No. 566 - Beaconsfield - The Salvation Army - "Denizens of Bedlam"

The origins of Beaconsfield, previously known as Brandy Creek, date back to the late 1840s with the first discovery of small quantities of gold. Commercial gold mining only got underway in the 1870s which led to a boom in the town’s population. Brandy Creek was renamed Beaconsfield in 1879 in honour of British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield. By this time the reef was the richest gold discovery anywhere in Australia and virtually overnight Beaconsfield had become Tasmania's third largest town.

The Salvation Army first appeared at Beaconsfield in late 1883, not long after it had established bases at Launceston and Hobart. The reception to the ‘Army’ in Tasmania was initially hostile and sometimes even violent. Negative reactions to the Salvation Army were a response to the raucous nature of the ‘Army’s’ gatherings; middle class prejudice towards the working classes who were attracted to its meetings and because of its disruptive recruiting strategies which included street processions and open-air meetings. In Launceston and Hobart it was shadowed by a ‘skeleton army’ that parodied its marches and disrupted its meetings, sometimes violently. In Hobart the leader of the ‘Army’, Captain Gallagher, as well as others, were imprisoned for breaching municipal by-laws but were released after the intervention of the Attorney General.

The Salvation Army’s appearance at Beaconsfield was somewhat less hostile than that which it received at nearby Launceston. As a mining town Beaconsfield’s population was dominated by the working class who were attracted to evangelical groups like the Primitive Methodists and the Salvation Army. The first reference to the ‘Army’ is found in a report in the Examiner in October 1883:

“It is reported that a detachment of the Salvation Army will shortly visit Beaconsfield. They will be heartily welcomed by those fervent souls who are dissatisfied at what they conceive to be the dry formalism of the Primitive Methodist Church”.

A report in the Examiner three months later was somewhat critical of the ’Army’ following its first meeting which was held in the town’s Primitive Methodist church:

“On Monday an officer of the Salvation Army arrived in Beaconsfield. In the evening there was a large attendance at the Primitive Methodist Church in anticipation of a lively time, but visitors were disappointed, as the officer in question did not put in an appearance. I hear that it is intended to establish a barracks here. If so, the probable result will be the dividing and consequent weakening of the Primitive Methodists, as the recruits for the Salvation Army are likely to be drawn from the more excitable members of their Church. To a certain extent the Primitive Methodists, by marching the streets and singing hymns, have prepared the way for the Salvation Army. It is to be hoped in the interests of religion that the latter body will not attempt to gain a permanent footing in Beaconsfield, as it would simply be wasting their forces, the present religious bodies being sufficient for the spiritual requirements of the place. Those demonstrative religionists had better restrict their field of operations to the neglected classes in the slums of large towns, among whom they appear to be doing good. In the minds of the decent church-going people that compose the population of Beaconsfield their gesticulations and peculiar phraseology will tend rather to excite a feeling of repulsion”.

The Salvation Army’s presence in Beaconsfield stirred up both ‘feelings of repulsion’ and support. In 1884 local newspapers are full of letters written by its detractors and its supporters. In January 1884 “DEFENCE” wrote to the Daily Telegraph complaining of the the ‘Army’s’ attack on the established churches:

“Sir — The all absorbing topic in Beaconsfield for the last two or three days has been the Salvation Army. Without doubt they are a fine body of people, and the efforts they are putting forth in order to save the perishing and restore the wanderer again to paths of virtue are worthy of the highest commendation. But while we admit this, we must also admit that there are certain things in connection even with the Salvation Army that are not commendable. They seem to be doing a great work, and they seem conscious of it. But it is a pity they can not leave other churches alone, for notwithstanding their devotion to the good work, they can find time to point out and expose the imperfections and unfaithfulness of other churches. At the meeting which I attended the leader made use of some very strong expressions in reference to the imperfections of other churches, and added that if the churches in Beaconsfield had been faithful all Beaconsfield would have been saved". 

"Now, we admit there is unfaithfulness, there are imperfections, there are faults, many, in connection with the churches of Beaconsfield. But was there ever a perfect organisation in this world, and are there no faults to be found in connection with the Salvation Army? I think there is, when the greater part of their public services are conducted more like a theatrical performance than a religious service. When we hear expressions made use of bordering on vulgarity ; when we hear in connection with the most sacred subjects illustrations used of the most comical character, calculated not to edify but simply to arouse and excite the levity of the most unchristian of the audience, we must object that this is all in bad taste, and bordering on blasphemy".

"Personal compliments are also paid, for on the night that I was present at the meeting, just before the collection was made the leader said he hoped that the people bad not left their purses at home on the piano, and when the collectors were going around receiving the offerings of the people, one of them (a captain in the army), in passing a lady who did not give, exclaimed, “Here is a lady who has left her purse at home on the piano!” Now it is not everyone that can give. Some are able to give five pounds where others can not give five pence. And for a man to expose a person in that manner in a public audience is ungentlemanly: his religion has not taught him common politeness or good manners. While those things are done in the Salvation Army we don't think there is any room for them to find fault with others, for those who live in glass houses should never throw stones. Let us ever remember while we can see the mote in our brother's eye we may have a beam in our own….. DEFENCE”

The reasons for objections to the Salvation Army’s activities are varied but at Beaconsfield many were concerned with its fundraising tactics. In late 1883 the Salvation Army had opened a “Fallen Women’s Home” on Wellington Street in Launceston. The Army had a single-minded mission to save Launceston’s prostitutes, who were many, as well as other women who had fallen on hard times. The acquisition of a substantial property, previously the residence of Arthur Reed, for the sum of £1100, put considerable strain on the ‘Army’s’ finances as well as pressure on its members to wring every penny it could from visitor’s to its meetings in Launceston and Beaconsfield. This was the main complaint of a letter written by “Visitor to Primitive Church” published by the Daily Telegraph in February 1884:

“Sir, — I paid a visit last night to the Primitive [Methodist] Church, where a meeting was conducted by the Salvation Army. And during the first part of the meeting we had a very lively time of it indeed. What with the big drum, the kettle drum, the brass instruments, the loud and boisterous singing, we began to think that we were at a circus or a horse race, and just cheering the winner as he was coming in. But after, in looking around, we found that we were in a church, and joining in what was supposed to be a religious service".

"But the chief object of the meeting was money. The visit of the Salvation Army to Beaconsfield was as on a former occasion, to get money for the Fallen Women’s Home in Launceston. And some of the prominent members of the army are well up to their business as beggars. They are like the horse leech's daughter, crying, “Give, give, it is not for ourselves, it is for a good object.” We grant it is for a good object, but there are other good objects as well that demand our attention. There are homes in Beaconsfield to be supported as well the Fallen Women's Home in Launceston. And when we are asked for £5, £1, or 10s, and told that we can well afford to give liberally, I think that it is going a little too far. It is not true, as there are many in Beaconsfield with large families who are not able even to pay their way; and there are many others who cannot more than pay their way, and who have nothing to spare. I am afraid there are many others who have given their pounds and half sovereigns who will be found defaulters somewhere else; and the grocer, the butcher and baker, when settling up day comes, will look rather blue if they are told to wait until next pay day, as their money has been given to the Salvation Army. And further, are there not demands for charitable purposes at Beaconsfield? There are many; and what with special efforts and tea-meetings in connection with the different churches, the place is completely drained….”.

The letter resulted in a flurry of responses, both condemning and supportive of the Salvation Army. A correspondent to the Daily Telegraph using the nom de plume “Tricotrin” took the issue further:

“Sir, — In your issue of Thursday there is a letter signed 'A Visitor to the Primitive Church.' I am inclined to agree with him in many of his remarks. The Salvation soldiers are shocking and shameless beggars. Here most of their time was spent in trying to get money or goods; how much they managed to get I don’t exactly know, but it must have been a pretty fair amount. Very few would object to giving toward so charitable an object as the reclamation of Fallen Women, but people must have some guarantee that the money is being properly used. Captain Gibbs may be a very good and honest man (he says he is), but it would be only fair and business like on his part to adopt the suggestion thrown out some time since in your columns and appoint a committee of known and tried men in Launceston to manage the financial part of the Home. This would give an amount of confidence that would result in his presumably good work being supported by many who now say “I’m not going to give anything, it nearly all goes into the pockets of the Army.” I would also like to see Captain Gibbs publish a balance-sheet of all moneys and goods received and expended in Tasmania. Can he do it ? if so, why does he not”.

Questions about the Salvation Army’s financial affairs and fundraising tactics were used by other writers as ammunition for a general attack on the Army at Beaconsfield. In March 1884 “Justice” came to the Army’s defence:

“…No doubt there are many things in connection with the army that are objectionable such as slang terms, waving of handkerchiefs, and beating of drums in connection with their religious services. This sort of thing we know jars on the educated ear, but when we consider the good they are doing, especially to the lower classes. When we consider this I think the end justifies the means, for it is not always the silver trumpet that produces the most certain sound and accomplishes the greatest work, but it is the blowing of the ram’s horn that often does the greater work; and God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, for in the Salvation Army we have a body of people that are raised up, I believe, to do a special work to gather in the outcast and raise the fallen. The Salvation Army is going down, down, down, where, the vilest may be found. What organization or body of people can do the work as they are doing it? Can the present established churches do it? I wonder how many of the bachelors’ huts have the resident ministers visited during their sojourn in Beaconsfield? Not many, I guess. How many of the lower class have been visited, counselled, and prayed with? Not many; and the visits have been like angels' visits, few and far between. It may be said certain members of the Salvation Army also go where they can be best entertained, and providing they do it is nothing but natural that they should be sociable with those who are prepared to do all they can to help them on in their great work. But while they may do this they do not forget the lower classes”.

In March 1884 the Beaconsfield correspondent for the Examiner weighed in:

“The visit of the Salvation Army, though a monetary success, was a failure so far as making converts was concerned. Our people are too much accustomed to religious excitement to be moved by talk about the icy finger of death, or by any pictures of future torments that can be drawn by Captain Gibbs and his companions. Most of those present had a wearied look. They had attended in the hope of seeing something new, and seemed disappointed at the tameness of the proceedings. In fact the members of the Army were lacking in freshness. They appeared jaded, as if the work was beginning to tell on them. Their constant begging had a depressing influence. People are quite ready to sympathise with the efforts of the Salvationists to provide a home for fallen women, but at the same time they cannot forget that the butcher and the baker have claims upon them claims which cannot be ignored with safety. Should the Army do no more than establish a refuge for unfortunate women who wish to escape from a life of degradation, they will deserve the gratitude of social reformers. Mrs. Gibbs seems to be thoroughly in earnest, and if she could but secure the co-operation of ladies of position, much might be accomplished. The great difficulty is not to get the women into the home, but to find them suitable employment. Wives and mothers naturally enough look with suspicion upon those who have led a life of open shame, and would regard it as a dangerous experiment to receive them in to their houses. It is almost hopeless to look for a reformation until there is a higher tone in society. Some women seem to delight in the companionship of men who have the reputation of being evil-livers, and these are the very women who display the greatest hostility to their own sex who have openly lapsed from virtue”.

After the initial brouhaha over the Salvation Army’s fundraising methods, over the next three year it established a significant following in Beaconsfield. In February 1886 the correspondent for The Tasmanian damned the Army’s progress with faint praise:

“The Salvation Army is in full swing here, and hold forth every evening in the Alfred Hall. Their grotesque style of worship attracts large crowds, and a few converts have been made. The verdict of the majority of the people here is that this movement is doing more harm that good”.

Similarly, in March 1886 the local correspondent for the Daily Telegraph wrote:

“The Salvation Army have now a formidable rival in the Primitive Methodists, who held a camp meeting on Sunday morning near the Court House. They also parade the street singing hymns, and have a very fair band, the music much better that of the Salvation Army, and the general turnout more respectable to look at”.

While the correspondent for the Examiner was more concise in its assessment:

“… [The] Salvation Army driving a brisk trade. Shall not be surprised if it drives some people mad”.

What is clear however is that the ‘Army’ had developed a significant following in the town. They had progressed from using the Primitive Methodist church (who had apparently become rivals) to a large room in the Alfred Hall. However the Daily Telegraph was critical of the ‘Army’s new accomodation:

“A building here known as the Alfred Hall in now being used as a Salvation Army Barracks. The provision for escape in case of fire is simply nil — one ordinary house door at the top end of the hall, opening inwards. The main entrance is down a long passage, a pair of folding doors opening inwards, perhaps 6ft wide; the passage crowded with people, the bulk of the audience inside females, the building of pine and scrim, the bursting of a lamp or other accident would cause a panic, and death to many would certainly be the result. They would find them selves hurried to the sweet by-and-bye under shocking circumstances, and then it would be said, “Who'd have thought it?”

Then in April 1886 the Examiner reported:

“A large building is being added to the Alfred Hall for the accomodation of the Salvation Army, which strange organisation have determined to locate a division of their forces in Beaconsfield”.

The acquisition of more suitable premises did not do much to endear the Army to many of Beaconsfield’s residents. In September 1886 the Examiner reported:

“The Salvation Army yesterday evening made a sorry exhibition of itself. A concert was announced to take place in the Town Hall, and the Army got up a demonstration with the intention of marring its success. The members of the Army turned out in full force dressed in the most grotesque fashion, the dresses worn being made of paper slips cut from the War Cry. One man, the standard bearer, wore a tall hat about 2ft. high, being made of the headings of the War Cry, which was surmounted by a kind of broom, by way of a plume. Men and women were all alike, and made complete fools of themselves. However, their very laudable efforts were frustrated, as the crowd which assembled, instead of following the Army to its barracks, turned in masse and patronised the concert. During the display the Army was assailed with rotten eggs, and had worse happened, a few people would have sympathised with them. They seem to have completely lost their heads”.

The Salvation Army’s premises at the Alfred Hall was also problematic and their were complaints made about disturbances at the library which was housed in the building:

“The situation is bad. Two rooms, part of the institution known as the Alfred Hall, comprise the apartments of the public library. These rooms adjoin the Alfred Hall. The hall is occupied by the Salvation Army every alternate night and on other evenings generally used for some other public entertainments. The varied and discordant noises emanating from the army are anything but inducements to a person to go to the library to enjoy a quiet read. The effect of such a combination of horrible sounds on an ordinary mortal would be to make him remove as far as possible from the library and its associated babel,. 2nd. When the hall is occupied by the Army, crowds of larrikins and idlers throng the pathway at and around the entrance to the hall. The constant buzz of conversation, varied now and again by a flash of anything but elegant language, is not conducive to study, and as the door of the library adjoins that of the hall, those in the former can hear all that is going on in the street just as distinctly is though they were in the street itself…..”.

At Beaconsfield, as was the case in Launceston, the Army’s public appearances attracted the “larrikin element”. In May 1887 the Launceston Examiner reported:

“For a long time the Salvation Army have been in the habit of holding services on an open space of ground opposite Messrs. Nichols and Sons’ store. The sounds of the big drum; cornets, and discordant human voices have long been a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Now this band, with all its accompanying sounds, have taken a piece, of ground situated between Mr. George Webb's residence and Mr. Goodwin's confectioner's shop, and nearly opposite the Club Hotel - a business centre that it was always devoutly hoped would never be intruded on by a noisy rabble. Last night the so-called army held forth with blazing torches on the new site, and such a noise was the result that the denizens of Bedlam was put to shame. As usual a throng of larrikins and mud-larks escorted the army and added considerably to the din. This organisation has become a perfect nuisance in the town, and everyone is wondering how it is that the law permits such unseemly doings. If two of the citizens walked up the street and only made half the noise that the army do, they would soon be collared by the police and lodged in the “logs.” But these people, under the guise of religion, are allowed to make as much noise as they please, and the law actually upholds them. One child last night was so frightened at the appearance of the army that it went into a fit, and the doctor had to attend it; when the men were appealed to they laughed at the incident. A short time back a most respected old lady lay on her death bed. The army barracks were adjacent, and every night the usual religious orgies were carried on. The noise was intolerable, and the dying lady was greatly disturbed. The leaders of the army were spoken to about the matter but took no heed saying it was all in the "glory of God." Such inhumanity on the part of a body professing to be Christians is deserving of the severest censure. Ultimately the lady died, her last moments on earth being burdened by the sounds of the big drum, the cornets, and the shouts of the members of that Christian organisation called the salvation army”.

In May 1887 the issue of larrikinsm was the subject of an aggrieved correspondent, signed Observer, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph:

“Beaconsfield for some years past has been noted for good order and respectability, but since the advent of the Salvation Army into it larrikinism has been on the increase. As an attendant at some of the open-air meetings, I have witnessed scenes that have been really shameful, actions that are disgraceful to a civilised or Christian community. Those unfortunate army people are not only hooted and jeered when they attempt to speak, but are pelted with rotten eggs, and sometimes missiles harder than eggs are used in the shape of stones. The interruption is caused mostly from boys, ranging from eight to 15 years of age, and, strange to say, several of these boys belong to Christian parents…. These boys are also backed up and supported by young and middle-aged men, who are seldom heard by day, but like the night bird whose dismal croak is only heard when darkness sets in, so these individuals, under the cover of night, can join with the youngest in the general uproar. At the last open-air meeting that we had, the larrikins changed the programme by throwing burning crackers among the people. It may be argued that the army invites interruption by their eccentricities, which may be true to a certain extent, but liberty of conscience is the golden rule, and the army has a right to worship in their own way, although it may be peculiar. But what about the police. Where are they? Well, unfortunately for the army, when their open-air meetings are being held, by what I can learn, the police generally happen to be busy in another part of the town, and when they are present they fail to take action. They stand quietly by, and the larrikins can hoot and yell as much as they please. But I was thinking if we lived in the age of miracles, and the mob on the footpath could be transformed into a flock of goats, they would very soon be disposed of, for our police are very energetic in that particular. Scarcely a court day passes but some resident is lugged up to court for allowing a goat to trespass on the streets, and I think if the police would manifest a little more of the goat spirit with the larrikins, there would soon be a better state of things in Beaconsfield in the shape of peace and order”.

When the police did act it appears that the Police Court was sometimes somewhat ambivalent in meeting out punishment: In June 1887 the Examiner reported:

“At the police court on Monday Charles Waller was charged before Mr. T.G. Williams, J.P., with having disturbed the public peace at the Salvation Army Barracks on the pervious night. Accused pleaded guilty, and in consideration of certain distressing circumstances in connection with the family the prosecutor did not press for a heavy penalty. In view of the circumstances and the fact that the accused had spent the night in gaol, he was fined 1s, the bench administering a severe reprimand and desiring better conduct in the future”.

The sympathetic reporter went on to reveal his prejudice:

“I understand the Salvation army in some parts of the United States have to procure a licence, it being treated as a public show”.

In September 1890 Examiner reported that the Salvation Army was about to build new premises at Beaconsfield:

“It is on the cards that a sightly edifice will shortly be erected on that piece of ground between the Club hotel and Mr. T.G. Williams’s office and residence. It will be used as a Salvation army barracks, residence for officers, etc. A good building here will be a welcome addition to this portion of the town”.

The 1890’s proved to be a turning point for the Salvation Army. Following the opening of ‘Army’s’ new barracks it gradually became recognised as a permanent fixture of Beaconsfield’s religious establishment. Over the next two decades it went from strength to strength although it continued to experience harassment from the ‘larrikin element’ right up to the time of the Great War.

The history of the first decade of the Salvation Army at Beaconsfield echoes its early experiences in most Tasmanian towns such as at Launceston, Deloraine, Scottsdale and Ulverstone; all of which have been documented in Churches of Tasmania. While early newspaper reports of the ‘Army’ are very colourful and exaggerated, they nevertheless expose widespread public prejudice towards a very different Salvation Army from the “Salvos” with which we are familiar today.

Note on photographs.  I have yet to find a photograph of the Beaconsfield Salvation Army Barracks.

Links to other articles on Churches of Tasmania about the establishment of the Salvation Army in towns across the State:


Source - Courtesy of the Salvation Army Museum Australia/QVMG Lauceston
..... Most of the Bandsmen were miners working the Beaconsfield Mine. when the mine closed down they went to Launceston for work and many became members of the South Launceston Corps. Source: Salvation Army Museum Australia

Captain and Mrs Gibbs with their two children. The Gibbs were a driving force in the establishment of the Salvation Army in northern Tasmania, including Beaconsfield. Source: Courtesy of The Salvation Army Museum Australia

A postcard of Beaconsfield around the turn of the 20th century

A postcard of Beaconsfield around the turn of the 20th century

A postcard of Beaconsfield around the turn of the 20th century


The Tasmanian, Saturday 13 October 1883
Launceston Examiner, Monday 17 December 1883, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 22 December 1883
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 29 January 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 28 February 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 5 March 1884, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 5 March 1884, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Friday 7 March 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 10 March 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 12 March 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 13 January 1886, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 13 February 1886
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 20 February 1886, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 9 March 1886, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 3 April 1886
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 3 April 1886, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Friday 24 September 1886, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Friday 28 January 1887, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 21 May 1887, page 1
The Tasmanian, Saturday 28 May 1887, page 11
Daily Telegraph, Monday 30 May 1887, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 18 July 1887, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 28 February 1889, page 3
Launceston examiner, Saturday 27 September 1890, page 3


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