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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…)