The 250th anniversary of the birth of the Methodist Church took place in 1989. The commitment of early Methodist pioneers in Australia to the Gospel is shown in the following excerpts from A South Australian Romance: How a Colony was founded and a Methodist Church formed by the Rev. John Blacket, 1899.
Rev. Blacket describes the first act the new settlers made in South
Rev. Blacket describes the birth of Methodism in England, then goes on to relate how the centenary was celebrated in South Australia.
During the reign of the second George the moral decline in England reached
its lowest ebb. Drunkenness, profanity, sensuality, and infidelity abounded.
The Puritan revival was spent. Its collapse proved how impossible it is
to make a nation righteous by an Act of Parliament. Methodism had not yet
come into existence. Everywhere there was licentiousness and extravagance.
It seemed as though the Sun of Righteousness in England had set, and the
nation was sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. But brighter and
better times were dawning. The Sun of Righteousness was to arise
with healing in his wings. It was indeed a "crooked and perverse generation",
but in the providence of God a band of men were raised up who were to "shine
as lights in the world", holding forth to others the Word of Life. At the
head of these men were John and Charles Wesley. At the same time the Spirit
of God moved upon the hearts of the people. In the latter part of 1739
several persons, who felt the burden of sin, came to John Wesley in London
for guidance and instruction. They asked him to spend some time with them
in prayer, and to advise them how to flee from the wrath to come. He arranged
to meet them every Thursday evening. The number grew. This was the origin
of the Methodist Society - a Society that was to exert a powerful influence
for good, not only in Great Britain, but throughout the world.
The Society in South Australia was not yet three years old, but it was
loyal to the recommendation of the British Conference. It did not stay
to inquire, "By whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small?" Whilst the Methodists
in the Old Land were rejoicing together and giving their thousands, the
pioneer Methodists in the youngest British offshoot were not wanting in
charity or zeal. On Friday, 25th October 1839, meetings were held in the
newly-erected chapel in Gawler Place. In the afternoon the foundation-stone
of a chapel to be erected in North Adelaide was laid by Mrs. Edward Stephens.
Over 600 pounds was raised. This was devoted to the extension of Methodism
in the new Colony.
To Methodists living in a Conference town and its vicinity the gathering
of the preachers was always an event of great importance. It was then that
they had an opportunity of hearing the leading men of Methodism. The Conference
of 1818 was held at Leeds. Joseph Benson was appointed to preach. Of him
it was said that, in spite of a weak, shrill voice, the effect of his preaching
was overwhelming. "His weeping and trembling congregations were apt to
think of him... as an Elijah, surrounded by invisible hosts. At the close
of his sermons there would be a strain of appeal so cogent, and inspired
from above, that every word was like an arrow of the Almighty."
Thomas Longbottom travelled to Leeds to hear Joseph Benson, taking with him his son William. It was a memorable journey. The word came with power to William's heart, and he earnestly sought salvation.
About this time there was a spiritual awakening at Bingley. A special unction attented the ministry of James Blackett and Joseph Beaumont. William Longbotton began to meet in class. Here he became associated with Thomas Cryer, who married the saintly Mary Burton, with the memoir of whom Methodists were once well familiar. There is no record of any special time when peace came to his soul. He took an active part in Sunday-school work and in the Friday evening prayer-meeting. In this meeting three generations of his family were represented - Matthew, Thomas, and William Longbotton: grandfather, father and son. Frequently their prayers followed in succession.
In 1824 William removed to Wakefield. Here he was placed on the plan as a local pracher. Next year he was recommended as a candidate for mission work. While at Wakefield, it was his privilege to be associated with two noted Methodist preachers: William Atherton and James Dixon.
In 1826 he was advised by the Missionary Committee to hold himself in readiness to go to Van Diemen's Land. The summons to leave was forwarded, but, through some miscarriage, he did not receive it. Another preacher took his place, and the letter was returned to the MIssion House. He was then sent by John Stephens, President of the Conference, to supply in the Otley Circuit, and a few months afterwards was appointed to Newcastle-under-Lyne.
The Missionary Committee decided that he should labour in Madras. In 1828 he was stationed at Reading, so that he might take lessons from Thomas H. Squance, in the Tamil language. At the ensuing Conference he married Miss Eagland, of Bingley, and shortly after left England, in company with Thomas Cryer and other missionaries, for Madras.
As they sailed away from their native land, little conception did William
Longbotton and his young wife have of the varied experiences through which
they were to pass, or of the important work they were to do in a Colony
not yet constituted.
A short residence at the Cape made a temporary improvement in his health. But his heart was in India, and to that field he returned. Meanwhile the Missionary Committee, in consideration of his health, had appointed him to Swan River, a convict settlement on the western coast of Australia.
Himself, wife, and child set sail from India via Mauritius. In one sense the voyage was a disastrous one. The missionary and family were ultimately landed in a Colony that, as yet, had no place on the Minutes of Conference. They were detained at Mauritius nine weeks. From Mauritius they reached Van Diemen's Land. This was the Colony to which he had been appointed in 1826, an appointment that was not then effected through the miscarriage of a letter. At Van Diemen's Land they had to remain five months, awaiting an opportunity to reach Swan River.
On the 9th of June 1838 the Fanny, a small vessel of thirty-five tons, set sail for King George's Sound. By this vessel Mr. Longbotton, with his wife and child, had taken passage. Along the Australian coast terrific weather is sometimes experienced. It was so on this occasion. The vessel had not cleared Van Diemen's Land before rough weather set in. Twice she put back for shelter. For a time fine weather was experienced. On Sunday, the 17th of June, the wind blew a perfect hurricane. On the following Thursday the water changed colour, and soundings were taken. The captain, not being able to take observations for several days, and not knowing how near the vessel had drifted to land, thought she was passing over a sandbar. It was now almost about nine o'clock at night. Having had no rest for several nights, Mr. Longbottom and wife tried to get a little sleep. About half-past one in the morning the sea broke on board in all directions. The captain found himself in only seven fathoms of water. All attempts to sail were fruitless. The vessel struck. "About one," Mrs. Longbottom says, "I was arounsed by an unusual rolling of the vessel. Instantly I told my husband that I was sure we were in the surf. After a moment he was convinced that my fears were too well grounded, and, throwing on his rough jacket, was in the act of reaching his cap to go on deck when the vessel struck. No time was to be lost. Providentially, we had lain down in our clothes. I hurried on little William's shoes and cap, and, after commending ourselves to God, we
endeavoured to get on deck. We found the hatches down, and it was some time before we could make those on deck hear. When we did get out, an awful scene was before us." At times the party were up to their waists in water. The captain ascended the rigging, and in the distance saw a low, dark ridge. It was land. Mrs. Longbottom proceeds: "The sailors cut away the boat; but it drifted away the moment it was lowered. The captain had swum ashore with a rope. He lost his hold, and was unable to return. At length a sailor succeeded in reaching shore with a rope, which he made fast, and then returned to render assistance to us. We put our dear boy over the side of the vessel first; the men handed him to the captain, who carried him through the surf. You may form some idea of what our feelings were when we knew that our only child was safe. It was now my turn, but I had not the courage to jump overboard when the surf receded, and Mr. Longbottom was obliged to push me off. I lost my hold of the rope, and was several minutes under water. My dear William, seeing my situation, instantly plunged in after me, and laid hold of my dress. We were mercifully preserved, and all got safely through that dreadful surf; but I was extremely exhausted, and unable to stand when I reached the beach. All went behind a sandbank and lay down among the bushes to await the morning light. We were dreadfully cold, being in our wet clothes, and unable to make a fire." The cold must have been intense. In addition to wet clothes it was winter-time, and one of the coldest months of the year.
The day after the shipwreck a party of blacks came upon the scene. It must have been with mingled feelings that the shipwrecked people saw them approach. What were their intentions? Friendly or hostile? Did their advent mean life or death? Their fears were soon set at rest. The natives brought a firestick, created a fire, and pointed out their water holes.
Strange to relate, the same tribe of natives that showed much kindness to this shipwrecked party was the tribe who, two years afterwards, brutally murdered the crew and passengers of the ill-fated Maria. The Maria was on her way to the same port from which the Fanny had set sail. The murders took place not far from the spot where Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom were wrecked. About seven weeks the party were at the mercy of the blacks. The captain says: "They were well disposed, and the most inoffensive race that he had ever met."
The day after the visit of the natives (being Sunday,) a little service was held, in which the shipwrecked people gave thanks to God for preservation from a watery grave.
The captain decided that the better plan would be to attempt to find a way to some station overland. Mrs. Longbottom says: "We had no alternative but either to accompany the ship's party or be left behind in the bush. Accordingly, Mr. Longbottom prepared for our departure by packing up a pair of blankets, a few biscuits, and a little wine and water; the whole of which he fastened on his back, and we set out, 'not knowing whither we went.' But sleeping on the damp ground, together with struggling so long in the surf, had made me so stiff, and had brought on such rheumatism, that I could scarcely walk at all. I dragged on about five miles, when I could go no farther. I felt our situation peculiarly trying at this time; the temper of our captain was very odd, and the whole party was likely to be detained on my account. After resting for a few hours, Mr. Longbottom proposed that we should all return to the tent, and endeavour to gain fuller knowledge of our situation, and prepare ourselves better for travelling. I believe that it was the Spirit of God that dictated this proposal, for all agreed to it and immediately prepared to return. I walked back in much pain, and about midnight we arrived at the tent, and found everything as we left it."
A quantity of provisions had been obtained from the wreck, and the dingy
had drifted ashore. Captain Gill then set to work to lengthen and repair
it. About half a mile inland the shipwrecked party discovered a lagoon.
It appeared to run parallel with the beach. It was what is now known as
the Coorong, connected with the river Murray. On this sheet of water Captain
Gill hoped to set sail.
One day, as the captain and men were labouting at the dingy, they met with a strange surprise. A few white men were seen coming down the coast in the direction of the wreck. They proved to be companions in misfortune. Another vessel (the Elizabeth ) had been wrecked about fifty miles eastward. The leg-weary travellers were the shipwrecked captain and his crew. Although met together under unfortunate circumstances, it was, "Hail, fellow! Well met!" Captain Tindall, of the Elizabeth, had with him both chart and compass. This was a great comfort, as Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom and party now knew in what direction to seek help. The two captains laboured together. The dingy was finished. It was too small to carry the whole party. The captains decided to leave the missionary, wife, child, and three sailors in the bush, whilst they and some of the sailors made for Encounter Bay. At this place there was a whaling station, and here they hoped to get a larger boat, in which to tranship the whole party. They set sail on the Coorong. Steering westward, they reached the mouth of the Murray, not far distant from the fishery at Encounter Bay.
In the letter describing their experiences Mrs. Longbottom says: "During the absence of the party was a truly anxious time. We felt that, should any disaster befall them, or the boat, so that we could not return, we had no human means left of ever getting away. However, in less than a week, two of the men returned with the joyful intelligence that they had been to Encounter Bay, and that the captain would be up in two days with a large whaleboat for us. We waited several days after the time appointed, but, seeing no captain or boat, we started in the little boat, taking with us our blankets, a change of linen for each of us, and a small case with a few of my husband's most valuable papers, with a supply of provisions. We left the bush on the 7th of August, having spent forty-five days from the time of our wreck in a state of great anxiety and suspense. It was a beautiful day when we started. The men rowed; Mr. Longbottom steered; and I baled out the water. Being a fine moonlit night, we kept on till midnight, when we hauled up, but could not land. We were obliged to sit in the boat allnight. It was dreadfully cold, and a very heavy dew; but mercifully we took no cold, though without any shelter, and the boat very leaky. At daybreak we set off again, and about ten o'clock met the captain with a large boat. We changed boats, and about one o'clock crossed the Murray River. Here we landed, and stayed until sunset, when we again set sail in the boat."
Eventually the party reached Encounter Bay. Here they were kindly entertained by Captain Wright and his good lady. The whole trip was indeed providential. To reach Encounter Bay they had to cross the mouth of the Murray. This was attended by risk. It was in an attempt to negotiate the mouth of the Murray that Sir John Jeffcott and Captain Blinkinsopp lost their lives. Sir John Jeffcott was the first judge of the new Colony. In opposition to Colonel Light, he thought that the city should be at Encounter Bay. To prove that the mouth of the Murray was navigable, in company with Captain Blinkinsopp and others he tried to sail out of it. The boat was wrecked, and only two of the party, after a desperate struggle, escaped with their lives. This was not many months before Captain Gill, with his precious cargo, crossed it. "We did not ship", said he, "a spoonful of water."
Captain Tindall travelled overland from Encounter Bay to Adelaide, carrying
with him tidings of the wreck of the Elizabeth and the Fanny.
A vessel, the Lady Wellington, was on her way from Sydney to Adelaide. The passage had been a stormy one. She called at various ports for refuge; amongst others, Encounter Bay. This was a fitting opportunity for Mr. Longbottom, his wife and child, to reach Adelaide. Again there was a reverse. As the vessel tried to cross the outer bar, at the entrance to Port Adelaide, she ran aground. Here the passengers and cargo had to be discharged. But kind friends were at hand. Edward Stephens arranged for a boat to bring the Methodist preacher and his family up the port river. A conveyance was then provided in which they could travel to Adelaide.
What a strange and bitter experience! As we read it we seem to hear the shriek of the wind, the fall of the rain, and the roar of the breakers. Detained nine weeks at Mauritius; five months at Van Diemen's Land; wrecked on the South Australian coast; escaping through the surf by means of a rope; spending about seven weeks in the Australian bush - this in the depth of winter, at the mercy of black savages; sailing down the Coorong in a leaky boat - the missionary's wife baling out the water; sitting all night in the boat on the Coorong, wet and half frozen; crossing the mouth of the Murray; setting sail in another vessel for Port Adelaide; finally running aground at the entrance to the port river. Verily, in the service of God the Apostle Paul had no monopoly of vivid and strange experiences. Little did the young missionary and his wife, who set sail from Old England in 1829, know of the strange vicissitudes that lay before them.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." The storm ceased. The waves subsided. The dark clouds were dissipated. Soon the missionary and his wife and child were safely anchored in the little wooden residence of Edward Stephens. Here they received a warm English welcome.
In a temporal sense the shipwrecked missionary had lost his all. The library and papers could not be replaced, but kind friends came to their rescue, and all their material wants were supplied.
Is it matter for surprise that the Methodist pioneers looked upon Mr. Longbottom's advent as a godsend? Said one of them, some time after: "We could not get on, for we could not agree who should be superintendent; but God pitied us, and sent us a minister by wrecking one on our coasts."
The Colony had not been founded three years. It had no place on the Minutes of Conference, but Mr. Longbottom found a Methodist chapel erected; a Sunday school formed; several local preachers; a printed plan; and a society consisting of about sixty members. Verily, today we owe a debt of gratitude to Edward Stephens, John C. White, Jacob Abbott, and the other local preachers whose names stand on the first printed plan.
There came another eventful day in the experience of the early Methodists. It was when the shipwrecked minister stood up in their little limestone chapel and preached the gospel. His text was 2 Peter iii. 18: "Grow in grace." As he talked to them about the necessity and importance of practical piety, the tears of gratitude fell from many eyes, and hearts were made glad. The desire of their souls had been fulfilled. The end they had long tried to compass had now been attained. The Episcopalians and the Congregationalists had their pastor, and so had the Methodists. "Well do I remember," says Jacob Abbott, "him presiding at our first love-feast after his arrival. The tears ran down his cheeks while he exclaimed: 'I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; thirsty, and ye gave me drink; naked, and ye clothed me"; and how devoutly he thanked the Lord for having spared him, and allowed him to blow the gospel trumpet in the land of the living."
But Mr. Longbottom's station was Swan River? Could he remain in South Australia? The claims and persuasions of the friends were urgent. There was no immediate means for reaching Swan River. In Adelaide he had to remain, awaiting instructions. Meanwhile the Society was busy. They were not going to let so favourable an opportunity slip. Negotiations were opened up with the Rev. Joseph Orton, Chairman of the Van Diemen's Land District. A memorial from the Adelaide trustees was sent to the Missionary Committee in London. It may be seen in the Methodist Magazine for 1839. The memorialists say: "On Mr. Longbottom's arrival amongst us we were enabled to introduce those parts of the regular discipline which had not been previously brought into operation; and the results are already cheering and satisfactory; and we feel quite confident that if he be permitted to remain with us, we shall be fully competent to meet the expenses required for the maintenance of himself and family, without troubling the Committee at all on the subject of funds. Since his arrival we have enjoyed much prosperity and peace; we have raised 500 pounds for a new chapel; our Society is increased and our prospects brightened; and we hope that the unanimous appeal of the stewards, leaders, local
preachers, and trustees of the Methodist Society in South Australia will meet with the kind attention which we think the circumstances of our case require." The appeal was granted. Who could resist so eloquent and graceful a plea? In the English Minutes of Conference for 1839 a fresh line appears: "Adelaide, South Australia - William Longbottom."
For a time Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom resided under the roof of Edward Stephens. Finally a cottage was rented in Grenfell Street. The settlement was still in a very rude state. Many of the houses were of a temporary character, and rents were high. The Methodist missionary and his wife had to content themselves with two small rooms and a smaller kitchen. There was no ceiling. The building did not keep out heat in summer nor rain in winter. For this indifferent shelter they had to pay 50 pounds per year.
Before concluding this chapter we notice a very singular circumstance.
Before his appointment to India in 1829, William Longbottom was sent, one
Sunday morning, by the Missionary Committee to preach at City Road Chapel.
He arrived early. Several questions were put to the caretaker as to the
order of the service. The worthy man's suspicions were aroused. "Why do
you wish to know?" he asked. Said the youthful preacher: "I am to preach
here this morning." "You going to preach?" was the rejoinder; "it is a
downright shame to send such raw-boned fellows to preach here. I tell you,
the congregation will be terribly disappointed." Amongst the early emigrants
was this caretaker, his wife and family. They formed a part of the
pioneer Methodist band. Imagine the good man's surprise when the shipwrecked
missionary proved to be the young man whom he had so discouraged a few
years before at a City Road Chapel.
In 1855 Mr. Draper left the Colony. It had not yet reached its majority, but the success and permanence of Methodism was assured. Mr. Draper saw the membership grow from three hundred and fifty members to over a thousand. The finest of any of the churches yet built in the city of Adelaide by any denomination was erected in his time. In addition, a number of chapels had been built in the suburbs and country. He was the principal factor in extending and consolidating the Methodist Church in the new settlement of South Australia.
We close this chapter with an account of the last days of this noted man. We have spoken of The Romance of Methodism. That there is such, the record we have given amply testifies. But romance has a sad side as well as a joyous one; its dark shades as well as its bright ones. We saw the pioneer Methodist Church in the new Colony in need of a pastor. The need was made the subject of prayer. By the ministry of the winds and the waves an ideal Methodist missionary was cast upon South Australian shores. But in more senses than one, as the sequel will show, the winds and the waves do strange work.
When Mr. Draper left South Australia he returned to Victoria. In 1859 he was elected President of the Australian Conference. After an absence of about thirty years from Old England he felt a strong desire once more to see his native land. The little Methodist chapel in the village of Fareham still attracted him. It would be such a joy to see it once more, and again to tread the lanes that he had so often trodden in his youth. His parents were dead, and many of his early friends were gone, but the village, with the memory of its associations, remained. The buttercups and cowslips would still bloom, the honeysuckle would be as sweet as ever, and there would not be any change in the song of the skylark or the homely note of the cuckoo.
In 1865 Mr. and Mrs. Draper were in the Old Land. He had been appointed
Representative to the British Conference. It was held at Birmingham. The
fathers and brethren gave him the right hand of fellowship, and he won
the esteem of all. He preached in Great Queen Street Chapel, at St. James'
Hall, and in the village of Fareham. Here he had the graves of his parents
renovated, little thinking how soon he would follow them to the eternal
He engaged a berth for himself and his wife in the S.S. London. She sailed from Plymouth on 6th January 1866. There were more than two hundred persons on board; - amongst others: G.V. Brooke, the eminent tragedian, and his sister; also the Rev. Dr. Wooley, an able scholar, who was on his way out to his professional duties at Sydney. There a wife and six children were waiting to receive him. Alas! they waited in vain.
A day after they sailed the wind increased in violence. There was a very heavy sea. The following day (Monday) some of the passengers became very anxious. The wind was blowing with great violence. Monday night was a night of distress. Many of the passengers read their Bibles together and engaged in prayer. On Tuesday the large vessel was tossed about like a cork, and whole seas dashed over her. The lifeboat was torn away by the winds and the waves. The masts were broken and the ship dismantled. It seemed as though the raging elements were venting their fury upon what was a noble work of man.
Daniel James Draper was not idle. It was not the first storm at sea that he had experienced. About thirty years before, in his first voyage to Australia, in company with John McKenny and Frederick Lewis, he had been nearly wrecked. It seemed as though what was once probable would now become actual. No time was to be lost. Now, more truly than ever, he must have felt the inspiration of the words of Christ: "I must work the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day." He began to point the anxious and distressed to the sinner's refuge - Christ.
During the whole of Tuesday night some of the passengers read the Bible
Thursday morning came. The gale was as fierce as ever. The vessel rolled helplessly in the sea. A tremendous body of water stove in four windows of the upper or poop cabin. The passengers and crew had worked nobly at the pumps, but the vessel was now half-full of water. The remaining boats were got ready. The starboard pinnance was lowered, but was almost immediately swamped and sunk. Captain Martin went down into the saloon. "Ladies," said he, "there is no hope for us, I am afraid; nothing short of a miracle can save us." Said Mr. Draper, very calmly, "Let us pray." The vessel was now settling down.
Mr. Draper was constant in his ministrations. Ah! there were grief-stricken
fathers and mothers and little children to be comforted and encouraged.
The only comfort was the hope of meeting in heaven. The passengers were
urged to "flee for refuge to the hope set before them." "Pray for me, Mr.
Draper; pray for me," was the cry. What cries went up to heaven from that
doomed vessel! Mr. Draper pleading for the salvation of souls, and passengers
seeking pardon! "Prepare to meet thy God!" was the cry of the Methodist
preacher. "My friends," said he, "our captain tells us there is no hope,
and that we may all get safe to heaven." Prayer was heard and answered.
Before the vessel went down there was wonderful calmness on board - a spirit
of patient resignation. Husbands, wives, and children clung to each other,
going simultaneously - not down into the deep, but into the eternal joy
and peace of heaven.
When a local preacher in Brecon he had often sung -
How tragically the sentiment of the verse was realised!
From that dark and dreadful scene in the Bay of Biscay there come to
us rays of light. Said the heroic Methodist preacher: "Those of you who
are not converted, now is the time."... "There is hope that we may all
get safe to heaven." It is probable that that hope was fulfilled. Said
the dying thief at the last hour: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in
Thy kingdom." The cheering response was: "To-day shalt thou be with Me
in paradise." To the penitent, perishing, praying men and women on board
the doomed London,
If we keep our eyes fixed on the dark aspect of the wreck that we have depicted, our hearts will be inexpressibly sad. To see fathers, mothers, and children locked in each other's embrace, and going down into the angry deep, with a love that was quenchless, is almost too much for human reason. Alas! we are the slaves of our senses. The most real and abiding things on earth are the things that are invisible. The most real thing about the person who is writing this sketch is not the visible and tangible hand that holds the pen, but the invisible and intangible agent that conceives the thoughts, translates them into words, marshals the sentences, and compels the hand to do its bidding - the mysterious "I" that knows itself as distinct from the body. Don't look merely at the lost bodies on the ill-fated London, but at the saved souls. "And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings vi. 17). "And Lazarus died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Not the corruptible body, but the living, energising, intelligent soul, by the eye of faith, in the light of Divine revelation, crosses the boundary line of sensual experience. See the spirits of the shipwrecked passengers escorted to paradise - fathers, mothers, and children entering simultaneously into one of the palaces of the great King. Yes. "In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Grasp this comforting assurance, and our wail of sorrow becomes a shout of victory.
As South Australian Methodists, we thank God for the work of consolidation and extension that Daniel James Draper did in the young Colony, and for his comforting, encouraging, and soul-saving ministry on board the doomed London. A fine church in Adelaide has been erected in his memory.