Hyde Dunn travelled to Hobart in August 1923 to introduce the Bahá'í
teachings in Tasmania. Almost immediately, he met Tasmanians who had known about
the Faith through press coverage of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's travels in the West, and who
formed the basis of the first Hobart community. Progress from the 1920s until
the establishment of the first Local Assembly in 1949 was slow, as was the
subsequent emergence of communities in Launceston and Devonport, but was
commendable when considered in its social and religious context. This paper
examines the progress of the Bahá'í Faith in Tasmania from its origins until
the close of the World Crusade in 1963. It considers the strategies adopted by
the Bahá'ís for their expansion and consolidation, and suggests that their
efforts most likely reached all Tasmanians holding any interest in exploring
this new Faith during this period. The paper suggests, further, that the
Tasmanian Bahá'ís, despite their small numbers, contributed significantly at
this time to the maturation and progress of the Australian Bahá'í community.
From Iceland to Tasmania, from Vancouver to the China Sea spreads the
radiance and extend the ramifications of this world-enfolding System, this
many-hued and firmly-knit Fraternity, infusing into every man and woman it has
won to its cause a faith, a hope, and a vigor that a wayward generation has long
lost, and is powerless to recover...
Shoghi Effendi's reference to Tasmania in his essay "The Unfoldment
of World Civilisation" of March 1936 was no mere rhetorical flourish.
It signifies, rather, the worth of this small community (and others like it)
within the global spread of the Teachings of Bahá'u'llah. Appreciation of the
origins and growth of such a Bahá'í community, in an historical sense,
requires close observation of its individual members and its institutions, and
the contexts within which these acted. Thus, the task in this essay is to
account for the progress of the Tasmanian Bahá'í community in the forty years
after Hyde Dunn's first visit to Hobart in August 1923.
In considering patterns in the growth of Bahá'í communities, Peter
Smith has suggested that those in Western societies have evolved through four
phases: an initial stage of "universality", in which Bahá'í is
regarded as the "spirit of the age"; followed by a period of increased
emphasis on organisation, criterion of membership, and the establishment of
stable and efficient administration; then a third phase of systematic plans for
expansion and administrative consolidation; and finally, a phase of
significantly higher rates of growth.
Despite its small proportions, the Tasmanian Bahá'í experience can be seen to
reflect the first three stages of this general model.
Hyde and Clara Dunn arrived in Australia in April 1920 to spread the Bahá'í
Message, and had already visited Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland. As described
their early success had come through contact with the metaphysical movements.
When the Dunns and two Melbourne Bahá'ís spent three months in Hobart at the
beginning of 1924 Hyde spoke on the platforms of the Theosophical Society, and
through a Tasmanian acquaintance Ivy (Trixie) Colyer, also met church leaders,
newspaper editors, and other individuals.
These efforts attracted a small group of adherents, which was not
sustained despite the visit to Tasmania that year by Martha Root, and Hyde
Dunn's return visit the following year. From this early period one remarkable
woman, Gretta Lamprill, sustained the Bahá'í message on the island. Gretta had
hoped to pursue a singing career, but her family was unable to afford such an
education, and she took up nursing. She became a member of the National
Spiritual Assembly, and more significantly, was named a Knight of Bahá'u'lláh
together with Glad Parke, who travelled with her to the Society Islands (now
French Polynesia) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The group did not expand between 1925 and 1934, the year in which the Bahá'ís
of Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand formed their National Spiritual
Assembly. With no more than three members in Tasmania, Hobart could not form a
Local Spiritual Assembly, and could not send a delegate to the first National
Convention. As a consequence of Martha Root's second visit to Tasmania, in March
1939, Eloise Jenson (Greenlaw), and then Kit Crowder, became Bahá'ís. The
Tasmanian community did not increase in size or visibility until Martha Root's
second visit, 5-10 March 1939. Despite her frail physical condition, she
conducted an itinerary prepared by Gretta Lamprill: lectures at three high
schools, the Spiritualistic Church, the Workers Educational Association, the
Lyceum Club, the Theosophical Society, the Esperantist Society, Rotary Club, the
Bellerive, and the Sandford Country Women's Association. ABC radio invited Miss
Root to speak on Monday 6 March on her submitted topic, "Culture and world
peace". On the same day Miss Root told her adventurous story in The
Mercury. She made five broadcasts in all, and was given a Lord Mayor's
reception. Two public lectures were delivered in Hobart. They were chaired by
A.B. Taylor, Professor of English; and G.V. Brooks, State Director of Education.
After a public meeting in Launceston Miss Root departed for Melbourne by boat.
The Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand had formed their National
Spiritual Assembly in 1934, and although the Tasmanian Bahá'ís had not been
able to participation in national conventions, they were a part of the national
community, and benefited from the systematic teaching efforts now being
coordinated by the National Assembly. A campaign of public lectures in 1940
involved visits by Maysie Almond, by Hilda Brooks, and Charlotte Moffitt and
Jane Routh. The NSA contributed 80 pounds toward the cost of teaching
activities, in addition to teaching materials it had forwarded to Gretta
Lamprill. At about this time Joan Peck joined the Hobart group.
In October 1940 Gretta Lamprill was visited by government officers
seeking information about the group's activities. The spread of war in Europe
had no doubt prompted the government to investigate the actions and attitudes of
all manner of organisations; and the incident prompted the Bahá'ís to ensure
that public officials be better informed as to the Bahá'í attitude to war.
The Bahá'ís sometimes collaboration with like-minded social movements,
meeting occasionally with the Friendship society and with a group of
spiritualists. Kit Crowder and Eloise Greenlaw became enthusiastic Esperantists.
In 1942-43 the Hobart Bahá'ís were invited to join the League of Nations
Union. They believed it was not possible to do this, but donated one pound one
shilling. From the 1940s, also, the Bahá'ís involved academics in their public
meetings: W.T. Dowsett, Mr W.A. Townsley, and Mr Trott were among those who
spoke at events marking World Religion Day, United Nations Day, and other
occasions. So too, did they invite outstanding public figures of the day.
Propagation strategies used by the Bahá'ís extended from personal
contact and communications, to public meetings, and use of the mass media. An
intense teaching campaign that commenced on 5 October 1943, for instance,
consisted of public lectures, broadcasts, and book displays. Bahá'ís visited
from interstate. Public meetings were held on 30 June 1943 and 14 March 1944,
leading to the celebration of the centenary of the declaration of the Báb in
May 1944. Kit Crowder spoke on radio on "One World - One Faith", and
on 23 May some sixty people gathered at the Lord Mayor's Court Room to hear some
... interspersed by very enjoyable music items kindly arranged by Miss
Myra Gillon...Wired greetings from the NSA and Gretta Lamprill were received and
supper, which included a Centenary Birthday Cake made by Murial Handley, was
served by members of our senior and youth groups.
The evening was chaired by Mr J. Modridge, a member of the Theosophical
Society, and its success was noted in The
Mercury. Similar meetings were held in Launceston, where Bahá'ís resided
at times from the 1940s, but where a community can only be said to have emerged
at a later date. In 1944 a regional teaching committee was appointed for
Tasmania, as was a summer and winter school committee. Throughout 1945-46 the
Tasmanian Teaching Committee advertised in the papers of all the major towns.
Public meetings in Hobart were addressed by Gretta Lamprill and Kit Crowder, and
during the year the committee investigated recording talks written by Mrs Axford
for broadcast on radio stations across the state. Literature was donated to
public libraries: the magazines World
Order and Bahá'í Magazine were
available in the reading room at the Hobart Public Library, the Launceston YMCA,
and the Launceston Public Library. The Hobart Bahá'ís were regular recipients
of Bahá'í News from North America,
and kept up with other Bahá'í news through the Bahá'í
Quarterly and Herald of the South.
Dr Jack Bean, brother of the famed historian of world war one, C.E.W.
Bean, typified the individual entranced by "universalism" of the Bahá'í
Teachings, yet ultimately unable to adhere to the more formalised requirements
of membership and belief. His association with the Bahá'ís also marked a high
point in the community's relations with the Theosophical Society. A medical
practitioner, Bean was a prominent Australian Theosophist, and had spoken at Bahá'í
meetings for sometime before joining. Bean lectured widely on the Bahá'í Faith
in the next few years in Tasmania, and in Goulburn, Brisbane, and Yerrinbool.
Late in 1950 Dr Bean's wife Dorothy left Theosophy to became a Bahá'í, while
he resigned, unable to reconcile Bahá'í teachings with his allegiance to
There were instances, too, where Bahá'ís faced the administrative
requirement barring involvement in secret societies. Mr H.A. Wilkinson, Grand
secretary of the Masonic lodges of Tasmania, had chaired a meeting organised by
the Bahá'ís to observe World Religion Day in 1950, and had become a Bahá'í
in 1952. Thus, when a report appeared in Bahá'í
News in 1954 stating that Bahá'ís could not be Freemasons, Hobart Assembly
asked the National Assembly for clarification. Subsequently, in the March
edition of the Bahá'í Bulletin the
National Assembly requested to hear from anyone who felt concerned about Shoghi
Effendi's directive that Bahá'ís not be involved in secret societies, such as
the Freemasons. In November 1957 the NSA reported that some Bahá'ís in
Australia continued their adherence to Freemasonry, International Co-Freemasonry
and the Rosicrucian Order. Mr Wilkinson chose to remain a member of his Masonic
Lodge, and in 1958 was deprived of his voting rights.
The majority of the Tasmanian Bahá'ís, it must be said, had no
difficulty in meeting the standards of the emerging Bahá'í administrative
order. On several occasions they wrote to Shoghi Effendi to convey their
greetings. Their relations with the National Assembly were harmonious, with very
few points of misunderstanding, despite the distances between Sydney and Hobart,
and the limited means of communication which hampered the possibility of easy
For a time in 1945 one of the Bahá'ís stayed away from Bahá'í
meetings after a clash with Gretta Lamprill. He had considered resigning, and
said another member had actually done so, but a letter the following month from
Gretta to Mariette Bolton saying that the whole matter was resolved. The
Community reported of its past year:
We feel it can safely be said that all members have seized whatever
opportunities came their way for spreading the Teachings and have used whatever
approach they had at hand to present the Cause to the public - be it lending
books, verbally, a window display or a fireside meeting.
In 1949 Hobart Assembly made an interesting recommendation to the
National Assembly, which sounds like good advice at any time:
where a National Committee is functioning satisfactorily, not more than one
change annually be made in the personnel, unless special circumstances make it
The need for co-ordination and co-operation increased during the years
1947 to 1953, when the Australian Bahá'ís undertook a co-ordinated six year
plan of action. Within Tasmania, the goals were to establish a Local Spiritual
Assembly in Hobart, and groups in Launceston and Devonport. In 1950 the Hobart
Bahá'ís were conducting a monthly study class in Launceston, where there were
still no Bahá'ís. By January 1951 Glad Parke had moved there but the town
remained unresponsive. Efforts were also made to develop communities in Burnie,
Scottsdale, New Norfolk, and Glenorchy.
When Clara Dunn and Thelma Perks visited Hobart in November 1948 meetings
were held at the Bahá'í Centre and in the homes of Kit Crowder and Katie
Pharoah. As reported in the Bahá'í News
The meetings were happy gatherings and the true Bahá'í spirit
prevailed. There was lively discussion and great interest shown. Regular visits
of Bahá'ís from the Mainland would stimulate interest in the non-Bahá'í
community and be of great value to the furtherance of the Cause in Tasmania.
After years of effort, the Hobart Bahá'ís
established their Local Assembly in 1949. Mrs Mabel Bailey, Miss Eileen Costello
and Mr F.C. Parsons had joined the community in 1948, and on 30 December 1948
the Hobart Bahá'ís cabled Shoghi Effendi:
HOBART JOYOUSLY APPLYING FOR ASSEMBLY STATUS STOP HUMBLE SERVANTS SEND
LOVING GREETINGS SUPPLICATE PRAYERS
The members of Hobart's first Local Assembly established at Ridvan 1949
were Frank & Myra Brown, Mabel Bailey, Kit Crowder, Eileen Costello,
Katherine Harcus, Gretta Lamprill, Katie Pharoah, and Ben Raynor.
The Assembly provided the administrative foundation for the effective
functioning of the Bahá'í community. It established committees for teaching,
socials, and the preservation of Bahá'í history. These committees were
retained in subsequent years, and there were also Bahá'í representatives to
the AAUN and the Good Neighbour Council, which was concerned with the settlement
of migrants to Australia. In 1950 the North American National Spiritual Assembly
mentioned in correspondence the its Australian counterpart that "excellent
opportunities" existed for cooperation between Bahá'í communities and
agencies of the United Nations, the Australian NSA editorialised:
It is known that the Hobart Community has been fostering its association
with its local U.N. Association for some time. It has met with considerable
success and has won many friends for the Faith in Tasmania. Other communities
may well look to the advantages of fostering such association.
The involvement of Bahá'ís in other movements should also be noted. Mrs
Pharoah was involved in the good neighbour program, and Mrs Greenlaw attended
meetings of the newly formed Pan Pacific Women's Association. Late in 1950
Hobart Local Assembly decided that it wanted to help in settling Persian Bahá'ís
in Australia. Although initial inquiries were made with commonwealth
authorities, no progress seems to have been made at this time.
In the six year period 1947-53 an unprecedented number of Bahá'í
speakers visited Tasmania from inter-state and from other countries. They
included Clara Dunn and Thelma Perks (together in November 1948 and Clara Dunn
alone in March 1951), Ethel Dawe (1946), Kit Carpenter (April 1949), Stanley P.
Bolton (September-October 1949), Bertha Dobbins (May 1950), and Dorothy Dugdale
and Ann Peace. Noted Indian Bahá'í, Mrs Shirin Fozdar, visited Tasmania in
September 1952, addressing a wide range of meetings in Hobart, New Norfolk,
Launceston, Burnie and Devonport.
New members of the Bahá'í community during the six year plan included
Jean Scholes (who declared in 1949 but died on 9 August of the same year); Mrs
Ada Wilson, the eighty-year old mother of Mrs Bailey (1949); Glad Park (1950),
who a few years later was to join Gretta Lamprill as Knight of Bahá'u'lláh to
the Society Islands; Mrs K Rothwell (1951). Albert Benson, editor of a newspaper
in Devonport, became a Bahá'í late in 1952, having received a copy of Bahá'u'lláh
and the New Era from visiting Adelaide Bahá'ís Anne Pierce and Dorothy
Dugdale. His wife and son also joined. Mrs Ethel Marrison also joined at this
time and the Devonport community was established in 1953.
When Edward Walter Bailey declared in 1952 Gretta Lamprill wrote to
Hobart Assembly: "Our hearts were indeed rejoiced at the good news of the
enlistment into the "ranks of the cohorts of Bahá'u'lláh", of another
Believer in Hobart - Mr E.W. Bailey. In 1938 there was only one believer in
Hobart, now there are twelve. There were no believers in Launceston in 1949; now
there are five. Praise be to God for this great bounty!":
The result of so much activity was the formation of nine communities by
Ridvan 1953 (there were groups in Burnie, Devonport, Glenorchy, Launceston, New
Norfolk, Scottsdale, Huonville and Lilydale - in addition to the LSA in Hobart)-
although of these only Hobart, Launceston, Glenorchy and Devonport had any
permanence, as the remainder had been formed through the temporary transfer of
Bahá'ís from Hobart and Launceston.
As subsequent events showed, the Bahá'ís were attempting to hold
together more communities than their numbers would allow: by 1951-52 several
members of the Hobart community had departed interstate (Gretta Lamprill and Ben
Raynor to Sydney, and Kath Harcus to Adelaide), and within a few years the
Assembly lapsed. By the mid-point of the Crusade, in 1958, the Tasmanian
community comprised just 21 Bahá'ís in 6 groups. Hobart Assembly had fallen to
six members, and was only re-established in 1961.
There were a number of international Bahá'í visitors to Tasmania during
the years of the World Crusade. In 1954 Hand of the Cause Mr Furutan visited,
accompanied by Mr Faizi:
"It was a great joy to us all to meet these two lovely souls, and to
hear about all the Intercontinental Conferences. Our Assembly was much depleted
at this time with sickness and bereavement, but our visitors were taken round
for Non Bahá'ís to meet and hear the visitors."
Shirin Fozdar made a second visit to Tasmania in January 1960, obtaining
publicity in the Devonport Advocate.
Mrs Jeanne Frankel visited in May 1960. Such visits notwithstanding, the
community grew only slowly in the years to 1963. Hobart community's membership
fell during 1954-55 from 15 to 10. After having the Centre for six years, the
community reported to the National Assembly that it could no longer maintain it,
as the rent was raised 150% The advice of National secretary Jim Heggie was for
the Assembly to seek financial assistance from the Tasmanian community through
the Regional Teaching Committee. This avenue was evidently unsuccessful, as the
Centre was lost in April 1956. Meetings were thence held at the Brown's
residence. In that year, for the first time, the Hobart Bahá'ís failed to
affiliate with the United Nations branch in Tasmania, although they did pay
their fees for affiliation to the Temperance Council.
Yet there was growth. Through Mrs Bailey, chairman of the Regional
Teaching Committee, Mrs Joan Dean and Mrs Linda Jacobson became Bahá'ís in
Glenorchy early in 1953. Tasmania's second Assembly was formed in Devonport in
1963. Its members were Reg Priestly, Ethel Marrison, Wilma Vandendool, Bill
Vandendool, Mrs G. Smith, Glad Parke, Albert Benson, Gretta Lamprill, and
Margaret Benson. At the completion of the ten year World Crusade there were two
Local Assemblies, two groups and four isolated Bahá'ís in Tasmania: LSAs had
been established in Hobart and Devonport, groups in Beaconsfield, &
Glenorchy, and isolated Bahá'ís on King Island, Launceston, Lilydale &
The Bahá'í community in Tasmania as at Ridvan
Beaconsfield King Island
Growth of the Bahá'í community in Tasmania
The contribution to the Bahá'í Faith in Australia made by the Tasmanian
Bahá'ís has been out of proportion to their numerical strength. Those who
became Bahá'ís in Tasmania who subsequently moved to other states included
Everard and Murial Handley, Goro and Ingrid Jorgic, Frank, Eleanor and John
Burdett, Bob and Laurie Sherwin, Reg Priestly, and Grenville Kirton. Tasmania's
first Bahá'í, Gretta Lamprill, was elected to the National Assembly in 1942,
and at the beginning of the World Crusade pioneered to French Polynesia. Kit
Crowder became a fluent public speaker, and in the 1950s was elected secretary
of Hobart LSA. In 1953 she was acting secretary of the National Assembly, and a
member also of the Tasmanian regional teaching committee. She gave valuable
assistance to the incorporation of the National Assembly in Tasmania. Frank and
Eleanor Burdett had joined early in 1952, having studied the Bahá'í teachings
for more than a year. They moved to Sydney in 1962 to become care-takers at the
newly completed Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, remaining until their
retirement many years later. The Jorgics left for Adelaide about May 1954, and
Goro was later elected to the National Spiritual Assembly. This paper has sought
to provide a brief outline of the activities of the Tasmanian Bahá'ís, to
which further investigation will no doubt add.