Religiosity

and

Culture Maintenance:

The Welsh

in Colonial Australia

 

Robert Llewellyn Tyler

University of Wales, Newport

 

Abstract

Focusing on the Ballarat/Sebastopol gold mining settlements in the Australian colony of Victoria in the second half of the nineteenth century, this article examines religiosity in a Welsh immigrant community in terms of denominational allegiance, numerical strength, linguistic ethos and sectarian rivalry. The article seeks to address the relevance of this nonconformist religiosity to culture maintenance and the resilience of a discernible Welsh ethno-linguistic community in a colonial context.

 

 

It is not a boast to say that we are inherently degrees ahead of other nationalities in our religious tendencies – and this is too precious a pearl to lose – but it is the next thing to certainty that lose it we will. Unless we grasp the medicine or the treatment, we are likely to lose two particular elements of our national character, Welshness and religiosity. [1]

 

In Wales, by the middle of the nineteenth century, religiosity, specifically Protestant Nonconformity, was regarded by many as a national characteristic so much so, it has been argued, that it had become central to the idea of Welsh identity itself.[2] This image had accompanied the Welsh in their migrations overseas and areas where they settled in any significant number were soon characterized by the construction of Nonconformist chapels which were the most immediate indicators of a Welsh presence and have been described as ‘spiritual and linguistic’ centres.[3]

          In the United States, it is estimated that as many as six hundred Welsh Nonconformist chapels were built in the nineteenth century and, by 1872, the State of Wisconsin alone had as many as eighty-three which were served by forty-six ministers and fifteen lay preachers.[4] Similarly, Glyn Williams, in his study of the Welsh colony established in the Chubut valley in Patagonia in 1865, informs us that in 1879 there were three chapels in the valley but by 1896 there were seventeen and every homestead was within easy reach of their spiritual sustenance.[5]

          The Australian colonies were by no means exempt from this phenomenon. As early as 1854, Y Drysorfa, the monthly periodical of the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales, noted:

 

It is a remarkable and comforting aspect of the Welsh character that no matter where they go if there are any number of them together they establish a social place of worship in the Welsh language. In the great cities of England, in the coal mines and iron works of Scotland, in the various states of America and now on the gold fields of Australia, the Welsh emigrant must hear of the great works of God in his own language.[6]

 

          In colonial Australia and especially in the gold mining regions of Victoria and most notably the city of Ballarat and the neighbouring township of Sebastopol, Welshness, especially the language, was closely associated with a religion which pervaded almost every recognized aspect of cultural life.[7] Christian observance was perceived not only in religious terms but also as an agent of cultural preservation and acted as a physical focus for much, if not most, cultural activity. Indeed, for many, Welshness and religion were so entwined that the absence of Welsh-language preaching could mean not only a loss of adherents to the Nonconformist denominations but a loss to religion altogether. In early 1862, Y Drysorfa published a letter from the Welsh Presbytery of Victoria, Ballarat, entitled ‘A Cry from Australia’, urgently requesting the provision of ministers. The letter referred to Welsh immigrants in Victoria as, ‘standing in need of the Word of Life to be preached to them in the only language they understand and are willing to accept.’[8] In 1872, the Welsh-Australian newspaper, Yr Australydd, could note that, ‘One of the first things which strikes an aware person with any knowledge of the history of the Welsh in Australia is the large number who are completely unconcerned with religion if it is unobtainable in their own language. For some reason, if unavailable in Welsh, religious services in English are neglected.’[9] The Nonconformist chapels in Ballarat/Sebastopol, therefore, would have acted not only as social, cultural and linguistic centres but, for many, also symbolized much of what it meant to be Welsh. A study of the strength of these denominations and the role they played in defining and preserving Welshness is of importance in order to gain a better understanding of the Welsh community in the area and the maintenance of its cultural integrity.

          The emergence and growth of Welsh religious causes in Ballarat/Sebastopol has received considerable attention and it has been clearly shown that by the mid 1860s Welsh-language Nonconformity had been established throughout Victoria.[10] The Caernarfonshire-born, William Meirion Evans, a major religious leader in Victoria and the driving force behind the Colony’s two Welsh language newspapers, Yr Australydd and Yr Ymwelydd, reported the existence of seventeen places where worship was available in the Welsh language in Victoria, with fifteen chapels in the hands of the Welsh denominations and the remaining two borrowed from the Wesleyans. Of the fifteen, six belonged to the Independents, three to the Calvinistic Methodists, one to the Baptists and five had mixed congregations.[11] In addition, the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and the Independents had, by this time, formed their own Associations in Victoria.[12]

          It is impossible, due to conflicting reports, ongoing schisms and the simple lack of records, to establish the exact strength of each Welsh denomination in Ballarat/Sebastopol by the mid 1860s but Table I indicates the numbers for the three months to October 1865 as reported in the Welsh Journal, Y Beirniad, in 1873.[13]

 

Table I

Church Membership of Welsh Denominations in Ballarat and Sebastopol, 1865

 

Mixed

Calvinistic Methodist

Independent

Baptist

BALLARAT

 

 

 

 

Members

45

 

25

 

Congregation

c. 80

 

c. 75

 

Sunday School

30

 

 

 

SEBASTOPOL

 

 

 

 

Members

 

65

85

36

Congregation

 

 

c. 175

c. 60

Sunday School

 

 

87

60

 

          Y Beirniad, however, almost certainly underestimated the true strength of these denominations. William Merion Evans, at this time minister for the Calvinistic Methodists in Sebastopol and the United Welsh Protestants whose church on Armstrong Street, Ballarat, comprised the Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans and Methodists, reported preaching in the morning of 3 May 1863 in Ballarat and in the evening in Sebastopol to ‘overflowing congregations’.[14] In 1864, moreover, in the Welsh American periodical, Cyfaill o’r Hen Wlad, Evans stated that the Armstrong Street Church had regular preaching twice every Sabbath, fifty-two members, a congregation which numbered as high as 150 and a Sunday School of thirty-five. Furthermore, again according to Evans, the Calvinistic Methodists of Sebastopol had eighty members, a congregation of 125, a Sunday School numbering 120 and a temperance society.[15] Reporting on the meeting of the Ballarat District Welsh Presbyterians (Calvinistic Methodists) held on 31 December the previous year, Yr Australydd, (in February 1868), indicated that the denomination’s membership in Ballarat numbered seventy, with a Sunday School of fifty and a congregation of 170. According to the report, the Sebastopol congregation numbered 240 with ninety-two members and a Sunday School of 170.[16]

          In order to quantify the relevance of these institutions to the Welsh community in the area, especially with regard to culture maintenance, it is illustrative to focus on one church belonging to one denomination. Only Carmel Calvinistic Methodist Church in Sebastopol has known extant records for the period when the Welsh presence in the area was at its strongest. The church’s archive includes details of monthly contributions, quarterly accounts and annual reports from 1866 onwards and, while no records exist for membership or congregation size, the information drawn from these financial records (Table II) suggests that the figure of ninety-two members, reported by Yr Australydd for the end of 1867, was indeed accurate and that these records provide a good indication of church membership and the strength of the church in general.[17]

 

Table II

 Strength of Carmel Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church, Sebastopol

 

 

Number of Church Member Contributors

Amount From Church Members (£)

Amount From Congregation (£)

1866

77

84

140

1867

81

94

85

1868

125

87

95

1869

125

88

73

1870

113

76

62

1871

108

75

56

1872

100

72

50

1873

91

59

42

1874

77

37

31

1875

67

30

36

1876

60

22

29

1877

49

23

33

1878

36

16

39

1879

36

16

31

 

          If 240 (the figure for the congregation mentioned above) was likewise correct, it can be reasonably assumed from these financial records that those attending Carmel’s Welsh-language services for much of the 1860s and 1870s numbered in the hundreds. That hundreds were subjected to the Welsh language in a formal setting on a regular basis says much about the strength of Welsh culture in the area. It must also be remembered that there were two other Welsh Nonconformist denominations operating in the township and they, although perhaps to a lesser extent than the Calvinistic Methodists (see below), were also conducting their ministrations overwhelmingly in Welsh at this stage.[18] Welsh culture, as expressed through Nonconformist Protestantism in the Welsh language, was, therefore, a force in Sebastopol at this time.

          It is also instructive to attempt to identify the extent to which children were involved in the activities of the churches. The numerical strength of Carmel’s Sunday School is also calculable from material held at the church’s archive, which includes a Sunday School attendance book for the years 1863 to 1867. For each quarter the roll book gives the names of teachers, the number of classes held each Sunday and the average attendance for the quarter (Table III).

 

Table III

 Student and Teacher Numbers at Carmel Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church, Sebastopol

 

1863

1864

1865

1866

1867

Teachers

12

12

12

12

12

12

12

13

12

11

15

15

18

19

20

Student

Average

 

87

 

82

 

72

 

68

 

62

 

68

 

65

 

85

 

94

 

 

 

 

112

 

122

 

128

 

          The first records are for the last quarter, October to December, of 1863, and show that for that period there were, each Sunday, twelve teachers who were responsible for, on average, eighty-seven students. The last quarter of 1865 saw twelve teachers responsible for, on average, ninety-four students. The final entry, for the second quarter, April to June 1867, by which time the new chapel had been built on Albert Street, shows that the school had continued to grow, with twenty teachers and an average of 128 pupils. The records, kept entirely in Welsh, also document the work completed, including the number of Bible verses learnt by students in the Welsh language, and clearly indicate that, at this stage at least, the school operated in that language.[19] Although the records cease at this point, the numbers attending the Sunday School can be gleaned from the pages of Yr Australydd and Yr Ymwelydd and intermittently charted from November 1869 to July 1875 (Table IV).[20]

 

Table IV

Student and Teacher Numbers at Carmel Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church, Sebastopol

 

1869

1870

1871

1872

1875

Teachers

24

24

21

20

19

20

18

18

14

Pupils

114

115

112

98

100

104

93

92

76

 

          The only indication of the actual ages of the children attending these schools is found in Yr Ymwelydd for July 1875, which reveals that fifty-one of the seventy-six pupils (67.1 per cent), at the Sebastopol Sunday School in the first quarter of that year were under the age of fifteen.[21] If this proportion is applied to the years when the school was at its peak, it is not unreasonable to assume that as many as a hundred under fifteen year olds were receiving religious education through the medium of Welsh from the mid 1860s to the early 1870s. When one considers that, according to the 1871 census, the total number of children in Sebastopol aged between five and nine was 1,028 and between ten and fifteen, 671, then the strength of the Welsh community can be appreciated, especially when only one of three Welsh Church Sunday Schools in the township is included in the equation.[22]

          Further, regarding language use, a letter from J.R., which appeared in Yr Australydd in August 1871, had this to say about the linguistic situation in the Welsh Sunday Schools of Sebastopol:

 

I understand that Welsh is the language of the Sunday School at Carmel Chapel [Calvinistic Methodist], Sebastopol, which is, as far as I know, the largest Welsh Sunday School in the colony. Welsh, I understand, is taught to some of the youngsters at Tabernacle Sunday School [Baptist] in the same place, although I have no information regarding Zion Sunday School [Independent] also in Sebastopol.[23]

 

It seems, therefore, that Welsh remained dominant in the classes at Carmel and that a significant proportion of the township’s children would have remained fully conversant in that language into the 1870s.[24]

          Unfortunately, only the Calvinistic Methodists of Sebastopol have retained any officially recorded material of this nature and it is therefore impossible to gain an accurate indication of the strength and linguistic ethos of the other denominations in Ballarat/Sebastopol. Nevertheless, reports in the contemporary Victorian press, both Welsh and English, indicate that the Independents and Baptists were active in the area and held the allegiance of large numbers of Welsh people. A ‘cyfarfod te’ (tea meeting) at the Ballarat Welsh Independent Chapel in February 1868, for example, attracted as many as five hundred people.[25] It is important to note, however, that at this time the Baptists and the Independents in Wales belonged to ecclesiastical unions that embraced both England and Wales whereas the Calvinistic Methodists were the only Nonconformist denomination of Welsh origin with no affiliation to an English religious body.[26] It is likely, therefore, that the language of these denominations would have been influenced by this fact. From press reports, however, it is frequently, if not always, clear that Welsh was the main or sole medium of communication for much of the period for all three denominations. During the October 1867 induction of the Revd D. M. Davies as minister of Zion, the Welsh Independent chapel in Sebastopol, for example, there were seven sermons in Welsh and only two in English.[27] Furthermore, one of the only known records of a Welsh denomination, other than the Calvinistic Methodists, the minute book of the Ballarat Congregational (Independent) Church, which survives for the period from 11 May 1865 to 11 May 1869, is written entirely in Welsh.[28]

          Certainly, therefore, Welsh-language Nonconformity was a significant force in Ballarat/Sebastopol and the chapel was the most immediately recognizable indicator of the existence of a Welsh community. To what extent, however, did the Welsh themselves identify with the most visible of their cultural institutions? Did the Welsh people who lived in the area give their loyalty to the Nonconformist churches to the extent to which the presence of so many chapels suggests?

          It is possible to identify Welsh denominational loyalty from the records of the Ballarat District Hospital which requested the name, address, age, place of birth and religion of each patient treated. The religion of almost every Welsh-born person treated at the hospital was listed from the year when that information was first recorded, 1862, until the end of the century. Some individuals were, no doubt, counted more than once, but as it is unlikely that the membership of one denomination was more susceptible to debilitating illness or injury than another, it is equally unlikely that the results were adversely affected.[29] Table V, therefore, gives a picture of Welsh religious allegiance in the wider Ballarat area in the second half of the nineteenth century.[30]

 

Table V

Welsh Religious Affiliations in the Ballarat Area, 1862-1899

 

Church of England

Wesleyans

Calvinistic Methodists

Indepen-dents

Baptists

Other

%

41.9

15.1

13.0

12.6

12.6

4.8

no

260

94

81

78

78

30

 

          What stands out immediately is the large percentage of those listed as Church of England, a figure far in excess of that which might have been expected considering the perceived strength of Nonconformity in Wales at that time. It is likely, however, that as almost every individual treated at the hospital had been accorded a religion this figure included not only the Anglican proportion of the population but also those who were indifferent or unclear regarding religious allegiance and affiliation. The unavailability of Welsh denominations in some of the outlying areas could also have been responsible for Welsh individuals attending Anglican churches. Furthermore, it would be wrong to suggest that Welsh-born Anglicans were divorced from the Welsh community. Robert Lewis, local businessman, politician, sometime Mayor of Ballarat and a major figure in the area’s Welsh life, was Anglican and many Anglicans were, of course, Welsh-speaking.[31] However, if Anglicans could and did enjoy services in Welsh in Wales that does not appear to have been the case in Ballarat/Sebastopol as no evidence exists of Anglican services in that language. Likewise, while there were Wesleyan Methodists in attendance at the Welsh Church at Armstrong Street in Ballarat, no Welsh Wesleyan Church existed in the area which meant that those Wesleyans who put denomination before language were similarly unable to worship in Welsh. These figures, therefore, suggest the possibility that a large proportion of Welsh-born people in Ballarat/Sebastopol were not fully involved in the religiously-defined Welsh-language culture of the area.

          The unexpectedly high percentage of those recorded as Anglicans could also have been a result of movements away from the Welsh churches caused by denominational rivalries. [32] The conflict that existed between and frequently within the Welsh churches merits attention as it appears to have pervaded Welsh religious life in the area and had an impact on the unity of the community. For a time, at least, harmony existed between the denominations as the Welsh strove to establish their causes in the new gold field settlements and interdenominational strife was not necessarily the norm. Co-operation was apparent with preachers from each denomination leading services in the chapels of the others. The opening services of a new chapel belonging to the Welsh Independents in Ballarat on 23 and 24 of June 1866, for example, included preachers from the Calvinistic Methodists and the Baptists.[33] Furthermore, denominational division did not necessarily carry over into the social life of the Welsh community. A report of a concert given by Sebastopol’s Gomer Choir at the Mechanics’ Hall, Ballarat, on 22 November 1869, is a case in point. The concert raised the sum of £60 towards Carmel Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Sebastopol, and caused the reporter from Yr Australydd to comment on the fact that the choir was ‘made up of members and adherents of the different chapels’.[34] Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression gained from a study of the Welsh in Victoria during these years is that the religious conflict that existed was harmful to the formation and continuation of a cohesive Welsh community. A letter which appeared in Melbourne’s Argus as early as 10 July 1855 says much about the conflict of interest between Welsh cultural identity and denominational loyalty:

 

In this city we have a sufficient number of Welsh to fill one of the largest chapels, if their interest could only be properly excited. The difficulty in doing so arises, to some considerable extent, from their being divided and arraigned under distinct denominational badges. Were these badges, of man’s invention, expunged from our vocabulary, and a combination effected on the broad basis of the evangelical genius and spirit of Christianity...then a very interesting Welsh Church could be established.[35]

 

          Denominational divisions not only prevented the establishment of one Welsh religious body in the colony it also actively prevented cultural unity and the success of specifically Welsh ventures. William Meirion Evans was fully aware of the damage denominational rivalry did to Welsh cultural unity. His first attempt at establishing a Welsh-language publication in the colony, Yr Ymgeisydd, died at birth and at one stage his attempts to garner support for Yr Australydd were confined to a mere two hundred subscribers. Evans was convinced that this lack of support was due to rumours that the periodical would be of a ‘sectarian type’ and a fear among his own denomination, the Calvinistic Methodists, that it would ‘concentrate religious advantages and power in the Ballarat District.’[36] These concerns prompted Evans and his aides to include the following guarantee in the first issue of Yr Australydd:

 

Yr Australydd makes its appearance as a result of a decision made in the half yearly church association meeting of the Welsh Presbyterians (Calvinistic Methodists) in Sebastopol. Although the Presbyterians as a connexion are responsible for its beginning it is intended to serve the Welsh Nation in Australia as far as it can be of service. It is not our intention to make Yr Australydd the publication of one denomination or faction, rather the intention of the denomination responsible for its inception is to do its utmost to serve all in every way – the intent is to serve our nation in literature, morality and religion. [37]

 

          These assurances were to no avail, however, and the demise of the periodical’s successor, Yr Ymwelydd, in 1876 caused Evans to later write in his journal, ‘only from an ever-destructive denominational prejudice, its existence, as a national religious medium ought to have continued up to the present.’[38] Indeed, these rivalries could appear in a variety of situations, often without apparent cause or reason. Yr Australydd, without giving details, reported of a public meeting held by the Calvinistic Methodists on 23 April 1867:

 

Some of the speakers produced feelings of considerable unhappiness among most listeners. Some of their addresses were quite unbrotherly and ungentlemanly. It is a pity that men do not have sufficient common sense to let pass denominational and national matters in an assembly of different denominations and nationalities. Every denomination and nationality should be on the same level in a meeting of this nature. [39]

 

In 1870, a letter from ‘Cyfaill Mewn Caledi’ explaining the demise of the Colony’s eisteddfod stated, ‘There are several opinions abroad concerning the nature of its mortal illness. Some suppose that too many Methodists made up the committee, others that too many Independents were in evidence.’[40]

          This lack of harmony and, therefore, unity was certainly a cause for concern but it appears that most were resigned to the inevitable. In 1872, the editors of Yr Australydd while hoping for ‘less strife and partisanship between the different Welsh denominations’ acknowledged that, ‘Mixing the denominations has been one of the greatest evils…The world is far from being sufficiently perfect for the denominations to live together on equal ground.’[41] They were proved correct when the nature of interdenominational strife was further illustrated by a disagreement which occurred within the ranks of the United Welsh Protestants whose church on Armstrong Street, Ballarat, comprised, as previously noted, the Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans and Methodists. In a letter from the secretary of the church, J. A. Jones, that appeared in the March 1872 issue of Yr Australydd, it was revealed that a dispute had arisen between the denominations when government permission was required to mortgage church property to persons who had lent the sum of £250 for the purchase of new pews.[42] While the details remain obscure, the consequence of the disagreement saw the Independent minister, D. M. Davies, oppose what he regarded as the ‘Methodisteiddio’ (Methodistizing) of the church. The dispute took on a clear denominational character and led to Davies asserting that the chapel ‘belonged equally to the four denominations’ and that ‘the present endeavour is an attempt by one denomination to take possession of the chapel.’[43]

          Examples of the reluctance of Welsh individuals to find comfort within the ranks of other denominations are to be found throughout the period. As Ebenezer Lewis, a subscriber to Yr Ymwelydd, candidly put it in a letter to W. M. Evans in May 1876, ‘It is very difficult for someone who has been brought up in the Methodist Church to make his home in another denomination.’[44] The exasperation felt by some regarding this phenomenon is perhaps best summed up by the famous Welsh Swagman, Joseph Jenkins, who observed from the Castlemaine district in February 1879, ‘Four miles away there are three chapels belonging to different denominations. They are so close together that they are for ever quarrelling. Mrs Lewis and her son walked to chapel to listen to a Welsh sermon, and I walked into the Bush to meet my God.’[45]

          It is also illustrative to note that religious conflict was not absent from the internal dealings of the denominations themselves. The minute book of the Ballarat Welsh Independent Church which exists, as noted above, from May 1865 to May 1869, contains examples of disagreements that rival anything that existed between the denominations comprising the United Welsh Protestant Church. A special meeting of the church was called on 9 October 1866 to discuss the activities of one Lewis Evans who had been making accusations against Morgan Llewelyn and the church’s minister, the Revd Farr. Evans had suggested that ‘Mr Llewelyn had become a deacon of the Church through unfair means’ and that ‘the Church’s money could not be trusted in the hands of Mr Llewelyn.’ Evans was further accused of praying to God that He ‘would in some way remove the minister or instead kill him’ and of suggesting that the Revd Farr and Llewellyn were ‘conducting affairs at the Church in a Papist manner.’ At the meeting Evans admitted all and retracted nothing, going so far as to refer to Llewelyn as ‘a religious idiot’. Evans was subsequently expelled from the church along with one Isaac Hughes who had accused the minister of forgery.[46]

          Although the relationship between denominational conflict and the decline of Welsh religious causes is not immediately apparent, it can be safely assumed that this bickering did not enhance the reputation of the churches. By the early 1870s, a certain pessimism pervaded the writing of those concerned with the religious and, indeed, national strength of the Welsh community. In an article concerning the importance of the attempt to establish a Welsh colony in Patagonia that appeared in Yr Australydd in March 1872 the writer, ‘Yr Hanesydd’, referred to the situation in Australia in bleak terms:

 

There is room to fear that a large number of Welsh people in this country were once religious adherents but by now are rapidly falling to such a degenerate state that there is not a minute to waste in organizing their succour.[47]

 

In the mid 1870s this pessimism grew apace as expressed by the correspondent Berachah who wrote in 1876:

 

If we look forward to the future we can do nothing less than think it to be rather difficult and dark socially and in terms of religion, not due to our lack of natural ability but because of the circumstance of being scattered and forced to live with the ‘refuse of every nation’.[48]

 

Another correspondent, J.G., writing in Yr Ymwelydd in 1876 expressed sadness that numbers at the Eaglehawk Sunday School were not as high as they once were but suggested that the decline in the local Welsh population was not solely responsible:

 

It is true we have lost many who have moved from the area but it would be wrong to hide the truth, this is not the main reason for the decline in our numbers which in fact is due to those who have resigned themselves to being unfaithful to their master which means everyone who does not do his best in the cause of the Son of God.[49]

 

          The spiralling fortunes of the Welsh causes were apparent in the meetings of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Association of Victoria, formed 1863, which had, by 1877, declined in regularity from twice to once annually.[50] Moreover, G. R. Jones of Maryborough in a letter to Ellis Edwards in Wales in September 1886 noted, ‘I have met a great many Welsh people [he had arrived in Australia that year], and have preached about 18 times. The Calvinistic Methodist denomination has only about 4 churches in the colony and these, with the exception of Melbourne church, are very weak.’[51] The Ballarat Courier, in an 1898 obituary for the Revd W. Thomas, also alluded to the fate which had befallen the Welsh churches in the area during the preceding decades. Following his appointment as pastor to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church in Sebastopol in 1871, the obituary stated:

 

He continued in that connection for a lengthened period and, ultimately, in consequence of the decrease of the Welsh residents, he became the pastor of the Zion Welsh Congregational (Independent) Church and from time to time he paid periodic visits to Egerton, Maryborough, and Melbourne, where he conducted services in the respective Welsh Churches. For many years he occupied the pulpit of the Welsh Church, Armstrong Street, Ballarat, one Sunday each month, but of late years that body has discontinued Welsh services and in consequence his services were dispensed with and a regular pastor appointed.[52]

 

          The decline in strength of the Welsh denominations was accompanied by a decline in the position of the Welsh language. While this may appear to have been unavoidable in view of inevitable linguistic change within the Welsh community, examples of the displacement of Welsh in a purely religious context serve to illustrate and highlight the process. John A. Jones, the inspector of Sebastopol’s Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Sunday School, while sympathetic to the language was in no doubt as to the priorities of those schools. Jones had stated, ‘the purpose of the Sunday School is to cultivate the mind and not to teach a language’, and it appears that as the years wore on the same decision was reached about the function of the Welsh churches in general.[53] In November 1876, the response of the Victorian Calvinistic Methodists to a dispatch received from Melbourne drawing attention to the need for English to be used in the denomination’s chapels was that:

 

encouragement should be given to the churches, as far as is possible, to spend some part of the Sabbath holding English services and to endeavour to get preachers from English denominations to assist and also that we instruct our secretary in his letter to the Association in the Old Country to urge them to send workers who can serve in both Welsh and English. [54]

 

          Other indications of increasing anglicisation are legion. A letter to W. M. Evans from Thomas Williams, Mosquito Flat, in June 1877, bemoaned the fact that, ‘We receive no means of grace here at present except in the (Sunday) school and that is mixed as usual.’[55] Robert Lewis wrote from Ballarat in 1877, ‘We have a very good Welsh preacher that came out lately to Melbourne, Mr Jones late Treforis near Swansea he only preaches in English.’[56] The Welsh periodical, Y Drysorfa, reporting on the annual Calvinistic Methodist Assembly of Victoria at Sebastopol in July 1882 noted that two thirds of the preaching was in English.[57] The Constitutional Deed and the Rules of Order of Debate of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists Connexion in Victoria, printed in 1878 and 1883, were entirely in English.[58] A letter of July 1893 from J. Evans of the Calvinistic Methodists in Victoria to E. Edwards in Wales remarked on the situation, ‘Here we are, numbering, they say, about 5000 souls all told throughout the colony, having seven or eight churches and only two ministers who can preach in Welsh...We are adhering affectionately to our dear language and our Methodism but we must have food or we will die’[59] The final word goes to the Welsh Independents of Zion Chapel, Sebastopol, whose minute book of 9 March 1910, included the motion that, ‘The notice over the church door, which misleads people into thinking that the services are conducted in Welsh, be painted out.’[60]

          Organised religion worked both for and against the retention of Welsh culture in Ballarat/Sebastopol in the second half of the nineteenth century. Certainly, it provided a focus for the community, an outlet for information and a place where, for some time, Welsh remained the language of both formal and informal interaction. It did not, however, unite the vast majority of Welsh-born people in the area. Apart from the significant, if indeterminate, number who were absent from the religious scene altogether, the religious Welsh were further divided. Not only were they split between Anglican and Nonconformist but the Nonconformists were further divided among themselves. The acrimonious rifts in the Ballarat’s United Welsh Protestant Church attest to the fact that union on the strength of nationality and language was impossible in the face of division on the strength of doctrine or even ecclesiological preference and perhaps as few as 50 per cent of Welsh immigrants regularly attended Welsh-language services. Indeed, it can be argued that the association of Welsh ethnolinguistic identity with religion – specifically Nonconformity – served to disenfranchise a large, if not the major, part of the Welsh population from their own national community. Ultimately, the decline in the vitality of the Welsh causes was accompanied by and associated with the acculturation and assimilation of the Welsh immigrant community as a whole, a process in which changing levels and practices of religious observance was only one part.

 

 

 

 



[1] Yr Ymwelydd, Welsh-language newspaper published in Melbourne, Victoria, October 1874 - December 1876 held at State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (NLW). From a letter from a correspondent, Berachah, (March 1876), 61. Much of the material used in this article was originally written in the Welsh language. In translating from the Welsh I have endeavoured to adhere, as closely as possible, to the original meaning, which has resulted in the use of some stilted and clumsy English.

[2] For a discussion of this and related phenomena, see, for example, Prys Morgan, ‘Keeping the Legends Alive’, in T. Curtis (ed.), Wales the Imagined Nation: Essays in Cultural and National Identity (Bridgend, 1986), 19-41; Merfyn Jones, ‘Beyond Identity? The Reconstruction of the Welsh’, in the Journal of British Studies, 31/4, (October 1992).

[3] Robert Owen Jones, ‘The Welsh Language in Patagonia’, in Geraint Jenkins (ed.), Language and Community in the Nineteenth Century (Cardiff, 1998), 289.

[4] Phillip G. Davies, Hanes Cymry America: A History of the Welsh in America (Lanham, MD, 1983), 13.

[5] Glyn Williams, The Welsh in Patagonia, the State and the Ethnic Community (Cardiff, 1991), 95-96.

[6] Y Drysorfa (August 1854), 266-7

[7] The Ballarat/Sebastopol area, that lies some sixty miles to the north west of Melbourne, Victoria in the south eastern corner of Australia, has long been noted as a centre of Welsh cultural life in the second half of the nineteenth century and here the Welsh were certainly to be found in sufficient numbers to enable the emergence of a discernible ethnolinguistic community. See Myfi Williams, Cymry Awstralia (Llandybïe, 1983); Lewis Lloyd, Australians from Wales (Gwynedd, 1988); A. F. Hughes, ‘Welsh’, in J. Jupp (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopaedia of the Nation, its People and their Origins (Sydney, 1988), 840-5; W. D. Jones, ‘“From a Country Called Wales”: The Welsh in Australia Symposium’, Australian Folklore, 13 (1998); idem, ‘Welsh Identities in Ballarat, Australia, During the Late Nineteenth Century’, in The Welsh History Review, 20/2, (December 2000); idem, ‘Cymry “Gwlad yr Aur”: Ymfudwyr Cymreig yn Ballarat, Awstralia, yn Ail Hanner y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Bymtheg’, in Llafur, Cylchgrawn Hanes Llafur Cymru, Journal of Welsh Labour History, 8/2 (2001); idem, ‘Welsh Identities in Colonial Ballarat’, in The Journal of Australian Studies (June 2001); idem and Aled Jones, ‘The Welsh World and the British Empire, c. 1851-1939: An Exploration’, in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 31/2 (May 2003). For an account of the formation and development of the Ballarat area, see W. Bate, Lucky City: The First Generation at Ballarat 1851-1901 (Melbourne, 1978).

[8] Y Drysorfa (January 1862), 20-1.

[9] Yr Australydd, Welsh language newspaper published in Ballarat and Melbourne, Victoria, July 1866 to February 1871, April 1871 to September 1872 held at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia and the NLW. Editorial on ‘Missionary Spirit’ (January 1872), 6.

[10] For a full account of these developments see, ‘Achosion Crefyddol Cymreig yn Australia’, Y Beirniad, XIV (October 1872), 146-58; (January 1873), 263-76; and (April 1873), 338-47.  Myfi Wiliams, Cymry Awstralia, 42-68.  Yr Australydd (December 1870), 282-3; (January 1871), 305-6; Emyr Gwynne Jones, ‘Annibynwyr Cymraeg Awstralia’, Y Cofiadur (March 1956), 14-23; Bob Owen, ‘Bedyddwyr Cymreig Awstralia, 1851-80’, Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes Bedyddwyr Cymru, 42-50; Rev. W. Hughes, Memoirs of J. A. Jones, Ballarat (Anglesey, n.d.); William Rhys Jenkins, Carmel Welsh Presbyterian Church, Sebastopol: Centenary 1861-1961: 100 Years of Witness (Ballarat, 1961); Evan D. Jenkins, An Historical Survey of Early Sebastopol, 1864-1964 (Sebastopol, 1964); Arthur J. Jenkins, A History of Carmel Welsh Presbyterian Church, Sebastopol From its Beginning Until the Present Time (Sebastopol, 1991); Evan D. Jenkins, ‘History of the Welsh Church Sebastopol’, unpublished MS, Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[11] Biography of W.M. Evans, 91. English Translation of his biography held at the Welsh Church Archive, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and the National Library of Wales, FACS 680.

[12] Ibid., p.86. Myfi Williams, Cymry Awstralia, 49. Yr Australydd, passim.

[13] Y Beirniad, XIV (April 1873), 347.

[14] Biography of W.M. Evans, 83.

[15] Cyfaill o’r Hen Wlad (September 1864), 276-8.

[16] Yr Australydd (February 1868), 183.

[17] Archive of Carmel Welsh Church, Albert Street, Sebastopol.

[18] Yr Australydd, Yr Ymwelydd, passim. That Welsh remained the language of most of the religious activities of the Welsh Chapels into the 1870s is left in no doubt by a close study of the newspapers produced during that time.

[19] Book containing the accounts of the Sunday School belonging to Carmel Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel Sebastopol. Archive of Carmel Welsh Church, Albert Street, Sebastopol.

[20] Figures from Yr Australydd, (November 1869), 255; (February 1870), 45; (May 1870), 117; (May 1871), 11; (August 1871), 10; (November 1871), 9; (January 1872), 3; (May 1872), 10; Yr Ymwelydd (July 1875), 233.

[21] Yr Ymwelydd (July 1875), 233.

[22] Census report, Victoria 1871.

[23] Yr Australydd (August 1871), 4.

[24] Ibid., (May 1870), 117.

[25] Ibid., (April 1868), 235.

[26] See, E. T. Davies, Religion and Society in the Nineteenth Century (Llandybïe, 1981), 70.

[27] Yr Australydd (December 1867), 136.

[28] Minute Book of the Ballarat Congregational Church 1865-1869, Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[29] It is, for example, impossible to be certain of the identity of women who had married or remarried and thus presented with different surnames.

[30] The ‘Other’ category includes ten Roman Catholics, various other sects and those of indeterminate denomination.

[31] Ieuan Gwynedd Jones gives the example of the county of Caernarfonshire where, of the 102 services held in its Anglican churches on each Sunday in the three autumn months of 1848, only seven had been in English. See Explorations and Explanations: Essays in the Social History of Victorian Wales (Llandysul, 1981), 35.

[32] The differences behind the denominational conflicts which plagued Welsh religious life both in Wales and abroad are not immediately evident and during my research the actual bones of contention were rarely apparent in any detail. They appear primarily to have been less concerned with differences in ritual and more with the way in which the church was governed, with denominations such as the Independents advocating leadership by the entire congregation while the Calvinistic Methodists preferred a presbyterian approach with an elected church government. The significance of the different ways in which the churches were governed lay in the fact that they reflected each denomination’s interpretation of the individual’s relationship with God.

[33] Yr Australydd (July 1866), 15.

[34] Ibid., (March 1870), 69.

[35] Argus (10 July 1855), 6.

[36] Biography of W. M. Evans, 95.

[37] Yr Australydd (July 1866), 2.

[38] Biography of W. M. Evans, 129.

[39] Yr Australydd (June 1867), 188.

[40] Ibid., (February 1870), 41.

[41] Ibid., (January 1872), 6-7.

[42] Ibid., (March 1872), 3.

[43] Ibid., (April 1872), 4.

[44] Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[45] Joseph Jenkins, Diary of a Welsh Swagman, 1869-1894, ed. William Evans, (Melbourne, 1975), 85. Joseph Jenkins emigrated from Cardiganshire to Australia in 1869 and spent twenty-five years in Victoria working in the Ballarat and Castlemaine area.

[46] Minute Book of the Ballarat Congregational Church 1865-1869, Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[47] Yr Awstralydd (March 1872), 6.

[48] Yr Ymwelydd (March 1876), 60-1.

[49] Ibid., pp.70-1.

[50] The Association  Assembly Proceedings of the Calvinistic Methodists, or Welsh Prebyterians. Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[51] Calvinistic Methodist Archives, NLW CM 15793.

[52] Ballarat Courier (14 February 1898), 2.

[53] Yr Australydd (May 1870), 118.

[54] Report of the Twenty Seventh Assembly of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, Sebastopol 25, 26 and 27 November 1876. The Assembly Proceedings of the Calvinistic Methodists, or Welsh Prebyterians, 135. Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[55] Welsh Church Archive, La Trobe Street, Melbourne.

[56] Letter to Philip Williams, Aberystwyth, Wales, from Lester’s Hotel, Dana Street, Ballarat October 2 1877. Robert Lewis Papers NLA MS 2452.

[57] Y Drysorfa (November 1882), 432-3.

[58] Constitutional Deed: Declaration of the objects and regulations of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Connexion in Victoria, 5-30. Rules of Order and Debate to be observed in the General Associations and District meetings of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, 31-4. 22 April 1878 and 1883. Printed by James Curtis, Ballarat.

[59] Calvinistic Methodist Archives NLW CM 15645, 15736.

[60] Jenkins, An Historical Survey.