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History of Friends in NSW


Quakerism began in England over 350 years ago. The first persons connected with the Society of Friends in NSW were about 40 convicts, some of whom became members of the Society. The first Meeting for Worship on land in New South Wales was in the house of John and Mary Tawell on 4 January 1835 (Oats 1985).

John Tawell erected the earliest Friends’ Meeting House in Australia at 195 Macquarie Street, Sydney in 1835. This Meeting House was subsequently sold (Oats, 1985). For some years from 1839, Sydney Monthly Meeting was part of the Van Diemen’s Land Meeting. Membership dwindled until there was only one family left (Stevenson, 1973).

Sydney Meeting was revived in 1853, and the number of Friends in New South Wales increased during the 1850s, the gold rush decade. The British Government granted responsible government to five Australian colonies, and in the 1860s London Yearly Meeting formally recognised Meetings in Sydney.

Australia‘s first Adult School was commenced in Sydney in 1879. Revived in 1884 by William Cooper and William John Baker, it continued until the First World War. Friends had been very active in the Adult School movement in England, established to combat illiteracy amongst the working class. There were soon branches at Kogarah, Rockdale, Mortdale, Woolloomooloo, Pyrmont and Turramurra.

Education of their children was always an important concern of Friends. Quaker Sunday Schools were launched in Sydney in 1886 by Clara Hooper. The Young Friends movement began in Sydney in 1889, and the first Australian Young Friends Camp was held at Lawson NSW, in August 1909 and William Cooper of Sydney Meeting became Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Friends’ School in Hobart in 1923.

At the end of the twentieth Century there were 3 Meeting Houses in NSW, 4 Local Meetings, plus 5 Recognised Meetings or Worshipping Groups belonged to NSW Regional Meeting and three in NSW were part of Canberra Regional Meeting.


William Nicolle Oats (1985) A Question of Survival, Quakers in Australia in the Nineteenth Century, St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Handbook of Practice and Procedure (4th edn) 2005, Religous Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia.

Charles Stevenson (1973) With Unhurried Pace, A brief history of Quakers in Australia, Religous Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia.