A meeting of some 80 naval and military officers, “a veritable roll-call of the Battle of Waterloo”, in London on 25 June 1831, agreed to form a Naval and Military Library and Museum (Kent, 1996). King William IV agreed to be the Patron of the new Institution and the Duke of Wellington to be its founding President. The United Service Institution was officially born the following day – 26 June 1831. The Duke of Wellington presented his personal sword to the Institution to be permanently displayed as a symbol of the link between the Institution and the Armed Forces.
The new Institution was a unique one (Kent, 1996). It was closely associated with the Armed Forces but was not a part of them; a body of people who acted as a bridge between the military and society at large. It has continued to fulfil this role to the present day and has developed strong links to the Diplomatic Service, the Public Service and academia. It now styles itself “Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies” and has become highly respected internationally for its regular provision of informed public commentary on the major defence and security issues of the day.
The United Service Institution formula was over time exported from London to all the corners of the former British Empire and beyond; and continues to flourish in India, Australia and Canada, among others. Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s, several eastern European countries established institutes based on the Royal United Services Institute model (Kent, 1996).
The United Service Institution of New South Wales (Sutton, 1989) was established in Sydney on 20 August 1888, with the first general meeting on 24 October and election of officers on 14 November 1888. The Patron was the Governor of New South Wales and the first President was Major-General J. S. Richardson, CB [Note 1], Commandant of the Military Forces of New South Wales. In his inaugural address delivered on 3 January 1890, General Richardson stated that the main object of the Institution was to be “the higher professional education of officers” (Richardson, 1890). The Rules specified the object as “the promotion of Military and Naval Art, Science and Literature” via:
Membership was to be only open to commissioned officers.
Over the next 15 years, similar institutions were formed in the other Australian colonies. The role of these Institutions quickly became the provision of education in military science and military history for the officers of the Naval and Military Forces. The aim was amended accordingly – “to promote a study of naval and military art, science and literature” – and all officers of His Majesty’s forces became eligible for membership.
In New South Wales over the following century, the United Service Institution pursued its objects, although activity during the Boer War and World Wars I and II was at a very low ebb and the museum, which was not established until the early 1930s, was transferred to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1952. The high point of activity was in the two decades following World War II, when membership ranged from 2000 to 2800, there were active branches in Wagga Wagga and Newcastle as well as Sydney, and the coaching of officers for promotion examinations was a major feature of the Institution’s activities (Sutton, 1989).
On 1 January 1974, the United Service Institutions of the Australian States federated to form the United Services Institute of Australia, under which the state institutions continued as self-governing constituent bodies. New South Wales brought its rules into line with the new national constitution in 1975 and opened its membership to anyone with the defence of Australia at heart (Sutton, 1989).
The United Service Institution of New South Wales was granted permission to use the prefix “Royal” on 21 February 1990, in recognition of 100 years of outstanding service to the defence and security of Australia. Subsequently, as The Royal United Service Institution of New South Wales, it was incorporated under then Associations Incorporation Act 1984 (New South Wales) on 24 April 1991.
On 29 January 2008, the Institution amended its name and aim to bring them into conformity with those of the then national body. Its name was changed to "Royal United Services Institute of New South Wales, Incorporated"; and its aim is "to promote informed debate on, and to improve public awareness and understanding of, defence and national security."
At the Institute's Annual General Meeting held on 26 September 2016, the special resolutions aimed at modernising our constitution and incorporating changes flowing from formation of our new national body were endorsed. As a result, the Institute's full name is now the "Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, New South Wales, Incorporated", and in its shortened form, "The Institute for Defence and Security Studies NSW".
We are justifiably proud of our long traditions, but the maintenance of tradition is not an end in itself. Most organisations with a long history have to change constantly in order to remain relevant and the Institute is no exception.
While we still maintain a close association with the Australian Defence Force, our primary function is no longer to educate its officers. That role is now fulfilled primarily by the Australian Defence College and the universities with which it is affiliated.
Our new role is to promote informed debate on, and to improve public awareness and understanding of, defence and national security in both the defence and security community and the wider Australian community. To this end:
Our current membership (currently just under 800 in total) is built around a solid core of retired members of the Australian Defence Force and Merchant Navy, augmented by some serving members and persons interested in furthering our aim drawn from academia, the public service, defence industry, and the wider community.
Our monthly luncheon-lectures regularly are attended by 100 – 150 members and guests. Our quarterly professional journal, United Service, is distributed to all members of the Institute and to the leaders, both uniformed and civilian, of the wider defence and security community in Australia, including the Defence National Distribution and Supply Network.
While we do not enjoy the international public profile of our fraternal body in the United Kingdom, we do encourage our members with relevant expertise to enter the public debate on defence and security issues; and, where the Institute has undertaken a detailed study of an issue itself, it may make a formal submission to government on it. When it does so, the Institute publishes the submission.
John Soame Richardson, who had been commissioned an ensign in the 72nd Regiment (The Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) in 1854 and who had served in the Crimean Campaign in 1855 (including Sevastopol) and the Maori Wars in 1860-61 and 1863-64, was the first commandant of the New South Wales Military Forces which he led from 1865 to 1892. He commanded the New South Wales Contingent in the Soudan Expedition of 1885. He was awarded: the Crimean Medal and Clasp; the Turkish War Medal; the New Zealand Medal; the medal with clasp for the Soudan; and was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath. He died in Sydney in 1896, aged 60, after several years of poor health.
Kent, Field Marshal, His Royal Highness, the Duke of (1996). Reopening of the Royal United Services Institute, Wednesday 26 June 1996. Royal United Services Institute Journal August 1996, 1 – 3.
Richardson, J. S. (1890). United Service Institution, New South Wales, Thursday, 3rd January, 1890, Inaugural Address. Journal and Proceedings of the United Service Institution of New South Wales for the Year 1889 1, 1 – 14.
Sutton, R. (1989). Some reflections on the USI of New South Wales over one hundred years. United Service 42 (4), 5 – 25.
[Copies of the above references are available in the Institute’s library.]
Updated: 30 January 2008
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