The Australian Religious Tract Society (RTS) was inaugurated in Sydney, NSW, on August 13, 1823 at the suggestion of the then Governor of the colony, Sir Thomas Brisbane. It appears that this was not purely a colonial initiative, however, for a few months prior to Brisbane’s suggestion the Religious Tract Society in London (RTSL) had had their attention drawn to the colony of New South Wales and to its spiritual needs. Within 30 days of the formation of the RTS, the Rev Richard Hill received an unsolicited consignment of books from the RTSL in the hope he might extend the operations of the RTSL in the colony. So, within a month of its formation and not the ten months it would have required to obtain stock from England, the RTS could begin its work. The purpose of the society was the procuring and distribution of religious tracts ‘such as to inculcate evangelic sentiments.’ More expansively, its primary object was
to afford the means of cheap, useful, and pious Reading; that the poorer Classes of the Community, and the young People more especially, who may be able to read, may obtain some of the most instructive and important Lessons of Life at a very small Expense.
Its governing committee consisted of the Reverends Richard Hill (Assistant Chaplain, Anglican), John Dunmore Lang (Presbyterian), Benjamin Carvosso (Wesleyan), William Cowper (Secretary, Anglican) and three laymen James Chandler, Alexander Kenneth Mackenzie (Treasurer) with George Williams as Collector and Depositary. William Cowper was a driving force of the society being its secretary for the first 16 years of its existence only relinquishing the role of secretary in 1839 when his eyesight began to fail.
By 1826, the Society had obtained the support of the Governor as Patron, its funds had increased and some 62,882 tracts had been circulated during the year. The society was the beneficiary of support from ‘home’ through grants from the Tract Societies of London, Bristol and Dublin upon which the RTS had been modelled. Initially, support for the society was strong and numerous ladies attended its annual meeting and this was a sufficiently novel occurrence that their attendance, which ‘enlivened the meeting with their presence’, was especially remarked upon.
Committee reports mentioned numerous responses to the receipt of various tracts by members of the public which indicate what the RTS saw as desirable outcomes from its work:
… in the course of conversation he informed me that he had been a professed Atheist until within a few months, but that the perusal of a tract – the Dairyman’s Daughter, I believe, had been instrumental in awakening him from his own vain dreams. He wished to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and afterwards he did so.
Many instances of good, resulting from the circulation of your tracts, have occurred within the last year or two. Some are now united with Christian churches, who, but for these silent messengers, might have remained dead in sin. One old woman, between eighty and ninety years of age, discovered by a tract distributor, ignorant and indifferent, is now giving evidence of a saving change wrought in her heart by the Spirit of God.
Samuel Goold was born in 1820 in Norton Lindsay, Warwickshire, England, the son of William Goold, variously described as a miller or a grocer, and his wife Elizabeth Canning. Samuel was their fifth son of nine children. Two of his brothers, John and Jabez, also came to the colony of NSW at some stage. In 1847, Samuel married Mary Ann Johnson at the Tottenham Baptist Chapel and his profession was given as ‘Missionary’. Mary Ann was the daughter of Philip Johnson, a shoemaker, and his wife Mary and was born in 1819 at the workhouse of St Botolph, Aldgate, London. At the age of 13 she became a member of the Congregational Church, worshipping in the Poultry Chapel, London, then under the care of the Rev John Clayton Jnr (1780-1865).
Arrival in the colony of New South Wales
Together with Mary Ann’s mother and sister, Samuel arrived in Queensland in January 1849 aboard the Fortitude, Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang’s first chartered immigrant ship. Samuel had been an apprentice and was probably an apprentice draper, but his profession on the shipping lists was given as ‘bricklayer’. It has been suggested that he helped build the Roman Catholic Chapel in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, but this cannot be possible as the Fortitude arrived in Morton Bay on 21 January 1849, and its passengers were quarantined as there were cases of typhus on board. The first mention of ‘Mr Gould, the builder’ in connection with the Roman Catholic Chapel, is on 31 January 1849 while Samuel Goold was still in quarantine.
Samuel and his wife did not remain in Brisbane but travelled to Sydney in September 1849. It is not known if their departure was a result of disillusionment with the unfulfilled promises of Lang concerning the provision of land for the immigrants or whether it was related to the death of their infant son, Samuel, which occurred a few weeks before. In Sydney, however, they wasted no time linking with the (more…)
In the 1980s, historians of colonial female refuges, and of the Sydney Female Refuge (SFR) in particular, tended to see these organisations, and by inference those who organised them, as largely punitive in intent. Contrary to the stated aims of the SFR, the driving motives are presented not primarily as compassion, concern and a desire to help the women themselves but rather as the protection of society from such women.
O’Brien says that the function of the home of the Sydney Female Refuge Society (SFR Society) was largely punitive and that of all the homes of this sort ‘it seems colder and more horrible than most’. Godden’s assessment is that the Sydney refuges for the prostitutes run by the Roman Catholics and the Evangelicals were repressive and harsh, but that
perhaps the greatest imperviousness to change was at the Protestant Sydney Female Refuge. It was rebuilt in 1903 on the same prison-like lines adhered to in 1848 and inmates were still addressed by number and not name.
More recently published work, however, has sought to soften such an assessment and on a closer examination of the evidence has pointed out that such claims made about the functioning of the SFR do not seem to be justified and that by their stated aims and practice the SFR ‘does not deserve to be regarded as punitive, repressive, self-serving, cold and horrible’. While there are some signs of a more positive assessment of the refuges emerging some dubious claims about the refuges are still being made.
On the positive side and helpfully O’Brien, in her recently published Philanthropy and Settler Colonialism, reminds us that the refuges can be viewed more generally against the background of the need to provide women in various circumstances with shelter. Such a need was clearly seen by the philanthropists themselves. Ann Goodlet, who was deeply involved in the SFR as its secretary and its leading worker, had this broader approach to the protection of women both physically and morally in colonial society. She was significantly involved in founding and/or promoting of, to quote O’Brien, ‘homes that were arranged along the moral continuum’. These were the Servants and Governesses Home (formerly known as The Sydney Female Home), the YWCA, the Sydney Female Mission Home (SFMH) and the SFR. The first two organisations were morally proactive being protective and preventative by providing accommodation for single women alone in the city. The second two organisations were reactive and designed to assist those women who were in trouble, having been seduced and abandoned or who were prostitutes wishing to change their lives.
In 1902 the Hawkesbury Herald wrote that
No man more truly deserved the name of philanthropist than Mr Comrie … he busied himself during the later years of his life by doing good by stealth. The perfume of good deeds, however, always betrays the doer sooner or later…
Another paper described James Comrie as a ‘literary philanthropist.’ What were his activities ‘the perfume of good deeds’ that that led him to be deserving of the designation of ‘philanthropist’ and that of a ‘literary philanthropist’ in particular? How was he able to be a philanthropist of note and “Who was James Comrie?” for he is, to-day, a largely unknown figure.
James Comrie was a Scot, born in Edinburgh 1 May 1816 and he died at Kurrajong Heights at Northfield on 2 November 1902. He was the youngest of eleven children born to Peter and Helen Comrie. James’ father died when he was two years old and he was raised by his pious Presbyterian mother. Though his mother was a ‘strict Presbyterian she had a catholic spirit, and took her children sometimes to hear Dr Thomas McCrie, Christopher Anderson, and Wesleyan ministers’. James himself was to emulate this religious catholicity, interacting and enjoying the company of Christians of all persuasions. His schooling must also have added to his non-sectarian outlook for he attended a Quaker school.
The Church Labour Home (CLH) owed its existence to the Venerable Archdeacon John Douse Langley. It was founded by Langley in 1891 with ‘the view of assisting a class entitled to the deepest sympathy … those poverty stricken- genuinely desirous of work but unable to obtain it’.
Langley was born at Ballyduff, County Waterford, Ireland, on May 17, 1836, and was the son of Henry Langley and Isabella Edwardes Archdall. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1853 and arrived in Sydney with his parents and four siblings in December 1853. He associated himself with the fledgling YMCA and for a short time was joint Honorary Secretary with Sharp H Lewis. He contributed to the ministry of the YMCA in this role for some two years and also conducted an evening class in mathematics for the YMCA. Langley was an employee of the Bank of Australasia from about 1857 and around 1858 or 1859 was appointed to look after the branch at West Maitland where he remained until 1868 after which time he moved to the Newcastle branch. He was the manager there until he resigned in 1872 in order to enter Moore College to train for the Anglican ministry. Langley was ordained deacon and later priest in 1873 and served as the incumbent of Berrima with Mittagong, 1873-75; St David’s, Surry Hills, Sydney, 1875-81; secretary of the Church Society, 1880-83; and rector of St Phillip’s Sydney, 1882-1907. He was elected the second bishop of Bendigo and consecrated in January 1907, resigned from the diocese in June 1919, retired to Melbourne and died 11 years later in 1930.
Langley was a busy churchman and was involved in many things within the Anglican Church as well as in the community, but in the 1890s he became very involved in assisting the jobless. By 1890, there was a growing unemployment problem brought on by the conditions that led to a major economic downturn in this period. In February 1890, a meeting of about 500 people, chaired by G E Ardill, met to consider the plight of those who wished to work but could not find employment. A deputation was formed, of which Langley was a member, to wait upon the Minister of Works and to encourage the Government to increase employment through a capital works program. More importantly and more effectively, as the deputation did not receive much benefit from its meeting with the minister, a committee was formed to see what could be done in a practical way to assist the destitute unemployed. By the following month, under the chairmanship (more…)
Thomas Roberts (1805-1871) Missionary and Artist and Mary Roberts (1808-1890) Matron, Sydney Female Refuge
On November 10, 1852, Thomas Roberts, a portrait painter, and his wife Mary (nee Griffiths) arrived in Melbourne with seven of their children on the Hope to begin a new life in Port Phillip. The children were Samuel (20), Ellen (18), Sarah (16), Hartley (14), Elizabeth (5), Emma (4) and Walter (1). Thomas was born in Denbighshire, Wales, and had spent a number of years in Manchester at least from the time of his marriage in 1830 until sometime before January 1846 when he and the family moved to London. In Manchester, the family had been involved with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church Chapel in Cooper Street.
Thomas not only worked as a portrait painter, but he also served for several years as a London City Missionary and, according to Thomas’ grandson, he received a ‘lay reader’s commission from the Bishop of London to act as a chaplain on board the ship’ on their trip to Australia. Thomas and also his two daughters, Ellen and Sarah, came to the colony under the auspices of the Colonial Church and School Society (CCSS) whose purpose was sending out clergymen, catechists and school teachers (both male and female) to the Colonies of Great Britain and to British residents in other parts of the world. Ellen, was appointed in charge of the St Mark’s Girl’s school Collingwood, and Sarah also worked for several years as a school mistresses in Melbourne. The CCSS was formed from pre-existing Anglican Evangelical Societies (Newfoundland School Society and the Colonial Church Society) on January 1, 1851, and the Rev Mesac Thomas (afterwards first Bishop of Goulburn in New South Wales in 1863) was appointed its Secretary.
Robert Sidaway (1758-1809) is the first person to be designated a philanthropist in the newspapers of colonial NSW. At his death in October 1809, the 51 year old was described as
one of the first inhabitants of this Colony; during his very long residence in which he ever supported the reputation of a true philanthropist, and in all other respects a valuable member of society, in which he was universally respected.
In 1782, Robert had been convicted of theft and later of absconding from custody and was sentenced to transportation to NSW for life. He travelled on the Friendship as part of the First Fleet and was regarded as troublesome spending some time on the journey in irons. He received an absolute pardon on 27 September 1794. Robert was awarded a contract to be a baker for the troops and also received a liquor license so that he could run a public house. In 1796, he was operating the first theatre in Sydney which was eventually closed by the Governor as it was considered a corrupting influence. At this time, he also had a farm at the Field of Mars where he grew maize and wheat. From very early in his time in the colony, at least from November 1789 when they worked together in Robert’s bake-house, Robert had been living with ‘Mrs’ Mary Marshall (1756-1849) and she had become his common-law wife. In 1788, Mary had come as a convict in the First Fleet on the Lady Penrhyn having been convicted for stealing linen handkerchiefs in 1787 and sentenced to seven years transportation. It appears that, with Mary’s assistance, Robert had managed to quickly establish himself within colonial life and was moderately well off and prosperous for, by 1797, he was said to have accumulated more than £3,000.
The wording of his death notice, designating Robert as a ‘philanthropist’, seems to indicate at least two things. Firstly, that he had a reputation as a philanthropist. The community view was that his philanthropy was not related to a single event, but that it was an attitude and activity over the considerable period of his time of residence in the colony. Secondly, that he was thought of as a ‘true’ philanthropist. This suggests that his philanthropy was regarded as genuine and not an activity with any ulterior motive. His philanthropy, together with that of Mary, could not have been expressed through any charitable organisation such as the Benevolent Society which only began in 1813, but must have been through their personal dealings.