Marjorie A. Newton, “Pioneering the Gospel in Australia,” Ensign, Oct 1986, 32–41
[photos] (Left) The recently discovered grave of William Barratt, the first LDS missionary to Australia, in the coastal town of Victor Harbor. (Center) Looking across the bay to Perth. (Upper right) The Vale of Ah, located on the Georges River in the Sydney suburb of Milperra, was one of the places where baptisms were performed in the 1920s. (Lower right) A Primary class in the Perth Third Ward.
[photos] (Top) Looking across Victoria Bridge to Brisbane. (Center) The Beenleigh Ward chapel, Brisbane Australia South Stake. (Bottom) Assistants Marvis Tucker, left, and Dulcie Kay work at the Perth Dianella stake branch genealogical library.
[photos] (Top) Youth from the Sydney Hebersham stake on an outing at the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. (Center) Sydney Harbor as it looked in 1871. (Bottom) “Paxton” has been the headquarters of the Sydney mission since 1955. Mission offices are to the right.
[photos] (Top) A Relief Society homemaking miniclass in the Perth Third Ward views a videotape on cooking. (Center) Looking across the Yarra River to Melbourne. (Bottom) The Melbourne Australia Moorabbin Stake center.
[photos] (Left) Perth Third Ward organist Rebecca Liddicoat. (Center) Church members at the former Australian Mission headquarters in Pemell Street, Enmore, about 1908. The structure still stands. (Upper right) Scoutmaster Steve Jackson instructs boys of the Perth Eighth Ward. (Lower right) The Westlakes Ward chapel in Adelaide.
The Church in Australia
Part I: New Light on the First Missionaries
Marjorie A. Newton, “Pioneering the Gospel in Australia, Part I: New Light on the First Missionaries,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 32–34
In the South Australian seaside resort of Victor Harbor, few people disturb the peace of the old town cemetery. For years LDS Young Adults have swum and picnicked at Victor Harbor, unaware that close by was the grave of William Barratt, the first Latter-day Saint missionary to Australia.
For three quarters of a century, the arrival of the American missionaries in 1851 has been regarded as the beginning of the work in Australia. William Barratt, Andrew Anderson, and James Wall have been thought of as mere curiosities of Australian Church history—1840s LDS immigrants who tried preaching the gospel without lasting success and who were never heard of again. Yet new research is uncovering the far-reaching results of their missionary endeavours, causing a new evaluation of early Church history in Australia.
It is clear from the History of the Church that seventeen-year-old William Barratt was called in England in 1840 and sent to Australia as a full-time proselyting missionary. 1 There seems no justification for the present-day common assumption that Barratt intended to settle in Australia. “I feel … like a lamb among wolves, going into a land of strangers to preach the Gospel,” he wrote back from London while awaiting embarkation. “Give my love to the Saints, and tell them that as many as remain faithful I will meet in Zion, bringing my sheaves with me. … My resolution is strong to meet you all there.” 2
Adelaide, South Australia, was a shock to the young elder and his mission did not prosper as he had hoped. But there is good reason to conclude that he baptized Robert Beauchamp, later to become a mission president in Australia. And although Brother Beauchamp would not accept confirmation into the Church at the time of his baptism by Elder Barratt, his testimony grew with the years, and he came to deeply regret his missed opportunity of being confirmed by the young elder who had baptized him in Adelaide. 3
Elder Barratt is not mentioned again by name in contemporary Church sources. But in December 1944, John Taylor, editing the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, reported receiving a bundle of South Australian newspapers 4—possibly from William Barratt.
While research is continuing, enough is known now to piece together part of the Barratt story. Early in 1845, news of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith reached Australian papers, and editors confidently forecast the “ruin of the sect of Mormon.” 5 The news must have had a shattering effect on the lonely elder, preaching the gospel in far-off Australia. It seems likely that he may have attempted to correspond with the Church leaders, either in England or America. However, the Twelve had returned to America in 1841, and many of the Saints whom he had known in Britain had gone to America. In the exodus from Nauvoo and the long trek westward to the Rocky Mountain Basin, it would have been easy for letters from Australia to go astray. Alone, his beloved prophet dead, young Elder Barratt could surely be forgiven for perhaps concluding that, if his letters went unanswered, the Church had foundered after the tragedy at Carthage.
On 21 May 1846, 23-year-old Barratt married 19-year-old Ann Gibson at the Native School in Encounter Bay. Seven children—three boys and four girls—were born to them. As time passed, Brother Barratt obtained land at Inman, where he farmed for the remainder of his life. He died on 10 September 1890, at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried at Victor Harbor, where his tombstone was discovered earlier this year. 6
There is no evidence that William Barratt knew the second LDS immigrant to Australia, Andrew Anderson, or that they knew of each other’s missionary activity. Brother Anderson, at age thirty, arrived as a bounty immigrant with his wife and three small children in 1841. He settled in the colony of New South Wales, a thousand miles by sea from Adelaide. Baptized by Orson Pratt in Edinburgh, Scotland, the year before, he had been ordained and given a “license to preach” before sailing. By the winter of 1843, Brother Anderson was working as a shepherd in the Wellington district, 220 miles northwest of Sydney. Here he worked hard to gain converts, and by the end of 1844 he had organized the first known branch in Australia, in the private township of Montefiores. 7
Within months of the arrival in Australia of the first American missionaries seven years later in 1851, Andrew Anderson had received news of their presence in Sydney. He immediately wrote to the elders, John Murdock and Charles Wandell, and early in July 1852 he made the long journey to Sydney to attend the second quarterly conference of the Sydney Branch. 8 Thereafter, Brother Anderson kept in touch with the mission president in Sydney. He had never faltered in his testimony.
Brother Anderson, however, did not stay in Australia. On 7 September 1855, he and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children sailed for Zion on the tragic second voyage of the Julia Ann. (See p. 37 this issue). Among those drowned in the wreck was Andrew Anderson’s ten-year-old daughter Marian. Andrew and Elizabeth and their seven surviving children finally arrived in San Francisco on 27 June 1856. 9
James Wall remains the mystery figure of early Australian Church history. It is possible that he was another British immigrant like Brother Anderson, baptized and ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before migrating to Australia. Alternatively, he may have been converted by either Elder Barratt or Brother Anderson.
The full extent of his missionary work is not known, but in November 1851, just weeks after Elders Murdock and Wandell arrived in Sydney, a man named Matthew Collyer turned up at one of their meetings. He said that he had been baptized in Australia by an Elder James Wall in 1844. 10
As with Elder Barratt and Brother Anderson, nothing is known of James Wall’s activities after 1844 for some years. Then, in 1856, in western Victoria, another English immigrant family, John and Charlotte Nye and their children, were taught the gospel by a horse doctor, George T. Wilson. Brother Wilson introduced Elder James Wall, by whom the family was baptized. 11
Robert Beauchamp, baptized but not confirmed by William Barratt; eight adults baptized by Andrew Anderson; and Matthew Collyer, George T. Wilson, and the Nye family, baptized by James Wall: why should such meagre fruit be claimed as significant to the history of the Church in Australia?
Robert Beauchamp emigrated to Utah in 1868. In 1869, he was called to return to Australia as mission president. In his first eighteen months, more than 150 baptisms took place in Australia and New Zealand (at least forty of them performed by President Beauchamp personally), and at least forty-five Saints sailed for Utah. 12
It has not yet been documented that the Anderson family actually arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Researchers are still seeking descendants of the family. But of Brother Anderson’s eight named converts, usually regarded as “lost,” one may have been found. There is evidence to suggest that the Henry Gale who was a member of the Sydney Branch in 1852–53 was the same Henry Gale who had been baptized by Andrew Anderson some nine or ten years earlier. If so, his baptism by Elder Wandell on 9 May 1852 would have been a rebaptism for renewal of covenants.
Henry and Sarah Gale and their four children sailed for America on 6 April 1853, and became pioneers in southern Utah. Henry Gale took a second wife, Hannah Dade. He had nine children by Sarah, and another eleven by Hannah. 13 Hundreds of Gale descendants are active in the Church.
Of the known converts of James Wall, the Nye family migrated to Utah, most of them settling in Ogden. Again, a large posterity active in the Church testifies to the significance of the work of a lonely elder in the Australian bush. Of the original family of seven children, Ephraim Hesmer Nye, for example, served a mission in Great Britain and then two terms as a mission president, one in California and one in the eastern states. 14
Matthew Collyer left the LDS church and became associated with another church. Yet his daughter Sarah grew up knowing that the church in which she was christened was not true. Years later she passed this teaching to her granddaughter. When, in the late 1960s, Joan Collyer Armstrong met the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she remembered the teachings of her grandmother. She was baptized along with her family and her nephew Alan Wakeley. All are valued members of the Church in Australia.
Is an Australian Convert or Missionary in Your Ancestry?
Descendants of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century missionaries who served in Australia, and descendants of members who were converted there but then moved to the British Isles, America, or elsewhere, are being sought to help document the story of the Australian Mission and the gathering of the Saints there. If you have information about journals, letters, or activities of your Australian forebears, write to the Public Communications Department, Australia Area Office, P.O. Box 350, Carlingford, N.S.W., Australia 2118.
6. Records of South Australian Registrar General. These records confirm the correct spelling as “Barratt.”
8. Manuscript History of the Australian Mission, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
11. Family Record of Ephraim Hesmer Nye, unpublished manuscript, 1893, Archives of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
12. Millennial Star, 19 Sept. 1871, p. 602; Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1870, p. 730; 25 June 1872, p. 409.
The Church in Australia
Part II: “Hunted, Fished … and Gathered”
Marjorie A. Newton, “Pioneering the Gospel in Australia, Part II: ‘Hunted, Fished … and Gathered’,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 35–38
It was late on a dark, stormy afternoon in May of 1856. The southerly breeze struck chill on the young woman standing with her husband on the deck of the schooner Jenny Ford as the ship was towed out of Sydney Harbor.
Adelaide Ridges clasped her six-week-old son Joseph closely. Beside her, six-year-old Alfred hung over the rail, absorbed in watching the fussy maneuvers of the steam tug. She felt a pang of fear as she remembered how nearly they had lost Alfred during the long voyage from England three years earlier. Down in the hold lay the body of her second child, his tiny coffin sealed in a lead box. Born just two weeks after her baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Anthony Augustus Ridges had lived only thirteen months. Now the family was gathering to Utah, and Adelaide would not leave his little body alone in far-off Australia.
The lead coffin was not the only box Adelaide’s husband, Joseph Ridges, had fashioned for the voyage. The hold of the Jenny Ford also contained a number of large tin packing cases which housed a seven-stop pipe organ Joseph had built in Sydney. (It is a myth that Joseph Ridges built the organ in the Sydney Town Hall. The original Town Hall—now the vestibule—was built thirteen years after the Ridges left Australia. The Centennial Hall, which houses the organ, was not completed until 1889.) Augustus Farnham, president of the Australian Mission, had suggested that Brother Ridges donate the organ he had built to the Church in Salt Lake City, so with the help of members and missionaries, Joseph had dismantled it and packed it in cases for the journey to San Pedro, California.
Adelaide, Joseph, and Alfred Ridges eventually arrived safely in the Salt Lake Valley; baby Joseph, however, survived the ten-week voyage only to die one month after the Jenny Ford arrived in San Pedro. The two Ridges babies were buried together in San Bernardino. 1
The organ Brother Ridges had so carefully built and then disassembled was hauled in wagons across the desert by mule teams. It arrived in Salt Lake City on 12 June 1857 and was soon installed in the old adobe tabernacle on Temple Square. It was the forerunner of the big organ Joseph Ridges was to build in the present Tabernacle.
The courage, sacrifice, and devotion of the Ridges family, and the hardships they faced in order to gather with the Saints, typified those of many early Australian members. But the story of the Australian gathering actually began four and one-half years before the Ridges’ voyage. Theirs, in fact, was the fifth Australian immigrant company to arrive in Utah.
In 1851, American elders John Murdock and Charles Wandell arrived in Australia to preach the gospel. In June 1852, however, Elder Murdock returned home prematurely because of poor health. Elder Wandell followed later with the first group of Saints to emigrate from Australia to Utah.
Charles Wandell had considered returning to the United States via London, in order to collect his family (still in New York) on his way to the Salt Lake Valley. However, as the spirit of gathering grew among the members of the little branch he had organized in Sydney, he changed his plans. On 6 April 1853, he sailed for California at the head of a small company of thirty Saints in the Envelope, just as the second group of missionaries from Utah, under the presidency of Augustus Farnham, arrived.
Sydney in that era was a sprawling, bustling metropolis of sixty thousand people. It was in constant turmoil as gold-seekers arrived from Britain, Europe, America, and China.
Elder Wandell had worried about the increasing numbers of English and Welsh Saints who were using their scanty funds to make the voyage to Australia with the intention of getting a “fit-out” for America. In a long letter to the Millennial Star, he painted an appalling picture of life on the goldfields, calling them “the deepest, the most fearful pits” of hell, 2 and urged Saints in England to gather directly to Zion.
Despite his warning, the English Saints continued to come. Not only did they find it extremely hard to raise the funds needed to reach Utah from Australia, but many, as Elder Burr Frost expressed it, “made shipwreck of their faith” on the diggings. 3
Still, Augustus Farnham was sure there were “some good and honest people in these lands, as can be found on the earth. These must be hunted and fished out and gathered.” 4 William Hyde agreed. The Lord had a people upon this land, and “although the devil shows them all the treasures of the earth at a glance, it matters not, they will receive the truth when it is presented.” 5
Elder Hyde found the rich pastoral and agricultural country of the Hunter Valley, one hundred miles north of Sydney, fruitful. Between his landing in the colony in April 1853 and his departure eleven months later, he organized the Williams River, Clarence Town, and Newcastle branches. He returned to the Salt Lake Valley at the head of a company of sixty-three Saints, all but two from the Hunter region.
They sailed from Newcastle, the port at the mouth of the Hunter River, 22 March 1854 in the Julia Ann. During a special conference prior to sailing, Elder Charles Stapley, Sr., (great-grandfather of the late Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Council of the Twelve) and Richard Allen, Sr., were appointed counselors to William Hyde for the journey.
For the Saints, shipboard life quickly worked into a routine that included daily meetings for prayers, Sunday services, and school for several of the children, taught by Richard Allen, Jr.
Except for Esther Allen (wife of Richard, Sr.), who died on April 18 of complications resulting from childbirth and was buried in Tahiti, the company arrived safely at San Pedro, California, after nearly three months at sea. They soon moved to San Bernardino.
The LDS settlement there had been established in 1851 by Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich of the Council of the Twelve, at the direction of President Brigham Young, who intended to form a chain of settlements between Salt Lake City and the Pacific coast. The Saints gathering to Utah from warm climates such as Australia and India, President Young suggested, should travel via San Bernardino, where they could rest and be outfitted for the last leg of their long journey to the Salt Lake Valley.
The Julia Ann returned to Sydney with Elder Hyde’s recommendation that she be chartered again if there was another company ready.
In late February or early March of 1855, President Farnham visited Melbourne and instructed the American elders there to form a company to travel to the Salt Lake Valley. Elder Burr Frost, a counselor in the mission presidency, was sent to Adelaide to gather the Saints there. Twenty-seven members traveled from Adelaide to Melbourne to join them.
Elder Frost chartered the brig Tarquinia, which sailed from Melbourne on 27 April 1855 with seventy-two people on board, about sixty of them Latter-day Saints. Along with the group of Saints from Adelaide, there were a number from the Gold Diggers’ Branch in Bendigo, a few from Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), and the remainder from the Melbourne and Castlemaine branches.
After five weeks at sea, however, the Tarquinia was in trouble. Serious leaks developed, and eventually she had to disembark her passengers at the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, where she was condemned. This caused serious financial hardship for most of the company, who, having paid their full passage from Melbourne to California, had to raise additional funds to take them from Hawaii to California. 6
Before word of the Tarquinia mishap reached President Farnham, he had dispatched another company of twenty-eight Saints on the Julia Ann, which sailed 7 September 1855. Among the company were Andrew Anderson and his family. Brother Anderson had been one of Orson Pratt’s first converts in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1840. Licensed to preach in Australia when he emigrated there with his family in 1841, he had organized the first known branch of the Church in Australia.
The Julia Ann ran onto a coral reef off the Scilly Islands about 9:00 p.m. on the night of October 3. Five women and children drowned, including Andrew Anderson’s ten-year-old daughter, Marian. Most of the passengers were saved because a courageous seaman swam to the reef and fixed a line that allowed them to escape. The survivors were rescued after the captain, some of the crew, and a few of the brethren rowed an open boat two hundred miles east to Bora Bora. Help was dispatched, and the company, who had lived on turtles, wild fowl, and other food they gathered, were ferried to Tahiti. 7
News of the tragedy, received in March, deeply shocked the Saints and the four remaining American missionaries in Australia. In Sydney at the annual conference of the Australian Mission on 6–7 April 1856, a subscription for the relief of the shipwrecked Saints was taken up. 8
News of the wreck and terrible hardships endured by the company brought sorrow and distress to President Young. In the Fourteenth General Epistle to the Church, the First Presidency exonerated the owner and crew of the Julia Ann, but warned the elders in all countries “not to permit an over-anxiety to emigrate and gather with the Saints to make them careless or indifferent to the kind and condition of the vessel in which they embark.” 9
It was just two or three weeks after receiving news of the Julia Ann disaster that President Farnham signed the contract with the captain of the Jenny Ford to transport from Australia what was to be the largest company of Saints in the history of the mission.
On 28 May 1856, the Jenny Ford sailed with 130 Saints on board. Along with Augustus Farnham himself (Absalom Dowdle was left to replace him as mission president) and the young Ridges family, the Jenny Ford took many of the stalwarts of the Sydney Branch who had labored long and faithfully.
The sailing of the Jenny Ford marked the high point of the Australian LDS emigration. Several smaller companies left over the next ten or fifteen years, but by the mid-1870s the practice of waiting for enough Saints to form a company had been dropped. “I have adopted the policy of shipping the Saints off to Zion, as soon as they get means to go, for fear their means might slip out of their hands,” wrote President William Geddes in 1874. 10
The poverty of the Saints in Australia and their difficulty in saving enough to travel to Utah had been a recurring problem. In 1854, the Ninth General Epistle of the First Presidency was received in Sydney. In accordance with its instructions 11, President Farnham began to take donations for the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. He had apparently already had the plan working to some extent before the Julia Ann had sailed; he told the Saints at a conference in April 1854 that he had called for funds to assist the poor of the last company, and would have to do so again. 12
But on August 19, President Brigham Young wrote to President Farnham, explaining that the fund was smaller than needed, the number of poor in Britain was comparatively large, and the opportunities to outfit for the trip to Utah were far better in Australia, so the activities of the fund could not be extended to that country.
If the funds of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund were not to extend to the Australian Saints, they would have to be self-sufficient. But gather they must. “We are determined to the utmost of our power to push the Saints to Zion,” President Farnham had written. Now he urged the Saints in the far-flung conferences of his mission to “lay aside every degree of extravagance, let your wants be few and simple, … laying aside all you can for gathering; if you are faithful and diligent in doing your part the Lord will do His, and you will be gathered.” 13
The doctrine of the gathering was widely disseminated in Australia by the American missionaries. Orson Pratt’s warnings to “flee out of Babylon,” 14 and Brigham Young’s letters, echoing his clarion call to “Come!” and build up “the valleys of Ephraim” 15, were circulated through Zion’s Watchman, from the Hunter River District to the goldfields of Victoria, from Adelaide to Hobart Town and Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).
Certainly the Australian converts, after baptism and confirmation, experienced what has been called “the baptism of desire,” 16 as their thoughts quickly turned toward gathering with the Saints. “The Saints here are very anxious to come to Zion with songs and share in her blessings and tribulations, with her to stand and fight or flee as the command of God shall be,” wrote Albert Aspinall from Sydney to President George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidency, in 1870. 17
Among the main blessings offered the Australian Saints were, of course, the blessings of the temple. “We have many ordinances to attend to which pertain to our own salvation,” William Hyde had explained in a farewell letter on behalf of his Julia Ann company, “and also to the salvation of our dead, which we cannot attend to in our scattered condition.” 18
The policy of encouraging the Saints to gather to Utah continued until the turn of the century, when the First Presidency began encouraging the Saints throughout the world to stay and build up the Church in their homelands. The first Latter-day Saint chapel in Australia was built in Brisbane in 1904 and dedicated in 1906 as part of a worldwide policy of establishing permanent overseas branches. Within the next twenty years, chapels were built in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth. But still, small numbers of Saints, filled with a longing to visit the temple and be one with the body of the Church, continued to emigrate to Utah, often after considerable sacrifice.
The various British colonies in Australia federated in 1901. The infant nation, fighting for greater population, was not inclined to view tolerantly the activities of any group which might deplete its already small numbers. In 1918, however, the Federal Minister for Immigration finally approved repeated requests for visas to allow a larger LDS missionary force to enter the country. Alexander Hunt, senior civil servant aide to the Minister of Immigration, wrote to mission president Arnold D. Miller that the requests had been approved “on the understanding that no immigration propaganda will be carried on to induce people to leave Australia for the United States of America.”
1. Adelaide W. Ridges, “A Short Sketch of My Life,” Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
6. James Humphries biography in Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage, 9 vols. (Salt Lake City: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1966), 9:455.
7. Millennial Star, 18 April 1857, p. 242; the Star erroneously cites the distance to Bora Bora as three hundred miles.
8. Manuscript History of the Australian Mission, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
11. James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 2:116.
15. Second General Epistle of the First Presidency, reprinted in the Millennial Star, 15 Apr. 1850, p. 120.
16. William Mulder, “Mormonism’s ‘Gathering’: An American Doctrine with a Difference,” Church History, Sep. 1954, p. 250.
The Church in Australia
Part III: The First Half of the Twentieth Century
Marjorie A. Newton, “Pioneering the Gospel in Australia, Part III: The First Half of the Twentieth Century,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 39–41
When Australian Latter-day Saints Bob Love and Maggie Henry were married in 1929, they had the ceremony performed by the local Presbyterian minister in his church. Then the bridal party traveled to the Enmore LDS branch chapel, where Mission President Clarence H. Tingey held what was called, in the mission’s year-end report, a “confirmation service” to bless their marriage.
The Loves did what circumstances forced many young Latter-day Saints to do. The nearest temple was 6,000 miles away in Hawaii, and the round trip passage for two was the equivalent of several years’ wages. The government of New South Wales would not license Latter-day Saints as marriage celebrants, so the Loves and others like them had to settle for a civil marriage, in another church or at a registry office. It was not until 1952 that the Loves were able to take their five children to the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed.
Their story typifies the experiences of many young LDS couples in Australia before World War II. The Saints’ struggle for recognition from civil authorities was one of the continuing themes of the LDS story in Australia during the early decades of the twentieth century.
One often-given reason for not granting official status to the Church was the lack of Church buildings in Australia. But once the Melbourne chapel was built in 1922, the government of Victoria finally agreed to license LDS marriage celebrants. Other Australian states were not as accommodating. Though the first LDS chapel in Australia was built in Brisbane in 1904, Latter-day Saint marriage celebrants were not recognized by the Queensland government until 1929. The Enmore chapel in Sydney was opened in 1924, but LDS marriage celebrants were not registered in New South Wales until 1931.
The building of chapels did much to promote the image of the Church as a permanent part of Australian life. To have a chapel of its own was the dream of every little branch. Although the Church paid 50 percent of the cost, it was frequently a struggle for branches to raise the remainder.
While the first half of the twentieth century is often seen as a period of slow growth for the Church in Australia, the gains were reasonable considering the shortage of missionaries—at times fewer than twenty to proselyte a country of three million square miles—and the effects of two world wars and the Great Depression. Australian Mission membership figures show a gradual but steady increase from 328 in 1901 to 2,396 in 1951.
By the late 1920s, most of the branches were large enough to maintain all the auxiliary programs of the Church. In most, a “family” feeling grew as members worked together, sometimes serving in several auxiliaries at once.
Beginning in 1930, President Clarence Tingey called local Australian branch presidencies wherever possible, freeing full-time missionaries for proselyting. The administrative experience gained by local brethren would mean survival for many Australian branches ten years later when World War II would force all American missionaries home.
In the 1930s, half a dozen Australian men were ordained elders and called to serve one- or two-year full-time missions, usually within their own country. Oswald (“Ossie”) Watson, from Glen Huon, Tasmania, became the first Australian missionary to serve overseas when he was called to the New Zealand Mission in 1930.
Missionary travel was long and arduous, particularly for those coming from America. The trip to Australia took several weeks, even on modern steam liners. Once in the mission, travel between assigned fields of labor was also difficult. Until World War I, most transfers were accomplished by coastal steamer. Later, it took many days and nights (and several changes of trains because of different track gauges in different states) to reach Perth from Sydney—as far as from New York to San Francisco.
Mission presidents and their wives took several months to make a circuit of the scattered districts and branches. The Perth Branch was extremely fortunate to see the mission president once a year.
Whenever possible, missionaries took country trips to visit isolated Saints who lived far from organized branches; the elders administered the sacrament and gave much-needed counsel and support. For some time, the mission home sent out correspondence Sunday School lessons to these scattered Saints. In another effort to overcome vast distances between groups of Saints, President Tingey in 1929 commenced publication of a small monthly journal modeled after the Millennial Star in Britain. The Austral Star was published regularly until December 1958.
But World War II, beginning in September 1939, slowed Church growth in Australia. Many young men were called to war. Food, clothing, and petrol were rationed, and travel was curtailed. Then, on 14 October 1940, Mission President James Judd received a cable from the First Presidency recalling all missionaries.
A new mission president, Elvon W. Orme, had to struggle for the duration of the war to administer the sprawling mission. A young Melbourne elder, Frederick E. Hurst, was called to help. Many smaller branches had to be closed. Dedicated sisters spent long hours typing copies of Church materials, scarce because shipping space was reserved for military uses, to be mailed to the branches. With growing talk of invasion, President Orme organized the evacuation of LDS children from Sydney. Weeks later, suburbs adjacent to Sydney Harbour were shelled. Some thirty children stayed at Grenfell, 240 miles west, under the care of leaders until the threat of invasion had passed.
It took years for the mission to recover from the effects of war because missionaries and Church literature were in short supply. But by 1950 the missionary force was more than double the prewar figure, and the number of convert baptisms began to rise dramatically—and continued to rise even when the Korean War cut the number of missionaries again.
Australia was twenty years into the century before LDS membership there reached one thousand, and it took another twenty years to reach two thousand. The figures remained static between 1942 and 1950, but the third thousand was achieved in just four years—between 1951 and 1955.
The surge of growth was given added stimulus after President David O. McKay’s 1955 visit to Australia. He saw the need for modern meetinghouses, for air travel, for a mission divided into more manageable proportions. He recognized the readiness of Australian priesthood holders for greater leadership responsibilities. Church response to these needs and abilities, and the accelerated growth that followed, led to the organization of the first Australian stakes in the 1960s.
Today, there are more than 70,000 Church members in Australia.