No. 520 - Sheffield - The Salvation Army - "A Novel Sight"

Sheffield is a country town in northern Tasmania approximately 25 kilometres south of Devonport. The area was explored by the surveyor Nathaniel Kentish in 1842 who was trying to find a route from Deloraine through to the north west coast. According to J. R. Skemps’ ‘A History of the North West Coast’, in 1861 the first public house, the Sheffield Inn, was opened by James Poulett, a native of Sheffield in England. This is possibly the origin of the town’s name.

The Salvation Army arrived at Tasmania in the early 1880’s and first established bases at Launceston and Hobart. The initial reception to the ‘Army’ was hostile and sometimes even violent. This was a reaction to the raucous nature of the Salvation Army’s gatherings as well as middle class prejudice towards the working classes who were attracted to its meetings. Noisy recruiting strategies such street processions led by brass bands and mass open-air meetings were regarded as disruptive by the authorities.

The Salvation Army’s reception at Sheffield was considerably less hostile than that which they received at other towns in the north west. The Kentish region had previously attracted dissenting religious groups including the Baptists and Plymouth Brethren who together with the Salvation Army, formed a sizeable alternative to the established religious denominations.

There are reports of visits to Sheffield by ‘officers’ of the ‘Army’ in the mid 1880’s but the first substantial ‘incursion’ came in 1890 and 1891 with the arrival of a group based in Latrobe. In 1891 ‘The Colonist’ reported:

“The Salvation Army Guards’ Band of 22 performers marched into Sheffield on Wednesday, causing some excitement, especially among the army followers. Crowded meetings were held in Roland Hall on Wednesday and Thursday nights, on Friday the Band left for Latrobe”.

There are some reports of minor disruption to Salvation Army meetings initiated by the “larrikin element” which was typical of this time but at Sheffield the Salvationist cause seems to have enjoyed at least some support from the police and courts. In 1892 the North Coast Standard reported on an incident dealt with by the Sheffield Police Court:

“At the Police Court on Friday before Messrs P. C. Maxwell P.M., and C. Spotswood, J.P., a young man appeared to answer a charge of using indecent language at the Salvation Army Barracks. The disciples of General Booth waxed warm on the subject, and after turning up in strong force to hear the verdict, dispersed, apparently satisfied when the youthful linguist had parted £2 and 1-13 costs in preference to the alternative of one month in the middle of summer. The Bench are to be commended for their action, as professors of languages abound here in plenty, and seem to struggle for supremacy. After the offender had received a caution from the Bench to the effect that it would take a " fiver' to square it next time, he shook the dust [of] the court from his feet, and taking one long last look of contempt in the direction of the scarlet guernseys and bonnets, muttered — I suppose an apology? for his conduct, and departed homewards, a poorer, yet wiser man”.

In 1893 complaints were made about the Army’s noisy street processions and an attempt was made by Sheffield’s town council to pass a by-law prohibiting playing on the street. This appears to have come to nothing.

In November 1893 the Salvation Army opened its first ‘barracks’ at the edge of town. Salvation Army halls or barracks were often very simple buildings which were similar in appearance and were used as places of worship, venues for meetings and a space for practice for the Army band. The North Coast Standard carried a brief report on the opening of Sheffield’s new barracks:

“The Salvation Army opened their new barracks on Sunday last. Captain Walkerdon and others did the speechifying in the absence of Major Deane, who was called to Melbourne. There was a good attendance to all the meetings. They intend holding a tea meeting today to try and wipe off the balance owning on the building. The captain and his mate are to be congratulated for their energy and pluck, for it is mainly owing to them that the building is in its present state. Several promised to help, but as usual when wanted were not to be found”.

The exact location of the original barracks is not known but it was probably located near the Anglican church at the edge of town.

Over the next two decades the Salvation Army became part of Sheffield’s religious landscape. The Army’s principal focus was on “rescue work”; this being the belief that everyone was worth saving and that the salvation of “bodies and souls” were of equal importance, “restoring to manhood the criminal and degraded”.

In 1917 the Salvation Army decided to relocate its barracks to “a more central position”. In June the Launceston Examiner reported on the “novel sight” of the Barracks being towed by a traction engine to its new site. A photograph of this event has survived and although the removal of buildings was in fact a fairly common occurrence, they were rarely captured on camera in earlier times.

The old barracks still exist and are now used as a commercial premises located at 107 Main Street. I have yet to establish when the Salvation Army departed from Sheffield. 

The removal of Sheffield's Salvation Army Barracks to a more central site in 1917. Source: Photo - E.T. Emmett - Weekly Courier
The old Barracks are now a commercial premises located at 107 High Street. (Image - Google streetview 2010)


The Colonist, Saturday 19 July 1890, page 26
Launceston Examiner, Friday 20 March 1890, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 13 July 1891, page 4
North Coast Standard, Tuesday 22 November 1892, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 8 September 1893, page 4
North Coast Standard, Friday 8 September 1893, page 3
North Coast Standard, Tuesday 7 November 1893, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 11 November 1893, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Monday 14 June 1897, page 7
The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 11 June 1917, page 2
Examiner, Thursday 21 June 1917, page 3
Weekly Courier, Thursday 26 July 1917, page 20



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