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Who do you think you are?

The team at Archives & Heritage Centre at Booth College of Mission
Posted July 8, 2018

Ingrid Barratt finds a treasure trove of stories at The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centre and Archives. As we celebrate Founders’ Day on Sunday, these stories bring history back to life, and direct our path into the future.

A cheeky-looking chap is standing guard at the entrance of The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centre and Archives. He is a ventriloquist’s dummy, proudly decked out in his Salvation Army uniform. ‘You either love him or you’re terrified of him,’ laughs Sharon Burton, the territorial archivist (pictured second from left in the team photo).

Gerald helped present the gospel to generations of Sunday school children. His former owner was so fond of Gerald that he referred to the puppet as ‘my son’. Gerald is just one of the hundreds of artefacts that Archives protects and preserves.

‘I’m a great believer that if you want to know where to go in the future, it’s helpful to look back and see where you’ve been—our history is what shapes us,’ reflects Sharon. ‘These artefacts in themselves have no monetary value. The value is in telling the people’s stories—the lives they touched, the impact they had. By telling these stories, we can inspire others today to achieve their own destiny.’

Sharon describes her work as ‘like rummaging through your grandparents’ attic’—the treasures hidden within the ‘attic’ of Archives form a picture of the Army. ‘The picture I see, working here, is that The Salvation Army were movers and shakers. Think of “Limelight” [The Salvationist initiative which brought the first movies to New Zealand]—imagine doing something so magical that the whole city was entranced. But here they were, with the magic lantern slides and movies, at a time when people were still using candlelight.’

Sharon talks a lot about the importance of provenance—which refers to our origins and history. Archives informs our provenance and tells us our whakapapa—shaping our identity and place in the world.

A mystery solved

The work of Archives is equal measures of archaeology, history and detective work. It is pain-staking and methodical. A single artefact is like a puzzle piece needing to be connected to other scattered pieces, before the hidden picture is revealed.

One of Sharon’s favourite characters is the first New Zealand female brigadier, Annette Paul. She first caught Sharon’s eye because of a telegram sent to Salvation Army founder General William Booth, written in a mysterious code.

Sharon knew a bit about Paul—she was born in 1863 to a wealthy Anglican family. In 1895, she described her conversion into Salvationism: ‘No sooner did I begin to attend Salvation Army meetings in Wellington … than my uncle and guardian came 200 miles to take me and his daughter home, forbidding us to ever think of going to such an awful place again—a place not fit for any lady to enter.’

Paul found the Army’s outdoor gatherings ‘rather absurd’, but was drawn in by the holiness meetings, where one day she laid herself ‘upon the altar’. Paul became one of the Army’s most influential figures, especially in her work with women—establishing many ‘rescue homes’, a maternity home for unmarried women,  help for families in need, a women’s employment registry, and much more.

In 1894, Paul was on her way back from a Salvation Army Congress in London, when her ship was wrecked on Great Barrier Reef. Paul and another officer, Laura Flavell, showed great courage—leading prayers and singing—refusing to be rescued before the others. There was much loss of life, including Laura who was swept away. Paul made it to shore, carrying on the Army’s work.

But the mystery of the telegram remained. Then, one day, a box arrived that contained a Salvation Army code book—from this, Sharon was able to decipher the strange message.
It confirmed that Paul made a large donation to The Salvation Army—a parcel of land opposite the current Territorial Headquarters on Cuba Street, Wellington. The land became one of the rescue homes, known as Pauline House. It was later converted into the famous ‘People’s Palace’.

Paul is just one character of hundreds who have come back to life at Archives. ‘We find the people behind the names. You know that TV programme Who Do You Think You Are?—that’s what we do. We tell the story of who we are,’ says Sharon.

Stories from our past

Who we are in the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory was birthed by a remarkable 20-year-old, Captain George Arthur Pollard. He and 19-year-old Lieutenant Edward Wright travelled by sea to start the work of The Salvation Army in our territory. A writer for the Otago Daily Times declared that, ‘bringing Salvationists to New Zealand will be another of the many mistakes of acclimatisation. It is the thistles, the sparrows, the rabbits over again. The Army will prove a nuisance as troublesome as these pests and as ineradicable’.

Pollard led the first Salvation Army service out in the open air in Dunedin. The indoor meetings, later in the day, were described as, ‘packed rowdy meetings merely for the novelty of the appearance and doings of these exuberant and peculiarly dressed Salvationists’.

Soon after, Wright held the first meeting in Auckland. In retalliation, an opposition ‘skeleton army’ was formed, throwing mud and gravel through the windows. When Wright stepped outside to address them, he was knocked to the ground by 20 men.

While stationed in New Zealand, Pollard established around 30 corps, and ‘laid the foundations of the Army’s widespread social work,’ writes Cyril R. Bradwell—including three rescue homes and two prison-gate brigades, where Salvationists literally waited outside prison to offer help to released prisoners walking out.

By 1891, there was widespread fervour over the first visit of General Booth to Australasia—not only among Salvationists, but by the thousands who turned out to see him. Cathedral Square in Christchurch was described as ‘a living sea of people’. By now, Booth was world-famous for his manifesto In Darkest England.

The labours of our forefathers and mothers were indeed ‘ineradicable’. But history has proved that they were God’s providence—rather than the prophesied ‘pest’.

No melt away

One of the most beloved characters from the early Army in New Zealand is Hohepa Huria, with many early War Cry articles dedicated to him. From Ngai Tāhu, Huria’s first language was te reo. After his conversion in Kaiapoi, Huria became an influential figurehead in the Army’s pioneering Māori ministries.

Given his first drink as a child, Huria—known by everyone as Māori Joe—became a hard drinker and gambler. During the Land Wars he joined the volunteers, but never fought. However, it was never far from his mind, as his first impression of The Salvation Army was when a ‘hallelujah lassie’ was selling War Crys on the street—calling out ‘War Cry, War Cry!’ He went home and told his wife to get ready for war.

In 1894, Huria shared his testimony in halting English: ‘Before salvation came to Kaiapoi, I bad man, drunkard, always at public house. When no get men to fight, go home, fight my wife, two black eyes. Tell my wife, if visitors come next day, ask what black eyes, you say “Fell down, horse kicked you”.’

War Cry wrote that after this brutal beating, Huria’s wife began attending The Salvation Army, which had recently come to town. ‘When she came home I would thrash her, but she persevered and still went. My eldest daughter went with my wife to the meeting and got saved, and through them speaking to me, I at last went myself, and I was persuaded to give God my heart that night,’ wrote War Cry. ‘Since I have been saved, my uncle has been saved, too, and instead of drinking at the bar, we’re both drinking at the fountain that never runs dry. Hallelujah!’

When Huria preached, he often referred to his people’s experience with European early settlers: ‘White man showed Māori powder and said, “Cabbage seed” so Māori set bush on fire, then sowed the “cabbage seed” amongst the ashes, and by-and-by looked to see if it was growing. But ah! Rain come, all melt away. European then opened case of “soap”. Māori thought good to eat, so they began to eat it, but ah! No good. Māori thought not cooked, so put it in water and boiled it, and all melt away! But ah! Salvation Army came along, brought salvation; that good, no melt away.’

As Sharon reflects on our rich heritage of ‘salvation and soup’. She says the work we do today will one day be part of history—and in looking back, we can see how the path has always been directed by God. ‘How would you wish to be remembered? In 100 years time, how would you like to be part of history? God is our master planner, and he will direct your path,’ says Sharon, before adding, ‘God—and the General Change, of course!’ Now, that’s a true Salvationist heritage.


by Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 30 June 2018, p6-9 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.