No. 406 - The Inveresk Baptist Mission Hall - "The White Angel of Inveresk"

The story of the the Baptist Mission at Inveresk is intimately connected to the life of the remarkable Sister Mary Lamb. This blog entry explores the work of the Baptist mission to the poor of Inveresk 100 years ago. The considerable poverty which once existed in Launceston is very much a topic hidden in history’s shadow.

In 1912 Launceston’s Baptist Tabernacle on Cimitiere Street established a Christian Mission Hall at Inveresk with the aim of evangelising to the poor through charitable mission work. Christian missionary work at Inveresk was driven by Sister Mary Ann Lamb, whose name became synonymous with the Mission. The Baptists secured the old Congregation Church Hall [see No. 375] on Russell Street as a base for its work in Inveresk. The hall was in a terrible state but was soon made ready by voluntary workers. The Examiner reported on the establishment of the mission:

“A few weeks ago, writes a correspondent, there stood in the old Congregational Hall in Russell-street a band of workers. As they looked around broken windows, dingy walls, and tumbled down furniture met their gaze. They were considering the problem of raising the "submerged tenth." There was but one conclusion - that a transformation must take place. A band of practical workers was enlisted, sashes were glazed, walls brightened by colouring and a platform erected, and seating accommodation provided. The labour was freely given, but material had to be purchased. …About five Sundays ago a crowd of hungry looking but lively youngsters assembled round the old hall, and as the mission sister, accompanied by one of her colleagues, appeared, she was greeted with "Hello, sister; we are coming to your school”. Into the brightened hall trooped the youngsters, many were the exclamations of approval. These children are generally frank enough in their criticisms. At 7.45 in the evening a song service was held, and again the children assembled in goodly numbers, but this time accompanied by adults. A bright cheerful gospel service was held. The small beginning thus made has already assumed some proportions”.

The report goes on to detail the work of the Mission and Sister Lamb:

“The school has a roll of some 80 scholars. The Sunday evening congregation fills the building. A week-night service is also held, and in most cases takes the form of "Gospel temperance." The attendance at this is satisfactory. The sewing class, started on the first Thursday afternoon with 16 girls, has increased to 40. The girls make garments for them selves, or some member of the family. The material for' this work has been donated, and already signs of diminution are apparent, but the workers keep up heart, and believe that more will follow. The soup kitchen on Fridays was one of the first works started, and week by week families have been helped. This has now been augmented by some assistance from the City Mission, and last Friday 25 families were supplied. Under the wise supervision of the mission sister, left-off clothing donated has been distributed among the poor and needy, and it is unnecessary to say that during the last few weeks much comfort and cheer has been brought to well-deserved cases. The Baptists of Launceston are to be congratulated on the liberal spirit displayed in thus giving their sister to this work, and while to them their loss will be great in this direction, their higher gain will be greater. It may come as a surprise to many that so much needs to be done in this direction, but to such it might be said, "Come and see." A short interview with Miss Lamb, the sister, whose address is Balaclava-street, Inveresk, will satisfy the most sceptical. In every department of this work the sister is well supported by a band of whole-hearted and efficient workers”.

The success of the Mission Hall exceeded all expectations. In 1913 the Daily Telegraph reported:

“Russell-street Baptist Mission Hall proved to be far too small for the crowds that gathered last night, and before the service the building was packed to overflowing. The church has been tastefully decorated with the fruits of the harvest, a most liberal response being made, and plates of fruit and vegetables were arranged along the front of the platform….”

The 1915 annual report on the work of the Mission reveals that its success was such that the Russell Street hall was so overwhelmed that new premises would be needed: The chairman of Mission Hall committee reported:

“It has been found necessary to secure a site more suitable for the fuller expansion of the mission, and we trust that such a generous response will come from a sympathetic public as will enable us to start building operations within the next 12 months”.

The chairman went on to summarise the work of the Mission. Most of the details of the report have been reproduced here as it provides a unique insight into Inveresk’s underclass as well as the work of the Baptists:

“House-to-house visitation has been sympathetically carried on, and by this means the needs of many have been found and ministered unto. So far as we can learn, these visits made by the sister are appreciated. Sunday evening services are well attended, the method of carrying them on evidently finding appreciation among the people, and have been greatly blessed. Our Sunday school shows a decided improvement in attendance and interest. We have now a school roll of 120, with an average attendance of 80 and a teaching staff of 11. Temperance meetings are held every Thursday evening. The attendance has been well sustained. Earnest, thoughtful addresses are given, and the people attending are fully alive to the advantage of at least curtailing the hours of the liquor business. Open-air work has been carried on nearly every Sunday evening during the past year. The people rally well to this branch of the work, and we are satisfied the time given is well spent. Soup kitchen - This has been a great boon to very many during the winter months, about 60 gallons of soup being dispensed each month. Our thanks are due to friends who have sent vegetables and ingredients for this purpose. Hospital visitation received close attention by the sister, and in this she has received valuable assistance from the Endeavour Members. Mothers' meetings are regularly held and the materials so generously supplied are made up into garments to meet the needs that arise from time to time. Girls' sewing classes are much appreciated by the girls, as well as their parents, and here much valued educational benefits is imparted. The work at these meetings is on much the same lines as the mothers' meetings. Gaol-Services are held here weekly by the sister, and have been greatly blessed. About 8000 tracts and periodicals have been distributed during the year. The silent but potent messenger has been efficient. Kindred societies - We desire to acknowledge the valued assistance rendered by the City Mission and the Benevolent Society. Statistics - Visits to homes, 2124; hospital, 80; gaol, 67; total, 2251. Our thanks are due to the friends who hive so kindly assisted us with gifts of boots, clothes, groceries, wood, flowers, and vegetables, and to our collectors who have solicited and secured donations of money and in kind. They again will wait upon our supporters for a renewal of their generosity, and we trust that any who are not waited on and desire to help will communicate with Sister Lamb, Balaclava street; ….The report was received with marks of applause, and was adopted”.

In 1918 progress was made towards establishing a new mission hall after land was purchased on the corner of Gunn Street [now Holbrook Street] and Hunter Street. A new Mission Hall was opened in March 1919. The Examiner reported:

“If the crowd which assembled in the new mission hall at Inveresk is an indication of how its work is to be appreciated; then its success is assured. The Mayor presided at the public meeting…. He knew of the good practical work which occupied the attention of those who were associated with the mission. So far as the Mission Sister, Miss Lamb, was concerned, he could only speak in the highest terms. The people of lnveresk might be congratulated on having such a building erected in its busy centre. There was great future before lnveresk. He hoped that as the place increased in importance the mission would expand, and be as it had been in the past, a benefaction to the community”.

The report continued:

“….The building reflected credit upon the builder; it was well built, commodious, cheerfully lighted, and when the original plan was completed should prove admirably adapted to the multifarious activities of the mission….The mission was devoted to the well-being of the community - physical, mental, moral, and religious. It was placed in the centre of the neighbourhood to signify that Godliness was the central interest of the people; to suggest the accessibility of the mission to people of all creeds and conditions; to indicate that all reform must begin at the centre and reach out to the circumference”.

Months after the hall’s opening a fatal blow struck the mission. As the Spanish flu pandemic swept though Launceston in the winter of 1919, Sister Mary Lamb was caught up as one of its victims. Her sudden death at the age 58 was a shock to the community and was to significantly impact on the work of the mission. In September 1919 a moving tribute to Sister Lamb was published in the Examiner:

“So far as the [influenza quarantine] restrictions would allow, the Launceston Baptist Tabernacle was fully occupied last evening, when an in memoriam service was held for the late Sister Lamb. …The preacher [Reverend Jeffs] confessed the difficulty he he felt in paying a sufficiently worthy tribute to the beautiful life which had now closed on earth. The loss, of Sister Lamb would be keenly felt beyond the limits of the church of which she had been a faithful and active member for more than 20 years. The whole city would miss the powerful influence of her spirituality and redeeming activity; all influence none the less powerful because of its modesty and gentleness. For more than 10 years she had been a deaconess of the church, nine of which were spent as church visitor. In this capacity she visited afoot the members and adherents of the church and its branches, including the Ravenswood district, carrying comfort and sympathy. Her visits were always welcome and helpful. Seven years ago the special need of Inveresk appealed to her, and the church approved of her concentrating her energies upon that neighbourhood. There she had entrenched herself in the love and respect of the people, and had built up the Baptist Mission there, which would ever be associated with her name and consecrated life. She had been accustomed to pay be tween 2000 and 3000 visits per years comforting the sorrowing, counselling the tried, and helping the needy. She had been designated by many "The white angel of Inveresk." In addition to this, she had visited the gaol weekly, tenderly appealing to the erring, in many instances without effect, but in others with success. She had carried week by week to the hospitals of the city flowers and the “sweet fragrance of Christ," and hundreds would think of her with love and would bless God for her ministry. These were some of the varied ways in which she fulfilled her ministry, but her deeds of kindness could never be tabulated; they were recorded on high. The best memorial that could be erected for her was to complete the hall, which was at present incomplete, and to pay it off. It would be altogether appropriate to call it ‘The Sister Lamb Baptist Mission Hall," so that her name might be perpetually in remembrance….”

In October 1919 the mission hall was renamed the Sister Lamb Mission Hall as a tribute to the ‘White Angel of Inveresk’. However, Sister Lamb’s death was also to result in the closure of the Mission. The Baptists were unable to replace Sister Lamb and this, combined with the post-war economic depression, resulted in funds for the Missions’ work quickly drying up.

In 1922 the Mission’s trustees rented the hall to the Free Kindergarten Association and a kindergarten was opened with an enrolment of 35 children. In May 1926 the Free Kindergarten Association purchased the hall thereby bringing to a close the work of the Baptist Mission.

The hall is now the head office of the Playgroup Association of Tasmania and is used by ‘PlayConnect’, an autism specific playgroup catered for 0-6 years with developmental delays. Although Sister Mary Lamb’s name is no longer associated with the hall, in a small way the mission of service to the Launceston community still lives on.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The Examiner, Friday 22 February 1918
World, Friday 19 September 1919


Examiner, Saturday 1 March 1922

Sources:

Examiner, Wednesday 12 June 1912, page 5
Daily Telegraph, Monday 7 April 1913, page 6
Examiner, Friday 30 April 1915, page 3
The Examiner, Friday 22 February 1918, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 20 March 1919, page 3
Examiner, Thursday 20 March 1919, page 7
World, Friday 19 September 1919, page 7
Examiner, Monday 22 September 1919, page 3
Examiner, Saturday 4 October 1919, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 22 December 1921, page 9
Examiner, Saturday 1 March 1922, page 6
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 13 May 1926, page 4

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