Mission House

by Basil Tkaczuk – 2018

From its earliest years, St. John’s Church has followed in the evangelical tradition which places emphasis on the study and teaching of The Bible and on reaching out to others with the good news about Jesus Christ. As the settlement grew into a town, other parishes were established, first as outposts of St. John’s and eventually in their own right. Somewhat fading from the better-known history is the work of the Mission House situated in Canning Street across from The Brickfields. This was centred in a poor area of the city consisting of many terraced homes and smaller cottages, largely cleared since the 1960s for businesses and car parks. The particular phase of home mission work leading to the Mission House began during the incumbency of Revd R. C. N. Kelly in the 1890s with the purchase and conversion of a pub in Wellington Street. The emphasis was on visiting the poor and teaching them the gospel. The building became too small, and the Canning St. building was erected by 1905.

Further research is needed to add to the story of the mission, but its establishment and growth seems to hinge on the ministry of a remarkable woman, Deaconess Charlotte Shoobridge. [1] Born in 1843, she was a member of one of the pioneering families of Van Diemen’s Land involved in establishing the growing of hops in the Derwent settlement. She grew up at Bushy Park, and kept a diary of many aspects of life on the family estate which gave the district its name. [2] The family made it its responsibility to allow preaching and services of worship for the local population, particularly meeting in the still extant “Text Kiln”. [3] After her years of service at the Mission House, she apparently retired to Hobart. She died in 1925 and was buried at Cornelian Bay. Her work is outlined in a 1963 thesis, The Church of England in Tasmania under Bishop Montgomery. [4] At a time when social revolution was being espoused in various parts of the world, Bishop Montgomery “strongly approved of social alleviation which did not involve political radicalism.” The test of the reality of Church work “lay in the attention paid to the lowest stratum of society, many of whom found themselves on the bottom rung of the social ladder simply as the victims of circumstances, and through very little fault of their own”. [5]

According to Hart, Charlotte Shoobridge was, at the time of her appointment to St. John’s Launceston, Tasmania’s only Church of England deaconess, a pioneering step by the church, but a decision which proved to be inspired. An article in the Daily Telegraph in 1910, which gives a particularly detailed insight into the early years of the Mission House, notes that at the time the mission was founded, Sister Charlotte had only just been ordained as a deaconess. [6]

The work of the Mission House was seen by Bishop Montgomery as an outstanding example for the rest of the diocese to follow. Initiatives around the same time in Hobart to open a “House of Mercy” to “reclaim the fallen” had been given some support, and were strongly endorsed by the bishop. The work, which specifically aimed to help girls and young women caught up in prostitution, struggled at first, but continued alongside government efforts, based in part of the former Female Factory (women’s prison) at Cascades. Considerable success was attributed to the ministry, which attracted government subsidies, but Montgomery’s pleas to SPG [Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts] in England for funding for a deaconess were not successful.

About 1890, “Mrs. Soltau, wife of the minister of Launceston’s Memorial Baptist Church” [still the Christian Mission Church at the time, and not affiliated with the Baptists until the 1930s], conducted a “Hope Cottage” for unmarried girls in their first pregnancy. This was not supported by the Baptists, and at Synod in 1892, the bishop announced that the Cottage had been given to the care of the Church of England. [7] Hart reports that “the Anglicans did not show great enthusiasm in their new institution: most of the work was left to the Rector of St. John’s and his wife. [8] The work struggled on, but new initiatives by the Salvation Army attracted many of the girls from the cottage. Some resentment was evidently held towards the Salvation Army for their parallel initiatives. 5

Church Messenger in 1896 bemoaned the collapse of the Cottage, but in the next issue, reported that it was to transfer to Hobart, where it essentially merged with the House of Mercy and the government’s Lock Hospital on the Cascades site.[9]

Yet, three years earlier, St. John’s had set up its own Mission House. From the account of its work in Hart’s thesis, it had a broader scope, but strong connections with Hope Cottage, and by 1894, Deaconess Shoobridge had commenced work there. Hart continues;

St. John’s Launceston set an example to the rest of the Diocese by forming the only Mission House amongst the poor that attempted to cope with all their needs. On Palm Sunday, 1893, the first service of this Mission House was held in the former skittle alley of the old Queen’s Head Hotel, Wellington Street. Besides evangelistic services, the specific aims of the House were to serve as a refuge for unemployed servant girls, rescue fallen girls and send them to Hope Cottage, and also act as an educational establishment. No distinction was made because of religious views. The work was directed by Tasmania’s only Deaconess, Sister Charlotte Shoobridge, with the help of a nurse. Besides the inevitable Sunday School, there were weekly Mothers’ Meetings combined with a second-hand sale, a girls’ sewing class, which quickly attracted eighty, popular lectures and evening entertainments, a gymnasium and boys’ club, and such practical aids as a Penny Bank and Servants’ Registry.

The fame of its work spread even to those who were normally scornful of the Church: in the same issue in which it informed its readers that “a gaitered bishop is not a thing of beauty under any circumstances”, and that Montgomery was a “caricature of retrenchment”, “The Clipper” referred to the St. John’s Mission House as “one of the best charitable institutions in Tasmania… Stray girls and wives driven from home by drunken husbands can always get a comfortable doss here and a good square meal too”. [10]  For several years, the House provided a soup kitchen during the winter months. However as with all Anglican institutions, its members were unwilling to finance it. Over 14000 people used its facilities in 1895, but only £34 was subscribed for its support, and of this £10 came from England. [11]  

On the occasion of the farewell to Canon R. C. Nugent Kelly, M.A,  whose incumbency ended in 1896, a lecture by Mr. E. Whitfeld, P.M, a long-standing warden of St. John’s, some of the early background of the mission was recalled, along with a good deal of other fascinating history of colonial Launceston. Mr. Whitfeld explained that he “had strung together a number of facts which he had taken from old papers, and others told him by old residents, which he thought his audience would find interesting. Here, we learn of the origins of the first Mission House site, and the founding of the mission under Canon Kelly.

“Now, in conclusion,  let me tell you something of the early history of your Mission House. The “Queen’s  Head”—it has never had any other name  —was built in 1846 by Joshua Peck, who  opened it as a licensed house, and kept  it as such for a number of years. It then,  in 1852, got into the hands of Mr. H. D.  Parr, a racing man, and a useful man in  the community as a veterinary surgeon.  The coaches usually pulled up at this hotel.  After this William Atkinson took it, well  known as the landlord of the Elephant  and Castle; then a Scotchman named  Buchanan, and after that it again fell into  the hands of Mr. Parr; after that again  Mr. Panton had it, the father of our respected Alderman, Mr. E. H. Panton; the  house then fell into the hands of the former  owner, Mr. Joshua Peck. When we look  on the large gathering here this evening,  and when we look back to the good work  that has been carried on here for four  years, can we regret the change from the  “Queen’s Head Hotel” to St. John’s Mission House? And we cannot but regret  that this evening we gather here together  to bid farewell to Canon Kelly, who will  always be remembered as the founder  of the Mission, and to whose energy and  zeal its present success is due. By a  strange coincidence, Mr. H. D. Parr was  the landlord of the Royal Hotel, which,  a few years ago, was secured by Mrs. Henry  Reed for a mission church. There are still  hotels left in every town, which may well  stand transforming. Let us hope there  may come others to follow in the footsteps of Mrs. Reed and Canon Kelly. [12]

The establishment of the Mission House in 1893 was given detailed coverage in a newspaper article in Launceston’s Daily Telegraph. [13] “Mission meetings will be held every Sunday evening, but the design is not so much to obtrude the religious element, at ail events in its emotional phases, but to attempt to do some practical good among boys and girls as well as grown up people of a class seldom or never attending churches, and able to command but few social pleasures.” Much information is given about the layout, the re-fitting of the various rooms and their intended use, including the accommodation of girls and women. “Upstairs are a number of bed-rooms, which girls, who require sympathetic care and a home, will be allowed to occupy. One room will be placed at the disposal of the Benevolent Society for the accommodation of girls or women needing aid.”  There was even an intention, at this early stage, to give accommodation to “foundlings” – children given up by their mothers, who these days would be called wards of the state, although no information is currently available about the success of the application to the government. Interestingly, the regular members of the congregation were urged not to attend the “simple” mission services “out of curiosity” due to the risk of them driving away “the class the mission is intended for”. Those interested in the work were urged to support it financially, as there were matters still needing attention, such as the exterior of the building, which still bore the old hotel name. A much later article from the same newspaper quotes from the first annual report of the Mission House, dated 4th September 1894, about the beginnings of the work. 6  “The old skittle alley is now our chapel, and has only one fault — it is far, far too small. The work opened on March 19, 1893, with a little Sunday-school class of nine children. The work among the women commenced with a mothers’ meeting. ‘The day of small things,’ indeed, was this. We opened our doors, and received one woman. Nor did the work at once take root, for it was five weeks before we got an attendance of ten.’

Despite the railing of The Clipper about a lack of local commitment to the funding of the work, newspaper articles in 1900, [14] 1910 6 & [15] and 1927 [16] report on what was evidently an annual fair, specifically held to raise funds for the Mission House, and well supported by the moneyed families connected with St. John’s, many of whom are named in connection with the various stalls. The 1900 article is particularly helpful in that it gives the background to the building program, and further details of the nature of the work, including plans for future programs. It can be seen that the scope of the work, while particularly catering for girls and women, was much broader than that of the now defunct Hope Cottage, also aiming to give boys and young men purpose and direction in life.

The annual fancy fair in aid of the funds of St. John’s Church Mission House was held at the Albert Hall yesterday afternoon and evening, and was again a success. The fair was opened at 3 p.m. by the Mayor (Alderman E. H. Panton), who said that the old home, which had done so much good, was about to be a dream of the past. A new building, in which to carry on the work of St. John’s Church Mission House, was to be erected, at a cost of £1200, £1000 of which is to be financed by some kind friend at a very small rate of interest. The intention of the committee was first to find a home for many young women who came into the city to fill situations, and are unable to obtain accommodation at reasonable rates. This will be provided by Sister Charlotte, 1 under whose supervision everything necessary will be found. Next there will be a meeting room for religious services, rooms for mothers’ meetings, which have grown very large of late, and young people. He had also been informed that there would be a kitchen in which cooking classes would be arranged, which was a step in the right direction. 14

As with the House of Mercy in Hobart, it was hoped that the government of the day would be willing to subsidise the work, on the basis that it would be of great benefit to the community, and carry out work which the government might otherwise need to initiate and supervise.

At the present time the City Council was in correspondence with the Government as to the desirableness of establishing cookery classes at the public schools. Most likely those in power would not see their way clear to carry out the idea, so that the proposal of St. John’s Church Mission House committee would confer a great benefit upon the poorer classes by teaching them how to make a dish out of what, in many cases, was thrown away. If the Government did not entertain the idea of teaching cooking in the schools, he thought that the least it could do would be to subsidise the class at the Mission House. Gymnasium and drill rooms, would also be attached to the new building. He had no doubt an instructor would be forthcoming to give assistance to make them up to date, and provide every inducement for the young and poorer classes of the city to spend their evenings at the home, instead of in the streets. It was degrading to see so many boys spending their evenings in the streets, smoking, and often in bad company, when they ought to be receiving instruction on educational matters. It was a question that required the support of every citizen. The committee had a very great task before them in paying off so large a sum, but they should always have uppermost in their minds the great benefit and good they were conferring upon the poor and needy in Launceston. 11

The article went on to give details of the great variety of stalls and entertainment, along with the names of many of the stall holders. Sister Charlotte and her staff held one of the stalls, and the very young church of St. Aidan’s another. There seems little question that the Mission House had caught the attention and won the support of the Anglicans at least, and likely the wider community.

The new “substantial and commodious mission house” (still extant in 2018 as the Launceston Backpackers premises) was opened in March, in the fashionable Federation style, and a newspaper report on the annual fair for 1910 reflects on what had been achieved, the growing scope of the work, and giving Sister Charlotte high praise indeed. That more than half of the substantial building debt had been paid off is also of note, given that during the same decade, St. John’s had launched into its most ambitious building project ever, the cost of which would run into many millions of dollars in today’s money. Unlike the fair of 1900, this fair was held on church premises, but again featured a great variety of stalls and entertainment, with the names of wealthy and enterprising Launceston families again featuring heavily in the list of stallholders.

One of the most deserving institutions in Launceston is St. John’s Mission House. Its work is of a varied character, and its functions are extending every year. The home provides clothing for the poor, and associated with it is a girls’ sewing class and soup kitchen. In addition, it is the headquarters of the mothers’ meetings and the Blanket Loan Society. Sister Charlotte, who is in charge, is indefatigable in her efforts to succour all those who are in need of assistance. Hers is a truly Christian work, which she carries on in an unostentatious manner. The funds of the mission depend entirely on public subscription. A substantial sum is required annually to enable the institution to fulfil its obligations, in addition to which the interest bill on the new buildings has always to be met. The Mission House cost a sum of £2500, of which £1500 has been paid off, leaving a debt of £1000. One of the principal sources of revenue In reducing this liability is the annual fair. 15

A lengthy article in The Daily Telegraph (30th June 1910) , 6 although too long to insert here, is well worth reading in full. We learn that Miss Norman was working alongside Sister Charlotte, in training for future work of the same kind, and that Sister Charlotte not only worked “without remuneration”, but was devoting “the whole of her private income” to the work. We also read that the active members of St. John’s subscribed 6d per week (in the region of 1% of a working man’s income, and perhaps equivalent to $10 in today’s money) to fund the work. The work was praised as an instrument of social change; The home of each of these mothers is periodically visited by Sister Charlotte and Miss Norman, and kindly hints are given that lead to additional tidiness and comfort. ‘I can pick out all the women who go to the Mission House,’ remarked a St. John’s parishioner recently, ‘because their homes are so much cleaner and tidier than they used to be.’ Sister Charlotte tells many stories of men and women being thus rescued from intemperance and other vices and taught to lead a respectable life. Frequently they become devoted members of the church, and happy and contented citizens. 6  Other aspects of the work outlined in the article included a cadet corps on Monday nights, with about 30 lads on the roll, sewing classes on 2 nights for 50 girls, Sunday School with 70 students, a “penny concert” each Wednesday night, services on Friday and Sunday evenings with attendances of 35 and 60 respectively, and a subsidised soup kitchen on Fridays during June and July. Reference is made to “The Society” having its headquarters at the Mission, (presumably, the Benevolent Society, which, as mentioned above, was to be allocated a room in the earlier Mission House at the outset in 1893) and blankets distributed “according to the well known rules of the society”, but seems to suggest that homeless women and girls were not being accommodated on the premises at the time, despite the aspirations mentioned in the 1893 article. 13

That the Mission House was a place of refuge and help is attested by the subject of one of the memorial plaques in St. John’s Church. Poor Cyril Stephenson, about 15 years old, was fatally wounded at rifle practice, likely at the old rifle range north of Henry Street. “He was taken to the Mission House in Canning Street and died there from his wounds.”

An article published in 1927 about the life and achievements of the Ven. Archdeacon Beresford, Canon Kelly’s successor as rector of St. John’s, recounts the development of the Mission House.

Canon Kelly, who had preceded Canon Beresford, had started a big and important work amongst the very poor und neglected In that locality. It was placed under the late Sister Charlotte Shoobridge, who was not only a trained and ordained deaconess, but a clever, astute, and intensely devoted woman whose equal, for that especial work, it would be difficult to find. At the time it was housed in an old public-house reeking with stale fumes of beer. In such a home, it was not likely to develop, and it became imperative to make better provision. That need led to the building of St. John’s Mission-house and its big hall. The chapel’s foundations were put in also, but it has never been completed. Financially It must have cost not less than £0,000, (sic) and, at the time, proved to be a very heavy strain. 13

The tradition of annual fairs in support of the Mission House continued into the 1930s. By this time, the fair was being held at the Mission House, in the hall which now carried the name of the much admired, now late, Sister Shoobridge. Again, it can be seen that the more moneyed and influential families of St. John’s still saw it as their duty to support the work through the fair; The annual St. John’s Mission House fair was opened in Shoobridge Hall, Canning Street, Launceston, yesterday afternoon, by Miss R. Eberhard. There was a good attendance, and the stalls were attractively arranged. The Rev. W. Greenwood, in introducing Miss Eberhard, said she belonged to one of the well-known Church of England families which had done so much for the Church. He referred to the excellent work done by Miss I. Kelly on behalf of the parish. Miss Eberhard remarked that an institution such as the St. John’s Mission did a wonderful work in the community in the relief of distress. [17]

By 1934, Charlotte Shoobridge had a worthy successor in Miss Isobel Kelly, whose position was “Almoner”. She is remembered by Mrs. Muriel Brain (nee Kiddle). [18]She did the rounds all through the town. Anyone who was in need, or needed assistance or medical help, Miss Kelly was in her uniform; you approached her… a real Christian. This was in the mid-1920s. She taught [in the Sunday School], took a class, but everybody knew Miss Isobel Kelly – a little, short, thick-set woman but friendly, welcoming, and just lived for what she was doing.” Mrs Brain believes she may have been Sister Shoobridge’s successor in the administration of the Mission House. She remembers the annual fairs as a “big deal”. Mrs Brain remembers the hall at the Mission House – “not a big hall”. According to Mrs Brain, as early as her primary school years in the early 1930s, and certainly in her high school years, the house was being used as a hostel for country girls to come in and live. As a child, Mrs. Brain would visit the Mission House “because Isobel Kelly lived there, and people would come out of there to Sunday School, girls and boys… It did form a very valuable part as far as country people having somewhere to live, and Girls Friendly Society [members] would come from there to St. John’s. Many would come in and stay the week, and go to their homes for the weekend. She remembers everything being kept very, very clean, and there were lots of bedrooms.

Google Map satellite image of the former Mission House as it appears in 2018. The structure in the lower part of the photo adjoining the building was clearly the hall, and it is likely the protruding brickwork on the opposite side of the main building (see photo gallery) was to have linked into the planned chapel.

In the 1930s, there is some evidence that the Mission House hall was being used as a venue for meetings and seminars, including a seminar on The Teacher’s Craft held by the Sunday School Teachers Association in 1932.  [19] The outreach work continued; Miss Kelly, the mission worker, in addition to her social activities, conducts a vigorous work among the young people in the neighbourhood of Shoobridge Hall, Canning-street. [20]

Further research is needed about the life and ministry of Isobel Kelly, and the period of her ministry at the Mission House. The present author would welcome any further information on this, and the work of the Mission House during its entire period. She retired from the work in 1943, and was farewelled with a function at the Mission hall. [21]

By the 1940s, the gradual change from ministry to the poor and destitute to student accommodation seems to have been completed, and St. John’s handed over the student hostel work to the Y.W.C.A. who leased the building at that time. [22] It is not known how long the lease arrangement continued. Further research may reveal the when the building was finally sold. It was used as a student hostel well into the latter part of the 20th century, but ownership and management during that period needs further research. As mentioned, the buildings are still there, and currently used as a backpacker hostel. The former Shoobridge Hall was altered to include two levels of bedrooms, photos of which can be seen on the website of the hostel. [23] The architecture of the alterations suggests they were done during the 1960s or 1970s.

That the work of the Mission House was highly commended and admired in Tasmania has already been seen. One surprising footnote to the story is that of Dorothy Genders. The daughter of a wealthy Launceston business family, she felt called to Christian ministry, and served for a period at the Mission House, between 1912 and 1917, under the direction of Deaconess Charlotte Shoobridge. Her biography [24] does not say whether she returned to the Mission House after her studies at Moore College, NSW, and being made a deaconess in 1918, but following her visit to Western Australia in 1928, she was given an appointment to a Perth parish, where she very soon began a work that seems to be very much along the lines of the work of the Mission House in the first three decades of its existence.

Perhaps the most notable difference between Dorothy Genders and her mentor, Charlotte Shoobridge, and also Isobel Kelly, is that Genders’ life has been recognised, not only in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, but in the MBE she was awarded in 1970, and the naming of a library and retirement village in her honour in Perth. Both Charlotte Shoobridge and Isobel Kelly appear to have disappeared into obscurity, without even a memorial for either in St. John’s Church Launceston – an omission that hopefully some day will be remedied!

References

[1] Very little material has been located in relation to Deaconess Sr Charlotte Shoobridge, who is listed among St. John’s clergy from 1894 to1919. Genealogical references may be found at  http://straydogphotos.com/familyhistory/languages/en/events/Event_73107722.html

and http://straydogphotos.com/familyhistory/languages/en/persons/Person_I14123.html

[2]  The Shoobridges in Australia: a History  [ed. Eileen Brammall] 1985, pp 20-21 This work quotes from “…the diary of one of Ebenezer’s [Shoobridge] daughters, Charlotte Jessica” (differently identified as Charlotte Jean in the genealogical reference above, but definitely the same person). We can assume that the diary is still extant, and was available to this author. It may well be part of the Shoobridge family archive held by Tasmania’s LINC http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/default.aspx?detail=1&type=A&id=NG00259

[3] A brief history of Bushy Park, and the role of the Shoobridge family, can be found at http://hawthornlodge.com.au/about-us/bushy-park/

[4]The Church of England in Tasmania under Bishop Montgomery  Hart, Philip R 1963 University of Tasmania unpublished thesis https://eprints.utas.edu.au/17351/1/whole-hart-thesis.pdf

[5] ibid pp. 131-132

[6] St. John’s Mission House its History and its Work. How the Poor are Assisted  – Daily Telegraph newspaper article, 30th June 1910  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/152233033?browse=ndp%3Abrowse%2Ftitle%2FD%2Ftitle%2F742%2F1910%2F06%2F30%2Fpage%2F18415295%2Farticle%2F152233033

[7] Church News, May 1892, p.653 quoted in Hart thesis (op. cit.  p.138)

[8] Diocesan Council Letter File XX, K., July 1895, R.C.N. Kelly/RSH quoted in Hart thesis (op. cit.  p.139)

[9] “Church Messenger” – June 1896 [apparently a Launceston publication of the Baptist churches, although quoted by Hart, op cit. p.140, who says it was edited by Kelly, then rector of St. John’s]

[10] The Clipper (Hobart) newspaper 8th Sept. 1894 quoted in Hart thesis (op. cit.  p.141)

[11] ibid p. 141

[12] Early Launceston History – An Interesting Lecture – Examiner newspaper article 6th February 1897 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/39640557

[13] Queen’s Head MissionDaily Telegraph newspaper article, 25th March 1893  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/153372893/18386691

[14] St. John’s Mission House – A Successful FairExaminer newspaper article,18th October 1900 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/35375063

[15] St. John’s Mission House Annual Fair – Examiner newspaper article, 7th July 1910 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/50427474

[16] Church of England in Tasmania – Anniversary of Foundation - Examiner newspaper article,  22nd August 1927 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/29684463

[17] St. John’s Church Mission House Fair – Examiner newspaper article, 19th October 1934 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/29163627

[18] Interview with Mrs Muriel Brain (nee Kiddle b. 1921) 22nd March 2018, Basil Tkaczuk

[19] The Teacher’s Craft – Examiner newspaper article 19th July 1932 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/51808793/3304003

[20]  St. John’s Mission – Examiner  newspaper article, 1th December 1930 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/51677342

[21]   Mission Worker Farewelled – – Examiner newspaper article, 28th January 1943  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92633786/7626112

[22]  St. John’s Mission House for Y.W.C.A. Hostel – Examiner newspaper article, 13th November 1947 p.5  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/52613579/4673324

[23] Website (2018) of Launceston Backpackers – photo gallery showing interior views including the additional level added inside the Shoobridge Hall. http://www.launcestonbackpackers.com.au/photos.html

[24] Genders, Dorothy Edna (1892–1978)  Birman, Wendy – entry (1996) in Austalian Dictionary of Biography  http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/genders-dorothy-edna-10289