February 5, 1806
On February 5, 1806 the first meeting of the Benevolent Irish Society (B.I.S.) was held at the London Tavern, St. John’s. The Society was founded for the relief of the poor by a group of 78 Irishmen.
“At a meeting held at the London Tavern, St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Wednesday the 5th February 1806, a number of Irish Gentlemen desirous of relieving the wants and desires of their Countrymen and fellow-creatures at large. It was unanimously agreed, that a Society formed upon true principles of Benevolence and Philanthropy would be the most effectual mode of establishing permanent relief.”
The Society was constitutionally established on February 17, 1806.
As the seal and motto, the BIS founding members, chose the figure of the patron saint of their old country , St. Patrick bearing the cross surrounded by the inscription “he that gives to the poor, lends to the Lord.”
The Benevolent Irish Society was unique in that it was nonsectarian and offered assistance to the needy regardless of their religion.
“all denominations of Christians were admissible to its ranks the only qualifications required being one that one should be an Irishman or the descendant of an Irishman. “
At the time “the needy” were referred to as “the wretched and distressed.”
The founders of the Society were among the first generation of permanent residents in Newfoundland. They included politicians, businessmen and clergy who played significant roles in the political, economic and spiritual growth of the developing colony.
The headquarters of the BIS, fronting on Queen’s Road, backing on Military Road opposite of the R.C. Basilica, was converted into a condominium residence in the late 1990’s. (see photo)
The headquarters of the BIS is now located at 30 Harvey Road.
The very popular London Tavern showed no denominational bias, the free Masons met in the fine establishment from 1774 -1832. Located at the corner of what is now York and Wood Streets it’s proprietors Mr. Cornelius QUIRK (1770’s -1810) and later James PHEALAN (1810 -1830’s) liked to have a drink with anyone.
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives discover the Benevolent Irish Society [BIS] fonds, MG 612. This collection includes 12 microfilmed reels of documents including minutes (1822-1933, 1938-1970, 1973-1979); agendas (1964-1970); Centenary Volume (1806-1906); loan receipts (1905-1906); journal (1910-1920); cash book (1920-1931); ledger (1939-1944).
Recommended Archival Collection: “Rules and constitution of the Benevolent Irish Society: February 17th, 1806”. Recounts the establishment of the Society in February 1806 and presents the rules and constitution drawn up by the founding committee. Read More: http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/ref/collection/cns/id/17588
Recommended Web Site: http://www.bisnl.ca/main/node