William and Catherine Booth

The Booths’ Short Term Helpers

Many men and women fought alongside the Booths in The Salvation Army and its predecessor the Christian Mission. Some of them spent most of their adult lives in Army service. Others just served for a while and then moved on to other matters, usually other areas of Christian work. What follows are the stories of some of those who served with the Booths and their Army for just a short while.

“GYPSY” SMITH (1860-1947)

At Easter 1871, less than six years after William Booth had commenced his Christian Mission in London’s East End, he was conduction a meeting at the People’s Mission Hall, Whitechapel. At the back of the hall was a group of gypsies. Booth had earlier visited their nearby encampment. Before the meeting closed he gave an opportunity for his hearers to give their testimony of what Christ had done for them. Two of the gypsies did so.1
At least 16 of this group were Christians at this time, some from Christian Mission influence. Booth described them as “rougher … unpolished gems … who were none the less God-sent, heaven-taught messengers of the truth”.2 This gypsy band was centered around three brothers, Bartholomew, Cornelius and Woodlock Smith. They had been converted a few years before under the influence of Henry Varley, a Plymouth Brethren evangelist. Booth was later to use the brothers on a temporary basis on a mission to Portsmouth.
In the late 1870s, Rodney “Gypsy” Smith, a son of Cornelius Smith, was to become a worker in the Christian Mission, an officer in The Salvation Army, and later still an international evangelist.3 Rodney Smith was to minister for Booth in Chatham in Kent and then Bolton in the north of England, where he worked with William Corbridge. On at least two occasions the Gypsy and his associates were attacked by mobs in Bolton and the second time they were rescued only just in time by a friendly chemist, who sheltered them in his shop. Fortunately for everyone the police soon arrived on the scene and completed the rescue.4
Captain Rodney “Gypsy” Smith, as he became, was later transferred to Hanley in Staffordshire, in the potteries. In June 1882 Smith was informed by Army Headquarters that he was to be moved from his post in Hanley. His wife being eight months pregnant at that time, he pleaded with the General to be able to remain a few months longer, and, perhaps surprisingly, Booth consented to him staying. But some of the local churches, who held Smith in high regard and realised that his departure from their town would probably occur soon after his wife had given birth, presented him with an engraved gold watch and gave his wife £5. However, it was against Salvation Army regulations for officers to accept such gifts. This was at least partly on the reasonable grounds that it could cause jealousy amongst those officers who had not been so favoured.
On 5 August Gypsy received good news and bad news. The good news was that his second child had been born that morning. The bad news was a letter from Bramwell Booth that charged him with “premeditated defiance of the rules and regulations of the army”, and contained the assumption that because of this, Smith had “resolved to leave the army”. The letter concluded by advising Smith that he and his wife were no longer officers of The Salvation Army and would be replaced “at once”.
Not surprisingly Smith was “greatly upset” by the letter. He later confessed that though he had “felt thoroughly at home in the Christian Mission”, he had felt “rather uncomfortable and out of place in the Salvation Army”, and because of this had actually written out his resignation twice before this incident, but on each occasion had destroyed it. In his eventual letter of response to Bramwell’s missive he stated that he left the Army “with a clear conscience and a clean heart”, and expressed his intention to continue Christian work. Though greatly saddened by this affair, Gypsy Smith bore no lasting grudge and later described The Salvation Army as “one of the greatest and most useful religious movements” of the nineteenth century.5 After his departure from the Army he became a renowned international evangelist.
Gypsy once said, if a prostitute “wanted to talk with someone and inquire the way to Jesus, would she, do you think, come and knock at the door of your beautiful Gothic church? Would she? I will tell you where, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, such a woman would go to find Jesus – she would go to the Salvation Army!”6

I think it was in the 1930s that my father heard Gypsy Smith preach and sing. Gypsy would have been over seventy by then. Dad said even at that age his voice “filled the hall” (David Malcolm Bennett).

I have recently received some interesting information from Cadet Charles Smith of The Salvation Army, Atlanta, Georgia. He has directed me to a site about Rodney Smith’s cousin Gipsy Simon Smith. Simon was orphaned as a young boy and went to Dr Barnardo for help (see below). Barnardo sent him to a home in Canada, and Simon, like his cousin, went on to become an Evangelist, serving in England and Canada. However, I don’t think Simon was ever associated with The Salvation Army.7

1 Christian Mission Magazine (CMM), May 1871, 72-75, which has two accounts of these meetings, one written by Mary Billups for the magazine and the other is extracted from The Christian. The latter includes part of Booth’s speech. See also Frederick Booth-Tucker, The Life of Catherine Booth (2 vols. London: Salvation Army, 1892), 2:33-35.
2 CMM, June 1871, 92; William Booth, How to Reach the Masses with the Gospel (London: Morgan & Scott, 1871/72), 62-63.
3 Rodney Smith, Gipsy Smith: His Life and Work (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1906), 57-70, 92-96.
4 There is a short chapter on Rodney Smith’s ministry in Bolton in my William Booth and his Salvation Army (Brisbane: Even Before Publishing, 2013), 40-43.
5 Smith, Gipsy Smith, 131-39.
6 Gipsy Smith, Real Religion (London: Hodder, 1922), 57. (From a sermon preached on his twentieth visit to America.)

7 http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/-gipsy-simon-smith.html

© David Malcolm Bennett (2013)


One young man of great ability who slipped away from the Army was an Irish student doctor of Prussian ancestry. He was a keen Christian whose desire at that time was to go as a missionary to China. Indeed, that is the reason he was training as a doctor, because he believed it would maximize his usefulness on the mission field. From 1866 he was studying at the London Hospital which was near the Mile End Waste, so he inevitably ran into Booth’s embryonic army. He was greatly attracted by the Booth kind of evangelism and gave energetic help for a while.
It was probably impossible that the two men could remain in the same organisation for long, for both William Booth and this student doctor, Thomas Barnardo, were born leaders and liked to get their own way. Barnardo has in fact been called “Dedicated, flamboyant and autocratic” (cover of Wagner’s book, see below). Booth too was dedicated and autocratic, and to have two such able autocrats in one organisation would have been a recipe for disaster.
During the course of his studies Barnardo encountered the terrible predicament of thousands of children in the East End, many of whom literally had no homes, and he gradually found his ambition turning away from overseas mission towards helping London’s waifs and strays. In 1868 the young Barnardo acquired two small houses in the appropriately named Hope Place, Stepney, and though his plan was also to do some work with adults, his primary target was children and young people. Indeed, the first name he gave to his organisation was the East End Juvenile Mission.
There is a story, which may be apocryphal, that when Barnardo approached William Booth to tell him of his intentions, Booth gave his blessing and said, “You look after the children and I’ll look after the adults. Then together we’ll convert the world.”
Dr. Barnardo was to establish a chain of orphanages which was to be the salvation of thousands of homeless children around the world.

David Malcolm Bennett, The General: William Booth (Florida: Xulon, 2003), 2:16-17; Gillian Wagner, Barnardo (London: Weidenfeld, 1979), 1, 14-37, 42-51; A.E. Williams. Barnardo of Stepney: The Father of Nobody’s Children (London: Allen & Unwin, 1943), 50-65.

© David Malcolm Bennett (2013)


Priscilla Livingstone Stewart is a name that will not be recognised by many. She is better known as Priscilla Studd, the wife of missionary and Test cricketer, C.T. (Charlie) Studd. He co-founded what is now WEC International, but he would not have been able to do it without the support of the remarkable Priscilla.
She was born in Lisburn, Ireland, on 28 August 1864. Her parents were staunch Christians, and it was not unusual for them to show hospitality to evangelists and other Christian workers visiting their town. As the red-headed Priscilla grew into her teens she became fervently opposed to all things Christian.
On one occasion she went to stay for a while with a friend who belonged to The Salvation Army. There was something about this young lady that Priscilla found extraordinarily attractive. The rebellious teenager felt much more at ease with this friend than with her own family and many of its Christian acquaintances. But Priscilla resisted her friend when approached about attending the Army meeting hall.
In the end she relented and went. She did not enjoy the meeting, but returned home clutching a tract written by General William Booth, which she later read.
A few weeks later she attended a ball and danced well into the night. When she returned home she collapsed on her bed, fell asleep and had the first of a sequence of dreams about Jesus Christ. These dreams greatly disturbed her, and it was mainly them that finally pushed her into the arms of Christ.
After that she joined The Salvation Army and frequently took part in the bold processions through the streets, braving the fusillades of rotten fruit, stones and bad eggs that the local trouble makers hurled at them. Within two years of her conversion the twenty-two year old Priscilla Stewart was on her way to China, with the China Inland Mission, determined to convert that nation’s entire population.
While in China she met and married Charlie Studd. Studd had once jokingly told a friend that if he ever was married it would have to be to ‘a Salvation Army Lassie’. In Priscilla he found one.
Soon after they were married, Priscilla received a substantial inheritance through her husband. She gave it all to The Salvation Army.
She served as a missionary not only in China but also in India and she supported her husband when he disappeared into the heart of Africa preaching Jesus Christ. But, let it be said, they had some right royal arguments about it.

Norman Grubb, C.T. Studd; Cricketer & Pioneer (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1982), 57-60, 99-103; Eileen Vincent, C.T. Studd and Priscilla (Eastbourne, Kingsway, 1988), 81-96, 153-54, 211-22.

c David Malcolm Bennett (2013)

FRANK SMITH (1854-1940)

Frank Smith was a Londoner who had been converted as a young man to a ‘religion of enjoyment’ and became an evangelist in The Salvation Army. He was appointed Commander of the American Army in 1884, in which role he was generally successful, but was recalled to London in 1887 because of ill health.

Smith developed a consuming interest in politics and social reform. In May 1888 the General made him responsible for the Food and Shelter Depots, and two years later he was put in charge of the Army’s rapidly expanding Social Wing. He was also given the rank of Commissioner.

Frank Smith played a significant part in planning General Booth’s In Darkest England book and scheme. Norman Murdoch calls Smith the scheme’s ‘Principal Ideologue’ and ‘the scheme’s ideologue’, thus the main ideas man behind the book and scheme. Smith seems to have collected much of the material that later went into the book.

As has been seen, in 1890 Smith was responsible for the Social Wing of Army affairs in Britain, and he had been a major, perhaps the major, force behind its social work expansion. He had written a number of articles for the War Cry on such matters, and had compiled a supplement to the Christmas 1889 edition, which was called ‘Salvation Socialism’, and in which he had written the main piece. In this he said, ‘The Baby Who was cradled in an manger has closer relationship with the baby in the workhouse ward’, than those born in more favourable circumstances. Yet it did not proclaim socialism in a political sense.

Smith left The Salvation Army in 1890 and entered politics. He was an early member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and became the first of that party to stand for parliament, though he was not elected at that time. (The ILP later merged with the main British Labour Party.) Smith stood at many elections, but did not gain a seat until 1929.

Norman Murdoch, Frank Smith: Salvation Socialist: 1854-1940 (Orlando: Salvation Army Social Services, 2003); Bennett, The General, 2:293, 314-16; Glenn K. Horridge, The Salvation Army: Its Origins and Early Days: 1865-1900 (Godalming: Ammonite, 1993), 145-46; The War Cry. 25 Dec. 1889, 17-24.

© David Malcolm Bennett (2015)


John Alexander Dowie was only in The Salvation Army for a brief while. But he was in it long enough to call himself the ‘General-in-Command’ of The Salvation Army in Australia, which one suspects did not endear him to General William Booth.

Dowie was born in Scotland and brought up a Congregationalist. His family migrated to Australia, but he returned to Scotland to study for the ministry. He then rejoined his family in Australia, and was ordained as a Congregational minister in May 1872. Six years later he left the Congregationalists and became a an independent evangelist and faith healer, and exercised an influential ministry first in Australia and from 1888 in America. He founded and ruled a city, Zion City, north of Chicago, which included his multi-seat Shiloh Tabernacle.

For a number of years he published a newsletter called Leaves of Healing, which was distributed to thousands in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. He was a major influence on the emergence of the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In the midst of all this, in 1881 he was a prominent figure in the early stages of The Salvation Army in Australia. Twenty-one years later, when Dowie was at the height of his fame, Arthur and Catherine Booth-Clibborn left The Salvation Army to follow him. Arthur had become convinced that Dowie ‘was in the spirit and power of Elijah, as the Herald of the Second Coming.’

Garth Hentzschel, ‘Hidden Turmoil of Army’s Early Days,’ Pipeline, 2013, 17-18; E.L. Blumhoffer ‘Dowie, John Alexander’ in Stanley M. Burgess & Eduard van der Maas (eds) The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Bennett, The General, 2:354-56.

c David Malcolm Bennett (2015)


I have heard a rumour that Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90), the artist, had a brief association with Booth’s Christian Mission on one of his visits to England in 1873-75 and 1876. However I have found nothing to confirm this and think that it is probably untrue.
In the mid-1870s Van Gogh’s mind contained a tumultuous mix of religious ideas. He was, after all, the son of a Dutch pastor and trained as a pastor himself. In England he heard C.H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, he studied the Bible, and he read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the Life of Christ by Joseph Renan (a French liberal scholar), The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, the novels of George Eliot and works by Thomas Carlyle (whose religious beliefs defy classification). Van Gogh also became associated with the Wesleyan Methodist Church in England during his 1876 visit and preached for them.
But I have been unable to find anything to confirm any association Van Gogh had with William Booth. According to one of his letters, in 1876 he visited Whitechapel, the centre of Booth’s work, but this was for just part of one day, and Booth and the mission are not mentioned in the letter, so there is no reason to assume that he had any contact with him.
If anyone has any information on this matter, would they please contact David Malcolm Bennett.

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh: The Life (NY: Random House, 2011), 85, 103-11, 121-31; John A. Vickers (ed.) A Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland (Peterborough: Epworth, 2000), 362; Vincent Van Gogh, the Letters, vangoghletters.org, viewed on various dates May 2013.

© David Malcolm Bennett (2013)

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