2021 marks the 151st Anniversary of the Victorian Spiritualists Union Inc. At the recent Anniversary Service, Alan Bennett, former President & Secretary, presented the following talk.
Today is a special day in many ways. 151 years of uninterrupted service to the Melbourne community, linking us with Spiritualists here and around the world.
The V.S.U. claims to be the oldest continuously operating Spiritualist Church in the world.
There is so much information about the early days of the church, it is only possible to scratch the surface of that font of knowledge, made available to us by way of our librarys' collection of the VSU’s monthly magazines, “The Harbinger of Light”. This journal of activities and persons involved was founded the year the V.S.U. was started in 1870.
Today is a great opportunity to reflect on those who have gone before us. The work they have done, and the difficulties and challenges they must have confronted as they lay the foundations of the organisation from which we gain so much today.
First, we need to go back well before 1870, to appreciate the work of earlier pioneers of progressive thought who broke down many barriers of prejudice and ignorance.
Emmanuel Swedenborg lived in the 1700’s and wrote the classic
“Heaven and Hell”, based upon his personal experience and attunement with spirit influences. He was a visionary with the capacity to see into the future, and also current events from a distance. His accounts of life in the hereafter are in accord with many of the later writers in their depictions of the spirit realms.
In the late 1700’s an Englishman, Thomas Paine came into public contention with his great intellectual critique of the political and religious situation in the U.K., Europe and America. His book, “The Age of Reason” became a text for the empowerment of individuals over the entrenched political monarchies of Europe.
In the 1840’s an American “simple” country youth, Andrew Jackson Davis started producing large volumes of automatic spirit writing of profound spiritual philosophy. His series of books under the title the “Harmonial Philosophy”, “Principals of Nature”, and “Univercoelum” provided a depth of philosophical understanding which was illuminating to highly educated individuals. Davis also developed remarkable clairvoyance and diagnostic skills as well as making accurate predictions of future events.
In 1848 the events of Hydesville, New York which are well known, became the defining moment in the creation of this new dispensation called “Spiritualism”; as the simple spirit communication of a murdered man to an ordinary farming family provided irrefutable proof to large numbers of people that spirit communication was a reality. The news of this event spread like wild fire throughout America and the world.
It is important to realise that this event was simply a very public exposure of a phenomena which is normal and natural and has occurred through time in every country and with every race on the planet. The ancient religious texts are full of psychic events. Every ancient culture you care to think of knew of this reality. It is as natural as breathing.
This brings us to Melbourne in 1870.
Some background information.
Victoria was the most famous British colony with a population of 700,000 people. The gold rush contributed to this but was subsiding with the rapid change caused by the rapid opening up of pastoral lands for new settlers. Manufacturing with mainly clothing, footwear and agricultural machinery also growing rapidly.
Horse trams ran in the streets. Bourke Street and others were unmade with open drains running into the river.
Trading hours were open (no restrictions) (7pm closing came in the 1880’s)
An 1883 report said many hotels and businesses were forcing young women to work slave hours, 10 to 15 hours per day, 6 days a week.
Women could not vote, attend university, stand for parliament, serve on juries, or be appointed to public office or enter the professions.
Travel was still predominantly by horse and coach.
Settlers were still warring with the aborigines about land rights.
Electricity only arrived in 1886 and city lighting was by gas.
The VSU was founded on October 16th 1870. A preliminary meeting of interested spiritualists was held at the Trades Hall and Library Institute, Lygon Street Carlton, to consider the advisability of organising the establishment of a lyceum (a place of teaching).Ten people attended, including Messrs W.H.Terry, J. McIlwraith, J.RossA.Hally, Maidment, Lorimer, L,Lees, G.I.Manns, and G. Stow. Mr. Terry was chairman. Checking
A second meeting was held the 23rd October 1870 with Mr. H Brotherton as chairman, where it was proposed to form an association. Membership was one shilling a week and Mr. Terry was treasurer. There was a notice placed in the Harbinger of Light journal November 1st 1870 inviting spiritualists to attend a meeting as follows:
“Special Announcement. Spiritualists who feel an interest in the progress of the cause, are informed that a private association of such, has recently been formed in Melbourne, for the purpose of disseminating Spiritual knowledge, and bringing together the hitherto isolated members of the Victorian Spiritual Brotherhood. The co-operation of all friends of spiritual progress is invited. Full information on application to the secretary, Mr.W.H. Terry, 96 Russell Street. No names published or mentioned without authority.”
On November 19th 1871, it was proposed that the name of this new association be “The Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists”
In the years to follow the association grew and prospered. Many notable Melbournians became involved, the most notable being Alfred Deakin, a young lawyer at the time who went on to become the Prime Minister of this country, and was very influential figure in the committee which developed the Australian constitution.
Home circles for spirit communication became a common interest for many people and as a result local mediums and healers began to develop.
Many high profile international mediums and speakers graced our shores, including the great English/American medium and speaker Emma Hardinge-Britten; the Davenport brothers, highly respected speaker Dr. Peebles and several others.. Their public meetings attracted large enthusiastic crowds and generated much interest.
We are fortunate that our predecessors produced an excellent journal recording events from 1870 to 1945. (with a few gaps in between).
In 1933 the association decided to change its name to The Victorian Spiritualists Union.
During the mid 1960,s a young migrant couple at the VSU and were to become integral to its success over the next 26 years. George and Dot Eldred came to lead the organisation and were the driving force behind the movement gaining recognition from the Federal government to acknowledge the VSU as a recognised religious movement.
George was an outstanding medium , healer and speaker. Dot was also a fine speaker and great support for George over this time. Together they ran an esoteric class in which George would allow his Guide to speak through him, producing a philosophical lecture followed by questions and answers.
During this period there were many other committed people involved, a few of whom I will name with apologies to any I have missed.
Eda Walker ran the Monday night healing group for many years and was involved in other ways, including being led by spirit influence to find and secure our premises in A’Beckett Street which was home for the Union until 5 years ago.
Hugh and Olive Graham were also involved with the Monday Healing Group and Olive took over when Eda Passed to spirit. Olive was a delightful medium and she and Hugh worked at many churches around Melbourne with Hugh giving the lecture.
Audrey Jeffries was a wonderful healer and medium and very loyal to the VSU and her home circle produced several fine platform workers.
Flo Anderson; Madge Kelly; Bob Buckle; John and Pam Nichols, Jessie Miller and may others all contributed greatly to the movement.
All of these people have been a great example for us with their service to their fellow man and to the world of spirit.
They are the one who have kept the flame alight and it is now up to us to follow in their footsteps in continuing to present our wonderful philosophy to a new generation.
This address was followed by a message from spirit by Alan's Guide.