Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Saturday, October 06, 2018

New England higher education 1 - Seventh Day Adventists and Avondale College 1897

Avondale College, Cooranbong, NSW, 27 August 1908. Photo Ralph Snowball (1849-1925). University of Newcastle Cultural Collections

The genesis of the Seventh Day Adventist Church can be found in the Millerite Movement of the 1840s in upstate New York, a phase of the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival that began around 1790 and then peaked around 1850. As part of this revival, Baptist preacher William Miller (1782-1849) formed the view based on his bible studies that Jesus Christ would return to earth between the spring of 1843 and that of 1844 for the biblical Day of Atonement. The failure of this prediction (the Great Disappointment) left Miller and his followers confused and disappointed. A search began for new answers, for an explanation.

In the discussions that followed many Millerites came to believe that Miller’s calculations based on Daniel 8:14-16 were correct, but that his interpretation that Christ would come to cleanse the world was flawed. Daniel foretold Christ’s entry into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary rather than his Second Coming. This understanding of a sanctuary in heaven developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment, an eschatological (end of days) process that commenced in 1844 in which every person would be judged to verify their eligibility for salvation and God's justice would be confirmed before the universe.

In parallel, other ideas were being developed or reinforced including the importance  of the Sabbath and the importance of a holistic approach to the person, to diet and lifestyle. I haven’t tried here to discuss Adventist beliefs in detail. At this point, I would simply note that in time they would translate to an emphasis on education, health and food in institution building. In an Australian context, this would include Avondale College and Sanitarium foods.

The Adventist movement had begun as small loosely knit groups from different churches. From 1849, a periodical called The Present Truth now Adventist Review provided a unifying vehicle. It’s editor James White (1821-1881) along with his wife Ellen G White (1827-1915) would now become co-founders of a new church. Ellen White came to occupy a particularly central role; her many visions and spiritual leadership convinced her fellow Adventists (among other things) that she possessed the gift of prophecy. She wrote extensively, providing the new church with an extensive  body of work that remains important today. 

On May 21 1863, a meeting formally established the church with its headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan and a membership of 3,500. From the 1870 it turned to missionary work and revivals. Membership increased to 16,000 by 1880 and then 75,000 in 1901. By this time the church operated two colleges, a medical school, a dozen academies, 27 hospitals, and 13 publishing houses.

Mission to Australia

On May 10, 1885, a party of eleven Americans including three pastors, a printer and a bookseller as well as two wives and four children set sail from San Francisco on the Australia with hopes to “open up a mission in Australia”.

The party arrived in Sydney on June 6, 1885. Leaving two pastors in Sydney, the others took the three day coastal steamer to Melbourne which had been chosen as initial headquarters. On 10 January 1886, the first Seventh Day Adventist church was formed with 29 members. Now events occurred that were to give Australia and indeed Northern NSW a place in church history.

James White had died on 6 August 1881, leaving wife Ellen and two surviving boys, James Edison and William Clarence, both of whom had been brought up in the church. Ellen, a powerful preacher, had continued their work. In 1891, she and William received a call to Australia, sailing at the end of the year.

William Clarence White , often known as W C or Willie to his friends, was born in Rochester, New York, August 29, 1854. On 11 February 1876 he married Mary Kelsey. Both were active in the church, with William serving in a number of leadership roles. Mary died from tuberculosis in 1890 at the age of 33 She contacted the disease while the couple were working in Switzerland on church business.

From his father’s death, William had worked closely with his mother. They made a considerable team. Now they left for Australia on what would be a nine year posting, initially leaving William’s daughters behind at Battle Creek.

Once in Australia, William divided his time between helping his mother and establishing the work in the new country. In 1894, he was named to lead the Australian Union. He exercised this responsibility until 1897 when he asked to be released from executive responsibilities to better support his mother’s literary work.

While in Australia William met and in married a Tasmanian woman, Ethel May Lacey. They appear to have had five children together.

Establishment of a new College

With Ellen’s guidance, a small bible college was established in Melbourne in 1892. However, she preferred a rural location and in 1893 a search began for suitable land. The problem was to find a block that the still small church could afford. The sources are silent on the matter, but I imagine the economic crash in the early 90s would not have helped.

Eventually the committee searching for the land found a 1,450-acre (5.9 km2) block of land at Cooranbong near Lake Macquarie 50 kilometres south west of Newcastle. The land was low priced, $3 per acre, because it was "poor, sandy and hungry". Asked to inspect the land, Ellen White gave her approval. The block was purchased in the Spring of 1895, with the Avondale School for Christian Workers opening in 1897. As illustrated in the lead photo, the early buildings at Avondale were built in the American New England architectural style rather than the Australian style.

While work continued on the Avondale buildings, construction began on a house for Ellen White. The Sunnyside Historical Home as it’s now known was completed in 1896 and still stands.

Sanitarium Health Food Company

Two major food companies are associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Kellogs and the Australian/New Zealand Sanitarium health food business. Both reflect the early interest in diet in the church.

Upon his arrival in Australia, William White convinced Seventh-day Adventist Edward Halsey, a baker at John Harvey Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium to immigrate to Australia. Arriving in November 1897, Halsey rented a small bakery in Melbourne, and produced granola (made of wheat, oats, maize, and rye) and Granose (the unsweetened forerunner to Weet-Bix). The product was sold door to door as an alternative to fat-laden or poor nutritious foods popular at the time.

In 1899, a bigger factory was opened at Cooranbong next door to the college. With further growth, a major new and rather striking factory was built in 1937. The world changes. In 2015 Sanitarium, while still owned by the church, announced that it was closing the plant over three years because the maintenance costs had become just too high!

The Whites return to the US

In September 1900, Ellen, William and his family returned to the United States after their nine years in Australia, terminating the direct connection. 

Evolution of Avondale College

In 1911 its name was changed to Australasian Missionary College, making it’s still limited purpose clear. Courses covered teaching, business, and biblical and mission studies. By the early 1950s students could study, B.Sc through the external program of the University of London, a BA through Pacific Union College, California and an MA through Andrews University Michigan. The 1960s were a time of expansion. In 1964 the institution was renamed Avondale College, while the men’s residence and first year’s women’s residence were completed.

In 1974, Avondale received Government accreditation to offer and its own bachelor degrees. From the 1990s it was allowed to offer its own master’s degrees with doctoral degrees offered from 2006. In 2010,  Council changed the name to Avondale College of Higher Education. as an interim step to achieving full university status. In December 2014, Avondale was granted self-accrediting status by the Australian Tertiary Education Quality & Standards Agency.

The past decade has seen significant development in staff qualifications and research output. Four research centres and an academic press have been established. There has been increasing interaction, including collaborative research with Australian universities, industry, and the professions. Scholarly activity has been facilitated by policies providing generously for staff research and professional development.

Avondale remains a small college by Australian tertiary standards, but not one without ambition.

Note on sources

As textual analysis would make clear!, this piece is drawn especially from assorted wikipedia entries, edited and consolidated.   


Johnb said...

I have three cousins, all brothers who went through Avondale in the 1960’s Jim. Our extended family had several picnics on the lawns there. I haven’t been back since.

Jim Belshaw said...

How interesting, John. It's years since I have been there. I few months ago I ended up driving through Cooranbong by accident. I couldn't recognise the place. Time for another visit with my camera, I think