International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

History of the Australian Vegetarian Societies

For a much more detailed account see Edgar's book:
Vegetarianism in Australia:
A History

the full text is now online.

The following article was sent by Edgar Crook, Australia:

The first Australian Vegetarian Society was formed in Melbourne on June 16 1886. The Society published a constitution and manifesto, but sadly, neither of these appear to exist anymore in Australia. The object of founding the Society was to provide information on the subject and to 'induce habits of abstinence from the use of fish, flesh, and fowl’ as food. The constitution was seemingly extremely close to that of the British vegetarian Society to which some of the founders had previously been members.

Members of the Society were expected to abstain completely from all flesh foods whilst those who were supportive but who felt they could not abstain completely were allowed to join as associates. One of the first associates was the prominent South Australian parliamentarian, doctor and Bible Christian the Hon Dr Allan Campbell MLC.

The inaugural meeting of the Society was held at 41 Little Collins Street in central Melbourne at Australia’s first vegetarian restaurant Mrs Harvie’s Vegetarian Dining Room, and according to William Terry a leading Melbourne spiritualist it ended with a hearty vegetarian feast:
After the address a very excellent Vegetarian repast was served, consisting of vegetable broth, peas patties, omelette and potatoes, and sandwiches. The dishes were highly approved of, not only by the Vegetarians but by several carnivorous bipeds who were present, and who were surprised at the tastiness and satisfying nature of the various dishes. (Harbinger of Light, July 1886)

The founding members of the Vegetarian Society were an active and well connected group of individuals. The leadership and general membership were mainly made up of religious and teetotal men. There would have been female members but apart from a Miss Jones who was a membership secretary in the 1890s, they do not appear to taken any leadership positions.

The first president of the Society was the Rev. John Higgins (1819-1895) a Wesleyan Methodist Minister originally from Ireland who had arrived in Melbourne in 1875. He was for many years chaplain to Melbourne Goal, local hospitals and Benevolent Asylums. He promoted vegetarianism prolifically by public speaking and in the press both in Australia and Britain.

The first Secretary of the Society was Thomas Lang, a vegetarian since 1843 and like many Melbourne vegetarians also an active member of the Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists. Lang was a successful businessman and proprietor of Thomas Lang and Companies, nurserymen, seedsmen, and florists, which given the need for many vegetarians at that time to grow their own food would have been very handy. Lang introduced many varieties of vegetables onto the Australian market thereby diversifying the diet of many a willing vegetarian. Lang was also an early associate of the leading British vegetarian Sir Isaac Pitman, whose brother Jacob resided in Melbourne, and with which he shared many views including that of spelling reform.

Robert Jones the Society's second President, was in fact what we would now call a vegan. He had become vegetarian and then vegan only a couple of years before the formation of the Society. Like Lang and Higgins, he was an active propagandist for the cause and a very religious man. As he was also a member of total abstention societies he was able to bring an awareness of vegetarianism and its benefits to those organisations. A speech of his on the subject being printed by the Vegetarian Society in Manchester as well as in Melbourne.

In the years following formation the membership of the Vegetarian Society met monthly. The meetings seemingly where designed primarily for raising publicity to promote the diet. From the records existing, most meetings seemed to feature largely the giving of testimonies by vegetarians as to their health and longevity due to the diet. One such example was the testimony of a Mr G. S. Bowden, given at the second annual meeting in Feb. 1888, who stated that he worked at sheep shearing for 3 months on a diet of cabbage and potatoes and was not inconvenienced in any way but remained in fact hale and strong. Whilst he also reported he had a friend similarly healthy who worked at a sawmill only on a diet of rice, peas and porridge.

Unfortunately we can know little of the other membership as no records, membership lists or other administrative materials exist. However we know the Society was still extant ten years later in 1896 as Ellen White, leader of the Seventh day Adventists who settled in Australia, reported that the Society was still extant but that its numbers were comparatively few. There was however enough numbers for the creation of a children’s group called the Wattle Blossoms, which probably acted similarly to the British Vegetarian Society’s children’s group called the Daisy Society.

Around 1900 the Vegetarian Society of Victoria, which we must assume was the same body with a name change published a booklet entitled Rational Food, so we know they existed into the next century. The name change may have been prompted by the fact that they may have wanted to distinguish themselves from the other Vegetarian Society which had been running from 1891 in Sydney.

The NSW Society based in Sydney was founded on July 20 1891. Their only known published work in Australia is The Vegetarian : the Organ of the New South Wales Vegetarian Society of which only the first issue dated March 1896 is available.

Irrespective of the paucity of its printed record, this Society was seemingly very successful and unlike the Melbourne Society it managed to have regional branches as well as the Sydney central group. The leading figures in this Society were H. E Langridge, Mr F. H. Satchell and the Secretary and Treasurer Mr J. W. Lawson.

Evidence of Australian Vegetarian Societies between 1900 and 1948 are very patchy, and it was not until 1948 when the Australian Vegetarian Society was restarted under the Presidency of Sydney Naturopath W.E. Roberts that the record significantly improves. Irrespective of the lack of an active Vegetarian Society, vegetarianism remained a facet of Australian life. The Seventh Day Adventists, Women's Christian Temperance Union and primarily the Theosophists were all active in continuing the promotion of the diet during the years of absence of a functioning Society.

Further notes from IVU:

The work in Australia - a report from January 1890

In March 1891 The Vegetarian (London) started a series of article from Mr. J. Newton-Wood who was lviing in Mildura by the Murray River near Melbourne. He wrote about life in general and vegetarianism in particular.

In May 1891 the Australian Vegetarian Society joined the Vegetarian Federal Union, based in London, England. We also have some notes from Melbourne and Sydney printed in The Vegetarian (London) in October and December 1891.

From The Vegetarian World Forum, Summer 1948:

It may interest you to hear that on April 8th a Vegetarian Society was formed in Sydney after a lecture on vegetarianism, held under the auspices of the World League for the Protection of Animals. As far as I know it is the first society of its kind in Australia. It is our hope that the forming of this society will be followed by the founding of similar societies in other parts of the Commonwealth.
At the inaugural meeting it was decided to hold a general meeting some time at the end of May for the adoption of rules and the election of officers. After this meeting has been held I will be able to give you more news. In the meantime we would be grateful if you could send us the latest news bulletins of the I.V.U.
You may remember that my wife and I were among the founding members of the Malayan Vegetarian Society in 1946. My wife is still in Singapore, but will be leaving for Sydney soon. We are having great difficulty in finding an editor for the Malayan Vegetarian.
Sten von Krusenstierna, The Manor, 2 Iluka Road, Mosman, N.S.W., Australia.

The first reference we have to Australia in the IVU records is that contact with the Society in Australia was made in 1953. The first specific mention of an official delegate at an IVU Congress was in 1963, there have been delegates at most Congresses since then.

See also:

For the Society today see:

If you have any more information about anything on this page please contact John Davis -