Poor law principles, sectarianism and the state: the work of Catholic Sisters in nineteenth century New South Wales

Document type
Hughes, Lesley
Date of publication
1 December 2002
Voluntary Action: the journal of the Institute for Volunteering Research. Vol. 5; Number 1
Social welfare
Material type

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In nineteenth-century New South Wales, charity for the non-indigenous population was closely associated with religion. In the absence of state provision via a poor law, 'voluntary' charity played a major role in meeting social needs, although the principles of the British poor law amendment of 1834 were evident in the dominant stance towards the poor. As in Britain, religion was both a motivating force and part of the response of the 'charitable', who sought to address spiritual as well as material needs (Dickey, 1987; Swain, 1998). The sectarianism of a society of whose population between 25 and 35 per cent was of Irish Catholic origin impinged on charity. The work of Catholic Sisterhoods, shaped by their particular ethos as well as by their social context, contrasted with the prevailing approach to charity.

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