Religious Perspectives on Conscription
Mainstream Protestant churches in Australia overwhelmingly supported the war. However, small, socially progressive churches were amongst the strongest supporters of the anti-conscription campaign.
At the start of World War One, nearly eight in ten Australians identifed as Protestants. Around half of those were Church of England, with Presbyterians and Methodists being the next two largest denominations. (Australian Catholics numbered a little more than 20% of the population; fewer than 5% listed themselves as non-Christian, non-religious or ‘Other’ in the Census.)
Religious leaders from all of these large Protestant groups supported conscription. Such Churches generally argued that the success of the Christian religion required the survival of democratic governments and thus that it was the duty of Christians to support the government in the war.
There were a few Protestant ministers who opposed conscription, like the Congregationalist Alfred Rivett, one of the signatories of the manifesto ‘Conscription and Christianity’. By the time of this manifesto, Rivett had been forced to resign from his position due to this viewpoint; his congregation overwhelmingly supported conscription. This experience was not unique, fellow Congregationalist Thomas Roseby and Methodist Bernard Linden Webb were two other ministers forced to resign for opposing conscription.
There were smaller religious congregations, however, who took an explicitly Christian anti-war position, and particularly opposed any compulsion to fight.
Two Melbourne groups that were particularly important were the Free Religious Fellowship, led by Frederick Sinclaire, and the Australian Church of Charles Strong.
The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, were less prominent in the anti-conscription campaign in Melbourne. However, they were a major part of efforts elsewhere in most other Australian cities, including Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart.
Less religious anti-conscriptionists would also draw attention to the messages of the Christian Bible to support their position.
Australia and World War One
Photograph - Send-off to the Brunswick Soldiers
Photograph - Brunswick Town Hall Honour Board
Memorial Plaque - Leonard William Telford
Poster - 'Australia has Promised Britain 50,000 More Men'
Labour Activists of Brunswick and Coburg
Photograph - Frank Anstey
Photograph - John Curtin
Photograph - Frank Hyett
Photograph - Maurice Blackburn
The Trade Unions' Anti-conscription Campaign
Handbill - 'The Blood Vote'
Cartoon - 'The Charge of the Would to God Brigade'
Handbill - Slave Conspiracy
The Women's Movement During the War
Photograph - Vida Goldstein
Photograph - Adela Pankhurst
Handbill - Conscription and Woman's Loyalty
Photograph - 'Women's No Conscription Demonstration'
Bella Lavender - Brunswick Campaigner
Photograph - Bella Lavender
Cartoon - Bella Lavender
Letter - Bella Lavender to Education Department
Photograph - Labor Women's Anti-conscription Committee
Religious Perspectives on Conscription
Handbill - Conscription and Christianity
Handbill - Conscription Questions for Voters
Handbill - How Would Christ Vote?
The Catholic Church and Conscription
Photograph - Daniel Mannix
Article - Cause of the War
Article - Revolt Victims
Cartoon - Australian Workman's Burden
Brunswick and Coburg During the Campaigns
Article - No Anti-conscription Meetings in Brunswick
Handbill - Public Meeting Against Conscription
Advertisement - Recruitment Meeting
Article - Remarkably Quiet Day
The Two Referendums
Handbill - Vote Thus Against Conscription
Article - Military Service Referendum Poll
Article - Conscription. Mr Hughes in Queensland
Article - 'Bourke'
The Soldiers' Votes
Diary - Claude Ewart
Photograph - Jack and Bert Grinton
Handbill - Returned Soldiers' No Conscription League Manifesto
Photograph - Soldiers Voting
Consequences for the Campaigners
Inscription - Police Just Raided
Article - 'Failure to Enrol'
Letter - Adela Pankhurst to Sallie Walsh
Article - 'Serenading Miss Pankhurst'
Story education resources
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Education Resource
The Against The Odds Education Resource provides a stimulating range of activities for students undertaking the compulsory Victorian History Curriculum Level 9/10 unit Australia at war (1914 – 1945). It helps students reflect on the complexities of the conscription debate through a range of analytical, creative and research tasks.
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map
The Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map is a map of some of the sites described in the digital story or related to individuals therein. Download the map to use it for a self-guided tour in the area.