Fremantle Stuff > Organisations > Pensioners Benevolent Fund

Pensioners Benevolent Fund

Margaret Baddeley

Published here by permission of the author.

The Pensioners Benevolent Fund was a voluntary social institution inaugurated in 1855 initially for the relief of members during sickness and to aid the widows and orphans of the Enrolled Military Pensioners left destitute due to the cessation of pensions at death. Colonel Bruce's supervision and guidance was essential in the founding of the Fund and his first report on the Fund was in 1859. 1 The subsequent success of the Fund was considered  to be largely due to Bruce's 'wise control and keen interest in the welfare of individuals and their families after their term of service had expired.' 2.

The Fund was opened with donations from Officers stationed in the Colony. These donations amounted to nearly £30, which was deposited in the Western Australian Bank. Fund meeting were to be held on a half-yearly basis at both Perth and Fremantle. 3. Initially members contributed one shilling per month and, where applicable, on the death of her spouse a widow received a lump sum of seven pounds with an additional pound for each year her husband had subscribed to the Fund. 4.

Within months of the establishment of the Fund, an entrance fee was introduced for those wanting to donate and access it, so the nature of the Fund was changed to that of a Loan Fund. At first loans were linked to the rate of the applicant's pension. This condition was soon changed so that all members could access the maximum loan of £8, which was the average price of a cow. Applicants for loans were required to satisfy the Committee that the loan was for productive purposes, and the individuals had to make a written promise to repayments by instalments.   By 1870, 504 loans were issued at a sum of £3607/11s/3d. 5. The rate of interest on the loans was initially 3d in the pound but the rate was increased to 1s in the pound. Interest paid is quoted as £168/15/1d though the time period for this is unclear. There were a few instances of larger loans being provided, but only after sanction at General meetings with other conditions being waived. Interest-free loans of £25 were granted to three subscribers who had been burnt out and £83/4/6d. was provided over a three years period to support an orphan who was consequently bond to a trade. 6.

It should be noted that in the early years of the fund it was used to subsidise wheat flour prices for pensioner families. Flour was being sold with a considerable difference between wholesale and retail cost.Flour was retailing at £4 per bag while pensioners could purchase this for 17s less than the retail price.This situation is described as lasting 'for several years' during which time the fund was able to accumulate £148 3s 6d capital from flour sales. 7.

In 1859, a change was made to the Fund allowing men to have money to bury their wives with a £5 gratuity. This new rule meant what was termed 'Mortality Money' of 1/- for men and 6d. for women was levied from all subscribers. However in 1862 these rules changed and the payment of 'Mortality Money' ceased. 8. The reasons for the ending of Mortality Money is not evident from the literature.

Using the part of the amount deposited in the bank, by 1860, the Fund had started to purchase cottages and allotments within pensioner villages. These cottages were then rented to men employed on military duty but not eligible for a land grant. The reasons for the purchase of these cottages appears to be twofold. Firstly a desire to 'prevent the introduction into the villages of perhaps troublesome characters not amenable to official regulations'. The second was for 'orderly tenants ... [and] ... punctual payment of rent'. It is reported that £1075/10/2d was used in purchase, conveyance and repair to the cottages which realised £949/17/1d in rent.   The usual rent for these cottages was £1 per month. However exceptions were made with two pensioners paying 8/4d. per month, as these pensioners had debts they could not 'liquidate'. 9.

By the 3rd of January 1870, the Fund had capital of £1945/8/7d. which included property. The Fund was also supporting subscribers who were 'incapacitated by sickness'. Originally the Fund's relief for sick subscribers was limited to £7/10s. per individual. The rules were changed so that any subscriber who was continuously bedridden for six months could receive a 1/- per day 'irrespective of the amount previously issued to him'. The Fund originally had 409 subscribers; by 1870 this number was reduced to 132: 228 subscribers had withdrawn from the Fund, including those moving out of the Colony; 48 had died; and one was excluded due to gross violation of the rules.

By 1871, a change could be seen in the administration of the Fund. During a meeting held just six months after the death of Colonel Bruce the Committee proposed  that 'in the event of the Pensioners Benevolent Fund being broken up ... it [was to] be styled the Pensioners Benefit and Loan Society.' 10. In June 1871 saw the current treasurer of the Fund, Major Crampton - who had been given a gratuity of £5 per annum for his work - 'declining to act as such any longer'. 

A special general meeting convened to deal with this issue carried that no salary should supplied as '... [the members] could manage their own business without the aid of any treasurer'. This was in break of one of the original articles which stated that a Staff Officer of Pensioners was the ex-officio Treasurer. 11. The subscribers thought 'the Bank sufficient security' for their deposits. The desire was that as the Fund was a 'civil society, we wish to conduct the business of it and have sole control and management of our money, in a similar manner as such societies are conducted in England'.

The question was raised 'could a man ... stand up and contradict or dictate to his commanding officer?' It was felt that it would not be either appropriate or likely. A further decision taken at the meeting was for all cottages belong to the Society to be sold before the 30th June 1871, with preference given to those subscribers who wished to purchase them. Cottages not sold by that date were 'to be put up at public auction.' By August 1871 the 'dissatisfied state' of the membership of the newly named Pensioners Benefit and Loan Society became evident. 12. On the 31st December 1871 the Pensioners Benevolent Fund was formally closed.

Footnotes

1. CO18/112:  Secretary of State; War and Colonial Department and Colonial Office: Original Correspondence 1859.

2. George F. Wieck,'Bruce, John (1808–1870)',Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

3. The Inquirer and Commercial News, (Perth: WA), Wednesday 28 June 1871, p3. 

4. The Inquirer and Commercial News, (Perth:  WA), Wednesday 30 March 1870, p3.

5. The Inquirer and Commercial News, (Perth: WA ) Wednesday 30 March 1870, p3.

6. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, (Perth: WA), Friday 1 April 1870, p3.

7. Broomhall,The Veterans, p25.

8. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, (Perth: WA), Friday 1 April 1870, p3.

9. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, (Perth: WA), Friday 1 April 1870, p3.

10. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, (Perth: WA ), Friday 2 June 1871, p3.

11. Broomhall,The Veterans, p36.] 

12. The Herald, (Fremantle: WA), Saturday 2 September 1871, p2.


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