As you admire Adelaide’s beautiful Town Hall do imagine being here in 1904 when ‘the Prophet Elijah’ dropped by to provide wise counsel to the good people of Adelaide.
When the Rev John Alexander Dowie, a Scottish born, former South Australian Congregationalist minister from Adelaide, since turned US fire and brimstone evangelist, visited Adelaide to speak at the Town Hall on Monday 21 March 1904 thousands turned out to see him, if not to listen to what he had to say.
Standing only 5’ 4” tall, and styling himself Elijah the Restorer and God’s Divine Healer, Dowie had, by 1904, made it big time in the United States and now embarked on an around the world tour to raise even more funds for his self created and already rich Zion City near Chicago. Having just received a rapturous welcome in New York’s Madison Square Gardens he expected a similar welcome in Australia and in his old home town of Adelaide, in particular.
Australia was to prove a tougher nut to crack than New York. Here people were, in general, loyal to their own religions and were not impressed by Dowie’s message that all religions other than his were false. Likewise, Dowie, a staunch proponent of divine healing, rejected all other kinds of medicine – doctors, drugs and devils were all denounced as ‘foes of Christ the Healer’.
As his earlier meetings in Sydney and Melbourne had been broken up by hecklers (he blamed the Freemasons) extra security had been laid on in Adelaide.
As Dowie took to the stage in the Adelaide Town Hall, dressed as the Prophet Elijah (though, one suspects, with rather more expensive trimmings), he was seen to be weeping. He started by telling his audience that he was weeping because of their sins and then proceeded to inform them that unless they repented, and made a generous monetary contribution to him, they would be going straight to Hell. A swipe that King Edward had ‘no religion to spare’ particularly incensed the Kings loyal subjects in Adelaide.
The heckling began and hundreds of programs were rolled up and flung at this latter day Elijah along with stink-bombs, brought along especially for the occasion. Unable to bring the crowd under control, Dowie and his minders fled the Town Hall and made for the York Hotel where he was staying, with the now reckless rabble in tow. Significant superficial damage was done to both the Town Hall and the York Hotel.
Dowie attempted one more meeting in Adelaide with equal results and on fleeing the city he proclaimed that Australians were ‘villains, perjurers, servants of the devil and filthy, disgusting stinkpots’. He vowed to return at a later date with a thousand guards to deal with his detractors.
The good Reverend never got the chance to settle scores. While he was on his world tour, his Zion City accounts had been audited and money was found to be missing. Dowie was removed as leader in an internal coup and denounced as a great sinner. In 1906 he suffered a stroke and he died the following year. At his request, after his coffin was put into it, his grave was filled with concrete such that doubters could not test the validity of his claim that he wasn’t in it as he had, off course, miraculously arisen! Where he went when he arose remains a mystery.
(Pictures 1 and 3, respectively, courtesy of Wikipedia and The State Library of South Australia).