No. 773 - Launceston - The Queen's Head Inn - St John's Mission House and Chapel - "Well done thou good and faithful servant"

Nineteenth century Launceston’s growth was matched by a sizeable increase in the town’s underclass. A significant number of families lived in extreme poverty and delinquent children were of particular concern to the authorities. After the mid 19th century the issue of poverty was gradually taken on by government as well as charitable bodies and churches.

The arrival of the Salvation Army in Launceston in the early 1880s and its relentless proselytising amongst the town’s poor challenged the established churches to respond to the spiritual and material needs of the poor; especially those who had abandoned religion. One such example of this response was that of the Anglican Church which established St John’s Mission House in 1893.

During the incumbency of the rector of St John’s Church, Reverend Cannon R. C. Nugent Kelly, a mission was opened in the ‘Queen’s Head’ public house on Wellington Street. The Queens Head had been refused a renewal of its license due to “Ill-regulated business” and the opportunity was seized to rent and convert the building into a mission with the purpose of drawing in the poor who were numerous in the area. The building, which no longer exists, was located in the vicinity of the Coles Supermarket car-park on Wellington Street.

The driving force behind the establishment of the ‘Queen's Head Mission’ was Charlotte Shoobridge, better known as “Sister Charlotte”. She was the eldest daughter of Ebenezer and Charlotte Shoobridge of Bushy Park, a pioneering Van Diemen’s Land family who had made their fortune in establishing a hop growing industry in the Derwent Valley. In 1894 Sister Charlotte was ordained a ‘deaconess’ of the Church of England, the first ‘deaconess’ in Tasmania. In 1892 Sister Charlotte moved to Launceston to take on the challenge of running a mission for town’s poor and needy.

In March 1893 Launceston’s Examiner described the progress made in converting the Queen's Head into a Mission, which included a chapel in a converted skittle alley:

"St. John’s Mission House is a recent development of well-directed energy. The institution is situated in Wellington-street in St. John's parish, the Queen's Head Hotel having been rented for the purpose. The interior has been completely transformed, a number of energetic young men having volunteered to carry out the work of renovation without reward, and the rent will be paid through the medium of subscriptions to be raised amongst the member of St. John's Church Union. Miss C. Shoobridge has taken a great deal of interest in the mission, and besides assisting in the work will contribute to its expense from her own purse. Miss Shoobridge, who will reside in the building, will conduct a sewing class for girls in one of the rooms during the evenings, and preside over mothers' meetings in the afternoons. The work will be made very interesting, in that besides receiving instruction from Miss Shoobridge, the women and girls will have the pleasure of hearing that lady read from good books, so that there will be a combination of instruction and amusement, the element of religion being of course always present. Refreshments will be provided, and a small fee will be paid by those who attend the classes from one penny upwards. The Rev. R. Nugent Kelly or the Rev. F. Parnall will conduct Sunday evening services in the old skittle alley, which will of course be provided with seating accommodation. The furnishing of the rooms is being rapidly proceeded with, and as far as the classes have progressed up to the present there is every indication that the new venture will be a success in every way….”.

A report in Launceston’s Daily Telegraph’s has a brief description of the chapel:

"The old skittle alley has been turned into a mission room for meetings. A platform has been erected at one end, curtains hung, and a coloured glass window put in. Seats and a harmonium have been purchased from the Y.M.C.A. rooms, but the platform, carpet, whitewashing, paper hanging, window repairing, etc., have been all free contributions”.

The Examiner carried another report describing the Queen's Head after the renovations had been completed:

“With regard to other changes, the old bar parlour has been neatly papered and furnished, and will now be used as an office, it being intended that there shall be a free servants' registry. And while referring to this department, one very useful adjunct to the institution will be the assistance of young girls from the country districts who, seeking work in the city, are occasionally obliged to apply to the Benevolent Society for help in the way of lodgings. It is intended to set apart one or two of the upstair rooms for that purpose. There is, however, another method of utilising the spare rooms, namely, to accommodate some of the children who, owing to various circumstances, are taken over by the Government, and thus they will be placed in healthy surroundings, both in regard to education and Christian life. Returning to the rooms downstairs, one of the most important is that used for holding girls' sewing classes, which will be presided over by Miss C. Shoobridge, the deaconess, who resides on the premises, and who will also conduct mothers' meetings. As time goes on, Mr Kelly hopes to establish a boys' gymnasium in the room above the hall. Then there will be singing classes for girls and boys, which it is hoped and believed will be well attended. The institution has undoubtedly been inaugurated under the most favourable auspices, and the support already accorded is a happy augury of its future usefulness both as an educational medium and a means whereby those who are in distressed circumstances may be relieved place would not recognise it now. The services will be evangelistic, and calculated to interest those whom the management desires should attend; and it may be here remarked that the special object of this mission work is to reach those who do not at the present time attend any church. Mr Kelly does not wish regular attendants at other places of worship to come.…”.

The Mission opened on Palm Sunday in March 1893 with 60 present for the first service. The Examiner reported:

“The first service in connection with St. John’s Church Mission was held in the chapel, Queen's Head Hotel, last evening, and the attendance was very satisfactory. The little hall looked cheerful, and the opening service was attractive of much interest, the singing being heartily engaged in. The Rev. R. C. Nugent Kelly gave an interesting address from Isaiah lxi., 1.38, setting forth our Lord's object in Christianity. Extempore prayers followed, and the second portion of the service consisted of simple prayers from the mission liturgy”.

The Mission thrived and activities were frequently described in Launceston’s newspapers. In July 1904 the Examiner published a lengthy and entertaining piece about the Mission’s soup kitchen:

It was "soup day" at St. John's Mission House, in Wellington-street, and a card in one of the windows notified the fact to the passer-by. Although it still wanted a few minutes to noon - the hour when Sister Charlotte commences to dispense her savoury compound - a small crowd was congregated in the yard at the rear of the building, eagerly waiting for the kitchen door to be opened. The gathering consisted for the most part of children, young boys and girls, although amongst those assembled were a few adults. Each carried some sort of utensil, but the majority of the customers appeared to favour that very useful article known as the "billy." There were others, however, who had come with jugs, dippers, and sundry articles of domestic use of all shapes, sizes, and patterns.

A somewhat remarkable feature was that the smaller the child the larger the can or jug it carried, suggesting to the writer one of two things - either that the little messenger had been provided with the largest vessel available in order to minimise the danger of the soup being spilt during transit, or that the utensil denoted in some way the size of the family for whom the soup was required. As regards the customers themselves, it was plainly evident that they belonged to that class not overburdened with wealth. They were the children of poor, but respectable hard-working people, and it was apparent that the youngsters were not permitted to grow up with an aversion for soap and water. One had an opportunity to take note of all these things from a small window in the kitchen, to which apartment the writer had been conducted by Sister Charlotte, who, with sleeves tucked up, was busily engaged in stirring a 20-gallon copper of soup, a bowl of which was sampled and found to be excellent. It is not everyone that can make soup; but, it is evident that Sister Charlotte has very little to learn in this direction. It was a good, wholesome, and nutritious compound, of a substantial kind, with plenty of "body" in it - not the watery, insipid, tasteless kind of stuff so frequently served up under a grand-sounding name. That the soup is appreciated by those for whom it is made is evidenced by the fact that the demand is far greater than the supply, and many have to go away without being enabled to procure as much as they desire.

"We do not give away the soup”, explains Sister Charlotte, "but make a nominal charge of one penny per quart for it, and should there be any who cannot afford that small sum, then they are expected to do something by way of equivalent. Our motto is to help those who help themselves, and it is on those lines that St. John's Mission House is conducted."

The principle is certainly a good one, as there is no doubt that indiscriminate charity has the effect of killing that spirit of independence and self-help which prevails among the industrious poor. There is such a thing as pauperising people, and this unfortunately is often brought about through carelessness on the part of those who dispense charity. It might be mentioned that the money obtained from the sale of the soup, the making and disposal of which is confined to Friday, goes towards the purchase of the ingredients required. Thus to some extent the St. John's soup kitchen is self-supporting, but it is quite evident, even to the uninitiated in the art of cookery, that it would be impossible to sell it for one penny a quart were it not for assistance rendered by friends of the Mission House.

In order to prepare this cauldron of nourishing food, Sister Charlotte rises every Friday morning at 5 o'clock, and from that hour until after midday she is continuously at work. She personally attends to the wants of her customers, and ladles out the soup into the billies and jugs as they are handed to her, at the same time kindly enquiring as to how mother or the baby is getting on. The ladle holds exactly one quart, but after be ing emptied of its contents it is always dipped again into the copper, and each customer given a little more than that to which he or she is entitled. It does not take very long to empty the copper, especially on a cold day, when business is so brisk that four times the quantity of soup could be disposed of.

"Please, sister," said a pretty little girl, whose hands were blue with the cold, "will you let mum have a quart, and she will pay another time; she's got no money to-day." The request was not in vain; the little one got her cracked jug full of smoking hot soup, and went away with a bright smile on her young face. Shortly before the last quart had been ,taken out of the copper a tall, thin, timid looking girl, who had previously been served with a pennyworth, made her reappearance at the kitchen door, with a "billy" in her hand. "I gave you your soup," said Sister Charlotte. "Yes, I know you did; sister; but mother sent me back to see if you would let her have another quart because there's seven of us at home now." In this instance, however, the request could not be granted, as there were still some half-dozen deserving people to be served, some of whom would have to go away disappointed. Unfortunately the copper at present in use for making this soup is not only of limited capacity, but it is very old, and practically worn out; in fact, it is only through constant care and watchfulness on the part of the sister that it is not burnt through…”.

The religious work of the Mission was also extensive. The 1900 the Mission’s annual report reveals the total attendance for the year numbered 12 994. The number was made up by those attending Sunday services, Bible readings, first Holy communion, choir practice and Sunday School. The number of people receiving meals is not recorded.

In 1905 Sister Charlotte was interviewed by Launceston’s Daily Telegraph:

“Since the inception of the Mission House and its work, Sister Charlotte Shoobridge has been in charge, and it says much for her zeal in the good work and her greatness of heart that during the 12 years she has been connected with the mission she has carried oh her labours without one penny of salary….

“Ours is preventive work, not rescue work,” said Sister Charlotte… As to the work of the mission, Sister Charlotte explained it as follows: “One of the features of our work” she said, “is teaching girls to sew and cut out, a portion of their equipment which is sadly neglected in the State schools. They pay a penny per night, and we provide the material, the finished garment becoming their own property. We also teach them cooking. For instance, if they bring us odd bits of bread they have left, we show them how to make something tasty out of it to take home. This teaches them household economy as well…..We also inculcate into girls a knowledge of the methods of housework and housekeeping,….As to making the small charge mentioned, it would be quite a mistake to do it all for nothing. What is not paid for is not valued. We have practical evidence of this. One old lady said to me the other day: I like the Mission House because we can pay for what we get. This is the spirit which a good many of those who come to us act up on. Were everything free, there would be as there usually is, a certain amount of pride which prevents some people
from accepting relief. And when all are paying for what they get — even it be the nominal sum of a penny— all are on the same footing, and there can be no belief among any that some are being better treated than others".


"Our work has grown rapidly…..The programme we carry out at present is something like this: On Monday night we have a girls' sewing class, at which are taught sewing (plain and fancy) and cutting out. On Tuesday and Friday nights the girls' club meets. All the members are over 15 years of age, and a pleasant evening is spent with reading. sewing, music, etc. On Wednesday night choir practice and a service are held. On Thursday afternoon there is a mothers' meeting, and on Friday night classes for boys are held. Then there are ladies' work parties every Friday morning, to which ladies come to help to make clothes. There are six or seven who help us in this way, and I would like the number to be larger. All through the winter we distribute soup, which, I can assure you, is greatly appreciated. In addition, we visit the poor and sick, and take them food and clothing. It is our constant endeavour to do all we can for the deserving, and here it may be as well to say that no distinction is made in any of the benefits of our institution between those of creed or another or no creed at all”.

By 1905 the Mission at the Queen's Head had outgrown the building. In 1901 a block of land was purchased in Bathurst street to build a new Mission House but this was subsequently discovered to be too small. Another allotment was then purchased on Canning Street upon which a Mission House was built and opened in 1906. (This will be the subject of a future article on Churches of Tasmania).  I believe that the Queen's Head Inn was later used by Launceston City Mission - I am seeking to confirm this. 

Sister Charlotte continued lead the new Canning Street Mission House until 1910, when at the age of 67, she returned to Hobart. She was to spend her last years at Kingston Beach before she died in 1925. Sister Charlotte is buried at Cornelian Bay Cemetery and her grave is marked by a simple headstone. The author of a tribute to Sister Charlotte, published in the Hobart News in 1925, commented:

“One feels that her epitaph should be “Well done thou good and faithful servant”.

The Queen's Head in Wellington Street c. 1974 - Libraries Tasmania LPIC33-3-106

Sister Charlotte Shoobridge - source: http://www.stjohnsac.net.au

                                              Photograph courtesy of Gravesites of Tasmania

Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 8 March 1893, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 25 March 1893, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 25 March 1893, page 8
Tasmanian News, Saturday 25 March 1893, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Monday 27 March 1893, page 8
Examiner, Friday 2 March 1900, page 5
Examiner, Saturday 23 July 1904, page 6
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 22 February 1905, page 3
News, Tuesday 24 November 1925, page 4
Examiner, Tuesday 24 November 1925, page 7

http://www.stjohnsac.net.au/index.php/mission-house/. - article on the Canning Street Mission House by Basil Tkaczuk – 2018


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