History of St John

In the Nineteenth Century a group of citizens revived the Order of St John in England, drawing their inspiration from the example of the Knights of St John who, in medieval times, offered care and shelter for pilgrims and crusaders. St John Ambulance was subsequently formed to put its humanitarian ideals into practice in the new industrial society, promoting the cause of first aid for the sick and wounded through volunteer effort – a novel concept at the time and a much-needed one. The movement spread to Australia in 1883 and has since developed into the organisation that we know today. The work of the Order of St John is carried out in many countries around the world. St John is a Royal Order of Chivalry with the Queen as its Sovereign Head.

A more detailed history can be found at The Order of St John website (www.orderofstjohn.org) or by downloading Our History or Our Values.


The Historical Society is open to all members and friends of St John Ambulance who are interested in learning more about the long history of the Order of St John. Founded in 2001, the Society grew from an earlier informal ‘Priory History Group’ that began meeting in 1999.

The Society’s principal officers are:
• Patron—Professor Villis Marshall
• President—Dr Harry Oxer
• Secretary—Dr Ian Howie-Willis
• Treasurer—Mr James Byrne.

The Historical Society is a federal body with State and Territory branches. The national Society meets annually in conjunction with the National Conferences of St John Ambulance Australia. Each of its gatherings includes an annual general meeting and a history seminar at which various members present papers based on their historical research.

The Society’s logo reflects its federal nature. Included on the logo are the Australian kangaroo and emu, the shield of the Australian Priory of the Most Venerable Order of St John and the armorial devices of each of the Australian States and Territories.

The Society publishes a quarterly newsletter, Pro Utilitate, and a high-quality annual journal, St John History. Members receive both publications free.

Further information about the Historical Society is available from the Secretary, whose email address is iwillis@ozemail.com.au. 

Anyone interested in joining the Historical Society should contact the Territory membership officer, whose names and contact details are:

Dr Ian Howie-Willis
Priory Librarian 
St John Ambulance Australia
PO Box 3895 Manuka 
Australian Capital Territory 2603

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