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MATTHEW BURNETT, TEMPERANCE EVANGELIST, GRAFTON N.S.W., 1889

The New South Wales postcard has a purple printed ‘ONE PENNY View of Sydney’ stamp cancelled with a duplex GRAFTON/ MY 29/ 89/ N.S.W witha barred numeral obliterator ‘90' over the stamp, and it is addressed to Mr. G.A. Jordan, Queen St., Grafton (Figure 1).

The reverse has a printed heading I.O.G.T. Nil Desperandum Lodge, No. 148, Dear Sir, with a well written message ‘Knowing the interest you take in the cause of Temperance, we beg to request your attendance at an Open Meeting of above Lodge, to be held in the Protestant Hall on Monday Evening next, at 8 p.m., in connection with the visit of Mr Matthew Burnett’s Temperance Mission’. The printed place and date of sending was ‘Grafton, 28th May, 1889 and the signatories were A. M’Intosh, J. Young (Figure 2).

The International Organisation of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.) originated as one of a number of fraternal organisations for temperance or total abstinence founded in the 19th century with a structure modeled on Freemasonry, using similar ritual and regalia. Unlike many, it admitted men and women equally to its movement, and made no distinction by race. The Order grew rapidly in the United States and Canada and in 1868 Joseph Malins returned to his native England and established a Birmingham Lodge from which IOGT spread rapidly to Europe. Within 3 years the Order spread to Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, France, Portugal, South Africa, Bermuda, Belgium and India, etc. Its motto was "Faith, Hope and Charity". To date the specific I.O.G.T. Nil Deperandum Lodge, No. 148, at Grafton, N.S.W. has not been found. An example of a Certificate of Membership, has a lower ‘plate’ which shows the ravages of alcohol, is seen in Figure 3.

Matthew Burnett was the premier evangelist in the Australian Colonies and he gave 25 years of his active ministry to Australia. As a temperance advocate he saw more people sign the pledge than anyone else. He was born in Yorkshire in 1839, and his teenage years were marked by wild living and drunken behaviour. His conversion resulted from the persistent prayers of Sarah Middleton Gibson, who was 5 years older than him. This conversion occurred in 1857 at Scarborough. In due course Matthew and Sarah were married, and in 1863 they migrated to Australia, coming to live in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran. Burnett’s evangelistic preaching began soon after this in Melbourne churches, and he extended to the country areas of Victoria. Matthew and Sarah belonged to the Wesleyan church, and he had a personal magnetism which helped him to hold his audiences.

He later developed a technique in reaching people outside the churches, especially the poorer social classes. He found that he was helped by incorporating an element of entertainment in his preaching, he developed the use of street marches, brass bands, torch-light processions, open-air preaching and big choirs to attract people to the main meeting-house. This approach was a forerunner of the techniques of the Salvation Army which did not arrive in Australia until after another 20 years. He had an enormous capacity for work, and astonished the ministers with whom he cooperated by the amount of work he did, as well as, with his prayers. He had the strong prayer support of Sarah who stayed at home looking after their growing family, although she did not enjoy good health. Matthew was away from home for months at a time preaching, and Sarah died in 1871 soon after the birth of a child. Around 1873 he returned to England where he met many of the leaders in the temperance movement. He returned to Australia around 1874 to continue his preaching at meetings at least once a week. He evangelized for about 10 months of the year, usually from late February until Christmas, which led to exhaustion, and he traveled to Tasmania or New Zealand for a short break.

He started to work in South Australia in March 1880 for almost 3 years, then had a short period in Western Australia, with periods in New Zealand and Tasmania , then up to a year in New South Wales in 1889, the time of the present postcard. I have yet to find when and where he died. A picture of Matthew Burnett is seen in Figure 4.

The majority of information on Matthew Burnett was found in "Evangelism and Revivals in Australia 1880-1914 (First Volume)" by Robert Evans.

Figure 4 showing Matthew Burnett is from the State Library of South Australia.

 
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