Our story

From the history of St John Ambulance NSW to a vision for the future

There when you need us most, providing support and care while building safer, more resilient communities. That’s the history of St John Ambulance NSW and our commitment for the future.

Our story

From the history of St John Ambulance to a vision for the future

There when you need us most, providing support and care while building safer, more resilient communities. That’s the history of St John Ambulance NSW and our commitment for the future.

A global family with a shared vision

Here at St John Ambulance NSW, we’re proud to be a member of the Order of St John, a global organisation with a rich history dating back more than 900 years, focused on delivering first aid, healthcare and support services around the world.

Built on a foundation of humanitarianism and community support, it remains our focus today and the driving force behind our future.

Our history

The history of St John Ambulance NSW spans centuries. We take pride in the legacy of our organisation, and continue to build upon a foundation of care through community and a global humanitarian vision and order.

Anchored in history

There aren’t many organisations that have a rich 900 year old history like ours, with foundations that still resonate today. We’re proud of our historical roots that date back to 11th century Jerusalem, when a hospice was established to provide care and shelter to pilgrims and crusaders making the long and dangerous journey to the holy city. The St John movement was so powerful at the time, that it formed a new religious and military order, officially recognised by the church in 1113. Known as the Knights Hospitallers, hundreds of men and women cared for anyone without distinction of race or faith.

On the move

Resilience has always been part of our blood, with the Order moving several times over the next 40 years, fleeing to Cyprus when Palestine was recaptured, then to Rhodes when the Turkish conquered the island. The Knights settled in Malta, until the island was surrendered to Napoleon.
In the 1140s a Priory in Clerkenwell was set up as the English headquarters of the Order. Centuries later, when King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and established a new Anglican Church, the Order in England was dissolved and all its lands and wealth were seized by the Crown. The Order was restored briefly by Henry’s Catholic daughter, Queen Mary, who granted it a Royal Charter. However, on the accession of her Protestant sister, Queen Elizabeth I, the Order in England was dissolved for good.


The buildings in Clerkenwell were put to different uses in the years that followed. During the sixteenth century, they were used as the offices of the Master of the Revels. Thirty of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed here. The modern Order of St John in England was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888.

Built on purpose

During the 19th Century industrial revolution, there were many dangerous workplaces. Conditions and machinery were hazardous and workers were exhausted by long hours. Accidents were frequent but workers rarely saw a doctor in time. Death or disability from untreated injuries was common.
Members of the Order wanted to find a way to help. They decided to train ordinary people in first aid so accident victims could be treated quickly and on the spot. Out of this, in 1877, the modern organisation St John Ambulance was established. In 1883, St John Ambulance was established in Australia, with associations set up in each state and territory.

Serving the community

Responding to a lack of medical services at the time, first aid classes were set up across the country, teaching workplaces, particularly those in areas of heavy industry, and individuals, how to treat injuries and illnesses.
Trained volunteers were organised into a uniformed Brigade to provide a first aid and ambulance service at public events. In many parts of Australia, St John was the first and only provider of an ambulance up until the 20th century, with other states still managing the ambulance service today.

Our commitment

Our purpose today is clear: we believe that every person across New South Wales should have access to responsive healthcare and wellbeing support when and where they need it.

To achieve this, we’re guided by our values


  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Collaboration


Our plan for the future

As an organisation, St John Ambulance NSW thrives on community and compassion. Our vision is to be the trusted leader in responsive healthcare and wellbeing support for all Australians. St John Ambulance NSW is here for you, when you need us most.

We’re currently working towards our 2025 strategic plan, which focuses our efforts on strengthening our community impact, based on four pillars:


  • Capability: To serve our community
  • Knowledge: To empower our community
  • Safety: To inspire community confidence
  • Access: To enhance community care

Become a part of the mission.