David Jones: A businessman with a heart of compassion

by Graham McDonald 


David Jones converting a large section of their Sydney city store into a club for servicemen and women! 

What? David Jones, the oldest department store in Australia and the oldest department store in the world still trading under its original name, opening a club for servicemen and women in their city store? 

Well, yes. But this was back in 1939–40, shortly after the outbreak of World War II; and this plan to care for people who were fighting in the war was just one of David Jones’s many generous and compassionate contributions to society. 

His commitment to the wellbeing of his staff and society was born out of his desire to live his life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. The golden rule, ‘treat others as you would want them to treat you’, was very real to him and his family, as was Jesus’ teaching that his followers should ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. 

David Jones’s desire to live according to Jesus’ instructions was evidenced over and over throughout his lifetime. He was a deacon of the influential Pitt Street Congregational Church for about thirty-five years, where he and other godly deacons built classrooms within their church building to educate, feed and clothe poverty-stricken children. 

Together with other wealthy business owners, like John Fairfax of the Sydney Morning Herald, David Jones personally contributed large amounts of money to this and other projects that were part of a Sydney ‘Enlargement Program’.  

He played a significant role in his church, which was very active in meeting social needs. People at the church started a savings bank, a day school (already mentioned above), an employment agency and an organised distribution centre for clothing, and also provided support for the poor in many other ways. Jones was not only a very generous benefactor to his own church, but gave to support other churches as well. He is recorded as being one of the two highest contributors to the various ministries and missionary endeavours of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, giving to charitable projects like caring for victims of the Crimean War. 

He also contributed toward the salaries of two Christian outreach workers, Mr C. Tilley and Miss McAlpine, who shared God’s love by teaching the Bible, visiting the sick and poor in the Sydney region, and offering them help where they could, including food and clothing. Their role was to demonstrate the love of God in very practical ways. This was during a time before there was any government welfare assistance. Any relief or support for those in need was looked after by ‘benevolent societies’, often made up of Christian people, such as those at the Pitt Street Congregational Church. In one year alone, Mr Tilley made around 700 visits, 200 of which were to the very sick or dying.  

You might assume from all of this that David Jones, a very wealthy businessman, just gave money to try to fix these problems without ‘getting his hands dirty’. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He and the other deacons and their wives were ‘hands-on’ people. Every deacon of the Pitt Street Congregational Church was required, every Sunday afternoon, to spend at least one hour in a designated area visiting the poor and the sick – and Jones was among those who gave his time in this way. 

David Jones was a businessman with a heart of compassion and concern for humanity. His understanding of the teachings of Jesus clearly influenced his life and the way in which he used both his time and his money. 


The Year Book of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, 1870 

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