The Salvation Army caused a furore in Ballarat in the early 1890s by marching through the streets of Ballarat West on a Sunday, causing John Whitman Grey to question whether Ballarat citizens were going to give up the streets of their city to a  ‘howling rabble to march through when they pleased’.

Grey hoped that more would vote against the Salvation Army and added that it served them right if they went to gaol. ‘Utter Bunkum’ writing for the local newspaper said ‘how much longer are good kind-hearted people to be fooled by this aggressive vulgar mob’ and another journalist described them as being ‘like a set of maniacs, running wild, jumping about, beating drums, clapping hands and going through all the antics of a monkey on a street organ’.

Withers in his History of Ballarat writes that the Salvation Army opened its campaign early in the 1880s the commanding officer being Major Barker. A branch of the Prison Gate Brigade was opened in August 1885. 

When General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army visited Ballarat in the 1890s the organisation was well established. Emphasis was placed on the social questions of poverty and immorality and was often highlighted by marching and singing in the streets.

Mayor C. C. Shoppee pointed out that these marches contravened the City of Ballarat’s Bye-Laws. This civil disobedience campaign enacted by the Salvation Army throughout Australia, Ballarat being one of the most active centres, culminated in the imprisonment of seven officers at Ballarat Gaol. Tom Touchstone (Thomas Bury) commented that the Salvation Army should have no special rights over other citizens.

According to a Ballarat shopkeeper the Council might as well allow businesses, shops, museums, libraries, and so forth, to open as well, if they were going to allow the Salvation Army to disturb the peace on Sundays. ‘If they are doing good, why do they break the Bye-Laws and encourage other people to do so? If people cannot worship God without all the noise of tamborines and drums, they should give it up altogether!’

The arguments raged, the Salvationists were gaoled and served their prison sentences. The Courier devoted pages to the issue in October 1891 writing that the Melbourne papers misunderstood the local situation. James Oddie organised a meeting at the Alfred Hall to protest against the imprisonment of members of the Salvation Army. Bishop Samuel Thornton and others wrote many letters to the editor and monster meetings were held. 

Barbara Bolton in Booth’s Drum indicates that because the Army was firm in its convictions, and because the Council was losing support, a compromise was reached and a referendum involving the north, central and south Wards took place on 30 October 1891. Amidst cheers Mayor Shoppee said that while he was Mayor he would uphold the Bye-Laws of the City and that he trusted that the Salvation Army would be satisfied with the decision in the future. A small majority voted against the march.

The exhibition ‘The Salvos – Gaoled in Ballarat’ commemorated 120 years and was launched on Tuesday 5 August at the SMB Amenities Building. It featured the collections of the Salvation Army and the University of Ballarat Art and Historical Collections. 

Salvos Exhibition