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John Sidney played an important role in the nineteenth-century charity scene primarily as a charity secretary but also as a collector, however, little is known about his personal life. He was English and the son of John Sidney, a medical doctor, and his wife Mary nee Johnson. Born in 1846 and living at some stage in Rochester, Kent, he also seems to have been well acquainted with Devon and Cornwall. It is uncertain when he arrived in the colony of NSW, but it was probably sometime in early 1877 and it is possible that he had been a member of the London Stock Exchange; he was certainly quite familiar with London. Prior to his arrival in the colony, John had been married in England to Susan (maiden name unknown) but she either did not come with him to the colony or, if she did, she returned to England from NSW. It is most likely that she never came as no trace of her has been found in NSW or elsewhere in Australia. Early in February 1887, a notice appeared in two Sydney newspapers advising that Susan, aged 35, the wife of J Sidney, had died at her father’s residence in Torquay, Devon. No date of death was given, but less than a month later John Sidney married Margaret Thomson Cameron. At no time, between his arrival and the insertion of the notice of Susan’s death, had John returned to England so it would seem that he and his first wife had been, for whatever reason, estranged. Two male children were born to John and his second wife Margaret, but it seems they died at birth or in infancy as there is no contemporary record of either their births or their deaths. John himself died in 1916 at 70 years of age. At this time he was a recipient of the recently introduced Commonwealth Government pension and was the onsite caretaker of the Royal Society at 5 Elizabeth Street, Sydney.
Health Society of NSW (HSNSW)
Sidney’s name is first mentioned in charitable circles in 1877 in association with his role as the collector for the Health Society of NSW (HSNSW), an organisation formed in August, 1876. Henry Burton Bradley was the leading advocate of the Society which sought to alert others to various community health issues within Sydney. Initially employed by Bradley as a collector of funds, John Sidney was soon given the task of investigating public baths in Sydney. His comprehensive report pointed to problems of sewage within the Sydney Harbour and for the need to ultimately find another method of disposing of it. In his report he took the initiative to comment upon the supply of meat and on animal welfare at the abattoir prior to slaughter. He found that at the Glebe abattoir on a hot day, the animals were ‘packed as close as sardines’ which he compared unfavourably to the process he saw implemented in London. His association with the HSNSW was short-lived and he seems to have concluded his role as secretary and collector in 1881. Sidney’s time with the HSNSW, however, began a life-long friendship with Henry Burton Bradley and probably brought him to the attention of the Western Suburbs Horticultural Society of which Bradley was the President. Sidney became secretary for this group in 1878 and retained the position until the end of 1881. His time with the HSNSW also brought him to the attention of those interested in promoting animal welfare in NSW. (more…)
The ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ was founded in Britain in 1824 by a group of 22 reformers led by Richard Martin MP, William Wilberforce MP, and the Reverend Arthur Broome. In 1840, it was granted its royal status by Queen Victoria to become the ‘Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (RSPCA), as it is known today. Its influential members lobbied Parliament throughout the nineteenth century which resulted in a number of new laws such as the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835.
It took the Colony of New South Wales nearly 50 years before it began to form a similar society and the catalyst was a letter that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 3, 1873, observing that
Not a day passes without our being pained, usque ad nauseam, with the most wanton cases of cruelty to animals. In these prosperous times it behoves us surely to devote a little of our time and money to the redress of this grievance.
This letter drew attention to the boast of their ‘go-ahead sister’, colonial Victoria, of the ‘entire absence of such barbarities’ from their colony; a claim due to the existence of an organisation for the prevention of cruelty to animals. In response to this letter, supported by the Sydney Morning Herald and after various small preparatory meetings, a public meeting was called on July 16, 1873, to form such a society in Sydney.
The society, named the ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (SPCA), had as its patron the Governor Sir Hercules Robinson, Charles AW Lett as the honorary secretary, Alfred Sandeman as the honorary treasurer and Thomas Mitchie as the honorary veterinary surgeon, while the committee was made up of prominent male citizens of Sydney. The primary focus of the SPCA was the detection and prosecution of those guilty of animal cruelty.
At the 1878 annual meeting of the society, where the SPCA was renamed the ‘Animal’s Protection Society’ (APS), the Rev Dr William F Clay expressed the view that measures beyond inspection and prosecution were needed to ensure the protection of animals. He advocated for
the delivery of lectures such as were given in England, and by which the young might be trained to the proper treatment of dumb animals. Prizes had already been given in connection with this subject, and might be given again. Could not the pulpit, he would ask, be brought to deal with this matter.’
In 1885, a letter to the editor of the SMH, signed ‘Beth’ of Hunter’s Hill, was published. It advocated the formation of juvenile branches of the SPCA in connection with the schools along the lines of the Bands of Mercy in England and America. Unknown to ‘Beth’ and the general public, however, such a work had already begun, but knowledge about such Bands of Mercy would only become more widely known after the formation of a woman’s branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Sydney on December 16, 1886.
Initially, the women’s branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WSPCA) did not use the prefix ‘Royal’ in its title (see Timeline and Terminology of Animal Protection in Britain and NSW), but did so shortly after its formation when it sought and believed it was granted affiliation with the parent body of the RSPCA in Britain. In 1896, a question was raised as to the right of the committee to use the prefix ‘Royal’ and its use was discontinued. While the WSPCA consisted only of women, there was a male honorary secretary, John Sidney, who was also the paid secretary of the APS. Sidney’s membership was obviously at the invitation of the women, and was presumably because the WSPCA saw the need for his knowledge and experience, as well as his being their direct link to the APS and its activities.