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The Church Labour Home

The Church Labour Home (CLH) owed its existence to the Venerable Archdeacon John Douse Langley. It was founded by Langley in 1891 with ‘the view of assisting a class entitled to the deepest sympathy … those poverty stricken- genuinely desirous of work but unable to obtain it’.[1]

Archdeacon John Douse Langley

Archdeacon John Douse Langley

Langley was born at Ballyduff, County Waterford, Ireland, on May 17, 1836, and was the son of Henry Langley and Isabella Edwardes Archdall. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1853 and arrived in Sydney with his parents and four siblings in December 1853.[2] He associated himself with the fledgling YMCA and for a short time was joint Honorary Secretary with Sharp H Lewis.[3] He contributed to the ministry of the YMCA in this role for some two years and also conducted an evening class in mathematics for the YMCA.[4] Langley was an employee of the Bank of Australasia from about 1857 and around 1858 or 1859 was appointed to look after the branch at West Maitland[5] where he remained until 1868 after which time he moved to the Newcastle branch. He was the manager there until he resigned in 1872 in order to enter Moore College to train for the Anglican ministry.[6] Langley was ordained deacon and later priest in 1873 and served as the incumbent of Berrima with Mittagong, 1873-75; St David’s, Surry Hills, Sydney, 1875-81; secretary of the Church Society, 1880-83;[7] and rector of St Phillip’s Sydney, 1882-1907. He was elected the second bishop of Bendigo and consecrated in January 1907, resigned from the diocese in June 1919, retired to Melbourne and died 11 years later in 1930.[8]

Langley was a busy churchman and was involved in many things within the Anglican Church as well as in the community, but in the 1890s he became very involved in assisting the jobless. By 1890, there was a growing unemployment problem brought on by the conditions that led to a major economic downturn in this period. In February 1890, a meeting of about 500 people, chaired by G E Ardill, met to consider the plight of those who wished to work but could not find employment. A deputation was formed, of which Langley was a member, to wait upon the Minister of Works and to encourage the Government to increase employment through a capital works program.[9] More importantly and more effectively, as the deputation did not receive much benefit from its meeting with the minister, a committee was formed to see what could be done in a practical way to assist the destitute unemployed. By the following month, under the chairmanship of Langley, the committee was reporting that work had been obtained for over 50 men through its employment registry, 8,000 meals had been supplied to ‘deserving men’, and food parcels had been distributed to married men for the support of their wives and children.[10] This level of support could not be maintained and the committee decided to restrict its distribution of free food to married men and their families. Very significantly, however, it did commission a report into the possibility of establishing ‘self-supporting industries, so as to permanently help a class which would probably never be entirely unknown amongst them’.[11]

Langley was of the view that when a man was given relief without working for it, except in the case of sickness or those past working, it only pauperised a man, rendering him welfare dependent. A place should be provided where various forms of employment, such as wood cutting, corn grinding or oakum picking, could be found for persons wanting work. The charitable could subscribe so the community could feel that no man who wanted work would be without it. Langley, in a forward-looking proposal, also thought that in connection with this there ought to be a crèche where women might leave their children while they went out to work.[12]

During 1890, Langley continued to agitate on the subject with letters to the editor,[13] unsuccessfully trying to stir further community action around the idea of providing jobs for the unemployed. In January 1891, it was announced that the clergy of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney had, in terms of Langley’s proposals, initiated a scheme for ameliorating the condition of the unemployed through the formation of a labour home ‘to provide the unemployed with food, shelter, and advice, finding them something to do to test their willingness to work, and to prepare them for making a permanent livelihood.’[14] To galvanise further action, Langley preached a sermon from the parable of the Good Samaritan entitled “The Needy and Unemployed: The Churches’ Duty Regarding Them”. In this sermon he pointed out that Jesus ‘required from those who enlist themselves under His banner, who profess to love Him and to have given themselves to Him, a whole-hearted, loving service to their brothers and sisters around them, that their aim in life may be like His, to seek and to save that which is lost.’ He reminded the congregation that the Church had met social and physical needs in the past by providing hospitals and other organisations, but times and needs had changed and there was the pressing problem of unemployment. He proposed, not giving alms which would only pauperise and make dependent the unemployed, but the setting up of an employment registry throughout the suburbs and country whose task it would be to find employment for those who wished to work. For those in pressing need of assistance a home should be provided, which would provide shelter, food and the chance of employment. Langley also proposed, for those considered by some, but not by him nor by the God he served, to be ‘hopeless and irreclaimable’, to have a settlement away from the city where there in the country there would be employment and a fresh start.[15]

The sermon was published in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and elicited varying responses. The SMH was initially unsupportive but letters to the editor were as was an editorial in the Australian Record.[16] One month later Langley met, at their request, with several unemployed and he outlined his plan informing them that his proposal consisted of:

  1. A free labour bureau or registry
  2. A labour home, and
  3. A farm settlement

and that ‘half the amount of the probable cost of the proposal had already been either subscribed or promised, and as soon as the other half was obtained a start would immediately be made to give practical effect to the scheme.’[17]

As a preacher, Langley knew the power of a story and he used it to good effect to galvanise the community to support his plan. In one letter to the editor he told the story of William Henry Palmer[18] who had been killed on the railway line when he was struck by an engine:

This man left a sort of diary behind him, which shows that for months he has been half starved. The man was a carpenter by trade, and was working for me for some time ago. He was a steady, respectable man, and a fairly good workman. After he had completed the job he had from me he went on the weary miserable tramp seeking for work, day after day only to be disappointed. No employment was to be found. When his money became exhausted, he appears to have almost starved. I was not aware of his destitution, although I knew he was out of work. But about a month ago he came and asked help from me in consequence of the report in your columns of my scheme for the unemployed, asking me to aid him in getting employment. By the aid of a kind friend I got him work on the railway, and the day after, when he came to thank me, he told me that he was very badly off, and I again gave him help. It now appears that the man was frequently without food, and that on Christmas day he had nothing to eat. Let Christian men and women think of that.  He was not an idle loafer … he was a decent hard-working man, who wanted work and could not get it, and was too proud to beg.[19]

At the first Charity Conference in Melbourne in November 1890, Langley’s paper on “Able Bodied Pauperism” was read[20] and though little was made of it at the time, an extensive summary of it was printed later the following year in a New South Wales regional newspaper. In his paper Langley made a number of suggestions for dealing with the unemployment problem. Firstly, discontinuance of indiscriminate alms-giving; secondly, all charity organisations to make provision for finding steady employment for those who need it; thirdly, the provision of a place where it is possible to ‘test the sincerity and capacity for persons to be employed’; fourthly, in connection with such a place the means of giving technical instruction to improve the skills of those seeking employment; and fifthly, while rejecting General Booth’s plans for exporting paupers to the colonies to serve on industrial settlements, Langley thought the colony could set up in the countryside for its own unemployed such ‘industrial settlements’ utilising irrigation and the agricultural potential of the land.[21] During its lifetime, the CLH      was to embody all these principles after it opened at 555 Harris Street, Pyrmont on August 6, 1891.[22] There was an administrative committee which met weekly to administer the Home. This committee was chaired by Langley and its initial members were J S E Ellis, W H Dibley, Theo Elwin and J Sidney, and C Innes-Ker Uhr as honorary secretary with E Grether as the manager.[23] It was to prove to be a financial struggle from its birth and throughout its lifetime.[24]

Church Labour Home

Church Labour Home

According to a promotional booklet published 1902, ten years after its commencement, admission to the CLH was available for ‘any man, no matter what his creed may be, being penniless, and out of work, who can furnish a reasonably satisfactory account as to his antecedents, is readily admitted to the Home, ie so far as accommodation permits.’[25]

There was a set of rules which inmates were required to observe and which the CLH committee did not regard as ‘either irksome or vexatious’ and to which ‘no decent man, poor and homeless, can reasonably take exception’.[26]


Each man had a bedroom to himself, a cubicle 8 feet by 5 feet, a bed with sheets and blankets provided, bedroom furniture consisting of a table, a chair, a box for spare clothing and a bookshelf. There was a well-stocked library, cooked food was provided as much as a man could eat and tobacco was also supplied twice a week.

Inmates were invited to the Church services and various lectures that were provided, but they were not required to attend. These were important provisions for the Home’s committee as ‘the Home regards true religion – practically applied – as the best elevating and corrective influence in the redemption and restoration of those who seek its shelter’.[27]

The Chapel

The Chapel

Where possible, employment was found for the inmates both outside the Home, through industries which the Home operated or on its farm. The farm commenced in early 1892 on leased ground at Rooty Hill [28] and was managed by William A Clifford who had farmed in England and New Zealand.[29] Local knowledge in the area assessed the land of poor quality and raised questions about Clifford’s lack of experience in the Rooty Hill area.[30] In the first year of operation, after spending a considerable sum of money on fencing and improvements, floods washed away the crops and it was decided to lease higher adjacent ground of 100 acres. The farm was known as “Saumerez Farm” and peas, broad beans, potatoes and rhubarb were grown as well as wheat and maize. The farm never recovered from its initial set back and was never a financial success; it was closed in 1894.[31] By 1902, industries in operation within the Harris Street facility were Fruit and Packing Case Making upon which the Home ‘depended for its industrial existence’; Mats, Matting and all kinds of Coir Fibre Work; Coal and Wood were for sale and delivery; and Kindling Wood could be supplied in bundles.

Fruit case making

Fruit case making

Mat making

Mat making

To encourage funding support from the general public the committee observed that ‘Sydney has for years been the “dumping ground” of needy and unemployed from all parts of the globe and that the spontaneous generosity of Sydneyites had been abused’. It pointed out that the individual donor was not usually in a position to assess the genuineness of the many approaches that were made for assistance which meant that the individual was not able to provide assistance of ‘real value’ to the recipient. The CLH could, however, provide a means of doing just that for there every man was given a fair chance and through his willingness to work his case was quickly diagnosed.[32]

It was the view of the Church Home committee that within the Home

The men are treated with kindly consideration, as Christians and human beings, and are pleasantly led to the conviction that everything possible is being done to their comfort and benefit. As a result, it invariably happens that, in the course of a day or two, new arrivals are observed to become changed men. They go about their duties in a cheery willing manner that is truly gratifying to witness. The secret is, of course, they commence to regain their self-respect after possibly a too lengthy experience of being kicked from “pillar to post”.[33]

Church Labour Home Adertisement

Church Labour Home Adertisement

The Home struggled financially as it could not produce enough income to offset its expenditure and it did not receive sufficient public support to make up the difference. It was applauded as being genuinely useful and by 1901 had provided 350,160 meals and 116, 901 beds,[34] but in the end the Home could not survive without government support.[35] Ten years after its formation, Langley reflected with satisfaction and frustration over the Home. Satisfaction that through the Home they had been lifting men up who had fallen into trouble and distress and to such the Home had given a fresh start in life. He was frustrated, however, at the ‘apathy of the members of the Church of England and the public generally’ for their lack of support. The other difficulty that concerned him was that they could not always provide work for all the men who sought it.[36] In 1902, it was decided to change the name to the ‘Church Industrial Home’, but by 1903 the Home was in serious financial difficulty with a reduction in public and government support and despite the good work it had done and continued to do; it was closed by 1905.[37]

 Dr Paul F Cooper, Research Fellow, Christ College, Sydney

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. Church Labour Home  Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, February 20, 2017. Available at

[1] The Church Labour Home: what it has done, what it is doing, what it intends to do. (Sydney: Church Labour Home, 1902), 5.

[2] Keith Cole, ‘John Douse Langley (1835-1930’, Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography [accessed September 9, 2016]. The Ven. Archdeacon John Douse, Langley, Encyclopedia of New South Wales, (NSW, 1907), 377-378. He arrived in Sydney on the Frederick on December 8, 1853. SMH, December 9, 1853, 4. It would appear that John and his father travelled in steerage while Mrs Langley and the four younger children travelled in the relative comfort of a cabin. Mariners and ships in Australian Waters, FREDERICK, passenger list, State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master’s Office; Passengers Arriving 1826 – 1900; Part Colonial Secretary series covering 1845 – 1853, reels 1272 [4/5227] -1280 [4/5244], reel 1280.   Transcribed by Lyn Mulcahy. [accessed 7/11/2016]

[3] Empire (Sydney, NSW), March 5, 1857, 1; July 23, 1858, 1.

[4] SMH, October 31, 1857, 1.

[5] SMH, September 1, 1858, 5. Indicated he could no longer teach his mathematics class which was most probably due to his move to West Maitland.

[6] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate (Newcastle, NSW), November 11, 1930, 4.

[7] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), October 2, 1880, 17.

[8] Keith Cole, ‘John Douse Langley (1835-1930’, Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography [accessed September 9, 2016].

[9] Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), February 8, 1890, 6.

[10] SMH, March 25, 1890, 5.

[11] SMH, April 15, 1890, 5.

[12] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), June 21, 1890, 8.

[13] SMH, July 29, 1890, 7; July 31, 1890, 6; August 5, 1890, 5.

[14] Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), January 13, 1891, 3.

[15] SMH, January 26, 1891, 6.

[16] Anderson, Donald George, The bishop’s society, 1856 to 1958: a history of the Sydney Anglican Home Mission Society, PhD Thesis, University of Wollongong, 1990, page 257

[17] Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), February 25, 1891, 2.

[18] SMH, October 10, 1891, 8.

[19] Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), February 26, 1891, 3.

[20] It was not read by Langley himself but by Thomas Harlin. Tasmanian News (Hobart, Tas), November 19, 1890, 3. For details on the life of Thomas Harlin (1823-1913), a notable Melbourne based educationalist and charity worker, see The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), November 27, 1913, 8.

[21] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), August 18, 1891, 3.

[22] SMH, August 7, 1891, 6. This was its official opening date but it had commenced it work in the previous month when it began advertising that it had men waiting to be employed. SMH, July 25, 1891, 16.

[23] SMH, August 19, 1892, 6; August 29, 1892, 7; September 5, 1892, 5; November 1, 1892, 7.

[24] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), May 14, 1892, 2; The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), August 12, 1893, 323.

[25] The Church Labour Home, 7.

[26] The Church Labour Home, 8.

[27] The Church Labour Home, 9.

[28] SMH, February 29, 1892, 5.

[29] SMH, October 16, 1893, 3. Regretfully Clifford a few years later committed suicide possibly due to financial difficulties. Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), February 23, 1895, 4.

[30] Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), October 21, 1893, 4.

[31] SMH, October 16, 1893, 3; The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), October 20, 1894, 791.

[32] The Church Labour Home, 13.

[33] The Church Labour Home, 14.

[34]  The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), September 26, 1901, 3.

[35] SMH, October 16, 1894, 4.

[36] Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), September 26, 1901, 3.

[37] Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), October 21, 1903, 3; Evening News (Sydney, NSW), March 16, 1905, 8.

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