The Friendlies

This article about the development of the Friendly Societies' Pharmacies is the third pharmacy article prepared for our website by long-time Rockhampton Pharmacist and pharmacy historian, the late Dr Barry Bryant OAM. We hope readers find the article both educational and interesting.

The Friendly Societies were originally set up to provide mutual assistance for members and their families in times of sickness and distress, essentially paralleling the attempts of trade unions to gain industrial employment benefits for their worker members.

The early history of Benefit or Affiliated Friendly Societies is shrouded in the mists of time due to loss of documentation. Suffice to remember that lodges flourished of necessity as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution in England in the 1770s. In those times, tradesmen, labourers and ordinary citizens tried to pre-empt hardship, injury and death by contributing a small percentage of their income to a common fund dedicated to the purpose of relief for members and their families. The registration of Friendly Societies in that country was accomplished in 1793.

In the new Colony of New South Wales, it is known that in May 1846 three men met at the Star Inn in George Street, next door to the original David Jones' first shop to form a benefit lodge called "Travellers' Home Branch No.731". This Certificate number implies that there were 730 previous lodges already in existence in England under the auspices of the original Grand United Independent Order of OddFellows in Leeds, England.

Lodges, in order to care for their members, would arrange healthcare benefits by contracting with various doctors and chemists to provide medical care and medicines for members. As these mutual benefit Lodges spread throughout the new colony, they became an integral means of providing health services to their communities. It was logical that as such Lodges became more organised, they should try to establish their own pharmacies to service members and indeed the first United Friendly Societies Pharmacy opened in Sydney in 1887.

One of the early lodges in Rockhampton was Loyal Pioneer Manchester Unity Independent Order of OddFellows (MUIOOF) which opened on 21st May 1863. Shareholder Lodges include the Independent Order of Rechabites, Protestant Alliance Friendly Societies of Australia, Australian Order of Foresters, Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Australian Natives Association. Individual benefit lodges within these groups were: Loyal Pioneer, Victoria, Fitzroy, Hope of Yeppoon, Jubilee, Queen Alexander, Thistle, Kabra (all MUIOOF); Court Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Lady Norman (Ancient Order of Foresters); Lord Cairns Lodge (PAFSOA); Never Too Late To Mend Tent, Earl Kitchener Tent (IOR).

Elias Rutherford (see Alchemy under Capricorn in this series) provided medicines under contract from his shop in Quay Lane. The first doctor to enter into a contract was Dr A C Robertson FRCS (Lond., 1818-82), who at the time of the Canoona gold rush came from Gladstone where he practised from 1857. He set up a good practice in Rockhampton and was the first surgeon appointed (1859) to the hospital which had been sent prefabricated from Sydney in 1858 at the beginning of the Canoona gold rush. It was then erected on the riverbank in Victoria Parade next to the present-day bridge at Albert Street. After many struggles and tribulations, the hospital site was eventually relocated to the crest of the Range in 1868. Dr Robertson's successor was Dr William Callaghan who will be encountered elsewhere in future articles. He achieved notoriety on one occasion by remarking when asked if the hospital needed improvements that it "...needed none, but the Matron has outlived her usefulness".

Paralleling the experiences in other parts of Australia, during the early 1870s and 80s, efforts were made to improve contractual arrangements and put the Lodges on a better fiscal footing. As a result, a committee was formed showing in the Minutes of Loyal Victoria MUIOOF Lodge for July 25th 1883. Procrastination and resolution of difficulties seemed as prevalent then as in modern times, but the Institute was finally established at a meeting on December 18th 1893 and registered by the State Government on February 5th 1894. The Rockhampton District Associated Friendly Societies Medical Institute thus came into being in order to establish a Dispensary, and provide Sick Pay and Funeral Benefits services for members and their families.

A copy of the 27th Annual Report (1920) makes interesting reading. In those days, the Institute dispensary was situated on the corner of William and Alma Streets opposite St Paul's Cathedral where Green Bros music store now stands. This building had previously been occupied by P A Nelson and Co. as a coachworks (Post Office Directories 1903).

This is an image of the front cover of this report.

Rockhampton Friendly Societies 1920 Annual Report

The Medical Officers were Dr N C Talbot MB, ChB (Melb.) of East Street and Dr A A Parry FRCS (Eng.) of "Illilawa" Fitzroy Street. During 1920, records show 23,223 visits and consultations carried out and 20,118 prescriptions dispensed. The pharmacist in charge was Mr O M Roggenkamp PhC who succeeded Mr J C Ramsay. Although the prime function of the Institute was the provision of health care and relief to members in times of distress, it was pleasing to note a profit of £260 10s 6d for the year. Other doctors recorded as offering their services apart from those mentioned previously included Drs Bowman, Voss, Stuart, Gordon and Wooster.

In the Rules and Regulations the Dispensers, as they were termed, were strictly enjoined to be "courteous to all persons requiring medicines and serve them in strict rotation"; "They shall give satisfactory security to the extent of £250 if having receipt or charge of money". Prescription books were provided for the use of members in which the medical officers would write their prescriptions.

These are some of requirements which were in place:

The dispenser (sic) was instructed not to supply medicine unless the book was produced;

Members were also reminded that medicine bottles were the property of the Institute and must be returned as soon as possible when empty;

Members requiring a second doctor for the administration of chloroform would be required to pay £1 1s unless on the said doctor's list at the commencement of the quarter;

Members had the right of the attendance of any medical officer of the Institute on the payment of six shillings and threepence extra per quarter in advance.

Two examples of scripts from an actual Lodge script book are illustrated below. One is from 1943 and the other from 1950. As well as illustrating book entries, the prescription on the left is notable because two of the ingredients, Solution of Arsenic and Solution of Strychnine, were typical medications of the time.

Examples of pharmacy scripts 1943 and 1950


A.F.S.Dispensaries: Celebrating 100 years of Service. Morning Bulletin Supplement May 1994.

A.F.S.Dispensaries: Rules and Regulations for Dispensers.

Education Resources Index: Key Dates in Health and Nursing Great Britain 1000-1899. The Potteries Stoke on Trent.

James R 2001 Craft, Trade or Mystery Part 1

James R 2001 Secret Handshakes and Health Care in Australia Sesquicentenary of GUIOOF Newcastle 1998.

McDonald L 1981 Rockhampton A history of city and district. Uni. of Qld Press St Lucia pp 357-513.

Rockhampton District Associated Friendly Societies Annual Report 1920.

The Friendlies' Societies Acts 1913 et sec.

Barry Bryant OAM MSc (UNSW), Hon MSc (CQU), PhC, FPS, MAIBiol, JP(CDec)

17 June 2009