Our History

We have come a long way since 1813 when The Benevolent Society was first formed. Scroll through the timeline to see various moments in our organisation's history.

If you would like to request any historical records relating to The Benevolent Society, please send an email request to records@benevolent.org.au.

2018

Every Age Counts.

The Benevolent Society continues to advocate for older Australians with the launch of a campaign against ageism called Every Age Counts

2017
Boy in wheelchair outside his home

The Benevolent Society transitions FaCS (Family and Community Services)

The Benevolent Society selected to transition the Disability Service Teams formerly part of FaCS (Family and Community Services) of the NSW government in order to provide disability clinical services across NSW, including regional and remote areas.

2016

Fix Pension Poverty

The Benevolent Society launches research with Per Capita and the Longevity Innovation Hub to determine the adequacy of the Age Pension – research determined it was inadequate. The Society launched an advocacy campaign for better conditions for older Australians including the Fix Pension Poverty campaign.

2015
Charles Prouse, Board Member, The Benevolent Society

Nyikina man of WA Charles Prouse

Appointment of Nyikina man of WA Charles Prouse to The Benevolent Society Board.

Jo Toohey, Management Team at The Benevolent Society

New CEO appointed

Joanne Toohey appointed CEO by the Board, led by chairman Lisa Chung.

2014

Implementation of Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

The Benevolent Society implements a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

The Shack logo

The Shack saved

The Benevolent Society saves The Shack Youth Services in Maroubra from closure.

2013
200 Year Commemorative coin

The Benevolent Society turns 200

The Benevolent Society’s 200th anniversary.

The Benevolent Society launches $10 million social benefit bond

The Benevolent Society launches a $10 million five year social benefit bond, also known as a social impact bond, in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac to fund early intervention program Resilient Families.

2011
Man showing affordable housing poster

The Benevolent Society advocates for change

Advocating change at a national level by supporting the ‘Speak up for Kids’ and ‘Australians for Affordable Housing’ campaigns.

Apology for past adoption practices

The Benevolent Society ran an adoption service between 1969 and 1975. At the time, adoption was widely assumed to be the only possible option for unmarried pregnant women. We now understand and acknowledge the deep grief that many mothers experienced after the loss of a child to adoption, and the lack of support available to manage their grief.

The Benevolent Society apologises unreservedly for any pain, unresolved grief or suffering experienced by mothers, fathers, adoptees, adoptive parents and 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.

Click here for The Benevolent Society’s Statement of Apology

2009
GoodStart ABC Child Care centre

ABC Learning Centres

Joint foundation of GoodStart to acquire the ABC Learning Centres.

Three young kids

Fostering Young Lives begins

The Benevolent Society sets up Fostering Young Lives, a program for foster care.

2007

The Benevolent Society starts operations in Queensland

First Queensland service opens: North Gold Coast Early Years Centre (also a first for the State).

2004
Scarba apology

Apology to Forgotten Australians

The Benevolent Society provided residential care for children at Scarba House in Bondi from 1917 until 1986. The Senate Inquiry into Institutional Care conducted between 2003 and 2005 gave us a clear, and highly distressing picture of what life was like for tens of thousands of children who had spent time in institutional care in the 20th century.

The Benevolent Society apologises unreservedly for any abuse, mistreatment or harm experienced by children in our care. To ensure history is recognised and learned from, we produced the publication, ‘Living at Scarba Home for Children: a history of the Scarba Welfare House for Children (1917-1986) in the context of child welfare practice in New South Wales’.

Click on the below links for the publications:
Scarba House History and Apology

1999
SLA logo

Social Leadership Australia

The Benevolent Society established, transforming leadership thinking and practice. Closed in 2017. Social Ventures Australia, established in 2002 as part of SLA, involved investing in social change and supporting social entrepreneurs; closed in 2017.

1992
Royal Hospital for Women

Royal Hospital for Women transferred to NSW Government

Management of the Royal Hospital for Women transferred from The Benevolent Society to the NSW Government.

1991
Two adults having a conversation

Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC)

PARC (Post Adoption Resource Centre) opens, the first of its kind in NSW, to coincide with the implementation of the NSW Adoption Information Act.

1988
Year 1988 - Judy May is the first female president of The Benevolent Society

First female president at The Benevolent Society

The Benevolent Society elects its first female president, Mrs. Judith May OAM.

1987
Two young kids hugging

Early intervention programs for families at risk

The Benevolent Society introduced early intervention programs for families at risk.

1980

Sir Philip Baxter Child Care Centre

Sir Philip Baxter Child Care Centre opened in Woollahra.

1977
Mum with baby

Parenting services for single mothers introduced

The Benevolent Society began providing parenting services to single mothers.

1971

New retirement villages opened

Walter Cavill Retirement Village at Bondi and Rockdale Centenary Village at Bexley opened. Walter Cavill was closed in 2016, and Rockdale sold to Scalabrini in 2009.

1969

Mirrabooka Village opened

Another home for the aged, Mirrabooka Village, opened in Little Bay.

1968

Benevolent Society Adoption Agency

Benevolent Society Adoption Agency opened; closed in 1975.

1964

Benevolent Society opens their first retirement village

First Village for the Aged: William Charlton Village at Allambie Heights. Ownership transferred to another aged care provider in 2016.

1959
Ultrasound image

Development of ultrasound commenced

A joint research venture between The Benevolent Society's Royal Hospital for Women and the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, in the Federal Department of Health, was established to develop ultrasonic equipment for obstetric applications.

1950
Post natal ward

100,000th baby born at the Royal Hospital for Women

1933
Doctors working in a Laborotory

Royal Hospital for Women registered under NSW Public Hospitals Act

Royal Hospital for Women registered under NSW Public Hospitals Act and opened to private and intermediate patients. In 1937 the hospital was approved as a research institution by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

1917
Scarba House

Scarba House in Bondi opened 26 September 1917

Scarba House in Bondi was provided to the Society as a welfare home for women and children and officially opened 26 September 1917. The Benevolent Society operated Scarba House from 1917 to 1986 as a home for children, many of whom lived there short term as they awaited adoption or respite care, including those who came as ‘child migrants’ from the UK. While Scarba House was closed in 1986, the building continued to be used as an office for PARC (Post Adoption Resource Centre) until 2011. It was sold to developer Mirvac in 2013.

1912

Royal Hospital for Women first to open ante-natal clinic

First ante-natal (pre-natal) clinic in the British Empire opens at Royal Hospital for Women.

1905
Panoramic view of the Royal Womens Hospital

Royal Hospital for Women established

Royal Hospital for Women established by The Benevolent Society (inspired by Sir Arthur Renwick) and operated until 1992, pioneering medical care for women and babies and groundbreaking programs such as the first baby health clinics to give children the best start in life and pioneered the use of pasteurised milk to reduce infant death rate.

1902

First female directors are appointed to the board

The Benevolent Society is incorporated by an Act of Parliament (NSW), and the first female directors are appointed to the board.

1896
Sir Arthur Renwick's portrait

Sir Arthur Renwick advocates for the Old Age Pension

Sir Arthur Renwick is a leading advocate in the campaign for the Old Age Pension. The Old Age pension was eventually introduced by the NSW government in 1901, the first of its kind in the world.

1892
Three children playing

Introduction of the NSW Child Protection Act

The Benevolent Society campaigns 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”.

1879
Mothers and children at hospital

Free legal aid to poor women introduced by The Benevolent Society

The Benevolent Society began to provide free legal aid to poor women in order to pursue cases of maintenance against the fathers of their children.

1873
Sir William_Charles Windeyer's portrait

The Benevolent Society was commended by royal commission

The NSW government appointed a royal commission to investigate public charities. The Benevolent Society was commended for its work.

1866
The first maternity hosital

The first maternity hospital

Part of the Benevolent Asylum designated exclusively as a lying-in (maternity) hospital. By 1876, the Lying in Hospital of NSW recorded the lowest infant mortality rate and lowest rate of childbirth of any hospital in Australia, and it became a teaching hospital for medical students at the University of Sydney in 1888.

1862

The government takes over care of men and older destitute people

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 the Asylum, relieving The Benevolent Society of this responsibility.

1852
Children outside a building

NSW Society for the Relief of Destitute Children

NSW Society for the Relief of Destitute Children was created by The Benevolent Society. Subsidies from the British government ceased.

1851
Liverpool hospital

Liverpool Hospital

The Benevolent Society uses the Liverpool Hospital to house male paupers.

1849
Women doing washing

Female Factory at Parramatta closed

Female Factory at Parramatta closed following the cessation of Transportation. Former inmates became the responsibility of The Benevolent Society.

1821
The asylum foundation stone

Benevolent Asylum opened

Benevolent Asylum, a refuge for homeless older men, deserted women and children and the mentally ill, opened at the corner of Pitt and Devonshire Street in Sydney. It was built at government expense, as directed by Governor Macquarie. The site was reclaimed by the NSW government in 1901 to build Sydney’s Central Railway Station.

1820
Nurses

District nursing introduced

The Benevolent Society first to introduce district nursing, to take care of people who were isolated.

1818
Group of children with a dog

The Benevolent Society to encourage industrious habits

In June 1818, The Benevolent Society of NSW was formed, with a broader purpose to ‘relieve the poor, the distressed, the aged, and the infirm’ and to encourage industrious habits. It provided cash loans, grants, food and clothing. Governor Macquarie was the patron and successive governors of NSW occupy the position to this day.

1815
Governor Lachlan Macquarie's portrait

Governor Lachlan Macquarie

Governor Lachlan Macquarie became a regular donor, as The Benevolent Society was helping more than 150 destitute people, mostly the aged and pregnant women.

1813
Edward Smith's portrait

The Benevolent Society was formed

The Benevolent Society was formed on 8 May 1813 by Edward Smith Hall, Rev. William Cowper and five other like minded gentlemen and was originally known as The NSW Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence. It was the first private charitable organisation dedicated to meeting needs of the very poorest groups in Australian Society, assisting people far beyond the capacity of government. While its origins were Christian, it soon went on to become a non-religious, unaffiliated organisation.