(Extracts from Rx!Medical Philanthropy [as the need arises],
Victorian Medical Benevolent Association 1865–2011
by historians Emma Russell & Vicky Ryan (History@Work),
After the gold rush years those that stayed true to their profession were often left wondering why. In an 1859 letter to England, Dr David Thomas wrote;
"...when I returned to my practice again [in 1859] … I found matters very much altered. …Now there is an overweening jealousy, and each is ready to cut the other’s throat, were he not sure that he would be hanged for it. The fact is, the profession here is overcrowded; there is not a corner here where you will not find a medical man; and the means many adopt to gain patients is laughable. This is a capital country for quacks; the regular practitioner has no chance with them."
Despite the advances of the following thirty years many in the medical profession were doing it tough, and this was recognised by one William Henry Cutts. Cutts was a successful practitioner himself and a sensitive and kindly man with a strong social conscious. It was Cutts who first proposed the idea of a medical relief fund to help those doctors who were struggling financially. This he did at an MSV meeting in August 1864, but the motion was not passed. He was not deterred and called a public meeting of practitioners who strongly supported his proposal. Cutts, with Drs James Neild and Lawrence Martin, then proceeded to draw up a draft set of rules based on those of the Irish Benevolent Fund that had been forwarded to him. These were revised at the inaugural meeting of the Victorian Medical Benevolent Association on Monday 20 March 1865.
The rules that were passed that day were no more than nine, a favourable comparison to those of the Port Phillip Medical Association nineteen years earlier, which had numbered fifty.This was fortunate as one of the important and lasting characteristics of the VMBA has been its ability to review each case on its own merits and to use the combined knowledge and understanding held by the committee members of the time to inform their decisions.
Only six years later the Daily Telegraph published an article on VMBA’s progress, exclaiming:
"One of not the least successful examples of the service [such an association] is capable of doing to society has just been given in the report of the Medical Benevolent Society, established for the purpose of aiding necessitous persons connected with the profession. The funds of the society have so far outgrown the demands upon them that the committee are placed in the unusual predicament of bewilderment at their own success."
Rules of the Victorian Medical Benevolent Association, 1865
That this Association shall be called the Victorian Medical Benevolent Association.
That the Association shall consist of all legally-qualified medical men in Victoria on payment of an annual subscription of one guinea.
That donations be received both from medical men and others, such donations, along with the surplus of subscriptions to go to form the permanent invested fund of the Association.
iThat the objects of the Association shall be to relieve medical men in Victoria under severe and urgent distress, occasioned by sickness, accident or any other calamity; to relieve widows and children of deceased medical men; and to advise and assist those in the profession whom temporary misfortune may have rendered unable to pursue their avocations; but that a discretionary power shall be allowed to the Committee to extend the benefits of the Association to such special cases of medical men and their families as many not strictly come within this rule.
That the Association shall be managed by a Committee in Melbourne to consist of nine subscribing members, including a president, two vice-presidents, a treasurer, a secretary and four ordinary members who shall be annually elected by the subscribers.
That the Committee shall meet once a month; shall receive applications for relief and reports from correspondents; shall decide on all cases brought before it; and generally manage the affairs and disburse the funds of the Association.
That the subscribers and contributors shall have the privilege of recommending cases to the Committee, and that no case shall be entertained without such recommendation.
That the intervals of the meetings of the Committee, its members shall severally have a discretionary power to relieve cases of immediate and urgent necessity, by giving an order upon the Treasurer; provided however that such relief shall not exceed the sum of two pounds, and that all such cases shall be reported to the next meeting of the Committee which shall thereafter deal with them.
That on the various gold fields and other centres of population , where it is thought desirable, the Committee shall appoint correspondents, who shall make known the object of the Association in their respective districts, collect subscriptions and donations on behalf of the Treasurer, and forward them to him as early as possible; receive applications for relief and report upon them to the Committee.