"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

The Church in Australia

by William G. Eggington

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was introduced into Australia when a seventeen-year-old British convert, William James Barratt, emigrated from England to Adelaide in November 1840. He had been ordained an elder by George A. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who instructed him to share the gospel whenever he could. Barratt, whose descendants still live in the Adelaide area, eventually drifted away from the Church, but not until after he had baptized Robert Beauchamp, probably the first Australian convert. Beauchamp later became president of the Australian mission. Andrew and Elizabeth Anderson, also British converts, immigrated to Wellington, near Dubbo, New South Wales, with their three children in 1841. Anderson baptized several converts and in 1844 organized the first Australian branch of the Church, in Wellington.

Beginning in 1853, Church leaders in Sydney, Australia, published a monthly periodical entitled The Zion's Watchman, addressed "To the Saints and all the friends of Truth." Courtesy Rare Books and Manuscripts, Brigham Young University.

Official LDS missionary work did not begin in Australia until John Murdock and Charles W. Wandell arrived in Sydney from Utah on October 30, 1851. Thereafter, the Church grew slowly in Australia until President David O. McKay visited the area in 1955 and authorized construction of meetinghouses for the branches. The first Australian stakes were organized in 1960 in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Significant growth has continued since then, leading to the building of a temple in Sydney. It was dedicated in September 1984. By 1990 the Church was strong throughout Australia, with the Pacific Area presidency based in Sydney, and with a temple, 5 missions, 18 stakes, and 205 wards and branches serving 73,200 members in the country as a whole. Australian members of the Church appear to have successfully blended their cultural values of ruggedness and individualism with gospel teachings, creating a uniquely Australian Church culture.

The early days of the Church in Australia were difficult. Prompted by the public preaching of the LDS missionaries, newspapers published articles attacking the Church's doctrines. The missionaries countered with articles, tracts, and spirited defenses of the Church and its teachings in public meetings, many of which were held at the Sydney racecourse. Many of the early converts immigrated to Utah in the spirit of gathering to Zion, some dying en route in the wreck of the Julia Ann in 1852 (Devitry-Smith, 1989). This spirit of migration also brought to Australia a significant number of British Saints who were hoping to find gold in the newly discovered goldfields in order to fund their further travel to Utah. Most were unsuccessful in reaching their monetary goal. After 1900 Church leaders encouraged members to stay in their own nations to strengthen the local membership.

When the American missionaries were called home during the Utah expedition in 1857, the Church branches in Australia were left to the few members who had not emigrated. When the missionaries returned to the region a few years later, much of their effort was directed toward New Zealand, where many Maoris were joining the Church. During the 1880s the Sydney Branch was discontinued, but the Melbourne Branch remained strong. In 1896, the Sydney Branch was reestablished, and in 1898 the Australian Mission, which then also included New Zealand, was divided, making New Zealand a separate mission. In 1904, with Church assistance in funding, the Brisbane Saints built the first LDS meetinghouse in Australia at Wooloongabba.

Most members of the Church in Australia live in large cities and towns, but many branches also thrive in small rural towns and communities throughout the Australian bush and outback. A small meetinghouse to accommodate aboriginal members of the Church was erected in 1984 at Elliott, about 450 miles south of Darwin. Many Australian members travel considerable distances to attend Church meetings; for example, members of the Alice Springs Branch travel more than 900 miles to attend district conferences in Darwin. Other members live in outback communities totally isolated from personal contact with organized branches. In 1929, recognizing the need for better communication among members scattered over such a large area as Australia, mission president Clarence Tingey began publication of Austral Star, which provided members with local and international news of the Church and messages and instructions from Church leaders.

Among prominent Church members with Australian connections are Joseph Ridges, the designer of the original Mormon Tabernacle organ; William Fowler, author of the LDS hymn "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet"; and Robert E. Sackley of the Quorums of the Seventy. Both Marion G. Romney and Bruce R. McConkie, later of the Council of the Twelve, served missions in Australia.


LDS chapel in Sydney, Australia (c. 1962). Missionary work progressed slowly in Australia from 1840 until the 1950's. The first LDS meetinghouse was built in Brisbane in 1906. New meetinghouses authorized by David O. McKay in the 1950s accelerated Church growth.


Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City, 1986.

Devitry-Smith, John. "William James Barratt: The First Mormon Down Under." BYU Studies 28 (Summer 1988):53-66.

Devitry-Smith, John. "The Wreck of the Julia Ann." BYU Studies 29 (Spring 1989):5-29.

Newton, Marjorie. "The Gathering of the Australian Saints in the 1850s." BYU Studies 27 (Spring 1987):67-78.


Web LightPlanet

Related Links

Recommended Books


Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, The Church in Australia

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company