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Our history

When William Booth first offered the gospel and basic social services to London’s underprivileged in the mid-1860s, he could not have conceived the global response to The Salvation Army. In 1881 it was Captain and Mrs Thomas Sutherland who first brought the uniform to Australia. Since then we’ve grown to an organisation encompassing hundreds of Officers who reach tens of thousands of Australians every year. And internationally we offer programs and services in more than 130 countries – bringing hope, assistance and compassion to the people who need it most.

English Beginnings

William BoothThe Salvation Army's beginnings date back to July 2, 1865 when a Methodist minister commenced a work in East London that would encircle the world before the end of the 19th century. It began as the Christian Revival Society and soon after was called the East London Christian Mission. William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army, preached the Gospel to the poor and underprivileged and by 1867 it had developed into a ministry offering basic schooling, reading rooms, penny banks, soup kitchens, and relief aid to the destitute.

The ministry spread to places outside of London. The organisation grew rapidly and became known simply as the Christian Mission, with William Booth as its General-Superintendent.

Booth's wife, Catherine, was a brilliant preacher and played a leading role in determining The Salvation Army's direction and doctrines; she became known as The Army's Mother. From the beginning, Catherine Booth firmly established equality for women to be ordained ministers of the gospel and to hold leadership positions within The Salvation Army. She wrote a pamphlet in 1859, Female Ministry, which was truly ahead of her time. It gave Biblical reasons as to why women can have an equal ministry with men.

Read more about William and Catherine Booth.

The Salvation Army is Born

In 1878 came another name change. William Booth was perusing a printer's proof which referred to the Christian Mission as a ' volunteer army'. Booth swept his pen through the word ' volunteer' and changed it to read Salvation Army. The name was adopted. Elijah Cadman, an enthusiastic believer, excitedly proclaimed in a meeting soon after, "God bless the Captains of The Salvation Army! I should like to wear a suit of clothes that would let everybody know I meant war to the teeth and salvation to the world".

A simple form of uniform was gradually adopted by its members. This, in 1880, was developed into a regulated uniform system. The full-time ordained ministers of the organisation were known as Officers and adopted military rank titles according to seniority. The part-time ordinary members were called Soldiers. Instead of General-Superintendent, William Booth became The Salvation Army's General; this remains the title given to the international leader of The Salvation Army. The Mission-Stations (Churches) were henceforth entitled Corps.

After responding to a call from America in early 1880, The Salvation Army next answered calls to commence operations in Australia.

Read more about the Generals of The Salvation Army.

Gaining a Foothold in Australia

Several localities lay claim to having held the first Salvationist meetings in Australia. These pioneering meetings were conducted by various immigrants who had been converted by The Salvation Army back in Britain. It is Adelaide, however, that owns the right to claim the first official Salvation Army Corps in Australia.

John Gore and Edward Saunders were both converts of the early Christian Mission. They met unexpectedly in the colony of South Australia and decided to form a Salvation Army Corps in Adelaide.

Gore and Saunders held a street meeting in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Gore's parting invitation to those standing around listening, reflected Booth's philosophical bent towards Christian ministry: "If there is any man here who hasn't had a decent meal today, let him come home to tea with me."

Men line up outside The Salvation Army's Foster House

Because there were no Salvation Army Officers in Australia, John Gore assumed temporary leadership in September 1880. Once established, the pair of pioneers appealed to General William Booth in London to send out an Officer.

Captain and Mrs Thomas Sutherland were despatched on the S.S. Aconcagua, arriving at Adelaide in February 1881. The new officers arrived wearing the first Salvation Army uniforms seen in Australia. Thomas wore a scarlet jacket (ex-British Army), navy-blue trousers, and spike-topped white helmet, and Adelaide wore a princess robe-style dress with a small bonnet. They brought with them 12 uniforms, and were met by 68 converts and Army followers.

Within three years, 32 Officers were commissioned and 12 corps formed, and on the third anniversary 3,600 soldiers mustered for the grand celebrations.

In 1882, Major James Barker and his wife Alice were appointed by the General and sent from London to extend and establish The Salvation Army's work "in all the colonies of the Southern Seas".

Intending to disembark at the Port of Adelaide, a wharf-strike forced the Barkers on to Williamstown, Victoria. Friends of The Salvation Army met them and took them into Melbourne, where the Barkers were so impressed by the potential of Victoria that they determined to begin work there.

See our historical timeline for more key moments in history.

History of social work

From assisting discharged prisoners at the prison gates back in 1883 through to the network of life-changing social services we run today – our Australian story is one of empowering individuals and strengthening communities...

Read more about our history of social work in Australia.

Serving the armed forces

The Salvation Army has shown an interest in the Armed Forces since its earliest days in England...

Learn more about our work with the armed forces in Australia.

Salvo profiles

There are many notable Salvos who have contributed to the culture and values of this country...

See profiles of notable Salvos.

How did the Red Shield Appeal start?

In 1965 the first trial Red Shield Appeal doorknock was conducted in Sydney...

Read more about the beginnings of the Red Shield Appeal.

Historical Society

Learn helpful historical insights from The Salvation Army Historical Society...

Go to the Historical Society website.

The Salvation Army Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet and work and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.

We value and include people of all cultures, languages, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and intersex status. We are committed to providing programs that are fully inclusive. We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of people of all ages, particularly children.

Diversity & Inclusion logo

The Salvation Army is an international movement. Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name with love and without discrimination.

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