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The Australian Religious Tract Society

The Australian Religious Tract Society (RTS) was inaugurated in Sydney, NSW, on August 13, 1823 at the suggestion of the then Governor of the colony, Sir Thomas Brisbane.[1] It appears that this was not purely a colonial initiative, however, for a few months prior to Brisbane’s suggestion the Religious Tract Society in London (RTSL) had had their attention drawn to the colony of New South Wales and to its spiritual needs. Within 30 days of the formation of the RTS, the Rev Richard Hill received an unsolicited consignment of books from the RTSL in the hope he might extend the operations of the RTSL in the colony. So, within a month of its formation and not the ten months, it would have required to obtain stock from England, the RTS could begin its work.[2] The purpose of the society was the procuring and distribution of religious tracts ‘such as to inculcate evangelic sentiments.’ More expansively, its primary object was

to afford the means of cheap, useful, and pious Reading; that the poorer Classes of the Community, and the young People more especially, who may be able to read, may obtain some of the most instructive and important Lessons of Life at a very small Expense.[3]

Its governing committee consisted of the Reverends Richard Hill (Assistant Chaplain, Anglican), John Dunmore Lang (Presbyterian), Benjamin Carvosso (Wesleyan),[4] William Cowper (Secretary, Anglican) and three laymen James Chandler, Alexander Kenneth Mackenzie (Treasurer)[5] with George Williams[6] as Collector and Depositary.[7] William Cowper was a driving force of the society being its secretary for the first 16 years of its existence only relinquishing the role of secretary in 1839 when his eyesight began to fail.[8]

By 1826, the Society had obtained the support of the Governor as Patron, its funds had increased and some 62,882 tracts had been circulated during the year. The society was the beneficiary of support from ‘home’ through grants from the Tract Societies of London, Bristol and Dublin upon which the RTS had been modelled.[9] Initially, support for the society was strong and numerous ladies attended its annual meeting and this was a sufficiently novel occurrence that their attendance, which ‘enlivened the meeting with their presence’, was especially remarked upon.[10]

Committee reports mentioned numerous responses to the receipt of various tracts by members of the public which indicate what the RTS saw as desirable outcomes from its work:

… in the course of conversation he informed me that he had been a professed Atheist until within a few months, but that the perusal of a tract – the Dairyman’s Daughter, I believe, had been instrumental in awakening him from his own vain dreams. He wished to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and afterwards he did so.[11]

Many instances of good, resulting from the circulation of your tracts, have occurred within the last year or two. Some are now united with Christian churches, who, but for these silent messengers, might have remained dead in sin. One old woman, between eighty and ninety years of age, discovered by a tract distributor, ignorant and indifferent, is now giving evidence of a saving change wrought in her heart by the Spirit of God.[12]

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John Kent (1843-1916)

John Kent (1843-1916), Accountant and YMCA supporter

John Kent

John Kent

 John Kent was born in 1843 in Hinton Waldrist, Berkshire, England, the son of John Kent, a farmer with some 435 acres and employing 15 labourers, and Jane Gee. John was the fourth child and the eldest son among seven children. Around 1860, John left the farm and at 17 was placed under a private commercial tutor for special training in accountancy and commerce, possibly in connection with the drapery business.[1] After gaining experience in a solicitor’s office that specialised in bankruptcy, further work in private banking and then in a sales department of a warehouse in London, he decided on a commercial career in Australia.[2]

Kent arrived in Sydney in 1863[3] and obtained a position with the drapers and silk merchants Francis Giles and Co and by September 1864, the company had been placed in the hands of administrators as its debts were twice its assets.[4] This experience provided John with a personal understanding of company insolvency, and this proved very useful for his later business career which involved overseeing and administering such insolvencies. His employer’s business was bought by John Thompson and continued to trade under the name of Francis Giles and Co with Giles as manager.[5] It is possible that Kent retained his job despite the difficulties, but may have left after a fire destroyed the business in 1867.[6] Kent’s obituary says cryptically that after his time at Francis Giles and Co he spent some time in the country and then, after three years, ‘resumed his business career’.[7] It is probable that he spent some time, at least up to 1869, as an ‘Episcopalian catechist’ in the Kurrajong/North Richmond area.[8] During his time there he was involved in public controversy over the abandonment of denominational schools and the commencement of public ones. Kent was concerned that the public education system would not allow the scriptures to be taught within it, a concern he maintained throughout his life. On his return to Sydney he began work for W Gardiner and Co who ran a soft goods warehouse, a similar line of business to his former employers.[9]

In 1871, John married Helen Clayton (nee Felton) (1828-1902), a widow with two daughters Elizabeth (1856-1916) and Catherine (1857-1913), and John and Helen had one son, Walter John (1872-1873), who died at eight months and three weeks.[10] Initially living in Francis Street, Sydney (1871-1879), they began to move with the increasing success of John’s business. They moved first to Marlborough Street, Leichhardt (1880-1883), then to Marion Street, Leichhardt (1884-1897), followed by O’Hara Street, Marrickville (1898-1904) then, after Helen’s death, John moved to  Union Street, North Sydney (1905-1910) followed by a final move to Cleveland Street, Wahroonga (1911-1916).[11] At least from 1888, Kent also owned a country residence, farm and orchard of some 445 acres at Barber’s Creek, later known as Tallong.[12] Here he planted apples with a view to exporting them to England[13] which he did from 1892,[14] for he correctly foresaw that England could become a major market for the export of Australian fruit.[15]

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Sharp Hutchinson Lewis (1830-1921)

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis (1830-1921), Glover and an early Secretary of the YMCA Sydney

Sharp (Sharpe) Hutchinson Lewis was born in 1830[1] at Ramsgate, Kent, England, the son of John Lewis and Ann Hutchinson and died September 6, 1921, at Petersham, Sydney, Australia. In 1858, he married Mary Morshead Gypson[2] and together they had five children: Mary Ann (1859-1937), William Arthur (1861-1955), Mortimer Kent (1866-1867), Agnes Fanny (1868-1941) and Lillian Eleanor (1870-1932). Before his marriage, Sharp was employed as a Clerk with the London house of the Sydney firm of David Jones and Co in Fenchurch Street when it was decided he should go to NSW to join the company’s staff in Sydney.[3]

Lewis arrived in Sydney in 1854 and went to work with David Jones and Co as planned. In January 1857, Jules Pillet, a highly successful glover at 10 Hunter Street, advertised that he wished to retire and was willing to dispose of his business, The French Glove Depot, with a lease of his premises for six years.[4] On January 1, 1858, Sharp took over the business which, despite some early financial difficulties,[5] he ran successfully for some 16 years. The shop was considered ‘a very fashionable place’ and was just opposite where Henry Parkes had his shop.  Sharp said of Parkes that ‘many a chat I used to enjoy with him in those days. He was a clever fellow’.[6] In 1861, Sharp opened a

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis

branch in Brisbane advising his customers that he had made arrangements with his predecessor, Jules Pillet, to select the stock which covered a wide range of quality goods from gloves and umbrellas to haberdashery in Paris and London, ensuring thereby that ‘nothing would be lacking in taste and quality’.[7] He finally disposed of the business to his sister Frances Johnson (nee Lewis) and his assistant Edward Carroll in March 1874.[8]

Lewis later accepted an invitation from James Woodward[9] to return to the firm of David Jones, but he did not remain long with his old employer for in 1879 he sold the family home ‘Kentville’ in Petersham for £1,100[10] and went, it was said, on an extended trip to England.[11] But this information is incorrect as he, his wife and three of his children, went to live in Dunedin, New Zealand,[12] where he worked for Hallenstein Bros and Co at the New Zealand Clothing Factory[13] as an Inspector of Branches.[14] During his time in Dunedin, he involved himself in the local YMCA as a committee member[15] and also became the secretary of a company to set up a Coffee Palace which sought to ‘combine all the advantages of (more…)

The Commencement of the Sydney YMCA

George Williams founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in England

George Williams
founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in England

The Commencement of the Young Men’s Christian Association, Sydney (YMCA)

In June 1853, a letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) encouraging the formation of a YMCA along the lines of that which existed in Great Britain and in Melbourne. This was the first intimation that plans were afoot to commence such a work in Sydney.[1] It seems likely that this anonymous letter was the product of conversations between Samuel Goold, John Mills and John Joseph Davies about the importance of forming a branch of the YMCA in Sydney. In July 1853 and through an advertisement, Samuel Goold sought a copy of the rules and regulations of the YMCA of Great Britain because a similar organisation was soon to be formed in Sydney.[2] The first meeting of the Association was chaired by Goold and was held at his house on the corner of Pitt and King Streets and it continued at this venue for some time.[3] The YMCA prospectus was published on the front page of the SMH in September of 1853 under the Presidency of John Fairfax and with no less than 18 clerical vice presidents. Their presence was designed to indicate the support of the protestant Christian churches and to show that the new organisation would be no threat to them. The treasurer was James Comrie, John J Davies was the secretary and it had a committee of fifteen.[4] The motivation for forming the organisation was

the great want observed to exist here by many persons who are anxious for the moral and intellectual advancement of this country and felt especially by young men who earnestly desire to keep pace with the march of the mind in our Fatherland, seems to be the absence of those helps and guides, and means of improvement, which seek an apparatus as the present Association is calculated to afford.[5]

The organisation was officially inaugurated in Sydney, with its first public meeting on October 5, 1853, and with a lecture given by the Rev George King.[6] It was the arrival of Sharp Hutchinson Lewis and his appointment as Secretary that proved to be critical to the survival of the YMCA at this stage of its life. In London and (more…)

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