Story: Salvation Army

With their lively brass bands and rattling tambourines, the uniformed colonels, majors and lieutenants of the Salvation Army are a distinctive sight. The church has been a major player in New Zealand’s social-services scene since the 1880s, offering help over the years to prisoners, alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, orphans and ‘fallen women’.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: Mobile soup kitchen, 1931

Story summary

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The Salvation Army church was formed in 1865 in England by former Methodist minister William Booth. It was run on military lines – its officers wore uniforms, waved flags and had titles such as captain and lieutenant, and its magazine was called War Cry. Women played an equal role to men – except for the highest positions, held mostly by males.

Arrival in New Zealand

The first Salvation Army meeting in New Zealand was in Dunedin in 1883. New Zealand was experiencing an economic depression, and the church’s lively, welcoming meetings, featuring brass bands and singing, were popular. By 1886 there were more than 5,000 members in 40 corps (local groups).

The Army worked mostly in settler communities rather than with Māori – although some individual Māori joined.

Social work

From its early days the Salvation Army provided social services. The church set up rescue homes for prostitutes and unmarried mothers, homes for newly released prisoners, and children’s homes for orphans and those whose parents could not look after them. The Army ran alcohol-free hotels (called ‘People’s Palaces’) in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and a home for alcoholics on Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

During the 1930s depression the Army ran relief centres and soup kitchens. After the Labour government set up the welfare state in the late 1930s there was less need for the church’s social services, and it focused on homes for the elderly and for unmarried mothers. These also closed as it became more acceptable to have babies outside marriage.

Army culture

The Salvation Army discouraged followers from wearing fashionable clothes, and from gambling, drinking and smoking. The Army became well-known for its brass bands – especially visible at Christmas, when they perform carols in the streets.

The 21st century

In the early 21st century the Army continued its work with the poor and needy, and advised and lobbied the government. It ran treatment programmes for gambling, alcohol and drug addiction, and more than 30 community centres providing food banks, budgeting advice, counselling and other services.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Salvation Army', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 April 2018