Australasian Diary, 1891-1900

LATE IN September, 1900 seventy-five years ago Ellen White returned to the United States after a fruitful nine-year sojourn in Australia. Hers was a busy, itinerant ministry during that near-decade of her life full of preaching appointments, council sessions with the brethren, and endless writing assignments. . .

-secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate at the time this article was written

LATE IN September, 1900 seventy-five years ago Ellen White returned to the United States after a fruitful nine-year sojourn in Australia. Hers was a busy, itinerant ministry during that near-decade of her life full of preaching appointments, council sessions with the brethren, and endless writing assignments.

The S. S. Moana pulled into San Francisco harbor after a long summer's voyage from Sydney. Ellen White was glad to be home. But the summertime of the Northern Hemisphere was wintertime in Australia. "Down under" it was different. Two months earlier we would have seen Mrs. White in her Sunnyside home at Cooranbong reflecting like this: "I sit here on my bed, this cold July morning. ... I have woolenmits on my hands, leaving my fingers free to write." Letter 105, 1900. Sunnyside was not equipped with central heating, and even if it had been, Ellen White would probably have foregone its pleasures choosing instead to invest her means in nearby Avondale College, into which she had placed every avail able dollar of her money.

Pioneering the Work

Looking backwards to the beginnings of her Australia tour, we see that at the General Conference of 1891, S. N. Haskell, a pioneer worker, made repeated appeals for workers to be sent to distant lands. He particularly urged the establishment of a training school in Australia, and he believed that teachers should be appointed to launch such a project. He also asked that Ellen White and her son, William C. White, spend time in the Australian field, giving help and guidance to the workers. The Mission Board accepted Elder Haskell's suggestion and asked Mrs. White and her son to leave for Australia that autumn. The mother and son were willing to go, and arrived in that field in December. Nine years were spent pioneering and developing the work, especially the educational and medical phases of it.

During her first year in Australia Ellen White spent most of her time in bed, suffering from inflammatory rheumatism and neuritis.

With the contemporary records before us, we in imagination tip toe into her bedroom, for she is quite ill. Having learned that, even though suffering greatly, she has been writing much on the life of Christ, we are not surprised to find her propped up in bed, pen in hand. Her arm is resting on a framework that has been constructed at her request to enable her to proceed with her work. She has suffered much during the past eight months and can catch but a few hours' sleep at night. After greeting her we express regret that she must suffer so, and then she tells us how she looks upon this experience.

"When I first found myself in a state of helplessness I deeply regretted having crossed the broad waters. Why was I not in America? Why at such expense was I in this country? Time and again I could have buried my face in the bed quilts and had a good cry. But I did not long indulge in the luxury of tears.

"I said to myself, 'Ellen G. White, what do you mean? Have you not come to Australia because you felt that it was your duty to go where the conference judged it best for you to go? Has not this been your practice?'

"I said, 'yes.'

" 'Then why do you feel almost forsaken, and discouraged? Is not this the enemy's work?'

"I said, 'I believe it is.'

"I dried my tears as quickly as possible and said, 'It is enough; I will not look on the dark side any more. Live or die, I commit the keeping of my soul to Him who died for me.'

"I then believed that the Lord would do all things well, and during this eight months of helplessness, I have not had any despond ency or doubt. I now look at this matter as a part of the Lord's great plan, for the good of His people here in this country, and for those in America, and for my good. I cannot explain why or how, but I believe it. And I am happy in my affliction. I can trust my heavenly Father. I will not doubt His love. I have an ever-watchful guardian day and night, and I will praise the Lord, for His praise is upon my lips because it comes from a heart full of gratitude." Letter 18a, 1892.

Thus she lifted herself above bereavement and suffering, determining to trust firmly in God.

Three Major Contributions

Mrs. White's years in Australia are probably best remembered for three major contributions: (1) the completion of The Desire of Ages; (2) the establishment of the Avondale school, and the extensive writings on all phases of the subject of education; and (3) the giving of instruction for the development of a more efficient conference organization.

The work on The Desire of Ages was not completed quickly. When Mrs. White was able to leave her bed she gave much of her time to speaking appointments and to council sessions in Australia and New Zealand. It was not until 1898 that the book finally came from the publishers.

The counsel on the organization of the church that Mrs. White gave during this period became the basis for the reorganization pro gram of the General Conference of 1901 in Battle Creek. In this A. G. Daniells, the newly elected General Conference president, played a large role.

"Although Brother Daniells was comparatively little known to the church in America because of his long absence in Australia, his brethren intuitively turned to him for leadership. And they were not disappointed. In the Australasian field he had perfected, under the counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy, a form of reorganization which was to prove in large measure the model of the church organization in all countries. God had been preparing and training him for leadership of the world movement." F. M. Wilcox, in Review and Herald, April 18, 1935.

The revelations given Ellen White not only kept pace with the needs of the growing denomination but they stayed ahead and helped prepare the way to meet problems as they arose.

Readers of The Ministry are doubtless familiar with the story of the miraculous events connected with the founding of the Avondale school and Mrs. White's vision of the open furrow (see back page) which prompted the purchase of the school property.

What may not be familiar to our people is the story of Mrs. White's normal day-by-day activities during her Australian visit. Following are only a few extracts from her letters and papers that are illustrative.

Mrs. White's travels took her to New Zealand (North Island), New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the unexpected greeted her more than once. On February 3, 1893, for example, she was met at the train in Sydney by a Brother Reekie. Here she had a frightening experience with a spirited horse, but apparently no one was hurt.

Then there was the time, on Sabbath, February 4, after preaching in the morning, when she set sail across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Auckland, New Zea land. "We were sorry to leave on the Sabbath," she wrote, "but we could not help ourselves." Incidentally, on Friday the baggage had been placed on the ship, as she always did all she could to prevent any encroachments upon the Lord's holy time.

On the journey she and her party suffered badly from seasickness, and to top it all, they arrived in Auckland on Wednesday, February 8, in a pouring rain. M. C. Israel met them. He had secured a furnished house for the party. "Oh, how thankful we were to get on land and find a convenient place to stay," wrote Ellen White. She worked untiringly twelve days in all, for the Auckland church, assisted by G. B. Starr.

First Camp Meeting

At Napier, New Zealand, a workers' meeting and a camp meeting were held, the first undertaken by Seventh-day Adventists south of the Equator. Camp meeting was entirely new for these fields, but it was a decided success. Ellen White bore her share of the burden of preaching.

Next came the Wellington meetings following the Napier camp. At Wellington a large skating rink was rented that would seat a thousand people. C. B. Starr, M. C. Israel, and W. C. White questioned their own judgment in doing so, but they decided to go for ward in the name of the Lord and risk something. On Sunday, April 30, Ellen White spoke in the skating rink to a good audience on temperance (Manuscript 80, 1893, p. 9). Meetings went on for some weeks and with good results.

At Daytone, New Zealand, according to Letter 69, 1893, Ellen White spoke on the subject "As It Was in the Days of Noah." She said, "The power of God came upon me; I felt it thrilling through every nerve of my body; and the people knew that the words came in the demonstration of the Spirit and power of God."

On July 5, we find her in a dental chair with a Dr. Caro extracting her teeth eight of them leaving her toothless. In Letter 33, 1893, however, we find her at Napier, being fitted for artificial lower teeth. Here she spoke six times. She said, "I spoke last Sabbath with my new teeth and spoke quite well."

This constant going from place to place interfered with her writing. "I am certain if I ever get out the Life of Christ I must either get a lodge in some vast wilderness, or a place wherein I can hide away, and not be called upon to labor here and there and everywhere." Letter 33, 1893. She did succeed, however, in bringing out The Desire of Ages, and it was printed in 1898.

During the year 1894 Ellen White was present on the campground at Middle Brighton, Melbourne, laboring faithfully in the workers' meetings, at the camp meeting it self, and at the Australasian Union session. This was the first camp meeting to be held in Australia. At this camp meeting she spoke seventeen times.

The work bore down heavily upon Ellen White, who suffered most of her life with a heart condition. In Letter 137, 1894, we find these very human words, "I long for retirement." Often she pressed herself beyond her own strength to do the work of God, seeming ever to be weary, yet when speaking to the people, animated and vital, filled with the Holy Spirit.

May 23,1894, we catch a glimpse of her at Dora Creek, inspecting the property for the Avondale College. She was pleased with what she saw, and full of plans. While sitting on a log resting, she was actively planning what could be done at the school. Then the survey party returned and broke up her "future faith-prospecting" (Letter 82, 1894).

In April of 1895 she sailed for Tasmania, accompanied by May Lacey. Her son, W. C. White, preceded them and met appointments in Hobart and Bismarck. W. C. White and May Lacey were married in the Lacey home May 9, and with Ellen G. White, left that night for Launceston, where Ellen White spoke both Sabbath and Sunday. (The author is one of the five children born as a result of that union.)

Home in Cooranbong

On July 1 we find her at Cooranbong. She bought forty acres from the school and planned to make her home there. She returned to Grandville in mid-July, but was back in Cooranbong during most of August, living in a tent, super vising the planning for her or chard and getting her new home started. Her family consisted of Marion Davis, Sara McEnterfer, Maggie Hare, May Israel, Sarah Beldon, Edith Ward, and a Brother Connell. A temporary structure was being planned at that time for W. C. White and his family.

It can be seen that her years in Australia were itinerant years with many abodes in which to live, here and there, wandering about on the great island continent, and New Zealand, doing her work for God. "I have no strength. My heart is weak. I can scarcely totter about the room." This she wrote on December 3, 1895. Just a few days before her sixty-eighth birth day, November 26, she left Melbourne for Hobart. She labored in the first Tasmanian camp meeting, speaking eleven times at length and five in morning meetings.

We find her at Sunnyside, her home in Cooranbong, the greater portion of the year 1896, engrossed in writing, speaking, and counseling with the workers regarding the development of the school. But she did attend a camp meeting at Adelaide in October, accompanied by W. C. White and Sara McEnterfer.

She returned to Sunnyside in late November, quite ill, and suffered intensely for two weeks and was not able to attend camp meetings for a time.

Life Sketches, pages 360-363, tells the story of the financial crisis in connection with the building of the Avondale school. The providential workings of Cod were many. A. G. Daniells relates the following striking incident in connection with his efforts to borrow money from a bank:

"It was then 4 P.M. and the bank was closed. Brother Faulkhead suggested that we should go to the banker's home and see him privately. I confess that that looked very uncertain to me. But we decided to make the effort. The bank was on a corner, and we had to pass the door on the way to the banker's house. As we were hurrying past the door of the bank, we saw that it was open about the width of a man. Brother Faulkhead rushed in and I after him as fast as we could move. We found the banker and his assistant with the contents of the vault spread out on the counters. They were getting affairs in shape for the visit of a London bank inspector. The banker looked up at us in amazement and said, 'Faulkhead, how did you get into this bank?'

" 'We walked in,' was the reply.

" 'Yes, I know, but how did you get the door open?' said the banker, 'for I shut, bolted, locked, and chained that door myself. How did you get it open?'

" 'We did not touch it; it was open,' was all we could say.

"Well, brethren, we knew right then that an angel opened that door. The banker was so shocked that he looked pale. When he could compose himself, he asked what we wanted. Brother Faulk head said, 'We want to see you in your private office.' As soon as we were seated, we told him that we wanted three hundred pounds to meet an obligation the next morning.

" 'What security can you give?'

" 'Only our word tonight, but we will give something more later.'

"Then and there that banker counted out three hundred shining sovereigns and placed them in our hands.

"These experiences, I can assure you, made a deep impression on my mind."

Ellen White was greatly disturbed when she learned early in April that the second school building was progressing slowly, with financial resources almost exhausted. The building could not be finished in time to open the school on the date set, April 28. So Ellen White went into action. She called a meeting for 6:00 A.M., Sunday, set the matter before the people, and offered to let three of her workers help in construction and she pay their wages, also to give Sara's time to help that the school building might be finished on time. Others rallied and offered their services. More than thirty men, women, and children were put to work. Lady carpenters, Sara and Sister Haskell, nailed down the floors, after Brother James had put the boards in position. Others did the cleaning, painting, carrying brick. The buildings were ready, and school opened at the appointed time. "1 think this little crisis has been a great blessing," Ellen White wrote in Letter 152, 1897.

In March or early April she was called to look over the school, and asked where the boys were to be housed. "Above the sawmill and intents," was the answer. She suggested adding a story to the second building and insisted this be done regardless of the lack of means. "I will be responsible for the change made," she said. "Let it fall on me." Letter 141, 1897. Thus she revealed her love, vision, and her tangible concern for the young people.

Decision to Return to America

Early in January, 1898, we find her saying, "I now seem to feel that I shall have to go to America and bear my testimony once more to the people there. ... I can see that I must stand alone. ... I can trust and rely upon no human being. ... I feel cut away from every human support." Manuscript 180, 1898. But she did not go to America right away. She lingered on for several years in Australia. In February, 1898, the third large school building was nearly finished. Her own garden was doing nicely, and the school land was producing abundantly.

In Letter 125, 1898, she states that she felt she could not yet leave Australia to attend the General Conference. Her heart was wrapped up with the developing work on that continent, and she felt she must stay by.

Eighteen ninety-nine found her home again at Sunnyside during March and April, but still meeting frequent speaking appointments. She spent most of the time in June, July, August, and early September at Sunnyside. The Australasian Union Conference was held at the Avondale school, July 6-25. Mrs. White was ill during much of the time, but did attend some of the meetings.

In February of 1900 we find her busy writing and rejoicing in better health. "I scarcely feel my infirmities." --Manuscript 90, 1900.

March 8-23 she attended the Geelong camp meeting in Victoria, Australia. On March 21 or 22 Ellen White wrote about her decision to return to America in August. "I wrestled three nights in prayer at different times. I could not con sent to go, and finally I decided." Letter 174, 1900. Her heart was bound to the Australasia field!

Finally we see her on August 3-12 at the Victoria Conference session, the thirteenth session, participating in the meetings. A few days later she boarded the S.S. Moana, en route from Sydney to San Francisco.

Back at home in her own country, Mrs. White continued to give counsel and guidance to her brethren in Australasia. Never did she forget those nine busy and productive years!

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-secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate at the time this article was written

August 1975

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