The Family (Anne Hamilton-Byrne)

An Australian cult known for kidnapping children, LSD experiments, and a messianic leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Religion: New Age
Founder: Anne Hamilton-Byrne
Founded: 1964
Ended: 1993
Location: Australia
Size: Approximately 500 members at its peak
Other Names: The Great White Brotherhood, Santiniketan Park Association

The Family, also referred to as the Santiniketan Park Association or the Great White Brotherhood, emerged as a notorious New Age group in Australia during the mid-1960s. Founded by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, born Evelyn Grace Victoria Edwards, the group propagated a blend of Eastern and Western religious doctrines, presenting Hamilton-Byrne as a divine reincarnation. The cult is infamously remembered for its harrowing abuses, including the kidnapping of children, administering psychedelic drugs as part of initiation rituals, and severe psychological and physical torture.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne, was born in 1921 and experienced a tumultuous childhood marked by her mother’s death in an asylum and a transient upbringing in orphanages. Hamilton-Byrne’s foray into the world of cult leadership began after a transformative engagement with yoga, which led her to adopt the mystic and exotic allure of Eastern spirituality. Her teachings attracted a following of middle-class individuals, including professionals like doctors, lawyers, and nurses, especially through her association with Dr. Raynor Johnson, a physicist captivated by her teachings and persona.

The Family’s headquarters was established on a property known as Santiniken, outside Melbourne, where Hamilton-Byrne began to deliver her amalgamated teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. She asserted her equivalence to Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Krishna, convincing her followers of her divine status. The cult’s inner circle was heavily involved in the management of Newhaven Hospital, a psychiatric institution where LSD was regularly used for treatment, serving as a recruitment ground for new members.

One of the most disturbing aspects of The Family was its practice of acquiring children—some born to cult members and others illegally adopted—raising them as Hamilton-Byrne’s own. The children, totaling 28, were subjected to extreme disciplinary measures, forced dyeing of their hair to resemble their supposed siblings, and indoctrination into Hamilton-Byrne’s teachings. They were isolated from the outside world, subjected to routine beatings, and administered doses of LSD and other drugs as part of their initiation into the cult’s ranks.

The cult’s practices came to a head in 1987 when a police raid, prompted by the escape and report of a teenage member, led to the rescue of the children and the exposure of The Family’s abuses. Hamilton-Byrne and her husband fled the country but were eventually arrested in 1993 in the United States and extradited to Australia. Although they faced charges, the legal outcomes were considered minimal compared to the gravity of their crimes. The aftermath saw former members and raised children grappling with the psychological and physical scars left by their experiences in The Family.

Hamilton-Byrne’s death in 2019 marked the end of a chapter, but the haunting legacy of The Family persists, encapsulated in documentaries, books, and the memories of those who endured the abuse​​​​.

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