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Victorian Perth…Where missionaries fought for others’ souls and their own lives

Historic image of High Street, Perth
Historic image of High Street, Perth

A spirit of lawless disobedience greeted missionaries from Dundee who dared to preach the Gospel in Perth.

Fair City residents hardened their hearts against the Word and tried to slay the messengers – two teenage girls, Minnie Clinton and Hannah Clarke.

The girls were Salvation Army members who, around 1880, were tasked with saving a section of Perth from its living perdition and slavish adherence to intemperance.

Minnie and Hannah were met by a Salvation Army major when they arrived in Perth on a wet and miserable night.

They trudged through muddy, filthy streets looking for lodgings but doors were slammed in their faces.

Exhausted and soaked, they eventually found one landlady willing to take them in.

When daylight came and they tried to hold their first public meeting, the teenagers were met by a bestial crowd of 1,500 thirsting for blood almost as much as drink. That meeting marked the start of a fortnight of persecution of Old Testament proportions.

Night after night, thousands of locals gathered outside the Salvation Army hall bellowing insults to try to break the girls’ spirits.

Minnie and Hannah were shaken by the contorted faces of grown men in the grip of ungovernable fury, slurring the vilest obscenities towards them, but they remained unbroken. When the intimidation reached a critical stage, the superintendent of police warned the girls their lives were in danger.

They were advised to take off their bonnets and cover their heads with shawls as he tried to lead them to safety. Faced with an incendiary crowd, he ordered his constables to form a double-wall corridor but the lowing mob smashed through the ranks and tried to dismember Hannah and Minnie.

Our archives report it became a “race for life through the streets and alleys of Perth”.

Exhaustion overcame Minnie and she collapsed. A policeman at her side then declared they were all done for. At that moment of desperation, a door opened and a kindly old woman gave them refuge.

Police remained outside the property until 2am when it was safe to smuggle the girls out.

They persevered with their mission and after four months had 500 adherents.

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