St John Ambulance

History of St John Ambulance in Victoria

Since 1883, St John has been providing services to humanity...




A public meeting founded St John Ambulance Association to teach public First Aid classes in Victoria


St John commences the first ambulance service in Melbourne, using Ashford Litters


St John begins horse-drawn ambulance service from Eastern Hill Fire Station


First Aid Volunteers Association (St John medallion-holders) undertake the first public First Aid duty for the visit of the Great White Fleet


During World War 1 many members enlisted in Australian Army Medical Corps Field Ambulances whilst St John and Australian Red Cross jointly administered the Voluntary Aid Detachments at home


St John transfers responsibility for ambulance transport to the newly-formed Victorian Civil Ambulance Service (later to become Ambulance Service Victoria).


During World War 2, just as they had in the first War, many members enlisted in Australian Army Medical Corps Field Ambulances whilst St John and Australian Red Cross jointly administered the Voluntary Aid Detachments at home


The Melbourne Olympic Games becomes the largest public duty ever undertaken by St John in Australia to that date


First Search and Rescue Squad formed in Victoria


Emergency call-out for the Southern Aurora train derailment at Violet Town


Emergency call-out for the Westgate Bridge collapse
First Australian edition of “First Aid”


Emergency call-out for the Faraday School kidnapping
Emergency call-out search for child lost at Toorongo Falls, Noojee


First Aid post and field hospital support for Sunbury Pop Festivals


Emergency call-out for the search for missing Prime Minister Harold Holt


Centenary of St John in Australia


Emergency call-out for the Ash Wednesday bushfires


Melbourne contingent to Sydney NSW bushfires
Melbourne contingent to Motorcycle Grand Prix at Eastern Creek NSW


Melbourne contingent to Sydney Olympic Games


Melbourne hosts the Commonwealth Games


Emergency call-out for the Black Saturday bushfires


Centenary of volunteer First Aid services in Victoria


St John launches Heart Start community defib program & First Aid in Schools Program


At no cost to school or parent St John First Aid in Schools Program trains more than 70,000 Victorian school children in First Aid


St John First Aid in Schools Program trains 103,000 Victorian primary school children in First Aid


St John First Aid in Schools Program aims to train 150,000 Victorian primary school children in First Aid At no cost to school or parent




When Jerusalem fell to the first Crusaders in 1099, they found in the Holy City a hospice where the monks of St Mary's abbey cared for weary pilgrims, the sick and the injured. The hospice, established by Christian merchants from Amalfi, chose St John the Baptist as its Patron Saint and adopted the eight-pointed White Cross of Amalfi as its emblem. It became known as the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

Today the Maltese Cross, as it became known, is seen worldwide on ambulances. The four arms of this emblem represent the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude and its eight points represent the Eight Beatitudes: the blessedness of the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the humble, the comforters, the meek and the righteous. The cross is coloured white to represent purity.

For centuries St John was headquartered in Rhodes and later in Malta where it continued its role operating major hospitals and protecting the sick and the poor. The religious Order continued to be based in Rome, where it remains to this day. The Order of St. John flourished across Europe. In about 1140, its Knights in Britain built their headquarters in Clerkenwell, London. The Order continued to prosper in Britain until Henry VIII's time when he confiscated all the lands and property that had been donated to St John over the years, and dissolved the Order. However, devoted St John knights vowed to continue their work.

In early 19th century England St John followers re-established an active St John presence. Soon afterwards volunteers provided ambulance and First Aid services, especially during regal processions and important public occasions. As a result, a Royal Charter was granted to the Order in 1888 by Queen Victoria, thus bestowing on St John the status of a Royal Order of Chivalry. Today St John is active in many countries around the world.

Our official title is The Priory in Australia of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. Each year at Government House the Governor presides over the annual Investiture ceremony when new members of the Order are acknowledged. There are more than 450 Knights, Dames and serving Brothers and Sisters of the St John Order in Victoria.

The fundamental role of St John Ambulance is like that of the Good Samaritan: offering assistance without thought of reward. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the First Aid Volunteers who provide First Aid at many sporting events, festivals and other public occasions, where they treat hundreds of people. The care we give ranges from a simple band aid to life saving work CPR and defibrillation.

Throughout Victoria and its regional centres there are more than 2,000 trained First Aid Volunteers who attend over 4,000 events, treating more than 23,000 casualties annually.

St John is largely self-funded, a fact not generally known. Thus we greatly appreciate the enlightened generosity of corporate and philanthropic sponsors and private donors to maintain our ambulance fleet and to keep our Volunteers properly trained, so that they are available for any emergency or service to the Victorian community.


St John Ambulance Australia is a Priory of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. The Order of St John has more than 2,500 members in Australia, around 450 of whom come from Victoria. It is headed by the Queen's representatives in Australia - the Governor General, and the Governors of each State.


  • Pro Utilitate Hominum (In the Service of Humanity)
  • Pro Fide (For the Faith)

James Edward Neild – a remarkable early Victorian doctor

Dr James Edward Neild was a remarkable early Victorian doctor. His story spans some landmark events in world medical history whilst he became a key player in the development of medicine in this state.

He was born at Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, in 1824, and educated at a private school in Leeds. His medical apprenticeship was in Sheffield, followed by University College and University College Hospital, London, where he qualified as a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1848.

He served as Resident Apothecary to the Rochdale Dispensary from 1851 to 1853 before sailing to Australia in the gold rush. Unsuccessful at the diggings, he worked as a druggist at Long’s pharmacy whilst undertaking his higher degree of Doctor of Medicine at Melbourne University. He gained his degree in 1864, only two years after the founding of the Medical School. He specialised in forensic pathology and after a further year was appointed the inaugural Lecturer in Forensic Pathology at the University, a post he held for the next forty years until shortly before his death.

As an advocate for post-mortem examinations for medico-legal purposes, he conducted more than 2000 of these over a twenty-year period. He served as a Medical Officer for Health and also deputised as City Coroner when required. He thus became closely associated with many criminal inquiries, including the famous Deeming case. The grave of the victim, Emily Mather, is in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

In 1857 Neild married Susannah Long, his boss’s daughter. In all, the Neilds had four boys and six girls, ten children, eight of whom survived their father.

Neild was an assistant honorary medical officer at the Melbourne and Alfred Hospitals. He was an honorary physician to the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum and helped found the Medical Benevolent Association. He was also Honorary Librarian of the Royal Society of Victoria for more than 20 years. He successfully nominated his daughter, Helen, a zoologist, to become its first female member. She is buried in the same grave as her father.

Dr Neild was a leading member of the Medical Society of Victoria, admitted in 1861. He was appointed Librarian in 1863, Vice-President in 1867 and President in 1868. He was again Librarian from 1870 to 1874, and from 1875 to 1879 was Honorary Secretary. He was appointed Editor of the Australian Medical Journal from 1862, only six years after its commencement. It was going through a period of serious criticism and he was praised for bringing the journal back to professional standards.

Outside medicine he had broad interests. He wrote literary pieces for the newspapers of the day. His theatrical reports for ‘The Age’ in 1855 were the first ever published by that new newspaper. He was a founding member, subsequently President, of the Shakespearean Society and was a frequent attender of theatre performances. He was also inducted into the Performing Arts Hall of Fame.

He was one of the founders of the Victorian Branch of the British Medical Association, initially intended to foster connection with British counterparts. Holding the two positions of Honorary Secretary of the Medical Society of Victoria and Editor of its journal, he was able to exert strong influence on policy. However, he objected to the failure to elect Dr Louis Henry to membership of the Medical Society, which he saw as an anti-Semitic bias. Consequently, he resigned from both posts in 1879. The BMA later eclipsed the Medical Society to become the Australian Medical Association. The first BMA(Vic) meeting was held in Neild’s house, and he was elected President in 1882. Dr Louis Henry became the Honorary Secretary.

For the remainder of his life he continued to play a major role in the BMA, again becoming President in 1901. Efforts to amalgamate the two medical associations, BMA and MSV, were effectively vetoed by Neild. Such was his influence, that amalgamation was only possible after his death in 1906, and occurred within a few months.

In 1883 Neild and Dr Richard Warren of Brighton wrote a circular announcing their intention of forming a Melbourne Branch of the St John Ambulance Association. They arranged a meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall under the chairmanship of Mr George Coppin MLA, which set up a steering committee. A public meeting in the Athenaeum Hall, Collins St., on Tuesday 26th June 1883, adopted the rules and appointed a permanent council. Baronet Sir William Clarke became President, holding the position for fifteen years until his death in 1897.

The Order of St John in Australia regards the meeting in the Athenaeum Hall as the foundation date of St John Ambulance in Australia. The first meeting of the new Council took place in Neild’s rooms. Neild remained on St John Council for 23 years until the year of his death. In 1895 he was enrolled as an Associate of the Order of St John, a grade equivalent to ‘Officer’ in today’s terminology.

He died on 17th August 1906 and is buried with his wife, Susannah, daughter, Helen, and several of his other children at the Melbourne General Cemetery.