Many do not know there is a rich history between the Botanic Gardens of South Australia and The Salvation Army. It was in Botanic Park that The Salvation Army held its first open-air meeting on Australian soil on 5 September 1880. To commemorate this event and the significant contribution made by The Salvation Army, the Botanic Gardens of South Australia planted an avenue of trees on Botanic Drive.
Edward Saunders and John Gore, two prior converts of The Salvation Army in England met at a meeting of the temperance evangelist Matthew Burnett in Adelaide in April 1880. Together with James Hooker, they started holding open-air meetings in Light Square and adopted many of Burnett’s colourful methods: outdoor meetings, evangelistic marches, flaming torches and bands composed of a variety of instruments.
On 5 September 1880 at a Botanic Park open-air meeting John Gore announced The Salvation Army’s arrival in Australia with the invitation, “If there is any man here who hasn’t had a meal today let him come home with me.”
Edward Saunders led the song, We’re Travelling Home to Heaven Above. The Army’s dual mission of evangelism and social welfare was begun by lay people, with Captains Thomas and Adelaide Sutherland arriving five months later to a well-established congregation.
The movement grew rapidly, within five years establishing forty corps (churches) from Mount Gambier to Quorn. Its Methodist roots encouraged lay leadership and a willingness to preach in the open air, private homes and shops, rather than needing a dedicated church building. The majority of the officers (ministers) were raised and trained in the colony. More were sent to establish corps in Victoria, Tasmania, New Zealand and later Western Australia.
Welfare work was informal at first, but by the time of the Depression homes for unmarried mothers, released prisoners and unemployed men had been established, in addition to hospital visitation, missing persons tracing and clothing distribution. Armed services chaplaincy began during the First World War.
The Salvation Army took seriously the principle of the priesthood of all believers and viewed this as meaning the equality of all believers. The attempt to implement this in the life of the church can be seen in the varied backgrounds of the officers. Nineteen-year-old Captain Susan Upton was a domestic servant, Captain John Jago had owned a public house in Nailsworth and Captain Ned Foyle was a reformed alcoholic sailor.
Initially there was no specific mission to Aboriginals. However, at the request of Aboriginal lay leaders in the Goolwa corps, an officer was appointed for this purpose. Subsequently a boat was purchased and used to visit the Aboriginal camps along the Coorong and the European settlers as far up the River Murray as Mannum. One of the great attractions for Aboriginals was that they were given equal status and even appointed to leadership positions in multi-racial corps.
Today The Salvation Army continues its dual mission of evangelism and social welfare. Lay involvement in mission is still strong and outreach to the poor and marginalised continues.
A number of resources are available on this topic:
- Bolton, Barbara, Booth’s Drum, Sydney: The Salvation Army, 1980
- Dale, Percival, Salvation Chariot, Melbourne: The Salvation Army, 1952
- Sandall, Robert, The History of the Salvation Army vol 2 1878-1886, New York: The Salvation Army, 1950.