Saturday, 8 October 2011


Several contributors to Sepia Saturday  have linked Temperance with Women's Suffrage and, especially those with Methodism in their backgrounds, have Temperance Activists amongst their Kinsmen.  This struck a chord and I recalled that in my family history studies I'd gathered a lot of information on a particular (or perhaps, peculiar) Kinsman who was quite a voice in the movement. This is posted below in full and consists mainly of extracts from Newspaper and Journals and provides some very interesting examples of the language of the religious in the Victorian period.
He is someone I'm not altogether sure of.  According to legend (self-promoted??) he was brought back from the abyss by Sarah MG and went on to marry her.  Was for love, out of gratitude, or was he one for taking the main chance?  She was a little older than him, given to religious fervour and self denial, and as there were no children forthcoming one can be forgiven from asking the question, was it a marriage in the real sense or just of convenience.  Even though she was obviously frail, he thought nothing of dragging her half way round the world and leaving her, more or less permanently, in a hotel room while he was off out having a wonderful time building his ego by hobnobbing with the Australian good and worthy and haranguing the working man for taking a glass or two.

For those interested we are second cousins 4 times removed, and numbered  Brewers, Maltsters and Ale-house keepers amongst our ancestry

Illustration of the revivalist preacher and temperance advocate, Matthew Burnett.

Matthew BURNETT was born 1 in 1839 in Cloughton, Yorkshire. He died in 1896 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He was buried 2 on 22 Jan 1896 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. Matthew was baptized 3 on 23 Aug 1840 in Cloughton, Yorkshire. He became a world renown Evangelist & temperance advocate.   Matthew married 1 Sarah Middleton GIBSON in 1863 in Hull District, Yorkshire. Sarah was born on 6 Feb 1834 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. She died on 25 Oct 1870 in Prahran, Melbourne, Australia. Sarah was baptized on 5 Mar 1834 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. 
Source : Frearson's monthly illustrated Adelaide news, March 1883, supplement
Date of creation : 1883
Format : Newspaper

Yorkshire born Matthew Burnett settled in Victoria in 1863. He was perhaps the most colourful of the early revivalist preachers.

Burnett visited Adelaide in 1880, and subsequently spent almost three years visiting almost every town in the colony. Initially he held weekly meetings in the Adelaide Town Hall and open air meetings in Light Square - the latter included brass bands, singers and banners, and culminated in torch-lit processions to Pirie Street Wesleyan Church.

Combining a message of moral reform with abstinence from alcohol, Burnett induced many to sign a pledge promising teetotalism, including 1,000 at Port Adelaide, and 2,000 at Moonta Mines. He claimed to have induced six million Australians to sign the pledge. Burnett's mission also galvanized opponents to the opening of hotels on Sunday, and the South Australian Parliament was successfully lobbied against this move.

Burnett was reportedly theatrical and flamboyant in his presentations. Critics referred to his 'screech-owl style of oratory' (Lantern, 8 May 1880, p. 9).

John Gore and Edward Saunders, who had previously joined the Salvation Army in England, met through Burnett's Light Square meetings and subsequently organised the first Salvation Army meetings in Adelaide - using a similar format to Burnett's assemblies.

The "In Memoriam" that was published in the "Wesleyan Chronicle" about the life and death of Mrs. Burnett is very long, and abounds in spiritual jargon which most people of today would find very strange, and hard to understand.  Parts only are reproduced here.

"Sarah Middleton Gibson was born on February 6th, 1834, and born again on January 9th, 1855.  Little is known of her conversion except from her own recorded words.  'After many vain and fruitless attempts to work out my own salvation by the deeds of the law, I was enabled to cast myself on Christ, and felt that He had paid my debt.  I am a sinner saved by grace.  Nothing that is good I call my own.  Let Christ be magnified in saving the very chief of sinners.'
'The unfeigned faith' which was in her 'dwelt first in' her beloved mother, and in her grandparents who were Methodists of John Wesley's days, and this grace of pious ancestry bestowed upon her was not in vain.'  She possessed a good natural understanding, and enjoyed many social and spiritual advantages.
Her early days were spent in Scarborough, Yorkshire\; and her ardent and intelligent piety was the more developed under the ministrations of a succession of eminent servants of God, and expositors of His Word, one spiritual charm and glory of that queen of watering places.  In those days she was noted for 'works of faith and labours of love' among the poor and the fallen, and for the gift of earnest and impassioned prayer.  Many illustrations of this last grace might be given.
A reckless youth, hastening to early ruin, engaged her compassionate concern.  She sought to save him, with fear pulling him out of the fire.  For twelve months she pleaded without ceasing for this, until, being in an agony, she prayed more earnestly, and in the climax of her mighty supplication, cried, 'Lord, let me die rather than his soul be lost!'  And she was heard in that she feared.  He who said, 'I have pardoned according to they word,' gave her a distinct assurance that he had heard her concerning this thing also, and that this soul too should be the crown of her 'rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus.' 
Simultaneously the sin-convicting Spirit arrested the youthful profligate, and wrought strangely upon his heart, and that evening 'stricken and penitent' he sought mercy, 'with strong crying and tears,' at the altar of prayer.  That young man became, in the courses of time, the husband of Miss Gibson, and the honoured instrument in the hand of God of turning many to righteousness."
A long section of the notice is then given to describing something of her inner spiritual experiences of appreciating the holiness of God, and the presence of God, and the humbling effect that this had upon her whole spiritual life and outlook.  Several sections from her diary are used to illustrate these aspects of her prayer life.  Basically, it was part of her experience of what the Methodist's called "perfect love," or "entire sanctification."  
For example:-  "My soul goes out with strong desire, Thy perfect bliss to prove.  I wait on the Lord for a clean heart.  I want to be all beautiful within, but in every part I am deformed and defiled.  O for faith - more simple child-like faith.  I want the baptism of power, of fire, of love.  Give me no rest till all I have is lost in Thine.  I am very ignorant, even as a beast before Thee....  The sight of God's preserving love filled me with astonishment....."
"Since Mrs. Burnett's arrival in Victoria she led, for the most part, a secluded and suffering life.  Though still burning with zeal for the glory of God, and crying 'Lord! what wouldst thou have me to do?'  yet it pleased Him to show her rather how great things she must suffer for His sake.'
While she had health and strength she discharged the duties of class-leader with great acceptance.  She rejoiced to forego the society of her dear husband, and to assist him by her counsel, and sympathy, and prayers, that he might the better 'do the work of an evangelist.'
The final, long section of the article is a blow-by-blow description of the "death by which she glorified God."  After concern about the family, and others, whom she would leave behind, she felt no fear at all in the valley of the shadow of death, but rejoiced in the prospects of eternity through Christ.
As was often practiced at such times, especially in those days, children, and various friends were urged to meet her in heaven, and to live for eternity. 
"At times she would quote with great feeling some striking and favourite passage of Scripture and verses of hymns, or would ask that such might be quoted to her to nourish her faith and refresh her 'failing flesh and heart.'  
At another time, lost in reverie, she seemed to lie within the vestibule of death, in deep communion with the unseen world.  Her soul dwelt within the inspirations of eternity, steadfastly set towards the new Jerusalem, and she spoke of the happiness of heaven as one who was safe at home, or viewing the Canaan that she loved with unbeclouded eyes.  '
They say,' she remarked, 'the valley is dark.  What a mistake\; it is all light.  I have crossed it\; thank God, I am safe.  That lamp will go out, but there is no night there.'"
Her death occurred at Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne, on 25th October, 1870.  (6.)

The now widowed Matthew BURNETT continued his work in Australia for another twelve years finally leaving for New Zealand in 1882 - confirmed in this extract from the "Hawera & Normanby Star", Volume VIII, Issue 1503, 15 December 1886, Page 2 :
"In the course of his valedictory address, Matthew Burnett, the temperance advocate, remarked that since landing at the Bluff four years ago, he had held no fewer than 1250 services, 1000 being as an advocate of temperance principles, and the remainder on purely religious matters."

Matthew appears to have been back in England by June 1890 and is known to have been in the Pickering area in November 1891** - see note below - but has not been found in 1891 census returns.

"Memoir of Joseph Smith of South Holme, late of Huggate and Riseborough, Wesleyan Local Preacher, with records from his diary,  together with speeches and sermons from 1823-1898", contains the following references -
June 9th 1890
"At Hovingham in the afternoon. Brought back with me Mr. Matthew Burnett, who had recently returned to England, after twenty-seven years' temperance work amongst the Maori tribes in Australia"
October 27th 1890
"I went to Scarborough. Attended meeting at night, in Town Hall, to welcome Mr. Matthew Burnett, after twenty-seven years' absence in Australia ..."
November 2nd 1891
"Went to Pickering to preside over a meeting addressed by Mr. M. Burnett" **
April 12th 1892
"At Major Scoby's to tea and presided at Normanby at a lecture by Mr. Matthew Burnett"

Extract from "Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand", by J. Malton Murray & Rev. J. Cocker, 1930:
"Valuable service has been rendered from time to time by the visits of temperance advocates. In those earlier years these were pledge-signing campaigns — a feature that, unfortunately, has become less conspicuous since the emergence of the demand to get rid of the liquor traffic by voting it out of existence. The permanence of any gain secured by legislation would be made all the more certain by the extent to which people were won to the practice of total abstinence. Much good work had been done on these lines by such organizations as Good Templars, Rechabites, and the Band of Hope movement, but there was both scope for, and need of, a popular appeal on a wide scale. Hence the advent in 1885 of a temperance advocate who had gained considerable popularity in Australia— Mr. Matthew Burnett— was hailed with great expectations. If those expectations were not all realized it was not because Mr. Burnett was lacking either in zeal, sincerity or ability. He was a Yorkshireman, charged with emotion, and having to his credit the rescue and rehabilitation of not a few sad wrecks of humanity. The story of some of these rescues, relieved by touches of pathos and humour, made up the ground-work of impassioned appeals for total abstinence that led to pledge-signing on a large scale at all his meetings. Mr. Burnett's unselfishness and geniality commended him to all associated with him in the various missions he held."

According to an obituary written shortly after his death in 1896, Matthew was born at White Horse Farm near Cloughton in 1839. He spent the early years of his working life in business, with Messrs. W. Rowntree of Scarborough. After his "conversion" in 1857 he became an ardent evangelist and temperance advocate. In 1863 he went to Australia where he became widely know as "the Yorkshire Gough" and was said to have been responsible for the conversion of tens of thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand. He was buried in Scarborough on 22 Jan 1896 and it has been assumed that he died at Scarborough, though the obituary does not state where he died. The obituary does not indicate that Matthew had been married.

GRO Index of Deaths: BURNETT, Matthew, Mar 1896, Scarborough, 9d 228 [age 57]

1 comment:

  1. Evangelism & Heavy Drinking Both Require A High Degree Of Perseverance !
    As They Say The Devil is often In The Detail !
    A Very Even Handed Account Mike.Whatever Way You Look At It, Fascinating People With Fascinating Lives.