Healers: James William Wood and the frontiers of religious innovation.

James William Wood (1830-1916)

The biographical approach to piecing together early Pentecostal history has been a useful tool. It has provided us, for instance, with good material on major figures such as John Alexander Dowie, whose contribution to both early Australian Pentecostalism (Chant, 2011) and international proto-pentecostalism (Dayton, 1987) are now well-described. Emerging work, on the other hand, suggests that it is not enough. First, biographical approaches only begin to assume contextual meaning when they exist within a profusion of other biographies. This requires at least a number of scholars working in the same field, preferably in contact with one another. This has not been the case in Australian pentecostalism. Secondly, even once all the ‘bits’ have been put together, the whole can escape the historian. So, we know something about Dowie’s personal healing ministry after the outbreak of a measles/ scarlet fever epidemic along Australia’s east coast in 1875-76 (Chant, 1992), but the more general context of divine healing during the period in Australia is not well understood. There is also something of a biographical fallacy at work –in search of his ‘significant’ work, biographers of Dowie have tended to jump directly from Newtown to independent ministry to the Melbourne tabernacle. His period with the Salvation Army in Adelaide and Melbourne is glossed over, as is the larger circle of divine healers who – closer attention would suggest – were working consciously in the same circles as Dowie. In part this is a matter of sources – even such a competent historian as Chant tends to depend on the major newspapers of the day rather than the denominational press. Much of the fine detail is thus missed.

One way of filling out the story of an international figure such as Dowie is to track the stories of their less well-known associates. One of these was James William Wood (b.20 Sept 1830-d.17 Feb 1916, Portslade, Sussex), a native of Maresfield, Sussex who migrated to Australia in the late 1850s, presumably as part of the global interest provoked by the Australian goldfields.[1] The son of Richard Wood and Lydia Lewry, Wood married Phillis Atkins (or Aitken/ Aitkins) (b. c. 1839, Aberdeenshire, Scotland-d. 21 Oct 1882) in Launceston, Tasmania (27 May 1862), with whom he had a large if somewhat fragile family. Many of his children died young,[2] though four seem to have survived him.[3] He himself would in part explain his search for healing as a result of 25 years of ‘continuous indisposition’, during which he had ‘consulted doctors without end’ and took ‘enough medicine to sink a ship.’[4] Wood was a mining agent and stockbroker, living at ‘Woodlands’ in Northcote, Melbourne, but active around Ballarat and from an office in Little Collins Street, Melbourne. Apart from insolvencies in 1866 and 1875,[5] he seems to have been a pragmatic businessman, raising finance,[6] organising mining companies and their activities,[7] and active in attempts to have railway extended to Northcote.[8] Wood appears in reference to healing around 1883, shortly after the death of his wife in 1882. (Wood does not mention this coincidence in press reports, but the timing is suggestive). Having been ill for many years, he reports calling on God some time in 1883, and his pain disappearing. In prayer, God instructed him to take this healing to others. ‘He had been ordered by God to heal, and he got the power by waiting upon God. He had waited upon God to ask Him for any power He would like to give. He felt that something was wanting, and he determined to wait upon God till he got it.’[9 Like Dowie, he returned to the text – the New Testament stories of healing, and Christ’s promise that ‘they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’ (Mark 16:18). Unlike Dowie, Wood did not seem to have the advantages of theological education. A report on his appearance in Adelaide the next year found him ‘not at all distingué nor admiration compelling, education not much better than that of the fisherman disciples probably.’ His language was ungrammatical and rough: when instructing his audience to on how to pray with faith, for example, he would turn his back to them, pray, and then turn ‘sharply round to the audience cried out, “How many done it?”’[10 He could, H.V. Brown of London noted:

scarcely be described as an educated man. He seemed to have little acquaintance with current thought, and his pronunciation was not perfect. But he had fire. He was what I may to allowed to call a powerful natural preacher. He had the Bible at his fingers’ ends, and could pour out quotations from it endlessly. I have seen him rouse his people to a perfectly amazing pitch of enthusiasm.[11]

Descriptions of his appearance varied, depending on the bias of the report. Early in his career, he was held to look ‘like an ordinary labourer some time retired, and now attitudinising in slop-made clothes’, a description which fitted the Galilean fisherman theme and references to ‘primitive Christianity’ which his ministry elicited in the Victorian mind.[12] In his early days in London from 1887, he seems to have adopted a rough Salvation Army-like uniform, ‘scarlet flannel jersey’.[13] In his later career in England, by way of contrast, when he absorbed Old Testament models and ran afoul of British authorities, he was described as a ‘striking figure of patriarchial appearance, with leonine face and white beard.’[14] Character, it would appear, is in the eye of the beholder.

After receiving what he considered to be a gift from God, Wood ‘did not try it for some time’. Family came first: ‘His first patient was his own daughter, who was troubled with a burning face and a large lump under her chin. He laid his hands upon her face and the heat left her, and he passed a hand over the lump and it vanished immediately.’[15] He was clearly reading and connecting to others in the period. While fringe literature had already appeared on the subject (e.g. Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, 1875), by the time of Phillis’s death in 1882, there was much more mainstream support for the subject developing. In that year, for instance, the Boston Baptist bible teacher, A. J. Gordon, a close associate of D. L. Moody and founder of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, published his book The Ministry of Healing, a title which Wood would regularly use to describe his own ministry. The context is premillennial revivalism rather than uniquely to do with healing, as might be seen from Wood’s continued use of Sankey’s hymns and songs in his ministry. As early as 1878 it appears that Wood had been prominent in the drive to establish an independent chapel connected to the work of that other independent workingman-evangelist who had come to Australia in search of gold, Henry Varley.[16] In 1884, Wood appears in the company of Dowie and a number of others, holding healing campaigns in various parts of Victoria. A later record suggest he was co-trustee with Dowie in an independent Baptist church, and at the marriage of his son, Victor, he lists his occupation as ‘Baptist minister’. Having left a Congregational ministry in NSW to go into independent ministry, Dowie’s connections in the southern colonies were among such ‘independents’, and numbers of these would be important for Wood’s career. Wood was invited to South Australia by a coalition of independent clergymen who had associated with Dowie (particularly the Baptist minister, W. B. Shorthose, the secretary of the Christian Crusaders, S. W. Burton, and the ‘captain’ of the Port Adelaide Working Men and Women’s Mission, William Ross), and with the breakaway group—the Christian Crusaders—which his work with the Salvation Army had inspired. They would promote Wood, while his ministry would draw the sort of attention needed for them to expand their work in Adelaide and its Port. In turn, Wood absorbed Salvation Army models, attracted many former Army members to his causes, later established an organisation entitled ‘The Army of the Lord’,[17] and (in insolvency later in life) passed the property of his organisation into Salvation Army hands.[18]

Though not well known previously, the advent of Wood’s ‘Ministry of Healing’ in April 1884 found him suddenly in the limelight, dividing opinion and ‘dwarfing all other social movements during the last month.’[19] Advertisement through revivalist networks and local newspapers drew hundreds from across Adelaide and its hinterland to meetings which began in the week of 20 April in the Crusader’s Hall on Victoria Square. Commencing with an ‘all night consecration prayer meeting’ on Sunday 20 April, meetings ran every night except Tuesday.[20] Invitations to run meetings rapidly came in – in Port Adelaide at the Working Men and Women’s Hall, in the Gospel Hall on Gouger Street, and then at the Adelaide Town Hall. Day-time meetings for ‘the laying on of hands’ were regularly held at Whitmore Square and in the Crusaders Hall. The technology of revivalism was apparent despite Wood’s relative lack of experience: advertisements appeared in the Advertiser requesting notes of affirmation from people who had experienced healing in the early meetings, while at various times Praise Meetings were held to elicit testimony as to the effectiveness of the ministry. To those who reported few results, he encouraged them to ‘have faith’: as a skeptic reported at the time, the quality of faith in the powers of the healer appeared to be ‘all-important’.[21] Testimony fuelled expectation. At Wood’s meetings in the Working Men and Women’s Mission Hall, Port Adelaide, an ‘immense crowd assembled there at the appointed time, the place being so packed that about 200 persons were unable to get in or even approach the doorway.’[22]

There is no indication that Wood was aware that he had been invited to Adelaide on the tail of a ‘Freethought Mission’ by the leading secularist, Joseph Symes. In early April, Symes (who published a radical secularist newspaper entitled The Liberator, and had been sent to Australia by Charles Bradlaugh as a sort of secularizing evangelist), gave a number of lectures, including one entitled ‘My path from the Wesleyan pulpit to the secular platform.’[23] In preparation, he sent a newspaper challenge to the ‘representative clergymen’ of Adelaide, inviting them to debate him in open forum during his sessions at the German Club. Newspapers reported his talks as ‘a peculiar sort of entertainment… in which the elements were distressing and diverting by turns.’[24] The opposition to Wood which soon reared its head in this most respectable of Australian cities, therefore, began among professional classes who had been well-primed. One ‘medical gentleman was heard on Friday making an offer of £10 to the Adelaide Hospital for the first case of genuine and permanent cure brought before him.’[25] Wood’s ‘ministry’ was an imposition on the imaginations of gullible people, people with psychosomatic syndromes: ‘when asked what was the matter with them, nearly always alleged that they had been suffering from pains in the back, or side, or head, or had a touch of what they thought was rheumatism. Some had been a little deaf and said they could hear better; others had weak eyes and “believed” that they would come all right again.’ A reporter attending the Port Adelaide meetings declared ‘The results could not be called satisfactory, as there was not a single case in which any definite disease was cured.’[26] The commentariat took to the newspapers to make explicit the conversations being had in fashionable drawing rooms and salons. Wood’s lack of education and class background, as well as that of his clientele, fuelled calls for healing approaches based on rationality and expertise rather than faith. Evidence would undo the claims of faith healers. Wood’s approach was relocated in the narrative of quacks, mesmerists and ’humbugs’. ‘Not long ago’, one writer to the Register noted,

a man was convicted in Paris for injury to a lady’s arm in bone-setting. He declared that he was endowed with Divine power, and among the poorer classes his claims were recognised, and it was reported that he had wrought many marvellous cures. If he had refrained from attempting the operations of surgery he might have lived and died a reputed worker of miracles; but he did not, and justice overtook him.[27]

A clear warning to stay out of the British Medical Association’s bailiwick: healing was for the weak of mind or will, real men took medicine. Wood’s own understandings of healing clearly did not help. A combination of his reported public statements provide something of his tenor.

A short devotional service was conducted by the Rev A. Turnbull, after which Mr Wood addressed the meeting on the subject of the power of healing with which he had been endowed. The power which he exercised, he said, was not an earthly power, but it was the direct gift of God. Some of the cures the affected might be obtained by doctors with the aid of herbs and minerals, but even if they succeeded such cures were the work of the devil, what his were the work of God.[28]

Such statements—which, because of Wood’s instant notoriety, were now always in spaces made public by the presence of the press and the public role of the Church in Victorian Adelaide—fanned the flames. Wood was not reticent about his opinions on ‘educated men’, about whom he said ‘a hard thing or two.’[29] Healing to him was first, a personal gift or endowment, restored (secondly) to him for the first time since the days of the apostles, which worked (thirdly) according to the faith of the supplicant. ‘He had come here to bring them the glad tidings of God’s salvation, and make known his power and willingness to heal if they only had faith in Him.’[30] In other words, it was a priestly view which conflicted with the new priesthood of modernity, and which took no responsibility for its claims. It is true that a lot of 19th century medicine was still struggling to emerge from its origins in the religious- when leading laryngologist, Sir Morell Mackenzie (that grandson of a Kirk minister of Cromarty, Scotland), died in 1892, his work was lauded (alongside that of Charles Spurgeon) as a ‘ministry of healing’.[31] Likewise, medical practice–in many of the diatribes against Wood — is described in ways which attempt to retain medical practice with the sphere of moral philosophy, while yet championing its rational and social superiority. Medical men were still wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

Outside the circled wagons of the medical community, Rev. William Roby Fletcher (sometime minister of Stow Congregational Church, university gold medallist, university lecturer and at the time of the sermon Vice Chancellor of the University of Adelaide)[32] attempted to interpret Wood’s claims in a broader context. A ‘cautious liberal’[33] synthesizer of religious thought and science, Fletcher asked his congregation on 4 May where the truth lay between Symes and Wood, Freethought and Divine Healing? The former—having ‘denied the existence of God and the authenticity of the Bible’— was ‘either … ignorant or regardless of the teachings of history, or … perverted in his judgment.’[34] The latter had divided opinion, and Fletcher classified the opinions in circulation as follows:

(1), as the result of some occult mesmeric power on the par of the operator; (2), as produced by faith on the part of the patients : (3), as similar in kind, but so different in degree from the marvels of the New Testament that it is impossible to attribute them to religious causes; and (4), as genuine illustrations of the promised power to work wonders of healing, which Christians feel they ought to believe, even if they do not.[35]

For himself, after a time of doubt, Fletcher accepted the possibility of the miraculous in the New Testament: ‘God’s laws are wider than our thoughts, and it is only our ignorance that makes us deem that God ever violates his own laws. God’s laws take in the unseen as well as the seen.’[36] As science advances, it will discover the things it does not yet know (the ‘region of law which our science cannot teach’), which will unveil how much more the wisdom of God encompasses both the spiritual and the material. A ‘miracle was not a suspension or violation of the law of nature, but the intrusion of a higher and unknown law into the realm of known laws.’[37]

Over in depressed Port Adelaide, the ‘militant and informed’ evangelical social reformer Rev. Joseph Coles Kirby also affirmed the miraculous. Pointing his congregation to the Book of Acts (chapter ii. 22— ‘Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by Him on the most of you, as ye yourselves also know’)[38] he pointed out the distance between the text and the conversation among respectable Adelaideans who had been ‘very much astonished’ that the historic work of Jesus might still be found among them. He had gone to find out himself about the substance of the ministry of Mr Wood, operating just up the road at the Working Men and Women’s Mission. ‘Mr. Wood, from his enquiries, was of honest repute, and there was every reason to suppose him sincere and not seeking his own ends.’[39] Wood had not collected much money, suggesting that he was an ‘honest if a mistaken man’ – and who was to say that this was not the work of God? ‘Had Christ limited the working of miracles and the exercise of gifts of healing to the apostolic age? Certainly not…’ Did Wood’s failures indicate that God was not with him? No more than the failures of the apostles did so of them. The natural and the spiritual were all one to God:

Because some cured by minerals or magnetism it did not follow that Mr. Wood or others who might be used as instruments or servants of God might not exercise a certain healing influence by means of forces they obtained by their faith in Christ or by the use of certain natural forces brought into play under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.[40]

The operations might be natural (such as the operations of a powerful will over the weak minded), but have spiritual effects; they might also be spiritual (such as in apostolic times) and have natural effects. ‘Faith’ was both a psychological as well as a spiritual component, which was why ‘In the Epistle to the Corinthians the gift of healing is distinctly marked off from the gift of miracle – working.’[41] Despite Wood’s theology (which Kirby thought was questionable: ‘the Saviour did not make saving faith in any instance a necessary condition of a work of healing’), it was conceivable that what they were seeing was a work of God. Though he lacked ‘the gift of knowledge and wisdom’, As a social reformer, Kirby was alive the presence of vested social interests in the public square. Wood’s presence was timely in the sense that it challenged the pride and power of the medical profession: ‘If medical men would get their eyes a little wider open, and abandon some of the bigotry and old womanly prejudice, they might do more for suffering humanity.’[42] ‘All curative agencies’ pointed towards ‘the spiritual cure by Christ of the great disease called sin, and the greatest miracle was the conversion and transformation of a man’s moral nature.’[43] That was a need to be found on both sides of the debate.

The warnings that Wood’s brusque manner, sectarian theology of healing and lack of wisdom would bring him unstuck seemed to be fulfilled in the case of Mary Smith Faulk. Covering the Port Adelaide Police Court, reporters discovered that this woman (‘in moderately good health’ according to one report, in a ‘delicate condition’ by another) had been consigned to a mental asylum on the basis of ‘religious mania’. After attending Wood’s mission it appears that Faulk had some sort of psychotic breakdown. Shortly after her committal, she died leaving behind a furious husband and a number of children.[44] The Advertiser in particular took up her case, attacking Wood for his inordinate claims, the fanaticism of his party, and his ‘insult to the common sense of the community’.[45] Logically, it was not likely that Wood’s ministry was the cause of the woman’s death, particularly given the fact that she was under medical treatment at the time of her death. The choice of one case among hundreds, however, successfully depicted Wood as a dangerous charlatan, preying on the weak and incapable. There is no further coverage of his ministry in the public press of South Australia thereafter.

The lack of continued press coverage from 1884-1887 was not, apparently, an indicator of lack of activity on Wood’s part. By the time he re-emerges in London in 1887, his reputation for powerful preaching seems to have gone before him. His ‘Australian fame as a preacher preceded him, and to was ‘taken up in a quiet way’ by people who held to the literal interpretation of Scriptural phrases such as “The lord shall heal thine infirmities.”’[46] Wood himself claimed to have received a revelation from God that he was to commence ministry in the resort town of Brighton. If so, he was following a common calling: even by the late 1880s, Brighton was the home of the spiritually-adventurous. Its religious landscape included Spiritualists, Catholic Apostolics, Old Catholics and Theodore and Laura Horos’ ‘infamous’ ‘Order of Theocratic Unity’[47] among others. It was also in Sussex, where Wood had been born c. 58 years before. After some time operating a healing room in London-super-mare, therefore, he decamped to Brighton where—attracting the attention of literalist ‘nonconformists’ (by which term Brown seems to mean non-Anglicans of a heretical nature, a category used elsewhere in his writings to indicate anyone, such as the Unitarians, who upset the evangelical status quo)—he gained the support of a well known merchant and ‘a lady of wealth and strong religious feelings’. Funds were raised for a building on Edward Street, Brighton,

a long, low-roofed building with high barred windows and a great iron gate facing the street and leading to a courtyard of almost prison-like gloom. The front of the building is painted red, and the words ‘The Sanctuary of Jehovah’ were … inscribed in huge black letters across the facade.[48]

Around the Sanctuary, Wood gathered eventually up to 300 followers who gave liberally to his Army of the Lord, many of whom lived in rented accommodation scattered throughout the city. For those who gave up everything to the cause, and lived and ate communally in the houses attached to the Sanctuary, a “Prophetess of Israel” would allocate new and seemingly biblical names. Wood himself became known as ‘King Solomon’, while others were variously renamed ‘King David, King Saul, Queen Esther, Queen of Sheba, Faithful Abraham, Brother Isaac, etc.’ (‘Her nomenclature was not always Biblical, for in the army then were a King Alfred, a Queen Victory, and a King Canute.’)[49] Once prophetically given, the names, however, were a movable feast, ‘a prophetess who was a plain “sister” one day would be a “queen” the next.’[50] Theology and dress also seem to have been just as movable – the group was always searching for ‘some new freak’ in expression, ritual or thought. ‘King Solomon’ traded in his scarlet flannel for a ‘magnificent robe of purple and gold’, members danced ‘under the power of the Holy Spirit’ until exhausted in a ‘golden circle’ before the crimson mantled preaching dais, members who erred were sent ‘curious epistles’ of mixed charismatic commands and biblical injunctions. On one occasion at least, the Army ended up in court when Wood exploded in anger and, grabbing the offender by the throat, physically ejected him from the Sanctuary.

The comparisons between the ability of a William Booth to hold his new religious movement together and Wood’s inability were to the fore in the minds of commentators. Wood did not have the leadership ability, it seemed, to overcome the problems of birthing an organisation on charismatic authority. He was, as his mining career had showed, a good starter, but a poor manager—and just as with his commercial career, over the longer term the Army staggered towards insolvency. The major cause was unfulfilled prophecy – revelations about the location of the Ark of the Covenant (resulting in a fruitless trip by Wood to Palestine), about the identity of the Man-Child ‘prophesied’ in the Book of the Revelation, about the ability of Wood to raise ‘a brother’ from the dead or be carried up like Elijah on a chariot of fire[51] – damaged his authority. In the absence of real evangelism, and so continued growth which could replace defectors and (as Thomas O’Dea points to in his identification of the ‘dilemma of the symbolic’)[52] provide legitimacy through materialised replacement, the Army of the Lord gradually collapsed in on itself. The deflation of the early abundance of enthusiasm resulted ultimately in the drying up of funds. After a number of insurrections from members and his own prophets, and unable to pay a £5.0.0 fine incurred as a result of assaulting one of his members, Wood spent some time in custody,[53] before departing from Brighton. The property passed to the Salvation Army, while Wood retired into ignominy. In the 1891 census, ‘James William Wood, Evangelist of the Army of the Lord’, was boarding alone at 3 Gladstone Terrace in Portslade,[54] further up the Sussex Coast. Later, he and a small group of continuing followers took over the former Portslade Conservative Club, and renamed it ‘Arregosobah’ (variously interpreted as ‘the King’s residence’ or ‘the abode of love’), at 35 Carlton Terrace, Portslade.[55] While he remarried (to Ida Lilly Johanna nee Biber) in 1908, and producing a daughter (Deborah Elizabeth), it seems rather symbolic that his house in Portslade simply grew more and more decrepit until, in the 1950s, it was torn down.[56] His impact on his followers, for good or bad, lingered for decades. Brown declared that the ‘weird’ and eerie scenes of spiritual dancing in the semi-darkened hall of the Sanctuary would remain with him for the rest of his days.[57] Wood died at Portslade in February 1916, aged 85.[58]

It would be exceedingly difficult to demonstrate direct impacts between Wood and later developments in charismatic religion. His value to scholars is as a mirror to the better known events in the life of more public figures such as J. A. Dowie, and to the construction of religious respectability in the late Victorian period. Like the former, Wood’s career emerges in the relatively uncontrolled religious space of the British dominions (in his case, Ballarat and Melbourne, in Dowie’s case Alma, Newtown and Melbourne), at a time of high spiritual experimentation. Other people who developed along a similar track were (out of provincial Victoria, Australia) J. M. Hickson and (later, out of provincial Saskatchewan) the Latter Rain movement. There does seem to be something happening in the period 1880-1950 which made the hinterlands of western nation states the breeding ground for religious innovation. In figures such as Oral Roberts and W. M. Branham, this counter-modernist reflex would fuel protestant fundamentalism with charismatic spirituality on the global scale. Wood and Dowie (and Hickson and Marshall) demonstrate that this reflex was as present in rural Australia as it was in the prairies of Canada and the United States. It is not enough to dismiss these characters as charlatans and con-men. Kirby’s assessment of Wood as an ‘honest if a mistaken man’ is probably correct, though the extent to which his theological ‘mistakenness’ would go by the end of Wood’s career would probably have shaken that hopeful reformer’s ability to cast a temperate opinion.

Like Dowie, a charismatic character, entrepreneurial nature and an emphasis on spiritual healing led, in the absence of other models and theological delimiters, to Wood being captured by Old Testament narratives. In a sense, this is an uncontrolled version of what David Bebbington describes as the evangelical orientation towards ‘Biblicism’.[59] Just as the Dowie the Scottish-Australian Congregationalist would arc through healing and temperance to priestly communal reinvention as Elijah the Restorer (decked out in suitably magnificent levitical robes)[60] under the pressure of having to demonstrate a prophetic end to his ministry, so Wood the English-Australian Baptist would move towards communalist theocracy (as ‘King Solomon’) and a vision of himself fulfilling the book of the Revelation through embodying the return of Elijah, the prophet who was lifted up on a fiery chariot. Both drew energy from the religious frontiers of their days (particularly the early revivalism of the Salvation Army), and showed entrepreneurial spirit in moving from distant Australia to centres close to metropoli (Zion City-Chicago in Dowie’s case, Brighton-London in Wood’s case). Both ministries ultimately collapsed through the pressure of social opprobrium (which, in the case of the Adelaide Advertiser, linked opposition to their ministries) and inability to find organisationally stable manifestations of their charismatic ministries. This latter was not simply a matter of entertaining ‘weird religion’ – Wood and Dowie’s religious expressions were no more outré than those of their contemporaries, for example, Alfred Deakin (future Australian Prime Minister) or Arthur Conan Doyle. The difference between them and the social leaders who swam in their religious context was that they set up sectarian communities which threatened the authority of rising elites (such as the British Medical Association) and challenged increasingly scientistic and legal/rational norms with regard to individual rights. James William Wood as an independent healing evangelist could have continued his ministry into advanced old age had his practice not turned inward with the formation of a self-referential community. As other cases of religious innovation have shown (for instance, Scientology) being ridiculous is not enough to destroy legitimacy in all available constituencies. Graduating towards the status of social menace in the eyes of the law, however, required a much more powerful apparatus than Wood was able to develop. This was a problem which Dowie solved, first by moving to more religiously tolerant America, and secondly by having the great good fortune of having his praxis absorbed posthumously by a globalising spiritual movement. Wood, it appears, left few successors, and so disappeared from history.



Adelaide Mail, 19 February 1916.

Argus, 31 January 1863, 3 December 1870, 27 March 1875, 26 June 1878, 30 April 1879.

Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 2 December 1901,

Brisbane Courier, 8 February 1892, 27 May 1889

Cornell Daily Sun, 20 March 1916.

Leaves of Healing, vol. 38, no. 1.

Otago Witness, 11 October 1894

Queenslander, 24 May 1884, p. 30.

South Australian Advertiser, 5 April 1884, 30 April 1884, 1 May 1884, 2 May 1884, 7 May 1884, 13 November 1894, 25 November 1901

South Australian Register, 19 April 1884, 26 April 1884, 28 April 1884, 5 May 1884, 17 May 1884.


Bebbington, D. W., Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London: Unwyn-Hyman, 1989.

Census results, England, 1891.

Garrett, John, ‘Kirby, Joseph Coles (1837–1924)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kirby-joseph-coles-3964/text6253, accessed 7 January 2012.

Hilliard, David, ‘Strong’s Liberal Contemporaries: Adelaide, 1870-1914’, users.esc.net.au/~nhabel/symposium/Hilliard%20on%20Strong.pdf, accessed 7 Jan 2012.

Jones, Keith, personal correspondence.

Mulholland, John, Beware familiar spirits, New York: Arno Press, 1938 (repr 1975).

O’Dea, Thomas, The Sociology of Religion, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall 1966.

Walker, R. B., ‘Fletcher, William Roby (1833–1894)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-william-roby-3540/text5461, accessed 7 January 2012.


1. My special thanks go to Mr Keith Jones, the great-grandson of J. W. Wood, for sharing in the reconstruction of this story with me, and pointing me to important sources of information otherwise not known to me.

2. Phillis Aitkins, b. 1869, and Violet Edith, b. 1881, died at birth, Beatrice Albertine, b. 1876, Emanuel, b. 1867, and Lilly Ann Aitken, b. 1870, aged only 1 year; James William jr, b. 1875, died aged 18; Joshua Victor Wilberforce, b. 1864, in his early twenties.

3. Florence Margaret Alice, b. 1873, (later married John Brennan, 1875, and Sydney Taylor, 1880)  Adeline Victoria Elizabeth, b. 1872 (later married Arthur Perryman); Bertram Swanson, b. 1877 (later married Mary Seal), Augustus Percival, b. 1879 (later married Alice Cook), Winifred Frances, b. 1882 (later married Louis James Knight).

4. ‘South Australia’, The Queenslander, 24 May 1884, p. 30.

5. The Argus, 27 March 1875, p.5.

6. The Argus, 31 January 1863, p. 1.

7. The Argus, 3 December 1870, p. 8.

8. ‘Railway Meeting at Northcote,’ The Argus, 30 April 1879, p. 6.

9. “Mr J. W. Wood at Port Adelaide”, South Australian Advertiser, 30 April 1884, p. 7.

10. Advertiser, 30 April 1884, p. 7.

11. ‘Our London Letter’, Advertiser, 13 November 1894, pp. 5-6.

12. ‘South Australia’, The Queenslander, 24 May 1884, p. 830.

13. ‘Our London Letter’, Advertiser, 13 November 1894, pp. 5-6.

14. ‘King Solomon,  London religious fanatic, dead’, Cornell Daily Sun, 20 March 1916, p. 6.

15. ‘South Australia’, The Queenslander, 24 May 1884, p. 830.

16. The Argus, 26 June 1878, p. 5.

17. Possibly after the ‘commander of the army of the Lord’, who appeared to Joshua, in Joshua 5, a figure often interpreted in English, evangelical sermons as a fore-type of Christ (see for instance, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the passage).

18. ‘Our London Letter’, Advertiser, 13 November 1894, pp. 5-6.

19. ‘South Australia’, The Queenslander, 24 May 1884, p. 830.

20. South Australian Register, 19 April 1884, p. 2.

21. South Australian Register, 5 May 1884, p. 4.

22. Advertiser,  30 April 1884, p. 7.

23. Advertiser, 5 April 1884, p.2

24. South Australian Register, 26 April 1884, p.4.

25. South Australian Register, 5 May 1884, p. 4.

26. Advertiser, 1 May 1884, p. 5.

27. South Australian Register, 28 April 1884, p. 6.

28. Advertiser,

2 May 1884, p. 6.

29. Advertiser, 30 April 1884, p. 7.

30. South Australian Register, 5 May 1884, pp. 4-5.

31. ‘Charles Haddon Spurgeon: In Memoriam Services, The City Tabernacle’, The Brisbane Courier, 8 February 1892, p. 6.

32. R. B. Walker, ‘Fletcher, William Roby (1833–1894)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-william-roby-3540/text5461, accessed 7 January 2012.

33. David Hilliard, ‘Strong’s Liberal Contemporaries: Adelaide, 1870-1914’, users.esc.net.au/~nhabel/symposium/Hilliard%20on%20Strong.pdf, accessed 7 Jan 2012.

34. ‘Special Notes from the Pulpits: Freethought and the Ministry of Healing’, South Australian Register, 5 May 1884, p. 6.

35. ‘Special Notes from the Pulpits: Freethought and the Ministry of Healing’

36. ‘Special Notes from the Pulpits: Freethought and the Ministry of Healing’

37. ‘Special Notes from the Pulpits: Freethought and the Ministry of Healing’

38. John Garrett, ‘Kirby, Joseph Coles (1837–1924)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kirby-joseph-coles-3964/text6253, accessed 7 January 2012.

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44. South Australian Register, 17 May 1884, p. 5.

45. Advertiser, 7 May 1884, p. 4

46. ‘Our London Letter’, Advertiser, 13 November 1894, pp. 5-6.

47. Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 2 December 1901, p. 3; John Mulholland, Beware familiar spirits, New York: Arno Press, 1938 (repr 1975), pp. 259-260.

48. H. V. Brown, ‘A scattered sect’, reprinted in Otago Witness, 11 October 1894, p. 42.

49. ‘Our London Letter’, Advertiser, 13 November 1894, p. 6.

50. Brown, ‘A scattered sect’.

51. Brown, ‘A scattered sect’.

52. The Sociology of Religion, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall 1966.

53. ‘Extraordinary case of religious fanaticism’, Brisbane Courier, 27 May 1889, p. 6.

54. England, Census 1891,

55. Advertiser, 25 November 1901, p. 6.

56. K. Jones to M. Hutchinson, private correspondence, 9/11/2011.

57. Brown, ‘A scattered sect’.

58. Adelaide Mail, 19 February 1916, p. 1.

59. D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London: Unwyn-Hyman, 1989, pp. 12-13.

60. Leaves of Healing, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 4.