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Australia’s First Charity Turns 199

8 May 2012 at 10:43 am
Staff Reporter
In an amazing milestone, Australia’s first charity, The Benevolent Society, is celebrating its 199th birthday today.

Staff Reporter | 8 May 2012 at 10:43 am


Australia’s First Charity Turns 199
8 May 2012 at 10:43 am

"The Benevolent Society of NSW", George St, Sydney (1903). Courtesty of the State Library of NSW.

In an amazing milestone, Australia’s first charity, The Benevolent Society, is celebrating its 199th birthday today.

CEO Anne Hollonds said The Benevolent Society continues to play a pivotal role supporting Australian communities and acting as a catalyst for social change nearly 200 years after it was first founded.

“The Benevolent Society was formed in Sydney 199 years ago. As pioneers of philanthropy in Australia we were the first in the colony to house and feed the needy. There were no social welfare services for those in difficult circumstances, so the help we provided to orphaned or abandoned children, older people, families and others who were unable to support themselves, was absolutely vital,” Hollonds said.

“From the day it was formed on 8 May 1813, The Benevolent Society has been dedicated to giving Australia’s most vulnerable a hand up and speaking out for a fairer society.

“Many of the things we now take for granted such as abolition of child labour, the old age pension, support for single mothers, free maternity care and legal aid were pioneered by The Benevolent Society. A lot has changed in 200 years, but our work is as relevant as ever, and we continue to look for new solutions to the biggest social issues facing Australians.

“The Benevolent Society has also been credited with pioneering volunteering in Australia, and over the past 199 years we are privileged to have had thousands of volunteers supporting our work.

“Today’s milestone is one the whole community has played a role in, and we’d like to thank Australians across the nation for their generosity and support over the past two centuries. We look forward to working with many more Australian communities and inspiring a vision for a better future.”

The Benevolent Society’s Patron, NSW Governor Marie Bashir said, “The Benevolent Society has played a major part in the building of our nation. As the first organisation to formally provide social support to Australians in need, the Society's establishment in the year 1813 marks the dawn of charity in this country. For two centuries, The Benevolent Society has provided a safe haven for the poor and dispossessed, enriching the lives of thousands of Australians of all ages and backgrounds.”

Benevolant Society founder Edward Smith Hall. Painting by  Augustus Earle (circa 1820). Courtesy Benevolant Society.

Key milestones in The Benevolent Society’s history include:

1813 Edward Smith Hall founds Australia’s first private organisation dedicated to ‘relieving the distressed’, meeting needs of the population far beyond the capacity of government.
1818 ‘The Benevolent Society of NSW’ becomes a formal, non-religious organisation with a purpose to ‘relieve the poor, the distressed, the aged, and the infirm’. Governor Macquarie becomes first patron – a legacy that continues today with our patron Professor Marie Bashir.
1821 Opened the Benevolent Asylum on the site where Sydney's Central Station now stands: Australia’s first refuge for homeless older men, deserted women and children and mentally ill.
1862 Government takes responsibility for the care of men and the aged, due in part to the scale of demands for support and relief and subsequent overcrowding at the Asylum.
1866 Designates part of the Benevolent Asylum as a ‘lying-in’ (maternity) hospital
1896 The Benevolent Society’s President, Sir Arthur Renwick, is a leading voice in the campaign for the Old Age Pension (introduced 1901)
1902 The Benevolent Society incorporated by an Act of Parliament (NSW), and the first women directors appointed to the board
1905 Opened the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington, pioneering medical care for women and babies and ground breaking techniques such as ultrasound
1917 Opened Scarba House at Bondi, a welfare home for women and children
1931 Doctors at the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington set up facilities to conduct the first reliable test for pregnancy in Australia.
1949 Established first cancer detection clinic for women at the Royal Hospital for Women.
1968-69 The Benevolent Society brought Elvis Presley's gold Cadillac to Australia for a charity tour across Australia. The Cadillac was seen by more than 400,000 people, raising about $150,000. Elvis became a Life Governor of The Benevolent Society.
1983 The Benevolent Society was the beneficiary of a Royal Charity Ball attended by Prince Charles and Lady Diana
1991 Opened the Post Adoption Resource Centre, the first adoption support service of its kind in NSW
1999 Developed Social Leadership Australia, a new approach to leadership thinking and practice.
2002 Co-founded Social Ventures Australia: investing in social change and supporting social entrepreneurs
2007 Expanded to Queensland, opening the North Gold Coast Early Years Centre, the first of four Early Years Centres in Queensland.
2009 Jointly founded Goodstart to acquire the ABC Learning childcare centres.
2012 Partners with the NSW Government to develop Social Benefit Bonds, a new way to fund crucial social services that will make our community stronger

The Benevolent Society will be collecting money at railway stations across Sydney on Tuesday 8 May to mark its 199th birthday. Find out more about The Benevolent Society's history.


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