The University of Auckland was formally opened on 23 May 1883 as Auckland University College, part of the University of New Zealand. A disused courthouse and jail served as premises for the 95 students and four teaching staff.
The roll increased slowly but steadily during the remainder of the 19th century; by 1901 it had risen to 156 students.
Most students were enrolled part-time, training as teachers or law clerks, although after 1905 the number of commerce students rose markedly.
During this time, the University focused on teaching: research was not expected, and was rarely performed by teaching staff. Nevertheless, some students carried out impressive early research, most notably in chemistry.