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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…)
In the 1870s, the development of housing for working class single men was an issue that many thought needed to be addressed. To do this a group of philanthropically minded men decided to form a limited liability company with shareholders to address the matter. This charity was different to most and was not, strictly speaking, a charity as those who benefited had to pay for the benefit they received and the shareholders were to receive a dividend from their investment. The project was called the Model Lodging House Company of Sydney (Limited) (MLHL). There was already a Model Lodging House in Melbourne which commenced in 1871, but it proved more difficult to commence one in Sydney. The purpose of the company was ‘to furnish in Sydney accommodation for the poor of the hard-working classes, who have no homes of their own, a shelter by night, both healthful and decent, at a cost which will make the institution self-supporting, and which may in the course of years pay a moderate dividend to the shareholders.’ The principle of the MLH was that the working man did not need charity in the narrow sense of the term and so they were determined to make the MLH pay. They did not intend to disparage the broad principle of charity, but they wished to avoid the ‘eleemosynary [Latin for charity] element’ in an institution that should stand alone.
First efforts to commence a MLHL were made in 1874 by Alfred Stephen but were unsuccessful. Henry Burton Bradley (1815-1894), Secretary of the Health Society of New South Wales (HSNSW) again raised the matter in 1876 and under the banner of the HSNSW continued to pursue the matter approaching Josiah Mullens to enlist his support for such a venture. In August of 1877, the HSNSW agreed to attempt to float a company in order to raise the capital to build a lodging house initially to accommodate 100 with FH Reuss (Snr) giving his services as an architect to design the building. In February 1878, Bradley, ever positive and hopeful, was reported as saying that commencement of the building was to soon begin. The company was formed with a capital of £5,000, 1000 shares of £5 each, its directors being Thomas Buckland, James Reading Fairfax, Alexander Stuart with Josiah Mullens the broker, Henry Burton Bradley the Secretary and John Sidney was the collector. (more…)