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Teachers and students at St Kilda School.

Photo courtesy of Adventist Heritage Centre, Australia.

The Australasian Bible School, Melbourne

By John Skrzypaszek

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John Skrzypaszek, D.Min. (Australian College of Theology) is the director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre and a lecturer at the Avondale University College. Before his current role, he served as a Ministerial secretary and Personal Ministries director. Polish by birth, Skrzypaszek takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. His research aims to explore the relevance of heritage for life’s journey in the 21st century. He has authored 19 peer-reviewed publications and 15 magazine articles. He is married to Brenda and has two sons.

Opened in Melbourne, Australia, in 1892, the Australasian Bible School was the forerunner of the Australasian Missionary College, which opened in Cooranbong, NSW, in 1897. It was variously named Avondale College and Avondale College of Higher education until being accredited as Avondale University College in 2019.

The Australasian Bible School was opened at 10:30 a.m. on August 24, 1892, with 19 resident students, seven daytime students, and a teaching term of 16 weeks.1 Soon the number increased to 24 students. The staff members included L. J. Rousseau, principal; G. B. Starr, a teacher in biblical history and ethics; W. L. Baker and Mrs. L. J. Rousseau, assistants in common branches; and Mrs. G. B. Starr, matron of the house.2 The prospectus published in the Bible Echo on September 1, 1892, provided an outline of the course of studies in grammar [English] and the biblical course. The spiritual and ethical ethos of the school was clearly demonstrated.3 Classes began at 8:00 a.m. and continued until 1:30 p.m. Students selecting the grammar course studied English, geography, bookkeeping, arithmetic, rhetoric, and religion. The biblical course included geometry, botany, history, general Bible study, literature, astronomy, Greek, mental science, civil government, moral science, and higher English. The biblical course also included a two-year preparatory segment, with subjects such as bookkeeping, algebra, rhetoric, physics, physiology, history, and general Bible studies.4

The decision to set up a Bible school was approved during the twenty-ninth session of the General Conference, commencing on March 5, 1891. In his report to the committee on Monday, March 6, W. W. Prescott, the General Conference educational secretary, referred to the request for the opening of the school from Australia. The supportive arguments included the high cost of sending students to America and also the benefits of providing education in the cultural context of the home country.5 On Monday, March 7, the committee on education presented a recommendation to set up an “English Bible school” in Australia with two teachers from America to be in charge. Costs were to be met by “the brethren in Australia in such a manner as may seem best for them.” However, the approved project was seen as “the first step toward a permanent school for children of all ages.”6

The setting up of the school coincided with Ellen White’s arrival in Australia in December 1891. In the Review and Herald, June 2, 1891, president of the General Conference, O. A. Olsen, announced the recommendation of the Foreign Mission Board for Ellen White and W. C. White to travel to Australia. It noted, “There has been a long and urgent call from Australia for Sister White to come there . . . and even now it seems like an unreasonable undertaking for her, at her age and in her worn condition, to attempt such a journey; but she is of good courage and has responded favorably.”7 The quoted response needs to be considered in the context of her own struggles with the Foreign Mission Board decision, for she wrote, “There is much talk in regard to our journey to Australia, but I cannot see my [way] clearly to go. . . . I long for rest, for quietude, and to get out The Life of Christ.8

Soon after arrival in Melbourne, Ellen White’s visionary spirit encouraged planning for the school. It was discussed at the Australian Conference session. Support for the educational program was also secured from New Zealand members at the New Zealand Conference session, held in Napier, April 1, 1892. However, the progress was not without challenges. Because of the prevailing depression, the finances were limited, and not all were supporting the project.9 In response, Ellen White committed the royalty of the foreign books sold in America. She invested $1,000 to be used as needed, but $500 to help students who could not afford to attend the school.10

On August 1, 1892, the Bible Echo described the convenient location of the rented properties in the suburb of St. Kilda, close to the city, transport, and a walking distance from the botanical gardens. The location provided a “clear, pure atmosphere and ample opportunity for exercise, recreation, and quiet walks.”11 The buildings were rented at 1 and 2 George’s Terrace, St. Kilda Road.12 In the Bible Echo, September edition, Ellen White encouraged parents to send their children to the school “soon to be opened in Melbourne.” She also outlined the purpose of education. “There are many openings for missionaries in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the sea. . . . Workers must be educated in these fields, who can take up the work, and go forth as light-bearers to the dark places of these lands.”13

In the opening presentations at the first Bible school in Australia, Ellen White stressed the importance of “uniting in Christ as the great educator.” A. G. Daniells emphasized the value and benefits of knowing God. W. C. White spoke about the conditions for success.14 In the supplementary edition of the Bible Echo, Ellen White outlined the central purpose of the Australasian Bible School: “He [God] would have every professed Christian a true missionary.”15 She looked beyond the immediate. “Our field is the world,” she stated.16 Amid all the challenges, she inspired commitment and a visionary drive for the successful establishment of the school

At the end of the first year Ellen White penned a letter to O. A. Olsen describing the successful completion of the year. “Today we attended the closing exercises. The schoolroom was well filled with students and those interested in the school. We had an excellent season together. . . . The school has been a success.”17 She continued: “That which seemed to be most prized by all [students] was the religious advantages. They had learned what it means to be a Christian.”18 On completion of the first and second term, many of the students engaged in canvassing and missionary work allowing them to earn money for the next term.

Through 1893 the increased enrollments evidenced the success of the school. The growth of student numbers pressed the administrators to enlarge the overcrowded facility. Even with the adjusted changes and improvements, some students were forced to move to the nearby cottage on Punt Road. Several factors contributed to the successful progress of the school. First, Ellen White’s financial support of many students. “I carried several through the first term of school, and am paying the expenses of six during the present term, and the number may swell to eight.”19 Second, the positive influence of the teaching staff. Ellen White wrote, “They all like Elder Rousseau and his wife as teachers. He does not show what there is in him, and there is a chance for all to be disappointed by his unpretending ways, but when engaged in his work, he shows he has a store of knowledge and is apt to teach.”20 Finally, the spiritual influence of the school. “The presence of Jesus has been in the school from its beginning, and the Lord has wrought upon the minds of teachers and pupils.”21 The nurturing environment generated a positive impact on the students.

Even though the city location was suitable and convenient, the extended time-gap between semesters (November 26, 1893, to April 4, 1894) created an obstacle for the ongoing flow of students. During this period the enrollments decreased. Further, the temporary nature of the Bible school in Melbourne was confirmed when Ellen White to speak about the need for a “more favorable place” away “from the city.”22 Toward the end of the last semester and with the negotiations to purchase the Brettvile Estate in Cooranbong under way, the notion of relocation dampened the original enthusiasm. Nonetheless, 57 enrolled as advanced or intermediate students in 1894.23 The Bible school operated in Melbourne until September 1894 and reopened in Cooranbong in 1897, under the name of Avondale School for Christian Workers and later the Australasian Missionary College.

The Bible school located in Melbourne was short-lived, yet its legacy speaks through the lives of many committed students who followed the pathway of Christian service and ministry. 24 The Bible school in Melbourne became a springboard for a higher view of education carried by the Avondale School for Christian Workers, known today as Avondale University College.

Sources

General Conference Bulletin, March 9, 1891; March 10, 1891.

Hook, Milton. A Temporary Training School: The Australasian Bible School in Melbourne. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division Department of Education, 1988.

Jones, Laurence. Beginnings: A History of the Beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Melbourne, Australia. Wantirna, VIC: Ring Press, 1985.

“Location.” Supplement to Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892.

Olsen, O. A. “Our Duty to Advance.” ARH, June 2, 1891.

“The Prospectus.” Supplement to Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892.

“The School.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 15, 1892.

White, Arthur. Ellen G. White: The Australian Years, 1891–1900. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983.

———. Ellen White, Woman of Vision. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000.

White, Ellen G. “Bought With a Price.” Manuscript 103, 1893. December 1893. Ellen G. White Research Center.

———. Ellen G. White to Edson White. Letter 54, 1892. September 22, 1892. Ellen G. White Research Center.

———. Ellen G. White to Lindsay Harmon. Letter 79, 1893. April 24, 1893. Ellen G. White Research Center.

———. Ellen G. White to O. A. Olsen. Letter 46, 1892. December 13, 1892. Ellen G. White Research Center.

———. Ellen G. White to Wessels Brethren. Letter 65, 1893. May 16, 1893. Ellen G. White Research Center.

———. Life Sketches of Ellen G. White. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1915.

———. “The Needs of the Work in Australia.” Manuscript 29, 1891. August 20, 1891. Ellen G. White Research Center.

Notes

  1. Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1915), 336; “The Prospectus,” Supplement to The Bible Echo, September 1, 1892, 13–16. See also Milton Hook, A Temporary Training School: The Australasian Bible School in Melbourne (Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division Department of Education, 1988), 2.

  2. “The School,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 15, 1892, 288.

  3. “The Prospectus,” Supplement to The Bible Echo, September 1, 1892, 13–16.

  4. Ibid., 16.

  5. General Conference Bulletin, March 9, 1891, 39.

  6. General Conference Bulletin, March 10, 1891, 48.

  7. O. A. Olsen, “Our Duty to Advance,” ARH, June 2, 1891, 344.

  8. Ellen G. White, “The Needs of the Work in Australia,” manuscript 29, August 20, 1891, Ellen G. White Research Center.

  9. Ellen G. White to O. A. Olsen, letter 46, December 13, 1892, Ellen G. White Research Center; E. G. White, Life Sketches, 333, 334.

  10. Ellen White to Lindsay Harmon, letter 79, April 24, 1893, Ellen G. White Research Center; Ellen White to Wessels Brethren, letter 65, 1893, May 16, 1983, Ellen G. White Research Center; Ellen White to Edson White, letter 54, September 22, 1892, Ellen G. White Research Center.

  11. “Location,” Supplement to Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892, 13.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid., 2.

  14. “The School.”

  15. “Location.”

  16. E. G. White, Life Sketches, 336.

  17. E. G. White to O. A. Olsen.

  18. Ibid.

  19. E. G. White to Wessels Brethren.

  20. E. G. White to Edson White.

  21. E. G. White to O. A. Olsen.

  22. E. G. White, “Bought With a Price,” manuscript 103, December 1893, Ellen G. White Research Center.

  23. Hook, 4.

  24. Ibid., 4–6.

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Skrzypaszek, John. "The Australasian Bible School, Melbourne." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7SK.

Skrzypaszek, John. "The Australasian Bible School, Melbourne." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access January 24, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7SK.

Skrzypaszek, John (2021, January 09). The Australasian Bible School, Melbourne. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 24, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7SK.