Charles Cairns, a tailor, founded The Silver Club in 1921 and was also associated with the work of friendly societies. Born in Ballarat in 1857 to John Cairns and Jane Henderson , Charles Cairns served a five-year apprenticeship with Stalker & Miller. He then went to Melbourne for around eight months before proceeding to Adelaide before returning to Melbourne and then to Ballarat where he worked as a cutter for Allender and White. Travelling was in his veins, so that he spent a short time in Sydney before returning to Ballarat where he worked for Alexander Miller as a cutter and traveller. He then went to Nhill in 1884 where he and a partner established a business. They prospered, buying a premises and other property too. He was the worshipful Master of the Lowan Masonic Lodge at Nhill, where he laid the foundation stone. He returned to Ballarat and was active in the Masonic Lodge in the region, later receiving congratulations from the Yarrowee Lodge for completing 55 years with the Masonic Fraternity.
The Silver Club was established in 1921 to give immediate relief to the poor and needy, irrespective of creed or nationality. The Club was described as “an unpretentious and almost private charitable institution that probably has no contemporary anywhere”. It catered for those in distress, annually providing hundreds of beds for homeless men, who were housed in a shed located behind the old Ballarat Police Station in Camp Street. Approved applicants were given food, firewood, clothing, footwear, blankets, and travelling expenses.
In 2012 a plaque was discovered, made from galvanized iron with a printed document recording the formation of the Club with photographs of the founders. Also included were images of a sleep-out, possibly used as the shed for homeless men, and details of the burial lots granted by the cemetery. It can be viewed on the website of the Ballarat and District Genealogical Society.
Founded in 1921 under the Patronage of His Excellency Lord Somers Privy Counsellor, Governor of Victoria, the members’ subscription was “two shillings or whatever you can afford”. A silver coin was the expected donation, hence the name “The Silver Club”. The officers of the Masonic Silver Club met at the Town Hall, Ballarat, and included: Bro J. Pryor (Mayor 1928-29); Wor Bro A. E. Nicholson (Mayor 1925-26); Bro G. Bolster (Mayor 1929-30); Bro A. J. Pittard (Mayor 1926-27); Wor Bro A. Levy (Mayor 1924-25); Wor Bro G. F. Morton OBE Hon. Treasurer (town Clerk 1915-45); Wor Bro Cairns Hon Organising Secretary.
In 1926, Cairns, as honorary secretary asked the Ballaarat Cemetery Trust for a block of ground to be granted for the burial of the deserving poor so that they may not be buried as paupers. A block of ground 18 feet by 20 feet in Independent Ground, Section 17, Row 2 was granted for the use of the Silver Club, with each case being treated on its merit. David Beames, CEO of the Ballaarat General Cemeteries, advised that the burial site had never been used.
The patron of the Silver Club by July 1931 was Lord Stradbroke PC, GCMG &c, Governor General of Australia. Due to the great depression and downturn of the times, the “demands on the resources of the Silver Club” had been “abnormally heavy during the past year”. Owing to the generosity of subscribers, however, “no legitimate appeal for help” had been refused and the work had been “carried on effectively but unostentatiously by the founder Mr. Chas. Cairns”. All manner of assistance, including “meat, groceries, and milk” had been distributed in all parts of Ballarat and Sebastopol. There were families of nine and ten respectively who had been assisted “for a period of 15 weeks” being supplied with food, boots, clothing and wood.
In 1931 the sleeping apartments in the police yard accommodated an average of 28 persons per week, and in addition to this, an average of 25 meals per day had been provided. Food had been supplied by some of the businesses in the city, including Misses Brazenor (Alexandria), Mrs Thompson (Wattle), Mr Wilkie and Reid’s Coffee Palace. The police had also been very helpful. During the year donations had been received from the funds to the orphanage, Town Mission and Blind Appeal.
On 4 January 1934 Charles Cairns was reportedly “seriously ill” but he survived until November of that year and was buried on 27 November. With his death, the charity he founded and maintained for around 13 years also died. When he died in Ballarat in 1934 aged 78 years the organisation known as The Silver Club died out. Some have indicated that The Silver Club was the beginning of Peplow House, a shelter for homeless men, and an organisation still in existence.