Australia's First Charity

The Benevolent Society is Australia's first charity. We've been a catalyst for change since 1813.

Early history

The Benevolent Society, originally called the NSW Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, was founded by Edward Smith Hall in 1813. Edward Smith Hall was an influential figure in the colony and was also involved in forming Australia's first bank, the Bank of NSW, and a newspaper called The Monitor, one of the earliest examples of the free press in Australia.

In 1818, we were renamed The Benevolent Society of NSW and became a non-religious organisation, which we remain today. Lachlan Macquarie, the fifth Governor of NSW, who is remembered for his visionary leadership, unflinching integrity and care for those in need, became our first patron.

Significant milestones

1813 Founded by Edward Smith Hall

1818 Renamed The Benevolent Society of NSW and given the purpose of relieving 'the poor, the distressed, the aged, and the infirm’

1821 The Benevolent Asylum opens on the site where Sydney's Central Station now stands

1862 Government takes responsibility for care of men and older people, due in part to demands for support and overcrowding at the Asylum

1866 Part of the Benevolent Asylum becomes a ‘lying-in’ (maternity) hospital

1896 Our President, Sir Arthur Renwick, is a leading voice in the campaign for the Old Age Pension (introduced 1901)

1902 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, which pioneers medical care for women and babies. The hospital was operated by the Benevolent Society until 1992

1917 Opened Scarba House, a welfare home for women and children at Bondi

1964 Opened first village for older people opens at Allambie Heights

1999 Established Social Leadership Australia, transforming leadership thinking and practice

2000 Name changed to The Benevolent Society

2002 Invested in Social Ventures Australia

2007 Expanded into Queensland, opening the first-of-its-kind North Gold Coast Early Years Centre

2009 Jointly founded GoodStart to acquire the failed ABC Learning childcare centre chain

2011 Ran national advocacy campaign ‘Speak up for Kids’ and supported significant campaigns ‘Australians for Affordable Housing’ and 'Australians deserve to age well'

2012 Winner, Building Inclusive Communities Awards (non - government category) The Benevolent Society Benefit Bond launched

2013 Celebrated our 200th birthday

Our records

The majority of our records from 1813 to 1996 are at the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW), except records from Scarba Welfare House for Children. You will need to request access and pay an administrative fee to access the records in the Mitchell Library. You can request access here. Heather Garnsey and Martyn Killion have independently compiled an online index of the Benevolent Asylum's records.

Family history

Interested in accessing our records?

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Listen to a radio broadcast about our colonial early days.

Children were one of the largest groups to benefit from The Benevolent Society
Putting memories on the map

Our history has been shaped by the many people we've helped and supported. Share your story with us on Historypin.

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200 years of change

We've been a catalyst for change for over two centuries, tackling the big issues and giving Aussies a voice.

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Grandmother and children