Australian Tract and Missionary Society

Photo courtesy of Australian Heritage Centre, Australia.

Australian Tract and Missionary Society (1888–1902)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

Australian Tract and Missionary Society (1888-1902) was an organization that promoted the distribution of Seventh-day Adventist publications and the church's evangelistic activities.

Embryonic Years

After the American group of Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) missionaries arrived in Australia in 1885, they soon began to publish an evangelistic periodical titled Bible Echo and Signs of the Times. The masthead on the first issue stated that it was published by the Australian branch of the International Tract and Missionary Society (ITMS).1 No Australian tract society was formed at that time. The masthead really meant it was published by the Melbourne branch of the ITMS. In time, as new groups of Adventist converts formed, a tract society was established among each one of them. By 1888, tract societies existed in Melbourne, Ballarat, Wychitella, Adelaide, and Hobart.2

Birth of the Society

On August 30, 1888, representatives from each society gathered in Melbourne at Temperance Hall, Rae Street, North Fitzroy, and formed the Australian Tract and Missionary Society (ATMS) to administer all the local societies. They elected Elder Mendel Israel as president, Elder George Tenney as vice president, and Josie Baker as secretary. They noted their chief goals. First, they determined to circulate the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times extensively, including its placement in public reading rooms. They also agreed to circulate the American Good Health magazine donated by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. They committed themselves to special promotions in their local churches every fourth Sabbath at which offerings were collected to support the printing of their missionary literature. Finally, they adopted the responsibility for canvassing denominational books.3

Development in Melbourne

Baker’s first report specified the activities of the 135 members of the ATMS. She published totals of all missionary visits made and missionary letters written in addition to Bible readings conducted. Separate totals were recorded of the number of pages in the periodicals that were loaned, sold, and given away.4 Quarterly reports were faithfully issued in the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, usually under the abbreviated title “Australian Tract Society.”5

The ATMS office was conveniently located in the Echo Publishing Company, Melbourne, where most of their literature was printed. Tenney briefly became its president in 18906 until Enos Morrison arrived from America with specialist experience in the sales of periodicals and books.7 With Morrison planning to leave Australia in October 1890, Elder William Baker was elected president. His wife, Josie, continued as secretary.8

Transfer to Sydney

To locate in a more central office in Australia, operations were transferred to Sydney in mid-1892. Rooms were rented at 76 Pyrmont Bridge Road, Glebe Point,9 but less than 12 months later, a move was made to 2 Cook Street, Glebe Point.10

Membership had risen to 229 members. Elder Arthur Daniells served as president, and his wife, Mary,11 and Ainslee Reekie12 briefly acted as secretaries until Anna Ingels was elected to the role.13

During this era, some energies were devoted to the free circulation of literature on the ships in port and in the Sailors’ Club reading room.14 A four-page bimonthly periodical, The Messenger, was initiated for distribution at railway stations, public parks, markets, and outback sheep and cattle stations. If society members sold copies, they were to ask a halfpenny for each copy.15 The periodical had a life span of fewer than twelve months. No copies are extant.

The ATMS also organized a bookseller’s training session for December 1893 at the Australasian Bible School in St. Kilda, Melbourne.16

Return to Melbourne

The rental of office rooms in Sydney proved to be too expensive, so the ATMS returned to the Echo Publishing Company, Melbourne, late in 1894.17 At the same time, a reorganization took place. Previously, the ATMS was financed by donations from its members, but from 1894 onward, the profits from book sales were used to finance the enterprise.18 More and more booksellers were employed under the direct control of the ATMS, and a new periodical, The Gleaner, was issued as their news sheet and report of work accomplished.19

ATMS Decentralized

As the Advent message spread to all the Australian colonies, it became increasingly apparent that a single entity such as the ATMS could not adequately administer numerous booksellers scattered over such a vast continent. Some decentralization had to take place. For that reason, one by one the colonial conferences adopted the responsibility of tract and book distribution. These transfers began to take place in August 1897,20 gradually reducing the territory under the control of the ATMS. Western Australia was the last territory to assume control of tract and missionary work, the West Australian Conference having been formed in 1902.21

Sources

“Announcement.” Bible Echo, December 1, 1892.

Baker, Josie. “The Australian Tract and Missionary Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 1888.

———. “The Australian Tract and Missionary Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 3, 1889.

Daniells, A. G. “Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo, February 1, 1893.

———. “Australian Tract Society.” Union Conference Record, January/February 1898.

———. “Australian Tract Society Office and Depository.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 1, 1892.

———. “Important Changes.” Bible Echo, December 3, 1894.

———. “The Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo, November 19, 1894.

Daniells, M. E. “The Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo, October 1, 1892.

Ingels, Anna L. “Report of the Corresponding Secretary of the Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo, November 5, 1894.

Israel, M. C. “Meeting of the Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, February 15, 1890.

Masthead. Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 1886.

Morrison, E. M. “The Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1890.

———. “The Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 15, 1890.

Salisbury, W. D. “The Book Work in Australia.” Union Conference Record, September 22, 1903.

“Sydney.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, July 15, 1892.

Tenney, G. C. “Organization of the Australian Tract Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888.

“The Canvasser’s Institute.” Bible Echo, November 8, 1893.

“The last number of the Gleaner . . .” Bible Echo, January 4, 1897.

“The office of the Australian Tract Society . . .” Bible Echo, May 15, 1893.

“West Australian Conference.” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1904. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1904.

Notes

  1. Masthead, Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 1886, 1.

  2. G. C. Tenney, “Organization of the Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888, 156.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Josie L. Baker, “The Australian Tract and Missionary Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 1888, 188.

  5. E.g., Josie L. Baker, “The Australian Tract and Missionary Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 3, 1889, 172.

  6. M. C. Israel, “Meeting of the Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, February 15, 1890, 61.

  7. E. M. Morrison, “The Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1890, 272.

  8. E. M. Morrison, “The Australian Tract Society, Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 15, 1890, 316–317.

  9. “Sydney,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, July 15, 1892, 192.

  10. “The office of the Australian Tract Society . . . ,” Bible Echo, May 15, 1893, 160.

  11. M. E. Daniells, “The Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo, October 1, 1892, 301.

  12. A. G. Daniells, “Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo, February 1, 1893, 45.

  13. Anna L. Ingels, “Report of the Corresponding Secretary of the Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo, November 5, 1894, 342.

  14. A. G. Daniells, “Australian Tract Society Office and Depository,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 1, 1892, 240.

  15. “Announcement,” Bible Echo, December 1, 1892, 368.

  16. “The Canvasser’s Institute,” Bible Echo, November 8, 1893, 360.

  17. A. G. Daniells, “The Australian Tract Society,” Bible Echo, November 19, 1894, 357–358.

  18. A. G. Daniells, “Important Changes,” Bible Echo, December 3, 1894, 376.

  19. “The last number of the Gleaner . . . ,” Bible Echo, January 4, 1897, 8.

  20. A. G. Daniells, “Australian Tract Society,” Union Conference Record, January/February 1898, 13–14; W. D. Salisbury, “The Book Work in Australia,” Union Conference Record, September 22, 1903, 19–20.

  21. “West Australian Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1904 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1904), 58.

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Hook, Milton. "Australian Tract and Missionary Society (1888–1902)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 10, 2021. Accessed January 25, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E7SS.

Hook, Milton. "Australian Tract and Missionary Society (1888–1902)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 10, 2021. Date of access January 25, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E7SS.

Hook, Milton (2021, January 10). Australian Tract and Missionary Society (1888–1902). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 25, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E7SS.