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The battles and the blood of the Salvos

By Roy Maloy

The Salvation Army (Salvos) have been in Melbourne since the early 1880s, when its work erupted into the streets of Melbourne. Today the Salvos is seen as a benevolent charity and welfare provider, however, that wasn’t always the case. The Salvos was also the subject of ridicule and torment from a large number of the earlier push gangs of Melbourne, who saw the Salvos as a target for violent pranks.

In Melbourne, the Salvos made its mark by regularly marching the streets around corps locations, assembling in a military-style parade, playing brass band tunes and preaching where crowds gathered. It’s a global practice that the Salvos put to regular use the world over until the mid 1980s. However, these marches were obvious and exciting targets for hoodlums and criminals alike.

As a new Christian denomination, the Salvation Army’s goals were to evangelise and to reform the ways of drinkers, smokers, gamblers and wayward types who frequented dance halls and pubs. In its effort to evangelise, the Salvos employed a variety of tactics, such as the marching band parades.

Dressed in flamboyant military-style uniforms, its open-air church services, marches and kerb-side preachings were truly irresistible to drunks and push gangs everywhere. Inciting further rage from the drunks and gangs, the Salvos’s marketing tactics also included taking the words of well-known drinking songs, which were sung in pubs most nights of the week, and re-writing them, so that their lyrics served its evangelical purposes.

This included utilising the song ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ and re-wording it to be ‘For Jesus is our saviour’. Needless to say, the push gangs, made up of hardened labour workers and the amassed poor of impoverished inner suburbs, saw the piety of the Salvos as a farce.

The below incidents are just four of at least twenty reported incidents in which members of the Salvos were pelted with objects, including stones and eggs; booed and hissed at; and even beaten by the locals who objected to them. 

15 January 1883

William Younger was charged with insulting behaviour at the chapel of the Salvation Army, in Little Bourke Street. The defendant came among the crowd on horseback, breaking up their parade with the style of a trooper. When the Salvos managed to retreat and hide in the chapel, Younger tried to ride his horse through the door, continuing to try to fight anyone close by. He was fined £3.

26 January 1883

A Salvation Army soldier, by the name of Mouseler, was attacked by William McKinnon on Northumberland Street, Collingwood. As the Collingwood Salvation Army band paraded down the street, he became offended that they had interrupted his peace as he sat drinking beer on his porch. He attacked the soldier with his bottle and slashed his hand deeply with the broken glass without provocation. McKinnon was sentenced to a £5 fine or one month’s imprisonment. 

5 February 1883

David Greerson was charged with and arrested for insulting behaviour at a Salvation Army gathering at the Primitive Methodist Hall. He was taken to the lock-up. 

9 February 1883

Salvation Army soldiers were pelted with rocks, and a number of local youths rushed the scene, trampling themselves and the Salvos in the process. 

Above: Little Bourke Street Corps, Melbourne. The door through which William Younger attempted to enter on horseback. Image courtesy of The Salvation Army Museum Australia

Top: Salvation Army officers training home in Richmond, Victoria. Image courtesy of Allan Studio

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