When the ‘official’ translation of the Bible into English for the Church of England – the King James Bible – was published in the 17th century and became available to a much wider audience, people realised that the practices of the established church were not what was in the Bible. It does not say anything about churches, cathedrals, clergy, popes, consecrated ground, fixed forms of service, hymns, etc.
One of those people was George Fox who travelled around England pointing out that Jesus said “when two or three are gathered together there am I” (Matthew 18:20).
Supported by a friend Margaret Fell they formed the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth - later shortened to the Religious Society of Friends and subsequently given the nickname Quakers.
Quakers effectively did away with the whole structure of the conventional churches and went back to that basic belief. We all have something within us, which many call God, that we can access and share with others.
Religious turmoil in 17th century England resulted in large numbers of Quakers ending up in prison and also many emigrated to America. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers.
We are not connected with the Puritans or the Amish - a common assumption by people who don’t know us.
Many of the earliest British settlers in Australia (including convicts) were Quakers. In 1832 two prominent English Quakers, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, came to Australia with the support of their local congregations.
Although their main concerns were the treatment of the convicts and of the Aborigines, they also travelled around Australia contacting as many Quakers as they could. This resulted in the formation of a formal Quaker group in Hobart, where they were mainly based, and later, groups in other States.
Quaker congregations are called Meetings and, confusingly, the word can refer to the act of meeting together (for worship or business) as well as the organisation. We have seven Regional Meetings in Australia - which conduct business, normally monthly, in relation to their area, and Australia Yearly Meeting, which meets for business for the whole of Australia once a year.
For many years Quakers were associated with their home Meetings in England and it was not until 1964 that Australian Quakers became independent of Britain and formed their own Australia Yearly Meeting.
There are about 2,000 Quakers in Australia, about half of whom are Members and the other half regularly attend our meetings. There are many others who come occasionally, and we welcome them all.
There is more information about our history here and information about the Quaker witness to peace and non-volence during WWI here. We also have biographical information about over 1,500 Australian Quakers who have died which could be useful for family history research.