The original objectives of the Royal Humane Society were:
To afford relief to widows, orphans and other dependents of seamen who lost their lives or were injured in shipwreck;
To assist crews of vessels wrecked in New South Wales waters; and
To grant medals or awards for bravery in saving human life.
The necessity for the first and second objectives ceased when it was considered that they were adequately covered by legal provisions.
The Society continued to maintain its third objective which was widened to include acts of bravery by those who risk their lives in attempting to save human life. The Society’s recognition of acts of bravery promotes brave and courageous acts in the community and benefits the public in general through encouragement of such acts. The Society’s Awards are the Galleghan Award, Gold Medal, Silver Medal, Bronze Medal, Certificate of Merit, Letter of Commendation and the Sir Neville Pixley Award. The latter is a special award to recognise bravery by a young person in the performance of a humane act.
The Galleghan Award, instituted in 1996, recognises the most outstanding act of bravery in the year. The winner of the Galleghan Award is nominated by the Society for consideration to receive the Stanhope Gold Medal.
The Stanhope Gold Medal, which is an award of the Royal Humane Society (England), was instituted in 1873 as the English Society’s highest award for bravery each year. In 1962 all kindred Commonwealth Societies were invited to nominate each year their best cases for adjudication for this Award.
How the Society functions
The management of the affairs of the Society is vested in a Council consisting of a Patron, a President, a Chair, Vice-Chair, an Honorary Secretary, an Honorary Treasurer, (Publicity Officer, Auditor and Solicitor) and Councillors.
Cases of reported bravery are investigated by the New South Wales Police Force, Fire and Rescue NSW, and Ambulance Service of NSW. Copies of all relevant reports are distributed to Officers and Councillors of the Society in advance of its meetings, to enable consideration to be given to them before discussion. Voting at the meeting determines the grant of any award.
The Society is supported by a subsidy from the New South Wales Government, supplemented by donations from organisations, corporations and citizens.
The Society was established as a result of the loss of the 351- ton paddle steamer s.s.Yarra and its 17 man crew in a south-east gale on 15th July, 1877, while attempting to re-enter Newcastle Harbour.
Four days later, a public meeting of citizens, under the chairmanship of the Reverend Dr Lang, at the Royal Exchange, Pitt Street, Sydney, decided to form the Society "for the relief of the widows, orphans and others dependent upon men lost in the marine service of our coast, or elsewhere, such relief to be distributed at the discretion of the committee".
The Society was instituted on 25th July, 1877, and its first meeting, under the presidency of Mr F. H. Dangar, was held on Friday, 27th July, 1877. Subscriptions had by then exceeded two thousand pounds.
The Society was formed as the National Shipwreck Relief Society of New South Wales. In 1902, His Majesty, King Edward VII gave permission for the Society to be known as the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales.
In 1968, Her Majesty The Queen approved the change of name to the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales in common with all British Commonwealth Nations.
The Society was Incorporated on 26th February 2010.