The cover was sent from Sydney in April of 1876 to The Hon. John H. Lewis, Knoxville, Knox Co(unty) Illinois, U.S. A., and there was a ms. ‘Via San Francisco’. The cover was franked with a triple strip of the blue ‘TWO PENCE’ QV stamp of New South Wales. There was a red transit postmark of SAN FRANCISCO/ MAY 6/ PAID ALL (Figure 1).
The reverse had a confirming originating SYDNEY/ A/ AP 5/ 76/ N.S.W postmark as well as a blue oval insignia on the flap which read MANCHESTER UNITY/ FRIENDLY SOCIETY/ M. U/ I.O.F (Independent Order of Foresters) (Figures 2 & 3).
John Henry Lewis (July 21,1830 – January 6, 1929) became a Congressional Representative of the U.S.A. for Illinois. He was born near Ithaca, Tompkins County, New York in 1830 and moved to Illinois in 1836 with his parents, who settled on a farm in Fulton County, near Ellisville, and he attended the rural schools. In 1847 he moved to Knox County, Illinois and he engaged in agricultural pursuits near Knoxville, Illinois. He studied law, was admitted to the Bar in 1860 and commenced practice there. He became Clerk of the Circuit Court of Knox County from 1860-1864 and a member of the Illinois State House of Representatives in 1874 and 1875. He was elected as a Republican to the 47th Congress (March 4, 1881-March 3, 1883) and was an unsuccessful candidate in 1882 to the 48th Congress. He resumed the practice of law, before retiring in 1900. He died in Knoxville, Illinois on January 6, 1929 and was interred in the Knoxville Cemetery.
It was during the winter of 1839 when the colony of New South Wales was entering into a period of reconstruction, which eventually led to reforms like the commencement of responsible government, that eight “brothers” who had been members of the Manchester Unity Friendly Society in England met at the old Lighthouse Hotel in Sydney and after discussion applied for a dispensation to open a lodge in Sydney under the banner of Manchester Unity. That first branch was named “Strangers Refuge” and operated under a dispensation from the Liverpool District in U.K. as Lodge No. 2433 on the registry of the Order in England, and later Strangers Refuge Lodge No 1 (on the registry of New South Wales).
Manchester Unity Australia Ltd is a Friendly Society company limited by shares and guarantee. Macquarie Dictionary defines a friendly society as “A Society which by voluntary subscription of its members provides for the relief and maintenance of members and their families in sickness, old age etc.” Simply a Friendly Society is an organisation whose members band together for mutual, self help.
Individual “Odd Fellows” Lodges were known to be in existence in England in the 1700s being formed after the early “guild” system of clubs (for workers in similar trades) broke down. At that time there was no form of public relief to turn to in bad times, but by pledging themselves to put a few pence of their wages into a common pool the first “Oddfellows” were able to build up funds to tide any of them, or their families, over an illness or save themselves from a “paupers funeral.
The first Australian branch of Manchester Unity opened in Sydney with nine members on 9th March 1840 and, as was the custom in those days the proprietor of the tavern (who was the ninth member) was asked to be HOST which involved the general duties of treasurer and general custodian of the branch property. Lodges originally provided sickness and funeral benefits and where necessary cared for the widows and orphans.
At that time New South Wales was in a bad way, as thousands of immigrants, then landing, had little or no money and the colonists for want of means were unable to employ them. The Lodge believed it was part of their duty to do something to alleviate this suffering and accordingly two members were appointed to visit every ship entering Sydney cove, to visit immigrants in tents and barracks and seek out “brothers” needing assistance. By signs and “passwords” brethren were recognized and, through the influence of members of the lodge many were found employment in the town and others in the country.
As many of these “brothers’ joined the local branch, and it grew rapidly and on 1 November 1841 a second branch was opened in Parramatta. A few days later a third branch was opened back in Sydney in George Street South.
In March 1842 the lodges meeting in Sydney and Parramatta agreed to form the Sydney District to hold the funeral funds and the first “Grand Annual Committee Meeting” of the District was held on 28 December 1842. The Cumberland and Hunter River Districts were later formed in 1846 for the same purpose with others being established between 1856 and 1927 when there were sufficient lodges in an area to support a District Committee. New Districts established until 1858 were formed under the authority of the Sydney District
In the 1830s –1840s most medical care in Sydney was provided by government hospitals. Although the service provided by them was not always satisfactory, the chief alternative was to consult a private practitioner; the cost of this service however was high. Manchester Unity, with the other societies banded together in 1847 to form a Medical Institute on the corner of Kent and Bathurst Streets, Sydney to provide their members with the services of a doctor at a price they could afford and which would also enable them to exercise some control over the standard of service. The doctors performed three main duties: to help the lodge assess the sick pay claims by examining the members who were sick, to examine candidates for membership and to provide medical attention for the wives and children of members.
The medical examiners in those days considered the Institute a great stepping stone to advancement in their profession. The idea of lodge branches employing doctors also benefited country members; who, with country branches employing their own doctor and a guaranteed minimum retainer, found doctors from Sydney were encouraged to go the country , bringing medical services to many an area.
Societies soon realized they needed to control the quality of medicine also. Perhaps the first Medical Institute anywhere in the world was founded in Sydney by Manchester Unity in 1847 Certainly it was the first in Australia by over 20 years. It provided the services of a salaried doctor, and a pharmacist. Members and their families situated within “three miles of the Sydney Market” could use the service. By the 1940s Societies were discussing with the then British Medical Association (the B.M.A.) on ways to expand the lodge “doctor’’ system to add specialist services. At the time successive governments continued to talk about a national health scheme based on salaried doctors and the BMA finally stated there would be co-operation only where payment was on a “fee for service basis”. The old “lodge doctor system” was abandoned and a new fee for service fund was introduced where patients paid the doctor for the service and Manchester Unity refunded the cost. This of course was the forerunner of today’s national health scheme .
I believe that a member of the Lewis family may have migrated to Australia, but repeated research to find such information was unsuccessful. It would have been interesting to read the contents of the letter!