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Benevolent Society

The Benevolent Society, founded by Edward Smith Hall in 1813, is Australia's first and oldest charity.[1] It is an independent, non-religious, not-for-profit organisation which aims to help families, older Australians and people with disability live their best lives.

Benevolent Society
Sydney benevolent society.jpg
Sydney Benevolent Society building, 1840s
FounderEdward Smith Hall
Founded atSydney, New South Wales
Lisa Chung
Joanne Toohey

The Benevolent Society has always advocated for a just society and positive change. Many of today's essential services in Australia were pioneered by The Benevolent Society, and its legacy of advocacy for progressive, positive change continues to inform their work today.

The organisation currently delivers services from 60 locations across New South Wales, including 4 main Sydney hubs and a national office, and the ACT, and 16 sites in Queensland. It has 1600 staff, plus a volunteer force of about 700. More than 56,000 people were reached through The Benevolent Society's 90 services, community programs and events in 2016-17.[2] The current Chief Executive Officer is Joanne Toohey. The Chairman is Lisa Chung.

Focus on ageing, disability and child and familyEdit

The Benevolent Society focuses its programs on providing services to older Australians, people with disability, keeping children safe and well, and assisting families, especially those at-risk.

Ageing: The Benevolent Society provides older Australians with a variety of services to help them be independent as long as possible in their homes confidently, safely and securely, as well as assist carers with their own needs and those as the person they are caring for. Tailored services include - housekeeping, laundry, nursing care, personal care assistance, meals, transport, social activities and outings - health support such as physiotherapy, podiatry, counselling and dementia care

Disability: The Benevolent Society is the largest provider of disability services in NSW. It has been an approved NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) provider since 2016, working to help people transition to the NDIS and providing many of the services under the scheme. Whether it's at home or elsewhere in the community, The Benevolent Society offers allied health services like: - physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, nutrition support, psychology, nursing, counselling, exercise - personal care including respectable assistance with washing and dressing - assistance with meal preparation, or delivered ready-made meals - help with hobbies, outings and events

Child and family: The Benevolent Society helps families thrive with 64 services provided to more than 44,000 people, from playgroup to parenting education and coaching, household budgeting, to practical support and family counselling. In 2016-17, more than 10,000 were assisted through the Early Years Centres in Queensland (


Social Leadership Australia (SLA) was established by The Benevolent Society in 1999 to design and deliver a suite of innovative leadership development programs to develop the capacity of individuals, organisations and communities to create lasting, positive change on entrenched issues. Programs included Sydney Leadership, Queensland Leadership and a four-day Introduction to Adaptive Leadership. They worked directly with organisations to develop and deliver customised programs to build internal leadership capacity. All programs were based on an Adaptive Leadership approach developed by Professor Ron Heifetz at Harvard University (Source: The Benevolent Society made the difficult decision to close SLA in 2017 as a result of the evolution of the market and the proliferation of leadership programs available.


On 8 May 1813, Edward Smith Hall and several other 'like-minded gentlemen' formed what was initially known as ‘The New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence’ – the first charitable organisation dedicated to doing universal good in Australia, and the humble beginnings of the organisation today known as The Benevolent Society.[1]:10

Edward Smith Hall also helped establish the Bank of New South Wales – Australia’s first bank, founded in 1817, now known as Westpac; and its first non-government newspaper, The Monitor, first published in 1826.


1800 to 1899Edit

  • 1813: First private charitable organisation dedicated to meeting the needs of the poorest groups in Australian society, assisting people far beyond the capacity of government. While its origins were Christian, it went to become a non-religious, non-affiliated organisation.
  • 1815: NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie became a regular donor
  • 1818: In June, The Benevolent Society of NSW was formed, assisted by Rev William Cowper, with the greater purpose to 'relieve the poor, the distressed, the aged, and the infirm' and to encourage industrious habits.[1]:225 It provided cash loans, grants, clothing and food. Governor Macquarie was the patron and successive governors of NSW occupy the position to this day
  • 1820: First to introduce district nursing, taking care of people who were isolated
  • 1821: Benevolent Asylum, a refuge for homeless older men, deserted women and children, and the mentally ill, opened at the corner of Pitt and Devonshire St in Sydney. It was reclaimed in 1901 to build Sydney's Central Railway Station[3]
  • 1849: Female factory at Parramatta closed following the cessation of Transportation. Former inmates became the responsibility of The Benevolent Society[1]:225
  • 1851: Benevolent Society used the Liverpool Hospital to house male paupers
  • 1852-3: NSW Society for the Relief of Destitute Children created by The Benevolent Society. Subsidies from the British government ceased
  • 1862: Government takes responsibility for the care of men and older destitute people, due in part to the scale of demands for support and relief and subsequent overcrowding at Benevolent Asylum[1]:226
  • 1866: Part of the Benevolent Asylum designated exclusively as a 'lying-in’ (maternity) hospital.[4] By 1876, the Lying-in Hospital of NSW recorded the lowest infant mortality rate and lowest death rate in childbirth of any hospital in Australia. It became a teaching hospital for medical students at the University of Sydney in 1888
  • 1873: The NSW government appointed a royal commission to investigate public charities. Benevolent Society was commended for its work[1]:226
  • 1879: Benevolent Society began offering free legal aid to poor women in order to pursue cases of maintenance against the fathers of their children
  • 1892: Benevolent Society campaigned to outlaw child labour and baby farming, with Society president Sir Arthur Renwick initiating the introduction of the NSW Child Protection Act. The Act was amended in 1896 on Renwick's initiative to "enable children whose widowed or deserted mothers could not support them to be boarded out to their own parents"[1]
  • 1896: Sir Arthur Renwick is a leading voice in the campaign for the Old Age Pension. It was eventually introduced by the NSW Government in 1901, the first of its kind in the world

1900 to 1999Edit

  • 1902: The Benevolent Society is incorporated by an Act of Parliament (NSW), and the first women directors appointed to the board[5]
  • 1905: Royal Hospital for Women established by The Benevolent Society and operated by The Benevolent Society until 1992, pioneering medical care for women and babies and ground breaking techniques such as the first baby health clinics to give children the best start in life, new techniques such as ultrasound, and the use of pasteurised milk to reduce the infant death rate
  • 1912: First ante natal (pre natal) clinic in the British Empire opened at the Royal Hospital for Women
  • 1917: Scarba House in Bondi was provided to the Society as a welfare home for women and children, and opened in September. It was operated by the Society until 1986 as a home for children as they awaited adoption or respite care. Many were child migrants from the UK. It was closed in 1986, and the building sold to Mirvac, a real estate investment company, for redevelopment in 2013.
  • 1937: Royal Hospital for Women approved as a research institution by the National Health and Medical Research Council[1]:227
  • 1950: 100,000th baby born at Royal Hospital for Women
  • 1964: First Village for the Aged: William Charlton Village, Allambie Heights. Ownership transferred to Allambie Heights Village Ltd in 2016
  • 1968: Benevolent Society Adoption Agency opened; closed in 1975
  • 1969: Mirrabooka Retirement Village opened in Little Bay
  • 1971-2: Walter Cavill Retirement Village at Bondi and Rockdale Centenary Retirement Village at Bexley opened. Walter Cavill Village closed in 2006, and Rockdale Centenary transferred to Scalabrini in 2009
  • 1977: The Benevolent Society began providing parenting services to single mothers
  • 1980: Sir Philip Baxter Child Care Centre opened in Woollahra
  • 1987: The Benevolent Society introduced early intervention programs for families at risk
  • 1989: The Benevolent Society elects its first woman president, Mrs Judith May OAM
  • 1991: PARC (Post Adoption Research Centre) opens, the first of its kind in NSW, to coincide with the implementation of the NSW Adoption Information Act
  • 1992: Management of the Royal Hospital for Women transferred to the NSW government
  • 1999: Sydney Leadership Australia established, transforming leadership thinking and practice. Closed in 2017.

2000 to presentEdit

  • 2002: Social Ventures Australia established as part of SLA, investing in social change and supporting social entrepreneurs. Closed in 2017
  • 2004: The Benevolent Society apologised unreservedly for any abuse, mistreatment or harm experienced by children in its care. Apology available on The Benevolent Society website
  • 2007: First Queensland service opens: North Gold Coast Early Years Centre (also a first for the State)
  • 2009: Fostering Young Lives (FYL) begins
  • 2009: Joint foundation of GoodStart to acquire the ABC Learning Childcare Centres
  • 2011: Advocating change at a national level with the ‘Speak up for Kids’ and ‘Australians for Affordable Housing’ campaigns
  • 2011: The Benevolent Society apologised unreservedly for any pain, unresolved grief or suffering experienced by mothers, fathers, adoptees, adoptive parents or their families as a result of the past adoption practices of The Benevolent Society, the Royal Hospital for Women or Scarba Welfare House for Children. Apology available on The Benevolent Society website
  • 2013: Scarba House and the site on which it sits sold to Mirvac for redevelopment
  • 2013: The Benevolent Society's 200th anniversary.
  • 2013: The Benevolent Society launches a $10 million social benefit bond,[6] also known as social impact bond, in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac to fund early intervention program Resilient Families (
  • 2014: Implementation of The Benevolent Society's Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)
  • 2014: The Benevolent Society saves The Shack Youth Services in Maroubra from closure
  • 2014: Anne Hollands leaves after three years as CEO. Joanne Toohey takes over as Interim CEO
  • 2015: Joanne Toohey appointed CEO by the Board, led by chairman Lisa Chung
  • 2015: Appointment of Nyikina man of Western Australia, Charles Prouse, to The Benevolent Society Board
  • 2015: Ocean St Property, Bondi, purchased for the creation of the 'Apartments for Life' project which was to be developed into a subsidised apartment complex for older Australians so they would never have to leave their homes, sold to Mirvac after a number of council delays and opposition by local residents
  • 2016: The Benevolent Society launches research into the Adequacy of the Age Pension with Per Capita and the Longevity Innovation Hub. Determining it was inadequate, The Benevolent Society launched an advocacy campaign for better conditions for older Australians including the Fix Pension Poverty campaign (
  • 2016: Transfer of ownership of residential care facility Sir William Charlton Village in Allambie Heights to Allambie Heights Village Ltd
  • 2017: The Benevolent Society selected by the NSW government to take over provision of disability clinical services across NSW including in rural and regional areas
  • 2017: Introduction of technologically advanced mobile working environment within The Benevolent Society to make it a leading, progressive not-for-profit
  • 2017: The Benevolent Society continues to advocate for older Australians with the launch of a research report about ageism, in anticipation of the launch of a public campaign called EveryAGECounts (
  • 2018: The Benevolent Society launches a child protection campaign to keep children safe and well in their homes wherever possible

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rathbone, R. W. (Ronald William) (1994). A very present help : caring for Australians since 1813 : the history of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. State Library of New South Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7305-8915-0.
  2. ^ "Annual Report 2017". The Benevolent Society.
  3. ^ "Sydney". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. NINETEENTH, (928). New South Wales, Australia. 1 September 1821. p. 3. Retrieved 7 May 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  4. ^ "Advertising". The Argus (6, 132). Victoria, Australia. 31 January 1866. p. 8. Retrieved 7 May 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ Benevolent Society of New South Wales Act of 1902 No 97 (NSW)
  6. ^ "Social Benefit Bonds - The Benevolent Society". The Benevolent Society.


External linksEdit