Wesleyan Conference, Australian
Wesleyan Conference, Australian is the general designation of the regular Methodist body in that province of the British empire.
I. Origin and History. — Methodism in Australia and New Zealand has had the marks of Divine Providence stamped upon it from the beginning. Colonization has been both a source of relief and of impoverishment to the mother-country of England. Early in the second decade of the 19th century, the master and mistress of Mr. Wesley's charity-school at Great Queen Street, London, were sent out as teachers to Australia. An English penal colony had existed there some years, and, in order to raise the character of the people — many of them released convicts — teachers were first wanted. A few agricultural emigrants had settled in New South Wales, and among them Messrs. Bowden and Hoskins, two schoolmasters, who had gone out in 1811, recommended by Joseph Butterworth, M.P., to take charge of the charity-school in Sydney. They were Methodists, and, desiring to have the advantages of the Methodist class meeting in their new home, commenced the first on the evening of March 6, 1812. Twelve persons met at the commencement, and they resolved to apply to the Methodists in England for a missionary. Mr. Samuel Leigh, who had conversed with Dr. Coke, had offered his services as a missionary, and the application from New South Wales having reached Dr. Adam Clarke, he secured the services of Mr. Leigh, ordained him for the work, procured for him a license to preach from the lord mayor of London, and he sailed from England in February, 1815, landing at Port Jackson Aug. 10 of the same year. The progress of the mission of Methodism in Australia from that day forward cannot be contemplated without a feeling of astonishment and delight. In 1820 Methodism was introduced into Van Diemen's Land; in 1822 it reached the Friendly Islands and the neighboring groups; in-1823, New Zealand; in 1835, the Fiji Islands welcomed their first Methodist missionary; in 1838 a mission was commenced in South Australia; and in 1839, Western Australia. Thus; within a quarter of a century, the whole country was visited by Methodist missionaries where there was population to whom they could minister. The pioneers who early united their efforts to those of Samuel Leigh were John Waterhouse, Walter Lowry, Benjamin Carvosso, and John H. Bumby, followed by others who are still laboring there, and their valuable and useful services will preserve their memories fresh in the country for many generations.
The marvelous triumphs of Christianity in nearly all the localities named were equaled only by the heroic devotion of the missionaries and their wives. It would not be possible to describe the scenes of degradation and ferocity, which they had for many years to confront. The Life of Samuel Leigh (an octavo volume of 590 pages) and the Rev. James Buller's Forty Years in New Zealand are two works which supply such a variety of valuable and interesting facts descriptive of the trials and triumphs of Methodism in Australia and New Zealand that any abridgment of their contents would be impossible in the compass of these pages.
It is due to the convict class of the inhabitants to record that many of them, after their conversion, became the most active, energetic, and useful helpers of the good cause. Among them have been class-leaders, stewards, local preachers, and some have become wealthy, and devoted much of their substance to the erection of Methodist churches, parsonages, and schools. Mr. Leigh records of one of the earliest of the convicts, Mr. E., who was an educated Irishman designed for the bar, but who, for forgery, had been sentenced to death, that he was converted while in his Irish prison, and had his sentence commuted to transportation for life. His Methodist friends gave him a Bible to be his companion in his banishment. He read the Bible and liturgy to his fellow-convicts; and his intelligent, consistent Christian life soon secured him his liberty. He taught a school, preached in the villages on the Sabbath and commenced the first Methodist class-meeting at Windsor in 1812. In his humble way, he was probably the first Methodist preacher in the southern world. The members gathered by this young Irishman held the first. Methodist love-feast in that country on April 3, 1812. The missionaries sought out many of the banished ones, and in many instances they had repented and found mercy at the hands of God. The morning of eternity alone will tell how many of those children of crime and punishment will be welcomed in heaven by parents and friends who seldom mentioned their names on earth.
Mr. Leigh was a most faithful and heroic man, and he soon witnessed the erection of three small chapels, one each at Sydney Windsor, and Castlereagh. Four Sunday-schools were opened, and a Methodist Circuit was formed which included fifteen preaching-places, extending 150 miles. After three years of hard toil, Mr. Leigh welcomed Walter Lowry, on May 1, 1818, as his first colleague, and so rejoiced was he on meeting that he fell on his neck and kissed him. The aborigines as well as the criminals were accessible to the missionaries; but the preachers were, exposed to insults and hardships which cannot be realized in the present improved condition of the country. They performed long rugged journeys, and often slept on boards or on the bare earth, with their saddle-bags as pillows and overcoats for covering; but they witnessed such triumphs as more than compensated them for all their sufferings. The foundations of Australian Methodism were thus laid broad and deep, and possibly that form of religion may ultimately dominate in that vast country.
Cheered by the prospect which was opening before him, Mr. Leigh returned to England in 1820 to plead for more men to extend the work, and he took out with him William Horton and Thomas Walker. The latter intended to open a station among the natives, among whom he commenced to labor; but owing to their nomadic character the success did not justify the continuance of that station after 1828. Another and more satisfactory effort was made in 1836, when a new station was opened at Port Philip, South Australia, with two missionaries, and one at Perth, Western Australia. In 1838 Methodism was introduced into Geelong by two missionaries. These men endure immense hardships. They acquired the native languages, translated portions of the Scriptures, commenced schools, established printing, wrote and published school-books, and founded a training institution for native preachers and teachers. At each station the missionaries conducted a farm on which the people were taught agriculture, the farms supplying, the preachers with a large portion of their income in those early days.
Mr. Horton commenced his labors in Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land, in 1820. The population there was utterly demoralized, both convicts and natives. Among the former were found a few who had been Methodists, who had repented of their evil doings, and had commenced a society class, and were erecting a chapel. The mission prospered there, under the fostering smile of the governor, who, seeing the good results of the labors of the missionaries, in 1827 applied for additional preachers, offering to pay their passage out and partial support on arrival. In 1832 William Butters commenced a new station at Port Arthur, another convict settlement. Successive governors testified to the value of these missionaries labors among the convicts, and in 1837 the work was extended by the arrival of four more preachers.
A survey was made of the progress of the mission on that continent in 1839, when they were reported to be nine missionaries, 570 members of society, and 922 scholars. To extend and consolidate the work, the Rev. John Waterhouse was appointed general superintendent of all the Australian and Polynesian missions; but his exhaustive and earnest labors ended his earthly career in three years, though the work was extended. William Binnington Boyce succeeded him, and he became the president of the first Australian Conference in 1855. Samuel Leigh, on his return, from England in 1821, made an inroad on New Zealand. His first experiment was not encouraging. On entering one of the native villages, he passed twelve human heads, tattooed, placed on the pathway. That sight helped to determine him to endeavor to dispel the darkness and misery which prevailed. He secured the help of Messrs. Turner and White, and commenced a mission at Wagarea, on the north-east coast. They were surrounded by ferocious and savage men. One day Mr. Turner saw several. chiefs seated at a fire, roasting one of their slaves between two logs of wood, to make them a meal. These natives became more enlightened, the work prospered, natives were converted, chapels were erected, and much good was done; but in 1827 war broke out, the mission was stopped, and the missionaries fled to Sydney. In 1828 they returned, at the invitation of one of the chiefs, and commenced a new mission at Maugungu, which for two years made but little progress. After 1830 the work revived, conversions increased rapidly, more missionaries were sent, and so satisfactory was the conduct of the people that one of the missionaries in 1834 wrote, "In reverential behavior in the house of God, the awakened aborigines were a pattern even to Europeans, and tokens of many kinds were given that a glorious work was beginning in New Zealand." Those signs proved true. Deputations were sent from the Southern Island to the missionaries for preachers and teachers; more missionaries were sent out, who soon mastered the language of the natives; books were written and translated; a printing-press was established; chapels and schools were erected; and an institution for the training of native preachers was established. The blessings of civilized life followed the diffusion of Christian principles; land in 1854, when it was determined to unite the mission stations in New Zealand, with those in Australia, to form one Conference, the Report of the condition of the Methodist missions in New Zealand exhibited the following figures: Chapels, 105; other preaching- places, 148; local preachers, 322; catechists, 5; members of society, 4500; attendants at public worship, 11,000; missionaries, 20. So ably had the missionaries conducted their financial enterprises that in 1854 the entire debts on their chapel property in New Zealand were only 1360. After such a satisfactory report, there was no opposition to the union of the latter mission with Australia. There were also Sunday schools, 188; day schools, 88; pupils, 5846. Such were the results a quarter of a century since.
The South Sea Islands form an important part of the Australian Methodist Church. Walter Lowry commenced a mission in Tonga in 1822, but it was given up in 1823. In 1826 John Thomas and John Hutchinson resumed the work, and in 1827 they were joined by William Cross, Nathaniel Turner, and another, and that gracious work was commenced which has resulted in bringing the whole population of those islands under the influence of Christianity. There are no records in history which can compare with those of the history of Christianity in the various islands of the South Seas for the completeness of the overthrow of heathenism, idolatry, infanticide, cannibalism, with all their attendant horrors; and the establishment, in their place, of churches, chapels, schools, parsonages; the whole population within the space oft a quarter of a century embracing Christianity and learning to read and write; and the introduction and practice of all the customs of civilized life. When John Thomas, who still lives, visited the Hawaii Islands in 1830, he was startled to find the king and the people had abandoned paganism and were worshipping the true God, and their idol temples were either burned or converted into dwelling-houses. During a visit to Tonga, where the mission had appeared to fail, the king of the Hawaii Islands had been converted, and on his return brought with him a Christian native and his wife. The king, leading his people by example, was baptized, and he had a chapel erected in which fifteen hundred people could worship. In but a-short time young and old, rich and poor, masters and servants embraced the new lofu, or religion. The king, a man of fine presence and intelligence, took the name of George, and his wife that of Charlotte. King George carried the intelligence of their conversion to the king of Vavau, who, on hearing and seeing the changes which Christianity had wrought, with a thousand of his people at once renounced paganism, and the visitors remained a long time teaching the people the elements of Christianity. A press was established, and books printed by thousands and scattered broadcast on the numerous islands. The press was to the people one of the greatest marvels they had known. Hymn-books, catechisms, and portions of Scripture were distributed by thousands, the natives being the voluntary agents employed; and very soon hundreds of these natives, male and-female, including chiefs and their wives, were employed as teachers, class-leaders, exhorters, and local preachers, the people learning to read with avidity, and the missionaries wives teaching the art of cutting out clothes and sewing, as well as other domestic and useful arts. The news of these conversions spread far and wide, and canoes laden with inquirers came a distance of three hundred miles to see what Christianity had done, and these returned themselves to spread the tidings of the new religion. So the work went on till July, 1834, when there broke out on several islands a great spiritual, revival. Men, women, and children, chiefs and people, all- shared in the outpouring of the Spirit, and on one day (July 27) Mr. Turner records that "not fewer than one thousand souls were converted, not only from dumb idols, but from Satan to God." A little later he records, "Within the past six weeks the number of converts is 2262." For a week they held prayer-meetings six times daily, and as many as a thousand persons were on their knees at the same time, seeking, some crying earnestly, for deliverance from the bondage of sin. Such earnest crying for mercy was, perhaps, never before witnessed on earth.
King George became first a class-leader, then a local preacher, and his whole life was now devoted to the elevation of his people. He released all his slaves, and had a mission church erected in the Friendly Islands, a thousand of his people being employed hi its erection. The king had the spears of his ancestors fixed as the rails for the communion-table, and two clubs formerly adored as deities were placed as pillars to the pulpit stairs. The king himself preached the opening sermon, and thousands of people attended the opening. Such were some of the results of one of the greatest revivals ever known. In no other portion of the mission field have so many native laborers been raised up, and schools, chapels, and parsonages adorn most of the islands. The whole population has embraced Christianity.
The Rev. Robert Young in 1853 visited those islands, New Zealand, and Australia as a deputation from the English Conference to make the arrangements for the union of all the churches in the Eastern Archipelago. That union was satisfactorily arranged, and has worked admirably for over a quarter of a century. At the time the Australian Conference was founded it included nearly 200 preachers and some 40,000 communicants; the societies were nearly all self-supporting, and £10,000 was annually given for missions alone. Since that period every department has advanced. In 1880 there were reported in that conference 433 ministers and 69,297 church members. The Methodist membership of the Australian churches is now just equal to the total membership in Great Britain at the time of Mr. Wesley's death. In another half-century the Australian churches will probably sum up as many members as the parent society.
When the Jubilee of the Wesleyan Missionary Society was celebrated in 1864, a large meeting was held in Australia in that connection, and a fund was then opened which soon reached £12,000, the money being spent in the erection of a Wesleyan college. About the same time another institution came into existence at Melbourne, the erection of the Wesleyan Emigrants Home at the cost of £3500, towards which the colonial government voted £1000, from a conviction of its philanthropic character. That temporary home has been a blessing to multitudes on their arrival in the colony without friends to greet them.
II. Church Organization and Polity. — In these respects the Australian Conference is in accordance with the parent society. Ministers and laymen unite in conducting the annual conferences; and occasionally ministerial deputations are sent to the outlying churches to report upon and encourage them. The Rev. Messrs. Rathbone and Watkins went over the missions in the South Seas in 1869, and reported most encouragingly of their advancement.
III. Austrailian Methodist Statistics — The following table will exhibit these.:
Year Ministers Members 1816 1 20 1817 1 30 1818 2 70 1819 3 70 1820 5 83 1821 8 90 1822 9 141 1823 9 178
1824 12 168 1825 12 142 1826 11 160 1827 12 162 1828 12 162 1829 10 164 1830 13 341 1831 14 736 1832 16 892 1833 15 2,702 1834 19 4,311 1835 24 7,929 1836 27 8,579 1837 32 9,313 1838 40 9,188 1839 53 10,980 1840 51 10,921 1841 52 11,656 1842 52 12,136 1843 53 13,140 1844 54 12,667 1845 54 13,236 1846 56 14,040 1847 60 15,353 1848 61 15,933 1849 64 16,469 1850 67 17,453 1851 70 18,137 1852 83 18,938 1853 91 19,135 1854 102 18,956 1855 116 19,897 1856 131 21,168 1857 142 21,247 1858 154 24,461 1859 174 28,138 1860 153 32,180
1861 159 33,964 1862 204 25,307 1863 213 38,075 1864 215 39,695 1865 243 42,642 1866 281 47,695 1867 303 49,433 1868 302 50,674 1869 319 52,222 1870 328 55,556 1871 347 59,384 1872 352 59,649 1873 383 59,819 1874 383 60,571 1875 388 60,165 1876 391 52,692 1877 392 54,200 1878 394 62,683 1879 423 66,905 1880 426 66,832
IV. Literature. — The literature which belongs to this section of the Methodist Church relates chiefly to the published biographies of the ministers who have died in the work: The Life of the Rev. Samuel Leigh, by Alexander Strahan, a small octavo volume of 592 pages, with portrait, is the basis of our historical knowledge of Methodism in Australia. Wm. B. Boyce published in 1850 a Brief Grammar of Ancient History, for the use of schools in Sydney (a 12mo of 108 pp.). He has published other works not relating to Australia.... James Buller, Forty Years in New Zealand, including a Personal Narrative, an Account of Maoridom, and of the Christianization and Colonization of the Country (1878, 8vo, 503 pp.), a work of much and permanent value. Life of J. T. Bumby, with a Brief History of the New Zealand Mission, by Alfred Barrett (1852, 12mo, 374 pp., with portrait, three editions). James Calvert, Fiji and the Fijians, the Mission history, edited by George Stringer Rowe (1858, post 8vo, 435 pp.), valuable for facts of history. Mr. Calvert has also printed a Letter, on the Life of John Hunt. David Cargill, A.M., A Refutation of Chevalier
Dillon's Attack on the Wesleyan Missionaries in the Friendly Islands (1842, 8vo, 40 pp.); also Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Cargill, including Notices of the Progress of Christianity in Tonga and Fiji (1855, 18mo, 348 pp.), Daniel J. Drape, the Shipwrecked Mariner and his Drowning Charge, a sermon by Rev. Dr. Jobson (1866, crown 8vo, 67 pp.). John Hunt, Memoir of the Rev. W. Cross, Missionary to the Friendly and Fiji Islands (1868, 18mo, 248 pp.). Life of the Rev. John Hunt, Missionary to the Cannibals (1859, 12mo, 278 pp.). James J. Jobson, D.D., Australia, with Notes by the Way (1862, 8vo, 281 pp.), an interesting review of the work. Walter Lowry, Journal of a Missionary Visit to the Stations in the South Sears in 1847 (12mo, 303 pp.). A Second Journal of a Missionary Visit to the Friendly and Fiji Islands in 1850, edited by the Rev. Elijah Hoole (12mo, 217 pp.). Letter from the Rev. Jos. H. Fletcher (Auckland, 1851, 8vo, 100 pp.). William Moister, A History of Wesleyan Missions from their Commencement to 1870 (small 8vo, 547 pp.). Robert Young, The Southern World, journal of a deputation from the Wesleyan Conference to New Zealand Polynesia, Australia, and Tasmania (1854, 12mo, 444 pp.; the same work in 2 pts.). (G. J. S.)