No. 320 - The Salvation Army - Elizabeth Street Launceston - "A Skeleton Army, Larrikins and 21 Prostitutes"

The Salvation Army arrived in Launceston in 1883. The local reaction to the enthusiastic ‘Salvationists’ was a mixture of bemusement, resentment, intolerance and at times violence. The local press fuelled hostility and prejudice but within a decade the Salvation Army had become an accepted part of Launceston’s religious landscape.

Opposition to the Salvation Army stemmed from two factors. Firstly, their rowdy gatherings attracted crowds with beating drums and blaring brass instruments which was a source of both annoyance and amusement to residents. A second source of opposition arose because of the ‘class’ of individuals attracted to their ranks. The Salvationists particularly targeted the underclass, including prostitutes, who were numerous in the town.

An 1883 report in the Daily Telegraph on the first Salvation Army meeting in Launceston has a mixed tone of curiosity and scepticism. It also reveals the practical difficulties which the ‘Army’ faced:

“The small detachment from the ranks of the Salvation Army under Captain Collins, which arrived by the Mangana from Melbourne last Saturday, have been bestirring themselves actively since landing. They were unable to get a hall until last evening, when they secured the Wesleyan schoolroom in Patterson-street, whither they repaired after parading the streets for about half an hour headed by a local itinerant tea-dealer carrying a lantern. They were followed by a large number of people, and about 200 assembled during the evening to witness the proceedings, which were of a highly sensational character, consisting of prayers profusely interrupted by other members of the army who seemed to be unable to keep from ejaculating ' Hallelujah', 'Praise the Lord,' 'Glory to God,' etc., etc., at stated intervals. Addresses were also delivered by Captain Collins, Lieutenants Anderson, Billy Collins, and Lilly Collins, Mrs Collins, Miss Collins, Brothers Wilson and Clarke. These addresses were of a long rambling character, and were repeated in a parrot-like manner. At the close of each the captain or some other 'blue coated official ' would jump up and start off with a jaunty refrain, which would then be eagerly taken up by the others, each member of the band throwing his arms about in a wild, awkward way. At the close of the service a prayer meeting was held, to which all present were invited. The army marched down from the platform and formed a circle amongst the people. One of the members would then engage in prayer, Captain and Mrs Collins marching about the while and lighting upon any person who seemed to be affected by the proceedings. They will hold a salvation meeting in the same room tonight and tomorrow night, and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings in the Margaret-street Wesleyan Church. These meetings may perhaps have a good effect, and there is no doubt some of those who join do so in all sincerity but we are inclined to think that many are carried away by the sensational nature of the proceedings and in the intensity of their feelings go to extremes. Dissension may thus be sown in families, and a break formed in home circles not easily mended. At the close of the proceedings several persons crowded round the detachment and extended welcome and congratulation, albeit their conversions up to the present are not numerous, a great many people attending out of curiosity, and mixing with them afterwards for the same reason”.

In the same report a concern was expressed about the Army’s ‘profane’ tendencies and the impact which it might have on the established churches:

“One feature in regard to this mode of arousing religious/feeling, is the apparent absence from these earnest disciples, of all veneration for the sacred name in the very mention of which every Christian head should bow in reverence. This species of familiarity with names divine, agreed with the child like simplicity of the negroes of the Southern States, but except amongst a similar primitive society, it seems dangerous to dispense with the 'old paths', with veneration for the sacred names of the Trinity, for the sacred edifices, and even for the sacred character of the learned and cultured ministers of the Gospel. It may be possible to go through a course of 'Salvation Army' without affecting the stability of old religious institutions; but in a community so small as ours it seems to be a rather risky experiment".

The Launceston Examiner similarly expressed mixed thoughts on the 'Army':

“The novel mode of procedure of the Salvation Army is now too well known to require recapitulation. Though the ranks are for the most part made up from the uneducated classes, yet the energy and sincerity which marks their services has been proved to have worked beneficially in the cause of Christianity, and the members of the Army often succeed in their cause where broadcloth and orthodoxy are unable to make an impression for good. The peculiarity of the service, their stirring and taking singing, carries a force of no small weight in the audiences with which the Army so usually come in contact. For the present the Army's head quarters will be at the Y.M.C.A. rooms, but future movements and arrangements will be duly announced. The detachment held service in a vacant allotment of ground in the Quadrant, on Saturday evening, the audience being addressed in turn by members of the Army, including a boy of about 16 years of age and a child of some10 years. Of course the larrikin element interfered with the Christian soldiers at times, and as usual no policeman appeared to check their disturbance and obscene language…”

After a month of meetings and marches, the Salvation Army grew in number. The Launceston Examiner continued to present the Army as an amusing but distasteful attraction:

"The detachment of the Salvation Army which recently arrived here energetically carried on proceedings during yesterday, holding several services in the Pavilion in the Town Park. Previous to commencing their peculiar meetings for they cannot properly be called services the members of the organisation in uniform paraded several streets of the town with a small brass band, which played some very lively airs, while at intervals were sung to them words intended to have a religious significance. To the ear unaccustomed to the strains of a brass band and the thump of the drum on the quiet Sabbath, all this was somewhat painful, but it is held by many to be actually necessary to reach a certain portion of the community. In the Pavilion the scene was strangely exciting. A crowd that fairly thronged the place intently watched the proceedings, sometimes indulging in convulsive bursts of laughter at some unusual proceeding on the platform, while the conductors with the band dashed through the programme. Members of the "Army" addressed the meeting, new converts did the same, while "Captain" Gibbs interjected "hallelujahs" with vehemence and effect, sometimes springing into the air, at other times introducing remarks that generally produced levity. With the exception of those interruptions and unseemly clapping of hands, the proceedings were fairly orderly. On the platform the leaders of the meeting waved their handkerchiefs, beat time with their hands, stamped with their feet, and liberally ejaculated "Hallelujah!" Of the audience it may be said that at the back girls and lads of a very pronounced larrikin type were in discriminately huddled together. Here and there a middle-aged couple, respectable and attentive, gazed with an incredulous or pained stare, in a few instances with something like alarm".

A Victorian visitor to Launceston complained about their experience of the Army in a letter to Melbourne Argus:

“There seems to be an end just now to the peace and quiet hitherto enjoyed by Victorians and others seeking rest and pleasure in the beautiful island of 'Tasmania. In this town of Launceston there is a religious racket going on, the end of which no thoughtful man can contemplate with; anything like satisfaction, Just think of a small place like this having three armies parading the streets evening after evening with drums and brass instruments and banners, and male and female voices often raised to their highest and most unmelodious pitch. One of these armies is led on by a staff captain, who relates with great gusto his former experiences of folly and crime, threatens any who may laugh at his grotesque antics with a taste of his muscular Christianity, and sends out a few poor girls just got off the pavement to press his War Cry on human attention. The second Army is, I understand, a schism from the other. The frantic gesticulations, waving of dirty handkerchiefs, and unearthly sounds connected with this little party are things to be remembered. The third Army has its headquarters in Wellington-street, and is officered by a masculine-looking lady and an ex-grocer from Emerald Hill. It, of course, has its drum banging away and, in addition, a queer sort of car, filled with people apparently raining showers of tracts and handbills on the heads of the surrounding rabble. The competition between these armies is the keenest thing out; and but for its association with the, sacred name of religion would be most laughable…. When in addition to the performances you are saluted occasionally with the yells of a Skeleton Army making the night hideous, you can well understand one retiring to his lodgings in disgust, … I truly sympathise with a host of fellow tourists in those circumstances… Nervous and sick people especially will soon fight shy of Tasmania as a place of holiday resort if these things continue.- Yours, A Victorian Abroad"

Some members of the town council had become alarmed at the anarchic nature of the Salvation Army’s processions however it also had its supporters amongst the middle classes. Writing in the Launceston Examiner, ‘A.W.B.’ responded to attempts to clamp down on the Army’s activities:

“I notice that Alderman Carter has given notice of motion to stop the "Salvation Army" processions. I write to show cause why the religionists should not be interfered with under present circumstances. They have not obstructed the streets or pathways. Their music, although not of the best; is the best they can give; time will bring improvement: They have cleared the streets of larrikins. The Police Magistrate and Superintendent of Police bear testimony the good resulting from the labours of the 'Salvation Army. Twenty-one prostitutes were taken hold of by Mrs. Gibbs; the Captain’s wife, of whom five have been returned to their parents, some are at the home, others under observation, and a few have relapsed. Without the band; singing; and processions, it is doubtful if any of those alluded to would have been moved to join the Army. The class appealed to must have some outward show…” 

By December, matters had taken a turn for the worse with the establishment of “Skeleton Army” which had the sole aim of mocking Salvationists. The town’s ‘larrikin element’ were also becoming a growing problem. The Examiner reported:

“On Christmas Eve we had an evidence of the proportions to which our rowdy element in this town is growing. On that occasion bands of lads, generally of a very pronounced larrikin type, paraded the streets till dawn the following morning, howling out discordant "Army" tunes, waving handkerchiefs, shouting "Hallelujah " and "Amen" with great force, and intermingling all this with some very powerful selections from their profane and blasphemous vocabulary. Again on New Year's Eve, a burlesque on the Salvation Army, entitled the "Skeleton Army," marched through the principal streets with a large banner borne on poles, and bearing a skull and crossbones, headed by a "band", composed of an accordion, tambourine, triangle, and two brass instruments, and marshalled by young men wearing badges on their caps, and imitating the peculiarities of the Salvation Army officers on the march. The Skeleton Army were accompanied by a large crowd and as they marched sang hymns and Christy Minstrel songs. This may be freedom, and the answer given to a burgess by a policeman, to the effect that these lads could not be proceeded against for disturbing the peace, since they did nothing more than produce the same effects as the "Army" may be perfectly correct, but we do most emphatically protest against our streets being turned into Pandemonium. We are entitled to the maintenance of a certain amount of decorum in our public thoroughfares, and it is part of the duty of the police to secure such. …If, however, under the excuse of doing it for a good motive, or under cover of a license that is supposed to exist on such occasions as New Year's and Christmas Eve's, bands of women and men and lads and girls simply block our highways, disturb our rest, and fill the air with unseemly yells, accompanied by grotesque and indecorous proceedings, no attempt is made to protect society. If this violation of the law is permitted it will be found before very long that the recklessness born and bred of defiance of the law will foster in our midst a disorderly and dangerous element. We trust that some steps will be taken in the direction indicated, and that our reputation in Launceston for respectability and peacefulness may be vindicated”.

The town’s ‘larrikins’ took every opportunity to harass the ‘Army’ as is typical of this report in the Mercury and where it is implied that police would typically look the other way:

“On Sunday afternoon the Salvation Army, headed by their band, marched to Trevallyn, near the South Esk bridge. The band on arrival rendered a number of Moody and Sanky's airs, and at intervals brief addresses were given by members of the "Army." The larrikin element mustered strongly, and from a "masked battery" near the new road, opened fire with weapons of abuse upon the “advanced posts" of the Salvationists. Unfortunately the police were unable to make any arrests”.

By the mid 1880’s the tide began to turn with the disbanding of the ‘skeleton army’ and even some of the ‘larrikins’ were seemingly won over:

“The Salvation Army in Launceston, after a period of comparative calm, during which many people thought that the movement, in this town, at any rate, had lost some of its original fervour, has recently given evidence that it is as active as ever.  A six months lease of the Oddfellows Hall has been taken, … Night after night these zealous and indefatigable people march to their hall with their banner, band, and flambeaux, and testify their zealous desire of utterly crushing "Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick or Clootie”. The larrikins attend the hall in good numbers, but they are fairly well behaved, and some few of them have been induced to join the movement, which, in their case, has been a benefit to themselves and to society".

In 1885, the Salvation Army was able to build a meeting place of their own with the purchase of land at a site on Elizabeth Street. The growing acceptance of the ‘Army’ is evident with Launceston's Mayor, Henry Button, invited to lay one of two foundation stones in the presence of 2000 onlookers:

“The enclosure surrounding the spot where the ceremony took place not only being packed, but a large concourse of persons having assembled in the street in the vicinity. Fourteen flags have been strung across the site, and the “Blood and Fire” banner flew from its staff near the foundation stone….. “Marshall” Booth addressed those assembled…”


Henry Button also addressed the crowd saying:

“He was present for a twofold motive. He wanted to hear from Mr Booth’s own lips the particulars of this great organisation, and the great work it had done during the time it had been in existence. There were numbers of men, women, and children in the town who never darkened the door of a church, and it was, he understood, those people whom the Army desired to reach”.


The Salvation Army ‘Barracks’ as it was called, opened in October 1885:

“A demonstration in commemoration of the opening of the much talked of barracks in connection with the Salvation Army organisation, took place on Saturday night … A procession, headed by the band, and carrying torchlights, paraded the principal streets of the town previous to the opening ceremonies, and some time before the commencement of the service a large number of people were seen proceeding down Elizabeth-Street in the direction of the newly-erected building. By the time the procession arrived the building was full in every part. The platform was nearly filled with the local contingent, who were dressed in the usual uniforms, …”

A report in the Daily Telegraph described the new building:

“The barracks is a plain quadrangular building, 112ft by 45ft, the only relief being two wooden towers at each side of the front. The main hall is 90ft, 22ft of the rear being partitioned off for the caretaker's quarters. The front entrance is also partly screened off from the main hall. At the end is a broad platform, approached by steps, where the regulars are posted. The ceiling is covered with pine, stained and varnished, to imitate Huon pine. It is 30ft high in the centre, so that there is plenty of air space. The hall is lighted by four windows in each side, and four in the front,…. The hall holds 1100 comfortably, but can be emptied very speedily, by the two doors in front and one in each tower at the side, besides which there are two others at the rear. As the building is of wood, the gas pipes are all iron, so as to lessen the danger should the building catch fire. On top of the tower is a flagstaff 30ft high, from which waves the ' blood and fire' banner of the army. The builder was Mr G. Selby, of Canning-street, and Mr G. French, of Patterson-street did the painting. Its cost was a little over £1300”.

The Salvation Army Barracks was officially opened by Marshall Booth who revealed the ‘Army’s strategy in his address where 1500 people attended the evening service:

“He wished to make their barracks as attractive to the masses of the people as the theatrical world made its stage. If that could be done by music, by all means let them blow their cornets and beat their drums. If it could be accomplished by singing, let them bring their converted comic singers to the front of their platforms. If it could be done by striking and thrilling testimonies, though in rough and untutored language, let them bring their novices to the front. He would not quibble as to the fishermen's clothes so long as they were fishermen — whether they were as untutored as the twelve apostles, provided they were fishers of men…”

Although the Salvation Army continued to experience harassment for the next decade or two, it became part of the Launceston’s religious establishment and ‘citadels’ were open in Invermay [See No. 218] and at Galvin Street in South Launceston [See No.156]. The Salvation Army still occupies its original site on Elizabeth Street although the “Barracks” have long gone. The sleek and respectable modern building which occupies the site gives no hint of the early troubled years when the ‘Army’ first arrived in Launceston.

Source: Libraries Tasmania LPIC147-6-209
The Salvation Army Young People's Hall, built alongside the Citadel in 1915. Source: Weekly Courier, 2 December 1915

The "Barracks" can be seen to the centre left, with the Reed Memorial Church in the foreground. Source: Libraries Tasmania LPIC147-4-00214

A derail of the above photo - LPIC147-4-00214
The Salvation Army site on Elizabeth Street in 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018


Sources:


Launceston Examiner, Monday 22 October 1883, page 2 
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 23 October 1883, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Monday 26 November 1883, page 2
The Argus, Wednesday 2 January 1884,  page 6 
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 2 Jan 1884, page 2 
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 5 January 1884, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 12 January 1884, page 3
The Mercury, Tuesday 23 January 1883, page 3
The Mercury, Saturday 14 March 1885, page 3
The Daily Telegraph Saturday 4 July 1885, page 11

Weekly Courier, 2 December 1915
Mercury, Monday 4 December 1933, page 5

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