Who did the Great Stink of 1886

In August 1886 the Salvation Army in Ipswich caused such a stink that the army ended up in court with accusations that I don’t think have never been repeated anywhere else in Australia. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

The good work of the Salvos was put under scrutiny earlier that month when the Toowoomba alderman John Garget complained about what he said was the “insufferable nuisance and danger the public endured by the Salvation Army processions”.

Garget had just completed his fourth year as the Toowoomba mayor and arranged for the Inspector of Nuisances to interview the leader of the army and suggest some changes. Of particular concern to Alderman Garget was what he said was, “making night hideous by the twanging of tambourines.” He simply didn’t like the music.

It was just a couple of weeks later that the scrutiny was transferred to nearby Ipswich and raised to another level. That’s when a Salvation Army meeting in the Ipswich School of Arts building (on the right in the picture above) was so severely disrupted that they all ended up in court.

A key witness to the events was the Ipswich grocer George Siemon. He would later be a key witness in convicting Australia’s youngest forger. On this occasion it was Siemon who stated that he smelt a horrible stench during the early part of the Salvos meeting.

George Siemon

The result was that three to four hundred church goers stampeded out of the School of Arts. This was in total violation of the Salvation Army rules at the time, because no one was actually allowed to leave except during the singing. But they all climbed over one another to get out all the same.

Sitting down the back of the hall was a labourer called Harry Baker. He was accused of causing the smell. But later when he heard that there was a reward of £5 offered for a conviction, he told the police who the real offender was.

A well-known youth named Jack Davis was charged under the “Religious Worship Act” with the rare crime of “wilfully and maliciously disturbing a congregation assembled for divine service.”

The big guns were brought in including the prosecutor who was Ipswich’s giant 6’4” policeman Senior-sergeant Andrew O’Driscoll from Ballydehob in County Cork, Ireland.

There was some debate about whether the Salvation Army meeting in the School of Arts actually constituted a divine service for the purpose of the act.

In the end, Davis was convicted and fined £5, or in default one month’s imprisonment.

The crime that he committed was causing the hideous smell that cleared the Salvation Army meeting.

And he did it by spilling a bottle of pure ammonium hydrosulphide which has a powerful and unpleasant smell, and is commonly known as rotten egg gas.

You ask anyone from the Salvation Army in Ipswich today, and none of them mention The Great Stink of 1886. That’s because the mass exodus in contravention of army rules is best forgotten.

TarraGindi Tasserone (front left)

The Salvation Army Band in Ipswich has had some famous musicians through the years – none more so that TarraGindi Tasserone who is the South Sea Islander after whom the Brisbane suburb of Tarragindi was named. In Ipswich he was an accomplished Triangle player.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO

Photo credits:
Ipswich School of Arts building and Post Office 1908 – State Library of Queensland.
George Frederick Siemon 1901 – Queenslander, Brisbane, 15th June 1901, page 1145.
Salvation Army Band Ipswich early 1900s (TarraGindi Tasserone on left) – Picture Ipswich.

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