The 'Sallies' come to New Zealand

27 March 1883

Salvation Army soup kitchen, 1931 (The Salvation Army)

On 27 March 1883 two young English Salvation Army officers, Captain George Pollard and Lieutenant Edward Wright, arrived at Port Chalmers. Their mission was to establish a New Zealand branch of the Christian evangelical movement, which had been founded in the slums of London’s East End in 1865.

In 1882 several New Zealanders had written to the Army’s founder, General William Booth, asking him to send officers to the colony, which was in the throes of an economic depression. Pollard and Wright, aged 20 and 19 respectively, were commissioned in November 1882. They were met in Dunedin by a handful of supporters, but ridiculed in the press. Some joked that England had already sent New Zealand its thistles, sparrows and rabbits; a further scourge wasn’t needed.

The Army ‘opened fire’ in New Zealand on Sunday 1 April, when it held four meetings at Dunedin’s Temperance Hall as well as assembling in front of the fountain in the Exchange (Cargill’s monument). Crowds soon packed the Army’s gatherings, but there were also disputes over the holding of street meetings and occasional outbreaks of hooliganism which paralleled the reaction to the Army in Britain.

Pollard quickly established a presence in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, and the first issue of the journal War Cry appeared on 16 June. Rescue homes were opened in the main centres and by the end of 1884 the Army had 30 ‘corps’ and more than 60 full-time officers in New Zealand.

In the early 21st century the ‘Sallies’ retain a visible presence in New Zealand cities and towns, distinguished by their uniforms, brass bands and thrift shops, and by their ongoing charitable work among the disadvantaged, alcoholics, drug users and other vulnerable people.