Boatloads of immigrants flocked to the city in a quest for fortune during the gold rush. In the chaos that followed, Hester Hornbrook and Dr John Singleton united to form an ideal that would lead to the birth of Melbourne City Mission.
Victoria’s gold rush was abuzz in the 1850s, giving the promise of quick fortunes to dreamers near and far.
The allure of riches brought an influx of immigrants to Melbourne, with populations soaring to more than 45,000 in 1854, with 50,000 also in the goldfields.
Most who sought their fortune never found it and families — especially women and children — suffered. Overcrowding led to poverty and, as the population grew, social order ebbed.
The need for relief was undeniable.
In 1854, elderly widow, Hester Hornbrook, and medical practitioner, Dr John Singleton, discussed their concerns for people in the city.
As god-fearing key figures in society, they were eager to bring proper social order to the city out of the chaos of the gold rush. At the time, there were no safety nets for people in need and obtaining help was difficult.
Hester believed creating a City Mission along the lines of the one she had seen in London was the only way to get some organisation in dealing with lost and needy people. Dr Singleton agreed.
They lobbied the protestant churches of Melbourne to support their vision. At a public meeting of 650 people on August 11, 1854, the proposal for a mission was accepted.
This marked the beginning of our organisation — Melbourne City Mission was born.
In the beginning, the mission’s role was to link people to their nearest church.
Missionaries went door to door in a quest to establish Christian social order and ensure people with needs were looked after.
As the first point of contact, MCM became a central link in society, linking those who needed help to people eager to offer support.
When it appeared MCM may not continue due to lack of funding, Hester Hornbrook and a group of ladies formed a Ladies’ Committee.
These women also arranged a Gentlemen’s Committee made up of prominent protestant ministers and businessmen.
The Gentlemen’s Committee took care of policy creation, appointing missionaries and supervision.
The Ladies’ Committee were consulted before any major decision was made and handled the money for the organisation — including the payment of missionaries.
For a time, the Melbourne City Mission was named The Ladies’ Melbourne and Suburban City Mission.
When Hester Hornbrook died in 1862, the men once more took up the major responsibility for running MCM.
MCM had strong links to women’s front-line work to support women and children.
The Home for prostitutes and the Benevolent Ladies’ Society gave general assistance and the so-called ‘Ragged Schools’ supported children who were too poor to attend school.
Hester Hornbrook herself founded 9 schools in just 4 years before her death in 1862.
With the coming of compulsory universal education in 1872, this work was no longer needed.