University Of Tasmania
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'Wandering stars' : the impact of British evangelists in Australia, 1870s-1900

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posted on 2023-05-26, 06:07 authored by Wilson, EK
From the late 1870s to the early twentieth century, there was a steady stream of international speakers from Britain who travelled what was almost an evangelical circuit in south-eastern Australia. The argument of this thesis is that their impact has been overlooked or underplayed, and, while it was variable, it was nonetheless noticeable in various ways, both inside and outside the church community. Using mainly newspaper reports from a wide range of religious and secular newspapers, including reports sent back to England, but also biographies and contemporary documents where available, Part 1 of the thesis examines the revivalist networks which supported these evangelists, and the milieu into which they came. Using a biographical approach, each evangelist's career and personality is briefly considered, with special reference to his or her time in Australia. This part of the thesis brings together information which in many cases has been scattered, obscure, or unnoticed. The thesis then examines in detail the style and content of these evangelistic meetings, the impact of Sankey's gospel songs which these meetings introduced into Australia, the influence of three of the speakers on social issues such as prostitution, and the outcomes of these missions. The final chapter looks at both positive and negative expectations of evangelistic meetings, and at the perceived outcomes. The thesis argues that the short-term impact was probably the greatest, in terms of attendance and publicity. The meetings were almost always crowded, and newspaper reports, both secular and religious, were far more detailed and numerous than was expected at the beginning of the research. In the longer-term, however, assessment of the impact is more complex. It seems likely that most of the 'conversions' were from those who were nominal believers already, or fringe members of churches. The influence of the meetings was greatest in the denominations which supported them, as might be expected. The thesis argues that the long-term impact of these meetings and their 'stars' can be observed in the maintenance of church membership numbers, and the growth of some denominations, in the pervasive influence of 'Sankey's' gospel songs in both Christian and secular circles, in their contribution to the emergent campaigns for temperance and social purity, in the large increase of overseas missions recruits in the 1890s, and in the Christian conferences and conventions which promoted unity and holiness.


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