While women weep as they do now -
While little children go hungry as they do now -
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out -
I’ll fight to the very end!
- General William Booth
Founder of the Salvation Army
It was the summer of 1865, and London, England was the focal point of the world. Great Britain was the most powerful nation on earth – as it was said – “the sun never set on the Victorian Empire.”
Yet the city of London was fast growing from a rural city into a travesty. Almost a million souls crowded into alleys and tenement buildings. Parts of London held over 200 people to the acre; 370 sewers flushed into the River Thames; three million chimneys poured soot and smoke into the air; rats filled grimy, brick buildings; the warm summer air of market places reeked of decaying vegetables, gin, animal dung and smoke. The whole city stank. Cholera epidemics sprang up now and again taking the highest toll on the poor.
The Victorian Empire was sharply divided between the one-fourteenth of the population which comprised the English Lords of the upper class, and the cockney paupers of the destitute lower class. In the alleys and by the docks often lay the dead, the sick, and the dying. Human refuse went untended by the Lords of the richest nation on earth.
Amidst the drunks, the prostitutes and dirty street urchins strode a lone figure. He was tall and thin with a long straight nose and a firm jaw. But dominant among features were his piercing grey eyes which glared with frightening intensity. He held a black Bible in one hand and cried, “There’s a heaven in London for everyone! – For everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Savior!”
He magnetically drew the rapt attention of American sailors, of soldiers on furlough, of bearded Jewish merchants, and London street girls in red blouses. Thirty-six-year-old William Booth strode alone toward home at night to the haven of his sweet wife Catherine, who was, as always, waiting anxiously. As he moved quickly by the bare-footed flower girls and the street children who begged for money, he felt his hearty well up with compassion for these lost souls and a tingling sensation overcame his body.
Around midnight, he walked into his living room and gazed at his wife Catherine, his face aglow and his eyes shining, “Tonight, my darling,” he announced, “I’ve found my destiny!“1
The Salvation Army
“Thou art beautiful, O my love,
as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army with banners.” Song of Songs 6:4
By all accounts, the one most obvious example of Christian social compassion and practical concern by any group in contemporary history is the Salvation Army. The works of the holy army launched by the young Methodist William Booth (1829-1912) and his astonishing wife Catherine Mumford Booth (1820-1890) are legendary. Almost every type of outreach and care for the poor and downtrodden imaginable were both attempted and usually successfully implemented by this radical band.
William’s In Darkest England And The Way Out outlines a grand scheme for the rehabilitation of an entire nation, a grand social reconstruction plan a century ahead of its time. Catherine’s brilliant preaching and writing affected hundreds of thousands. Her temperance tracts, written under an assumed name, were widely distributed throughout Europe.
Though suffering from curvature of the spine, never to know a pain-free day in her life, and often lonely and confined, she read the entire Bible straight through eight times by the time she was twelve years old. Shortly after, at 14, she mastered Finney’s Systematic Theology, along with other volumes by Butler, Fletcher, Wesley, and other holiness writers. These famous works led to her strong messages on Christian perfection which were to characterize the Army’s motivation for service to the world.
The nine Booth children followed their parents into into full time service for the Lord. The oldest, Bramwell, became his father’s successor as “General.” Young Evangeline, with her fiery red hair and sparkling eyes, preached publicly with even fierier oratory. The Salvation Army’s symbol, a shield surrounded by a banner, proclaimed the “Blood and Fire” of God to the world and the devil. They met social injustices head on, sometimes caused riots and public outrage, but everywhere the lost were restored and revival followed in their wake.
But one of the most radical challenges the Salvation Army made to sin in society came from one of their sons, Bramwell, in a controversial media exposure that rocked a nation. Bramwell Booth’s young and pretty wife, Florence, blue-eyed and normally serene, flinched as the full horror of the truth she had uncovered struck her sensitive spirit. Managing the “Refuge,” a temporary haven for streetwalkers, and hookers, she was prepared for evidence of widespread prostitution. But she was not prepared for what she discovered: a terrible network entrapping young girls – innocent children often younger than thirteen or fourteen.
The network posed as employment agencies, condoned hideous initiations, and then shipped the young girls as human sexual slave traffic to rich debauchers throughout England and sometimes (drugged and nailed alive into coffins) to the Continent. The “age of consent” in “moral” Victorian England was then only thirteen in contrast to the Continent’s twenty-one. Yet three times legal efforts to raise this age in England were met with defeat. London was steeped in prostitution; one in every fifty English women were hookers, with 80,000 prostitutes in the city and 2000 pimps working Charing Cross alone.
Their clients were “men in high places; not only members of Parliament, but Queen Victoria’s cousin, the King of the Belgians who spent 1800 pounds a year debauching English girls.“2 One home near Farnham for “fallen children” housed forty girls under twelve years of age. One at Newport housed fifty under ten.
With her own baby daughter beside her, thinking of other little girls anguish and degradation, Florence cried herself to sleep night after night. Bramwell, her tenderhearted husband, was shocked but secretly doubted it could be so bad. Determined to check it out, he shortly after met a seventeen-year-old girl, Annie Swan, who had escaped during the entrapment process. Further questioning of other rescued girls confirmed the horrible truth – a slave-traffic that “could not be matched by any trade in human beings known to history.”
The twenty-six-year-old Salvation Army Chief Of Staff then wrote, “I resolved – and recorded the resolve on paper – that no matter what the consequences might be, I would do all I could to stop these abominations, to rouse public opinion, to agitate for the improvement of the law, to bring to justice the adulterers and murderers of innocence, and to make a way of escape for the victims!“3
Working with a new convert, Rebecca Jarrett, a thirty-six year old ex-drunkard and brothel keeper for twenty years, and the famous London editor, William T. Stead, the Salvation Army launched a fantastic plot to confirm and expose the children’s slave traffic – one that was eventually to embroil the Army in bitter controversy, and result not in the arrest and conviction of the child traders, but of Jarrett and Stead!
Jarrett posed as a procurer and Stead as “one of the wealthy debaucherers to whom so many hundreds of the children of the poor were annually sacrificed.” Obtaining a pretty child called Eliza Armstrong for two pounds from her mother, they played out and documented the entire process, releasing it in the July 6, 1885 issue of the Pall Mall Gazette. It took the British public by storm, in a way that can hardly be paralleled in newspaper history. It was in such demand that enterprising newspaper boys sold the last copies at exorbitant prices.
The “dead” Criminal Law Amendment Bill was suddenly resurrected before a packed and excited House of Parliament. Within seventeen days, over 343,000 signatures filled the Salvation Army’s “monster petition” to the House of Commons. Two miles in length, the petition was carried by eight Salvationists onto the floor of the House. In a month, the Bill was law, and the age of consent was raised to sixteen.
But the underworld, outraged at their exposure, counterattacked. They took Stead and Jarrett to court indicting them under an 1861 abduction act! This “most sensational trial of the nineteenth century” ended in Bramwell’s acquital, but Stead and Jarrett respectively received three and six month sentences. They had succeeded. It cost them dearly, but they broke the back of one of the most vile and vicious practices in England’s history.4
1 Richard Collier, The General Next to God, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow, pp.15-19.
2 Ibid., p.111.
3 Bramwell Booth, Echos and Memories, Hodder and Stough, 1925, p.120.
4 Winkie Pratney, Revival, Agape Force, Lindale Texas, pp.295-299.