In April 1882 Arabella Valpy, daughter of William H. Valpy, a wealthy pioneer settler of Otago, wrote to William Booth in London asking him to send some of his officers to New Zealand, which was then in an economic depression with accompanying poverty and unrest. Arabella Valpy had read of the work which William Booth had begun among similarly distressed people in the East End of London in 1865, a movement which led to the establishment of the Salvation Army. John Brame, an Auckland printer, had also written to William Booth. In November 1882 two officers, Captain Wright and Lieutenant Pollard, both under 20 years of age, were commissioned to found the Salvation Army in New Zealand. (At the same meeting other Salvationists were sent to the United States, India, Canada, Sweden, and South Africa.) With one or two helpers recruited when they called at Melbourne, they arrived at Port Chalmers on 27 March 1883, where they were welcomed by a handful of supporters. The press ridiculed their intentions. England had sent New Zealand its thistles, sparrows, and rabbits: a further scourge was not needed.
Pollard hired the Temperance Hall in Dunedin for three years at £300 per annum. He had only 30s. in his pocket. The first meetings were held on Sunday, 1 April, in the hall and at the fountain (Cargill's Monument), Dunedin, now marked by a plaque as the spot where the Army “opened fire”. Events closely paralleled those in Britain. Stalwarts joined on the first night and remained faithful to the cause. Crowds packed the unusually informal meetings where converts gave immediate evidence of changed lives. There was rowdyism, with “skeleton” (hooligan) armies; police action in favour of law and order; warm support by discerning churchmen; and the rapid growth of corps of happy soldiers.