State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 31 April 1983

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Manuscript: City of Melbourne Missionary Society: Joseph Greathead's Journal of the Collingwood Flat District

A public meeting was called in Melbourne in August 1854 to establish a City Mission to bring spiritual enlightenment to the ‘sabbath breakers, the thoughtless, the profligate and the infidel’. Joseph Greathead was employed by the Mission to converse with every person or family in Melbourne concerning salvation, the consequences of sin and the necessity of repentence.
One of Joseph Greathead's duties was to maintain a daily journal of his visits. This journal, of 460 pages, covers the period October 1854 to June 1856, after which time the Mission was terminated through lack of funds. During these two years, Greathead witnessed and recorded the depressed social conditions experienced by Melbourne's working class poor.
Joseph Greathead was better known for his physical healing than religious counselling. Born in England in 1798, he was a chemist by occupation. In 1853 he emigrated to Australia with his wife and younger children. During the voyage out on the Diana, Greathead acted as ship's doctor and the Library holds a xerox copy of his journal of the trip and an original testimonial presented to him by the Ship's Master. After his missionary work, Joseph Greathead returned to his pharmaceutical career, opening a dispensary in East Collingwood.
The extracts presented here from Greathead's City Mission journal have been punctuated for clarity and additional words have been parenthesized.
Jennifer Feeney
Monday Oct. 2 & 3, 1854. Engaged taking a sketch of the district, consisting of the eastern side of Wellington street with all the streets and lanes running there from on to the flat to the Yarra edge, continuing on through Budd street, enclosing the streets to the Merri Creek flat, on the north & to Dight's Mill on the east, and from the southern end of Wellington street, down Simpson's road to the Yarra — comprising the left hand side, and all the streets, running to the flat to the north of it.
4th & 5th. Engaged by the directions of the Superintendent Rev. Mr Symons, to make a drawing of the above locality for the Society's reference.
Oct. 6th. Entered upon my responsible duty & as a means of introduction presented a Tract which proved of much use to found a short discourse upon. On proceeding to the Yarra edge cottages east of Wesleyan school found the inmates in great distress, in consequence of a fine young man having been drowned in the act of swimming across with a rope about his person, which getting entangled with the wood below caused his death in presence of his companions, about 20 feet from the bank. They have been dragging for the body without success, though have obtained the rope which must have slipped from his person. This being a loud call to all present … who seemed to face the force & propriety of the injunction, “Set thine own house in order for thou shalt die, & not live. For at such an hour as ye think not the son of man cometh.”
10th (Oct.). On visiting found an Irish woman & her child in the greatest ignorance, & in much dread of being seen by the Priest conversing on the subject of religion. They cannot read, have no idea of the way of Salvation. Upon my explaining, in as simple a manner as possible, woman inquired how I knew all this to be true. Upon the production of my pocket bible & observing it was the word of God and that these precious truths were revealed therein, she requested to see it. Turning it over declared she had never had one in her hand before. They both appeared to be impressed with what they had heard & consented to my coming again, but by no means if the Priest was in the house or in the neighbourhood.
11th (Oct.). This morning was presented … with a quantity of Tracts & small books published by the Religious Tract
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Society. The Germans, bottom of Simpson's road, received them with much pleasure and surprise, to think that they were cared for to such an extent, & to be presented, without payment, a book in their own language. I found them intelligent & willing to receive my message, which was explained to those who could not understand me by a neat motherly looking woman, the expression of whose face & moistened eyes indicated she felt herself what she was making known to those about her.
13th (Oct.). Meeting this morning, at Mr Little's, a group of boys, conversed with each on the respective subjects of the books which I gave to each. We were most impressed with the attentive & thoughtful manner of the boys. Visited 14 families and all the road markers employed on the Yarra edge who attentively listened whilst (I) explained God's readiness & willingness through Jesus Christ to pardon & cleanse the vilest sinner, even though of a crimson dye & make them white as snow.
20th (Oct.). Among the many visited, talked to or a Tract presented, was an old Irishman leaning upon gate near the Glass House Hotel. After a few words I presented him with “The danger of delay”. “I can't read now, I lost my specks a year ago.” He had not tried to procure another pair, as it was of no use his reading now, as he was sure of going to “Heaven”. “Then without your specks you can read your bible clear to a mansion in the skies.” “A mansion where, O I only want a fair death, my priest will see to all the rest.” O this deceitful false religion; here stood a man 82 years old, without God & without hope & yet certain if had but a fair death, the priest would make all right.
Saturday Dec. 30 1854 … A most awful case of drunkedness & its consequences, presented itself in the house of a man and his wife named Tunks near the Leeds Arms. Knocking at the door was told to come in; on a filthy table stood broken bottles, and a lighted candle its wick doubled to one side, melting all before it and running among the clotted hair of a man's hand which lay there to receive it. He was making use of the most awful oaths & expressions, & imprecating upon the body & soul of a woman who lay nearly naked on the floor, which was of earth, with a lighted pipe in her mouth. She in return cursing him for his brutality; he having some short time previously knocked her down where she lay bleeding. They were both drunk & had been so for some days & had tasted no solid food for 5 days — not having the house fire lit during that time. He very soon recognized me & attempted to rise to procure the Tract I had left before. His eye falling upon his wife produced a violent fit of rage, threatening to murder her & frequently observing “I know I shall be hung on her account. You see,” he said, “I have God's word & threatening over my head” pointing to 3 bibles on a small shelf. “I know all about their contents as well as any man and know I shall go to Hell — there is no mercy for me … I have many times committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost” … (then) furiously taking up a bottle which was empty — again commenced pouring forth curses upon his wife for having drank its contents. Again threatening to murder her and the (world) would say what a wretch he was to kill his poor wife, “but there I will have a whole bottle of brandy to myself” & immediately opening the door staggered in the direction of the Leeds Arms. I left this abode of wretchedness with feelings impossible to describe.
Friday 16 Feb. 1855. In Hoddle street visited 3 Gaelic families having 12 children, none of whom can read … also 6 Catholic families having 28 children, without any instruction. Left Tracts with 4. In no one instance have I yet seen anyone who at all cares for the souls’ welfare of this people, not having so much as met a priest once in any of the numerous visits I have made. All seem quite satisfied with having a small phial of Holy water by them, which appears to in plenitude once a month, its religious virtues not lasting over that period.
March 13 1855. From house to house, read & conversed with 17 families, most of the fathers were away seeking employment.
March 23 …. Several of the husbands are “in the bush” consequently a great amount of uncertainty as to means of support on the part of family left behind.
29th (March). Passing down Simpson's road, early, was able to get access to 3 girls of questionable character. Presenting one with a Tract — she told me to light my pipe with it — throwing it away and observing “you always make us miserable whenever you come
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A page from Joseph Greathead's journal

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here” …. Upon inquiring found they had been religiously educated, 2 had been Sunday School teachers, after having been scholars. One had a pious mother still living, came out here virtuous & morally inclined but having no protector or guide had gone astray & now was a lost hopeless wretch & should go to Little Bourke street as could not afford to remain here any longer. The others would not be communicative but wished I would never come here again as I made them miserable. Well may it be said — the wages of sin is death.
11th April. Visited in Ballarat street & its vicinity. Found the locality greatly excited in consequence of a person named Morris having nearly beaten his wife to death in consequence of her habitual drunken propensities. In my former visits have conversed with this family upon the degraded and sinful course of life they led. O how much ignorance & depravity exists in this district, the entire absence of all means of Grace of every kind, both of old and young, begets a carelessness and indifference scarcely to be imagined.
30th May. Was met this morning by a neatly dressed young woman, carrying a bundle. She stopped & bid me good bye, thanking me for my Tracts & advice when visited her in Simpsons Road (on 29th March) in consequence of which “she had left her companions & got a place & was now going to one in Geelong away from all connections here”. Gave her short advice & an assortment of Tracts; may the influences of the Holy Spirit encompass them.
5th June 1855 …. the general feeling appears to be depression — many fathers are far from home seeking employment at a distance.
6th June. Today my mind has been much depressed at the general carelessness & apathy evinced among those visited today. The mothers appear almost prostrated with family care, so many of their children are at home from school & the dirt & mud being so great about them, these things appear to prevent my usefulness.
Monday 18 June 1855. Passing through Great Northumberland street, the first house out of Vere street, was instrumental in saving the life of an infant. Found three women in a state of the most deplorable filth & intoxication, one perfectly unconscious, half naked, lying on the bare earth, another the mother of twins lying close by, one child head downwards lying between her legs, & the other at some distance with its face in a pool of wet filth nearly suffocated, from which I took it & with my handkechief cleansed its mouth & nostrils. The other woman sat with a mug of spirits, on a pail bottom upwards, which was slipping from her hand & running into her lap. The name of the mother was Bullman, having 5 children, her husband at a distance breaking stones on the roads had sent her a remittance in money and this was the manner in which it was wasted. Found to converse with people in their state was “throwing pearls before swine”.
22nd June. Visiting in the northern part of the district, found a Mrs Curtis residing in a mud cottage … her husband who has been ill for some time had recently left home in search of employment at Kilmore. The family who had seen better days are in very great distress, having had only one small loaf between them all since yesterday morning Thursday which was obtained by the sale of bottles and bones picked up by the 3 children on Tuesday. The mother, who has an infant at the breast, took her last 2 gowns to the store of Mr Nari in Ballarat street for a loaf, having previously parted for food with everything she could spare. This noon they are without food of any kind or means of procuring it.
3rd July 1855 … In a house off Simpsons road … came upon a family named Middlemas having 2 children. Father a gardener, been unemployed nearly 6 months, had done nearly everything in his power to obtain work to no purpose. They were entirely without food, had not partaken of any since yesterday at noon. “Had not made their case known to anyone, keeping their troubles to themselves, hoping better times would come.” Being near Mr Little's, he kindly gave me money & food for their immediate wants & by his interference obtained the man employment under a road contractor. The grateful feeling evinced by these people will not soon be effaced from my memory.
July 6th, 1855. Tonight I feel exceedingly depressed in my mind, having many doubts as to the propriety of entering in my journal several cases of distress witnessed on my visiting from house to house today … I have only a plain duty to perform and as have no control over the existing state of things, have
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Collingwood in 1854

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mentioned them here as they have occurred to my notice. Knowing Mr Bowring was on the committee for the proposed Benevolent Society, have sent the persons to him for his consideration. Was accosted by a Mrs Hume … with a woman named Benfield having 2 children, whom she said was in the greatest distress — not having yet had any food today or the means of procuring any, her husband being away in the Bush. She was entirely dependent upon her — having in pity to her circumstances taken her into her house — but it was not in her power to supply their wants. Among the families visited, read and conversed with, found a Mrs Sheen, Romanist, mother of 3 children, clean & comfortable in appearance. Husband, a cabinet maker, has had scarce employment for 7 months past. (He) left this morning, no food in the house, had none himself & the wife in the bitterest grief lamenting her desolate condition. Not knowing where to procure bread for herself & children, has quietly suffered their privations — not wishing the world or their neighbours to know their poverty. Second house in Cromwell street north, found a neat respectable woman named Plummer. Husband, carpenter, been out of employ for 4 months, had not been able to earn 1 shilling. All entirely dependent upon her precarious earning in dress making. Very reluctantly stated the above, but assured me their privations & distress had been, and now was, very great. In fact she was without food & till the job she then had in hand was finished could procure none. Visiting Mrs Fleming 2nd house left hand side Great Gipps street. Found she had a woman there named Bridget Lacey, mother (with) 1 child whom she had out of charity taken out of the street, having come from England in the same ship. Lacey husband had been away in the Bush 6 months. Although Mrs Fleming had given her house room & shelter, it is not in her power to do more. As such Lacey was starving and when I entered was giving way to the most poignant grief. (I) endeavoured to calm her mind and lead it to the Providential care of God & necessity of trusting to that, whilst using every lawful means in our power to provide our daily food. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “that's religion & not bread. I told the priest all my case, over and over, but all he has done for me & my child, was three fourpenny bits” … Visited Kyles family, Glass House Cottages. found them as usual neat, clean & well conducted, but much depressed — he not having been able to earn 1/6 for the last five weeks. Read, conversed & prayed with them. I have no doubt but they quietly bear many privations & (he) would gladly avail himself of any work … in a house near resided a family named Willoughby, brick layer's labourer, out of employ, but depending upon wife's needle for support. They & their three children were waiting the completion of an article of apparel wife was making, before bread could be obtained for their supper … Read, conversed & advised with these two last cases as they were not so well known by me, as others I had noticed through the day; especially as they seem unconscious of, and unwilling to recognize in their present circumstances, an overruling Providence.
28th July, 1855. Have to lament — the cold reception generally met with today, especially as most professed, & seemingly prided themselves as being or having been members of various Christian Churches … There is in reality spirtual destitution on Collingwood Flat. In Glasshouse Lane as yesterday, had patiently & kindly to submit to much insult & threatening. One old woman in particular who was wringing out a wet blanket, would have dashed it full of water around my head; but pleasantly catching the end of it (I) began to assist her in squeezing out the water it contained & then put it on clothes line close by. (This) instantly turned the tide of angry feeling that three men were striving to foment. At length they received my Tract, Life of the Blessed Virgin, assuring me that in so doing they ran great risk of the Priest's anger & his curse.
August 1st, 1855. I very seldom meet with the father of the family, so very few having regular employment to depend upon. Mothers in general appear greatly depressed at their absence & the causes which have produced it. Many seem overwhelmed with fear of the future & its consequences to them and their children.
15th & 16th (Nov. 1855). During my absence on a visit to a distant sick friend and others who recently left this neighbourhood, and among whom I have laboured, I have had an opportunity of conversing with three or four groups of the Aborigines. The whole of whom I found were entirely destitute of the
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Knowledge of a God in Christ and of his reconciling love. Though one man & his wife said they were Christians and opening a net work bag under her dirty blanket produced a Catholic prayer book which they could not read. On my so doing and naming the words Jesus Christ, I was surprised at their immediately crossing themselves.
Monday, Dec. 10, 1855. Waited upon Dr Embling as Superintendent, in absence of Mr Scott, with the journal and visited 17 families. Most of the mothers, by domestic circumstances & absence of the husband at the diggings, were kept from the house of God yesterday. Many lament this, and refer to past opportunities misimproved “at home in England” …
23rd (Jan. 1856). In my usual calls was this morning removed from the court at bottom of Glass House Lane in a very unceremonious manner by a stout man, declaring if ever caught there again with my heresies I should receive the Priest's blessing in full … another similar display of opposition presented itself in the person of Mrs — — — — — corner house of Robert street & Rokeby street, who, coming up at the instant of her two daughters receiving interesting Tracts, snatched them away & trampling them in the dust ordered me off with my hellish poison. Fetching a small phial, sprinkled them & herself & with evident confidence in its virtues declared the devil was gone now & standing between the girls & me, with much authority, declared I was a dangerous heretic & had the curse of the Church of God upon me.
10th June, 1856 … attended by request, a meeting of the Committee of the City Mission, where met with the other two missionaries and informed by the Rev. Mr Jarrat that for want of funds to carry on the mission in this city & suburbs the causes must cease to exist. As such (we) were to consider this interview as a notice to that effect, but requested us to meet the committee again on Friday night.
12th. I feel very much depressed and humbled in mind tonight in consequence of the feelings evinced towards me by many of those visited today & among whom I have gone in & out these 22 months past. Many appear to regret the failure of the mission and close of my visitation. If any good has been effected by so weak and unworthy an instrument — God shall have all the praise.
30th (June 1856). This day finishes my engagement with the present Committee of the City Mission.