No. 1362 - Hobart - The Helping Hand Mission (1894)

The Helping Hand Mission was an evangelical church active in Hobart for a period of a little over 40 years. It was founded in 1894 by Mr Sydney Cummins, a prominent Hobart businessman and lay-preacher. Cummins was one of the first members of the Salvation Army in Hobart and a leading figure in the temperance movement. The Mission's evangelical style of worship combined with its message of temperance and Christian action was directed at the poor and those on the margins of society.

In the Mission’s first year meetings were held at a number of venues including the People’s Hall; the YMCA rooms; the Temperance Hall; the Mechanics Institute and the King Street (now Pitt street) Undenominational Church. In November 1895 the Helping Hand Mission united with the Central Hobart Mission to form the “Evangelistic Helping Hand Mission”.

In August 1896 the Mission leased a warehouse on Watchorn Street (then known as Central Street) which was converted into a Mission Hall. The Hobart Mercury reported:

“On account of the present building used in connection with the Helping Hand Evangelist Mission being to small for Sunday evening services, the committee have taken a lease of the premises occupied by Mrs Turner as a furniture warehouse…. about £40 is to be expended in various alterations, and when completed, the building will be used for mission purposes with seating accommodation for 250 people. Since this mission commenced in Hobart a good work has been done in general relief etc., and when possible finding employment for those in need of same”.

In 1899 the Mission leased the Bathurst Street Union Chapel which had been established by Reverend J. W. Simmons in 1863 and was latter associated with the Congregational Union. The Bathurst Street Mission was officially opened on Sunday 2 July 1899 with the event recorded by the Hobart Mercury:

“The Helping-Hand Mission has leased the Union Chapel in Bathurst-street, and on Sunday last opening services were held. About 300 persons were present in the forenoon, when Mr. S. Cummins, the president of the mission, delivered an address. In the evening sacred pieces were sung by Mr. and Miss Hooper and Mr. V. Brame. The mission orchestra accompanied the congregational singing, and Mrs. Cummins presided at the piano….”.

At a public meeting held on the following day the purposes and challenge of the Mission was outlined by a number of speakers:

“The chairman said he desired to call attention to the comprehensive character of the mission, but he warned the members that it might become too diffusive and comprehensive. The average attendance at the religious services was up to that of any of the churches. But if the services had the effect of taking people away from other places of worship, because they were brighter, it was not good. What the mission desired was to get hold of those who did not go to any church. ...This mission fed and clothed the poor, obtained situations for people out of employment; and the mission was the first body that sent out collectors a couple of years ago for the Fire Relief Fund. The Naval League originated with this mission….The function of the mission was to reach down to a lower strata of society and lift up”.

Due to the lease held on the old Mission Hall on Central Street, the latter continued to be used as as the Mission’s Sunday school.

In 1905 a visitor to one of the Mission’s Sunday services wrote:

“….[Services] commenced later than the usual church services, in order that it might not clash with them, [these were]….at once evangelical and harmonious. There was no trace of Puritanism in the gathering, nor was the joyous swing with which the service was conducted open to the objection sometimes levelled at the Salvation Army - a lack of reverence. It was far removed from “jocular Christianity.” It was, in fact, a happy medium, between the more orthodox form of worship and the designedly unconventional style of the Army gatherings. The attendance may be set down as about 200 people, old and young, poor, very poor in some instances and those who do not apparently experience the pinch of poverty, working people, and a sprinkling of country folk, anxious, it seemed, to help to make the mission meeting a success. Prayers and hymns and vocal items, and orchestral items, constituted the service, and the Gospel address was given by Mr. Kymo, a musical evangelist from Victoria….The preacher has no sympathy, or even toleration, for the man who keeps his Christianity wrapped up in a napkin and buried away out of sight…”.

The visitor went on to describe the Mission’s work:

“The visitation of the sick is on important feature in its operations, help being given to the sufferers wherever help is needed the poor are sought out, and assisted in the most practical way that of enabling them to help themselves; and out-of-works, who are anxious and willing to find employment, discover active agents in the members of the mission. One special feature of the Helping Hand operations calls for more than passing notice. I refer to the work that is done for the sailors on board His Majesty's ships of war and the merchant vessels. A naval club-room has been fitted up and maintained, and it is keenly appreciated by the Jack Tars, who, when the squadron is in port, are very much to the fore at the meetings…”.

In 1912 the Helping Hand Mission established a formal association with the Congregational Union which had leased the Bathurst Street church to the Mission since 1899. The Mission continued with its work for another two decades. Sydney Cummin’s death in 1933 brought an end to the Mission and in 1935 the building was sold to a small syndicate who then operated the building as the Amuzu Cinema. In 1938 ­ it was purchased by the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society and it was renamed The Playhouse Theatre.

The Helping Hand Mission - previously the Union Chapel and now The Playhouse Theatre. Photographer:Harvey, John Henry, 1855-1938
The State Library of Victoria

Sydney Cummins - source: Libraries Tasmania 

The site of the original mission on Watchorn Street.


Tasmanian News, Saturday 14 July 1894, page 2
Tasmanian News, Saturday 8 September 1894, page 2
Tasmanian News, Wednesday 15 May 1895, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 23 November 1895, page 2
Mercury, Friday 14 April 1896, page 2
Mercury, Monday 7 September 1896, page 2
Mercury, Tuesday 4 July 1899, page 2
Mercury, Wednesday 16 August 1905, page 6
Mercury, Thursday 21 May 1914, page 2
Examiner, Wednesday 15 October 1930, page 4
Mercury, Saturday 23 September 1933, page 11
Mercury, Tuesday 15 May 1934, page 2


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