The Sons of Temperance: A Cheltenham Friendly Society

Funeral procession of F T Le Page leaving the Cheltenham Church of Christ. Ministers of the Church lead the procession followed by members of the Star of Moorabbin, Order of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society wearing broad collars.

Courtesy: Len Le Page

Friendly societies claim a long history with some individual societies suggesting they existed as far back as the Ancient Romans or even further. What is clear there were several societies operating in Cheltenham and the surrounding district in the late nineteenth century. 1 Amongst these societies were the Australian Natives Association, Ancient Order of Foresters, Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Protestant Alliance, and the Sons of Temperance. 2

Self-help for members

Friendly societies were fraternal organisations established to assist members and their families cope with unemployment, sickness and death. No government unemployment or hospital benefits were available to individuals when the societies were initially formed. In each society, members contributed financially to a common fund which could be drawn upon in times of need.

When they were first established the societies were not regulated by government legislation. Eventually legislation demanded that each friendly society be registered with the State Registrar whose duty was to ensure that their rules conformed to the law and that the scale of contributions was sufficiently high to enable the promised benefits to be conferred on members. 3Almost all societies had regalia of aprons, sashes, collars and jewels; wonderful titles for office bearers, and liturgy or ceremonies where particular words and special signs were used. 4

Membership in each society was usually open to individuals, males eighteen years or older, nominated by existing members, and attested to being of good character. Later, membership was offered to females. 5 To be accepted as a member, each individual had to be prepared to abide by the rules of the society, take an oath of loyalty to other society members and agree not to reveal society affairs to outsiders. These promises were usually given at an initiation ceremony. With some societies, total abstinence from alcoholic liquors was a required part of membership. This was the case with the Sons of Temperance.

Emergence of local societies

The Sons of Temperance was founded in New York in 1842 and brought to New South Wales by the Baptist minister, Dr Hobbs, a short time later. Divisions or local branches grew quickly so that in October 1864 a provisional Grand Division was formed with a commitment to spread the word on temperance throughout the country and the advantages gained by joining a temperance benefit society. With continued growth further Grand Divisions were established. It was reported that by 1869 in New South Wales there was a National Division, two Grand Divisions and one hundred and seven Divisions with a total membership of 5970. 6

In 1868, members of the Church of Christ at Cheltenham initiated a meeting to form a Division of the Sons of Temperance which was subsequently called Star of Moorabbin Division No29. 7 The individuals present at that meeting in the Cheltenham Temperance Hall were: Daniel Hunter, William Watt, Nicholas Le Page, John Brough, Joseph Organ, John D King, James Jamison, James Ramage, Geo Mock, Geo Morey, Ernest Penny, Chs Brough, John Morey, Heny McCurrey, Fredk Adicott, John Potts, John James Potts, Robert Anderson, W E Holdsworth, Edwin Ths Penny, Francis Le Page, Geo Staynor jun, Geo Staynor sen, Joseph Paul Organ, William Harvey, John Allen, William Ruse, Elias Hayes, George F Bodley, W Dunlop, N Mc Swain, and B Judd. 8(The spelling and order of names is as recorded in the minutes of the meeting.)

After the initiation of these individuals the following office bearers were proposed and appointed:- Worshipful Patriarch Brother Jamison, Worshipful Associate Brother Ruse, Recording Scribe Brother Bodley, Financial Scribe Brother Mock, Assistant Financial Scribe Brother Anderson, Conductor Brother Potts jun, Assistant Conductor Brother Penny, Treasurer Brother Brough sen, Inside Sentinel Brother Organ sen, Outside Sentinel Brother Ramage. Within two years the membership of the Division had grown to thirty nine. 9.

Aims and operation

The 1861 edition of the rules of the society record the official name as The Order of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society. It describes the structure of the organisation as a National Division, of representatives drawn from Grand and subordinate Divisions, managed by a Board of Directors and three officers of the Order called the Most Worthy Patriarch, the Most Worthy Associate and the Most Worthy Scribe.

The objects of the society were:

  • to raise a fund by entrance fees, fines, periodical contributions of members, interest earned on capital
  • to insure a sum of money was available to pay a member during sickness
  • to ensure a sum of money was available to be paid on the death of a member to the widow or children or relative or for defraying the expenses of the burial of a member and
  • for providing a sum of money to be paid to a member on the death of his wife.

All monies received, contributions, donations, admissions, fines or otherwise were to be applied to carrying out the objects of the society. While every division was bound by these rules, all divisions could make other rules provided these additions were not inconsistent with the general rules of the Order. 10

Obligations of members

The minutes of meetings provide an insight into the operation of the Star of Moorabbin Division and the discipline imposed on members. Unless an apology was offered in advance, officers were fined if they if they were not present when the roll call was taken at each meeting. Late-comers were noted in minutes. Brothers were reprimanded for not wearing regalia at meetings and attracted a fine if they did not adhere to ceremony.

Fines were also imposed on members who did not consent to take an official position in the Division although they could escape this penalty if they were judged to have a reasonable excuse. At a September meeting in 1875 no brother expressed willingness to take on the role of Outside Sentinel so the roll was called. G Allen, J Fisher, S Organ, G Stayner, J Allen, G Bodley and N McSwain all rejected the invitation to become the Outside Sentinel and as a consequence were fined two shillings each. Finally, R Judd took the office.

Penalties were also imposed on brothers who broke the pledge to abstain from liquor. Brother Brough paid a three shilling fine for two absences from meetings but appealed against the decision and won relief from one occurrence, saving himself two shillings. He also reported that one of the brothers had broken his pledge. Brother Ruse admitted he had a glass of wine at the Mordialloc School at the request of Thomas Attenborough and was unaware, at the time, that he was violating his pledge. Ruse’s explanation was accepted by his colleagues and so he escaped a penalty. Consequently, Brother Brough asked the Division if he was justified in bringing the charge before them. They answered ‘Yes’.

At a meeting in September 1870 the Worshipful Patriarch asked, as part of normal business, if anyone in attendance had violated his pledge. Brother George Stayner sen responded that he had. When asked to explain his action he said he had taken the liquor as medicine. He went on to say that as an honorary member he did not have access to free medical advice, thus he should have the privilege of taking alcoholic drinks when he thought he had need of them. This was strenuously opposed by some of the brethren but Stayner pleaded his age and the extreme inclemency of the season. His plea was not accepted and he was obliged to sign the pledge unconditionally for three months.

A committee was set up in March 1881 to investigate the report of Brother Francis Le Page that Brother Edwin Penny had broken the pledge. A few months later in the year Penny offered his resignation from the society but was asked to ‘hold it over’. Later, he indicated he was willing to stay in the Division without having access to the society’s doctor by paying eight pence a week instead of one shilling. 11 Brother Norman Howe was asked in writing to attend the next meeting of the society to answer the report that he had broken the pledge. Whether he answered this summons is not recorded. 12

Medical services

A regular item of business at meetings concerned relationships with medical officers; paying accounts, advertising for medical attendance and negotiating fees. Reports were regularly provided on the condition of sick members who were unable to follow their normal occupation and thus entitled to receive financial assistance. Dr Woolhouse charged members five shillings for a consultation at his residence, including the supply of medicine. A home visit during the day was £1 and at night £2. 13

In 1874 Dr Goldstone submitted a bill for £3.15.0 which the brothers challenged. Dr Woolhouse was the society’s nominated doctor and he had been paid a fee to attend to its members’ medical needs but Dr Woolhouse explained that distant members of Sons of Temperance took the risk of him not being able to attend when needed. 14 Brother Mock and Brother Allen argued that Dr Woolhouse ought to pay Dr Goldstone’s account as he had attended a brother in his place but this was rejected by Woolhouse who tendered his resignation as medical officer to the Division.

The resignation was accepted and the Recording Scribe was authorised to insert an advertisement in the Southern Cross newspaper calling for tenders for medical attendance. Dr Goldstone offered to fill the position of medical officer. The offer was accepted on a trial basis and on condition that Goldstone’s terms were not more than 25 shillings per annum for each member wishing to make use of his services. 15 In later years, other doctors looked after the medical needs of the brothers and members of their families. They included Drs Scantlebury, Weigall, Casey, Hudson, Joyce, and his son Colin Joyce.

With the normal monthly subscriptions and income earned from fines and donations the division had a pool of money to pay medical bills, unemployment relief and death benefits plus fees to join in Friendly Societies’ Association activities. But they were also able to lend money to members for specific purposes at a given rate of interest. Brother Donald McSwain applied for a loan of one hundred pounds in May 1877. The issue was discussed for some time at one meeting without a decision being reached but at the following monthly meeting it was approved provided the trustees obtained proper security. 16 The financial scribe reported five years later that Brother McSwain had redeemed his mortgage with £125 paid into the society’s Savings Bank account. 17

Outside the meeting room

The Star of Moorabbin Division joined with other friendly societies in church parades, sport, meetings urging temperance, organising carnivals as well as being a member of the local Friendly Societies Association. In 1899 a committee was formed with representatives drawn from local friendly societies to organise a ball and concert to be held in the Cheltenham Mechanics’ Hall prior to Christmas. Cr Le Page from the Sons of Temperance was the chairman. 18 Each group guaranteed contributing £1 towards the costs of the function with Mr Geary of East Brighton providing the catering and the Moorabbin Brass Band accompanying the concert and playing music for dances. 19

For several years the Star of Moorabbin Division was an active and enthusiastic participant in a rifle competition held amongst the various local societies. The society used money from the management fund to purchase the rifle that was used in competitions. 20 Everest Le Page was a keen participant in these competitions, often being appointed team captain. In 1905 the team took second place, winning £2, and in the following year won the competition. In 1906 Brother Le Page won the highest aggregate prize and the prize for the most number of ‘possibles’ while coming third in the championship shoot-off. 21 The September 1904 the Division meeting had to close early because the rifle team of the Rechabites of Mordialloc was patiently waiting outside. 22

In August 1907 the Rechabites invited the Sons of Temperance to a friendly game of draughts or quoits. By 1916 the Division was invited by the Friendly Societies Association to join in bowls, shooting or cricket competitions. The Cheltenham Sons opted for bowls. 23

In March 1916 the Sons were one of several friendly societies that formed a committee to organise a carnival to be held at Mentone Recreation Reserve. The function was a great success so it was repeated the following year. A parade of friendly societies was one of the features of the event with members adorned in aprons and scarves marching behind banners and bands from Cheltenham to the Mentone venue.

There were other occasions when members of the Sons of Temperance were invited to march wearing regalia, such as a on World Temperance Sunday in the Cheltenham Soldiers’ Hall, 24 the Methodist Church in Cheltenham for a prohibition meeting on 22 April 1920 and the funeral of Francis T Le Page at the Church of Christ. 25The Sons were also present in 1918 with other friendly societies who worked to establish the Moorabbin District Friendly Societies’ Dispensary at Cheltenham while earlier in 1913, the society responded to an invitation from the Protestant Alliance to work towards improving the Cheltenham Recreation ground. 26

Although the Sons of Temperance was a male organisation until after World War One, family members were not forgotten. Tea meetings and picnics were often held. For a Tea Meeting in 1876 tickets were available for adults at one shilling and six pence, one shilling for children under twelve years. Where there were two or more children in a family the charge for each was nine pence. The planning committee decided on this occasion to have seed cake, spring cake, bath buns, tarts, sandwiches as well as bread and butter. Crockery was hired from Mr Trail and Mrs Addicott was engaged to boil the water. 27 Just prior to the commencement of World War One a free picture show was arranged in the Mechanics’ Institute when fifteen junior members attended.

A worthwhile community service

The Sons of Temperance Star of Moorabbin Division had an important impact on the health and welfare of many people living in the Cheltenham District in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. While imposing strict rules and monitoring members’ behaviour, both at meetings and in the community, it provided stability and support for families in times of unemployment, sickness and death. 28

  • 1. Stevenson, B., Stand Fast Together: a History of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Victoria, 1996.
  • 2. Brighton Southern Cross, 18 November 1899.
  • 3. Year Book Australia No 10, 1917, p798.
  • 4. When the Australian Natives Association (ANA) was formed in 1871 it did not employ traditional friendly society practices of ritual, regalia and passwords but the Sons of Temperance was one that did.
  • 5. Sons of Temperance at Cheltenham records for 30 December 1920 indicate that a doctor’s certificate for Sister Reynolds stated she was able to follow her usual occupation. Miss Mary Roberts was initiated as a member of the Order on 24 April 1928.
  • 6. NSW Sons of Temperance, January 1901.
  • 7. Minute Book 30 September 1868.
  • 8. Minute Book 30 September 1868 – note some names later crossed out – Daniel Hunter, Nicholas Le Page, James Jamison, James Ramage, Fredk Adicott, W C Holdsworth, Francis Le Page, Geo Staynor Sen, William Harvey. The reason for this is unknown. Spelling of names as given in the Minutes.
  • 9. List of members arranged alphabetically December 1870. Fredrick Addicott, George Allen, John Allen, George F Bodily, William Bodsworth, Charles Brough, John Brough, William J Brownfield, William Dunlop, William Forrest, Moor Hesheth, Ellias Hayes, John Hayes, David Judd, Richard Judd, John King, Francis Nicholas Le Page, Henry McCurrey, Donald McSwain, Norman McSwain, Robert Mills, George Mock, George Moorey, Joseph Organ sen., Joseph Paul Organ, William Organ, Edwin Thomas Penny, Ernest Penny, John Potts sen., John James Potts, James Ramage, George Ridley, William Richards, William Ruse, George Stayner, Robert Stayner, David Thompson, William Watt.
  • 10. Abridged from Rules of the Oder of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society, 2 December 1861.
  • 11. Minute Book 21 July 1881.
  • 12. Minute Book 24 February 1921.
  • 13. Minute Book 20 January 1869.
  • 14. Minute Book 29 January 1874.
  • 15. Minute Book 26 March 1874.
  • 16. Minute Book 18 June 1877.
  • 17. Minute Book 16 February 1882.
  • 18. Other people present - Barrett and Rippon from the Australian Natives Association; E McSwain, P White from Independent Order of Rechabites; F McKittrick from the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society; and Brooks and Bevis delegates from the Ancient Order of Foresters.
  • 19. Brighton Southern Cross, 18 November 1899.
  • 20. Minute Book 7 July 1904.
  • 21. Minute Book 11 October 1906.
  • 22. Minute Book 1 September 1904.
  • 23. Minute Book 20 January 1916.
  • 24. Minute Book 9 November 1926.
  • 25. Minute Book 14 December 1927.
  • 26. Minute Book 29 May 1913.
  • 27. Minute Book 21 Sept 1876.
  • 28. The Sons of Temperance was absorbed into the Independent Order of Oddfellows which subsequently became part of NIB Health Funds.
28 July 2017
31 July 2017
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