. L. Edwards’ estate, though they appear to be photo-copied several times and contain handwritten notes that have been highlighted and scribbled over. Nevertheless, the society’s bible calls for a space that is “elite” and “exclusive,” but not “chauvinist;” and a “fortnightly meeting to be conducted on every second Sunday of the month in a location to be determined the day before by quorum.” 

It is believed that the society donated the original University mace, a sign of the unique agreement between the House of Thisbe and University governance. While Honi was not able to get access to the mace, second-hand accounts tell us that an inscription on the mace reads: ALIS GRAVE NIL, nothing is too heavy for those who have wings.

In 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, the House of Thisbe suffered a dividing schism after members sided with both the UK and Germany. Splitting the society in two, its members and their descendants would go on to cause a similar schism in USyd’s philosophy department in the 1970s.

While the House of Thisbe isn’t officially connected to the University anymore, certain officers of the University are thought to carry on the association. Speculated to have begun with one of the occupants of Baxter’s Lodge, whoever resides or works within the lodge is tasked with the enforcement of Thisbe’s traditions and their strict secrecy protocols. This explains much of the mystery surrounding Baxter’s Lodge and the many gaps in its history of occupation, as the lodge most likely housed sensitive society documentation.

While it is unknown if Leslie Wilkinson, architect for the University of Sydney and later professor of architecture, was a member of the society, the axis he masterminded is most likely an extension of the House of Thisbe’s grand plans. Occult twistronics, a less scientific interpretation of the study of angles and their influence on the electrical properties of two dimensional materials, is central to the philosophy of Thisbe’s children. Most likely interlinked with the British conception of ley lines, this preoccupation with the power of angles and alignment has influenced the design of the University — and perhaps continues to this day.

Honi has not been able to speak with any current members of the society, and most of our sources are limited to fanatical theories and far-fetched fables turned gospel. For all we know these people occupy their days wandering the hallways beneath the Quadrangle, their faces bathed in the pink light of the lanterns that line the walls, plotting, scheming. While we can expose their clandestine behaviour, this article, perhaps like many before it, will be forgotten and suppressed. So if you manage to read this, don’t forget what we’ve written — like all societies, it’s about time the House of Thisbe had an AGM.