South Land of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 12 The Christian Settlement of South Australia

 

XII

THE CHRISTIAN SETTLEMENT OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The settlement of South Australia was unique in that it was the only state that was settled by a group of Christians (Dissenters) not aligned with the Church of England. In fact, one of the founding principles was that there was to be no state aid to any religious group.[1] The Dissenters recognised that state aid meant state control. The establishment of South Australia was also distinct in that the inhabitants were all free settlers; no convicts were permitted. The Christian colonisation of South Australia was another example of the Puritan spirit that motivated many of Australia 's early settlers. Charles Sturt, who opened up southern Australia for settlement, prophesied that the men of South Australia would one day populate the heart of the continent and that the Australian colonists would emulate the American colonists in their missionary zeal.

This vision for Australia as a centre for the spread of the Gospel was also shared by another Christian visionary, legal counsellor and Permanent Under Secretary of the Colonial Office, the Right Honourable Sir James Stephen. He was born in 1789 into a family "which believed that the religion of Jesus Christ afforded the only plausible solution to the great mystery of human life".[2] In 1824, writing of his own colonial endeavours to the Governor elect of Tasmania , George Arthur, Stephen noted:

He had an opportunity to make that dependency of New South Wales one branch of a great and powerful nation, which must exercise a mighty influence for good or evil over a vast region of the earth. He told him of the importance of his mission to establish a Christian, virtuous and enlightened state in the centre of the eastern hemisphere and within reach of the Chinese, Hindu and Mohammedan nations which surrounded him. The problem was how to render it Christian, virtuous and enlightened.[3]

In 1834, the British Parliament enacted the South Australian Colonisation Act,[4] which authorised a settlement for free colonists in South Australia , including some territory which previously formed part of New South Wales . South Australia was finally settled as a Christian colony.[5] Stephen was influential in the selection of Christian leadership in the pioneering of the state.

Among the many Christians instrumental in the establishment of South Australia was Robert Torrens, who was to become the first Chairman of the Colonisation Commission for South Australia in May 1835. In a speech to the House of Commons in 1827, he stated he believed that Providence had commissioned them to take the Gospel, along with the gift of civilisation, to the natives of the southern continent.[6] Almost all the directors of the South Australia Company were lay preachers. Robert Gouger, who was appointed Colonial Secretary, was a devout evangelical and was largely responsible for the success of the settlement. He wrote A Sketch for a Proposal for Colonizing Australia. When he organised the first public meeting for the free settlement of South Australia in Exeter Hall in London , 2500 people showed up.

George Fife Angas, who was also a member of the Board of Directors of the South Australia Company, felt called by God to found a state. He became known as the "father of South Australia 's religious liberties". He stated his mission thus:

My great object was, in the first instance, to provide a place of refuge for pious Dissenters of Great Britain, who could in their new home discharge their consciences before God in civil and religious duties without any disabilities . . . that South Australia will become the headquarters for the diffusion of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere.[7]

In fifty years, Angas distributed over a million copies of the Scriptures, as well as millions of tracts, and devotional books.[8] Angas also established voluntary non-denominational elementary schools with the Bible as the only textbook. Another settler, Charles Mann, who became Advocate General, believed the Bible was as necessary to the settler as the axe to clear the land.

In 1836 Captain John Hindmarsh was appointed Governor of South Australia. He challenged the settlers to build a new civilisation with industry and sobriety and to be an example of their religion to the natives, whom they should endeavour to convert to Christ. The next governor, Lt Colonel George Gawler, was also a Christian and determined to establish a Christian colony. By 1846, after Adelaide had been in existence ten years, over half of the population of 9000 were attending the Episcopal and Congregational churches, and further church buildings were planned. Up until 1915, Sunday School enrolment far exceeded that of the day schools.[9]

The South Australian colony attracted Christians of all religious persuasions, because it was the first colony in the British Empire not to be aligned with the Church of England. A group of German Lutherans, who had been persecuted in Prussia , found freedom of worship in South Australia . Their leader, Pastor Ludwig Kavel,  spoke for the group, in 1839, when they swore allegiance to the British Crown.

On our arrival here, we hailed this hospitable shore as a place of refuge to worship God without disturbance of our consciences. . . We have found what we have been seeking for many years--religious liberty: we hail that sovereign under whose direction we are now placed: we consider her and her Government as ordained of God, and with all our hearts we are desirous of being faithful subjects and useful citizens.[10]

The story of the Australian Lutherans is no less amazing than that of the American Pilgrim Fathers. Between 18 November 1838 and 25 January 1839 , three ships carrying 500 Lutherans arrived in Adelaide . They had left Prussia because of persecution under the King of Prussia . In 1830, King Friedrich Wilhelm III issued a decree to create a State Church with a new liturgy. Many Lutherans resisted this move, seeking to maintain their right to worship as their consciences dictated.[11]

Eight long years of persecution followed as the King tried to enforce the decree. Pastors lost their pulpits and congregations were barred from their churches. Goods were confiscated while many people were imprisoned. When soldiers with swords and bayonets tried to break up a Christmas Eve service, the only resistance the Lutherans offered as they were beaten down, was the singing of a hymn. They were publicly accused of being stiff-necked rebels, separatists, dissenters and seducers. But they stood firm.[12] As a result, their faith was strengthened and revival broke out. They continued to meet in homes, cellars, barns, forests and quarries. One night, in a secret synod in 1835, God spoke to them from His Word: "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matt. 10:23 ).

One thousand Lutherans emigrated to America . Pastor Kavel, while considering America as a possible destination, heard about a wealthy British businessman, George Fife Angas, so he went to London to meet him. Angas was a director of the South Australian Company and also had extensive shipping and land interests. He desired to provide a place of refuge for British dissenters who had been denied freedom of worship, but he was greatly moved by the plight of the Germans and, in 1836, he pledged three ships to take them to the new colony, at considerable financial risk to himself. It was the Christian character of the Lutherans--the honesty, industry and love--that impressed Angas. He concluded: "For the success of the colony, I look only to God. . . . If only I succeed in securing God-fearing people, God will bless that land".[13]

In 1836 the happy Lutherans sold their properties and prepared to leave, but the King declared: "No emigration and no toleration". However, after a two-year struggle, the King allowed them to leave. They left their village and gathered at the port of Hamburg while thousands of the townsfolk, attracted by their beautiful hymn singing, gathered along with relatives to see them off.

They sailed first to Plymouth to pick up their beloved pastor who had laboured for two years for this event. Kavel reminded his flock that it was from this same port that the American Pilgrim Fathers had departed many years before. The captain of the Zebra  was deeply moved by his passengers. He recorded in his diary:

I could not sufficiently admire the steadfastness with which these people had remained true to their faith after years of daily persecution, during which time they travelled for miles, hiding in the woods, to receive the Lord's Supper from Lutheran pastors who wandered about as fugitives. In the absence of pastors, those who considered themselves capable gave addresses to the others. This they did also on the ship . . . Seldom have I witnessed so touching a scene as when I saw in the evening the whole deck full of people on their knees beseeching God's blessing and protection for their undertaking. Every evening they made intercession for the king who had persecuted them.[14]

The journey was long, but when they eventually reached Australia, their sorrows were not over because many children and others died during the voyage. They arrived in the heat of summer. The port had no facilities, no housing, no water. To add insult to injury, the English were suspicious of the Germans.

However, it was not long before the Lutherans won the admiration of the English for their industry. Governor Gawler said they were model colonists and he would like 100,000 of them. Their faith, strengthened through adversity, shone through all the inconveniences and hardships of pioneer life. They were never heard to grumble as the English did, but lifted up their voices in praise to God for all his goodness in the midst of their daily trials. Besides, they now had freedom.

The industry and faith of the Lutherans impressed an Englishman, who, in 1842, visited the beautiful village of Hahndorf (named after their kind captain) 18 miles from Adelaide. It had been built on the German model with the church in the centre. The cottages were neat and clean, each with an attractive garden adjoining. The people sang as they went about their work, dropping by the church before or after work to return thanks to God, a custom to which the Englishman attributed their prosperity. The visitor observed their industry, perseverance, steadfastness and their ability to work together harmoniously, but most of all he was affected by the contentment he saw on every face. A settler wrote to a friend in Prussia:

Come to South Australia, where you will enjoy the freedom still denied you in Prussia. There is any amount of good land still available. If you come, you will rejoice when you see the conditions prevailing in this wonderful land. You know I had exactly one shilling when I landed here. Now after one year in Australia, I own cows and pigs and poultry and above all a fine vegetable garden. Once more I say: come to this free land and share God's blessings with us.[15]

The inspiring story of the founding of South Australia is an example of God's diversity within a unity of God's overall purpose for Australia as a centre for world evangelism. In seeking religious liberty, the Lutheran Fathers found not only freedom to worship as their conscience dictated, but material blessings showed upon them by God the Father, Who is the Giver of every good gift. He blesses man so, like Abraham, he may be a blessing. God prepared a land and a people for Himself that through Australia He might bless the world.

Having made some observations on Australia's history in the light of seven biblical principles, the author will next examine some implications or consequences of the choices made by Australia's founders, and in conclusion, make some interpretations and applications.



                    [1]Note that this provision did not imply separation of church and state. For a full discussion of this question, see David Barton, The Myth of Separation: What is the Correct Relationship between Church and State?  An Examination of the Supreme Court's Own Decisions. (Aledo: Wallbuilders, 1989). Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state.

               [2]Quoted in Clark, A History of Australia , 2: p. 83.

               [3]Clark, A History of Australia, 2: p. 110.

               [4]United Kingdom Parliament, 1834. South Australian Colonization Act 1834. 4 & 5 Vict. 4, c. 95.

               [5]C. F. Pascoe, ed., Two Hundred Years of the S. P. G.: An Historical Account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900 (London: S. P. G., 1901), pp. 415-24.

               [6]Douglas Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia 1829-1857 (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1967), p. 95.

               [7]Quoted in ibid., pp. 130, 138.

               [8]ibid., p. 160.

               [9]Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia 1829-1857, p. 264. The Principle of the Planting of the Seed of Local Self-government: Education is key in ensuring the transmission of biblical principles to the next generation.

               [10]Quoted in Graham McLennan, "The Christian Settlement of Australia", Understanding Our Christian Heritage 2 (1989): p. 40.

               [11]The Principle of Property: they recognised their right to follow the dictates of their conscience, "without tarrying for any" (as did the American Pilgrim Fathers); they obeyed God rather than men when the king's law conflicted with God's Law.

               [12]The Principle of Christian Character is demonstrated in their faith, steadfastness, brotherly love and Christian care.

               [13]Quoted in Ian Shelton, "Australia's Lutheran Pilgrim Fathers", Understanding Our Christian Heritage 2 (1989): pp. 42-44. The Christian Character of the Lutherans was evident to Angas, who recognised that the success of the colony depended on finding people with such qualities.

               [14]Quoted in ibid.

               [15]Quoted in ibid. The foregoing material was taken from McLennan, "The Christian Settlement of South Australia" and Shelton, "Australia's Lutheran Pilgrim Fathers", Understanding Our Christian Heritage 2 (1989): pp. 39-44; and from Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia 1829-1857.