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St John Ambulance

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The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. These words reflect one of the proudest and most determined passages in the long, chequered history of the Christian faith.

Issue information

The Maltese Cross, lions and unicorns of the St John insignia have become a familiar symbol in New Zealand since the St John Ambulance Association was first established at Christchurch in 1885.  But the origins of the organisation go back much further.  The story begins over 1000 years ago.  Around 600AD a small hospice was founded in Jerusalem by Pope Gregory and continued to give assistance to Christian pilgrims for another 500 years.  In 1099 Jerusalem was taken by the soldiers of the 1st Crusade.  The hospice had a Norman monk, The Blessed Gerard, who persuaded the Crusaders to formally set up the Order as we know it today.  Its destruction 400 years later by the fanatical Caliph El-Hakim could not destroy the spirit in which it began.  The citizens of Amalfi, Italy, restored the hospice in the Holy Land 13 years later, dedicating it to St John the Almoner, and placed it under the control of the Benedictine Order.

The hospitallers in their black habits adorned by a large, white, eight-pointed cross were given military duties in defence of the Holy Land, yet never relaxed their vows of chastity, obedience and poverty.  Drawing sword only when their Standard of the Cross was displayed, their power and influence spread throughout Europe.  When Jerusalem fell the Order was forced to move, first to Cyprus, then Rhodes and finally in 1530, to Malta.  There a great hospital was built and the Order ruled rich and powerful until invaded and exiled by Napoleon.  The Order of St John finally settled in Rome where it remains to this day.

The Order of St John of Jerusalem was revived in England in 1831 after a lapse of three centuries.  Public concern over the lack of first aid knowledge and inadequate facilities for transporting the sick and injured to hospital led to the 1877 formation of a St John Ambulance Association.  Ten years later the St John Ambulance Brigade was formed.  The Association's early work in New Zealand involved practical assistance at accidents and far-reaching courses in first-aid.  Under the motto "In Service of Mankind" both the St John Ambulance Association and the St John Ambulance Brigade have moved into many fields, keeping pace with changes in medical knowledge and the increasing needs of an expanding population.

Centenary of St John Ambulance - 24c
The Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross

Centenary of St John Ambulance - 30c
The Knights and Dames of Grace Cross

Centenary of St John Ambulance - 40c
The Serving Brothers and Sisters Crest

Stamp bulletin

This stamp issue first appeared in New Zealand Post Stamp Bulletin No. 32 in October 1984.

Acknowledgments: Bulletin scanned and provided by John Biddlecombe of the New Zealand Society of Great Britain. Their web site offers further information useful to those interested in the stamps and postal history of New Zealand. Link:

Technical information

Date of Issue: 16 January 1985
Designers: L Fisher, Auckland
Printers: Waddington Security Print, England
Stamp Size: 41mm x 30mm
Sheet Size: 100 stamps per sheet
Process: Lithography
Perforation Gauge: 14.2 x 14
Paper Type: Unwatermarked
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