Roland Wettenhall

‘The Influence of the Friendly Society Movement in Victoria, 1835–1920’ (PhD in History, 2019).

Entrepreneurial individuals who migrated seeking adventure, wealth and opportunity initially stimulated friendly societies in Victoria. As seen through the development of friendly societies in Victoria, this thesis examines the migration of an English nineteenth-century culture of self-help. Friendly societies may be described as mutually operated, community-based, benefit societies that encouraged financial prudence and social conviviality within the umbrella of recognised institutions that lent social respectability to their members. The benefits initially obtained were sickness benefit payments, funeral benefits and ultimately medical benefits – all at a time when no State social security systems existed.

Contemporaneously, they were social institutions wherein members attended regular meetings for social interaction and the friendship of like-minded individuals. Members were highly visible in community activities from the smallest bush community picnics to attendances at Royal visits. Membership provided a social cache and well as financial peace of mind, both important features of nineteenth-century Victorian society.

This is the first scholarly work on the friendly society movement in Victoria, a significant location for the establishment of such societies in Australia. The thesis reveals for the first time that members came from all strata of occupations, from labourers to High Court Judges – a finding that challenges conventional wisdom about the class composition of friendly societies. Finally, the extent of their presence in all aspects of society, from philanthropic to military, and rural to urban, is revealed through their activities and influence in their communities. Their physical legacy has diminished as buildings were demolished or re-purposed, but it remains visible in some prominent structures in major Victorian cities. A final legacy is the Victorian community’s on-going financial use of private health insurance cover. This financial prudence has its roots in the friendly society movement. Theirs is largely an invisible history but one deserving of being told.

Supervisors: Professor Andrew May, Professor John Murphy (School of Social and Political Sciences).