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'Wandering stars': The impact of British Evangelists in Australia, 1870s-1900

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Wilson, EK (2011) 'Wandering stars': The impact of British Evangelists in Australia, 1870s-1900. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

From the late 1870s to the early twentieth century, there was a steady stream of
international speakers from Britain who travelled what was almost an evangelical
circuit in south-eastern Australia. The argument of this thesis is that their impact has
been overlooked or underplayed, and, while it was variable, it was nonetheless
noticeable in various ways, both inside and outside the church community.
Using mainly newspaper reports from a wide range of religious and secular
newspapers, including reports sent back to England, but also biographies and
contemporary documents where available, Part 1 of the thesis examines the revivalist
networks which supported these evangelists, and the milieu into which they came.
Using a biographical approach, each evangelist’s career and personality is briefly
considered, with special reference to his or her time in Australia. This part of the
thesis brings together information which in many cases has been scattered, obscure, or
unnoticed.
The thesis then examines in detail the style and content of these evangelistic meetings,
the impact of Sankey’s gospel songs which these meetings introduced into Australia,
the influence of three of the speakers on social issues such as prostitution, and the
outcomes of these missions. The final chapter looks at both positive and negative
expectations of evangelistic meetings, and at the perceived outcomes.
The thesis argues that the short-term impact was probably the greatest, in terms of
attendance and publicity. The meetings were almost always crowded, and newspaper
reports, both secular and religious, were far more detailed and numerous than was
expected at the beginning of the research. In the longer-term, however, assessment of
the impact is more complex. It seems likely that most of the ‘conversions’ were from
those who were nominal believers already, or fringe members of churches. The
influence of the meetings was greatest in the denominations which supported them, as
might be expected.The thesis argues that the long-term impact of these meetings and their ‘stars’ can be
observed in the maintenance of church membership numbers, and the growth of some
denominations, in the pervasive influence of ‘Sankey’s’ gospel songs in both
Christian and secular circles, in their contribution to the emergent campaigns for
temperance and social purity, in the large increase of overseas missions recruits in the
1890s, and in the Christian conferences and conventions which promoted unity and
holiness.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: evangelism, revival, gospel songs, evangelists
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Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2011 00:31
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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