“The Salvation Army has done a great deal of good in Hamilton, as many a man rescued through it from a degraded state can testify. It has brought happiness into many homes where drunkenness, squalor and misery formerly reigned, and in a hundred different ways, it has proved beneficial. No matter how much its services may be jeered at; no matter how many declare its proceedings to be nothing but a burlesque of all true religion; no matter how many may say the barracks are nothing but a meeting place for frivolous young men and women, the fact remains that the army has proved itself to be a very powerful doer of good.”
Hamilton Spectator. January 25, 1884.
Despite an intense snow storm which had been going on for hours, the barracks of the Hamilton Salvation Army were filled beyond capacity.
The attraction was the valedictory address by popular Captain Ludgate who was about to leave Hamilton for a posting in another city.
A Spectator reporter managed to squeeze into the barracks and watched as Captain Ludgate prefaced his remarks with a song. In characteristic Salvation army style, it was a popular song Home Sweet Home, the tune known to all but with new “salvation” lyrics added for the occasion by the captain.
As recounted by the Spectator man, Captain Ludgate “said that in leaving Hamilton he felt deep regret that he was bidding farewell to the thousands of people who had listened to his voice preaching the Christian religion, but he was glad that he could say he had done his duty as God had called upon him to do. He tried to warn everybody to turn from the broad and downward pat and seek the better one. He hoped that he had succeeded in warning all, and that his efforts had brought forth good results. God would call him into account for his stewardship in Hamilton, and he thought he would be able to face everybody on the day of judgement with a clear conscience. He was glad that through his and the army’s instrumentality so many had left the ranks of the devil and would meet him in heaven, where they would sing and praise God throughout all eternity. He concluded by advising all those present who had not been saved to go to Jesus and be cleansed of their sins.
By Saturday February 09, 1884, Captain Ludgate’s successor was about to arrive in Hamilton and a major welcome for him was planned.
News of the impending arrival of Captain William Moore did not arrive until late in the Saturday afternoon, but a muster of Salvation Army troops was hastily called. In uniform, and accompanied by the brass band, the local Salvationists marched en masse to the Grand Trunk Railway station.
After descending from the train and exchanging a few greetings, Captain Moore, amid the clashing of cymbals and the beating of drums, joined the march downtown.
Word of the captain’s arrival quickly spread, and soon all the local Salvation Army members were gathered for a grand reception.
A Spectator reporter, in attendance at the reception, found it difficult to adequately tell his readers about the pandemonium:
“In the evening at the barracks, the crowd was enormous; men and women all eagerly striving to gain admittance. When the soldiers arrived from their evening march, hundreds of people were outside endeavoring to get in.
“As the soldiers filed in, the crowd gave a tremendous rush to get inside. This completely jammed the entrance, soldiers and sinners together were in a dead lock. No one could stir until the arrival of the police. Then the outer part was forced back and the soldiers gradually gained admission.
“The hall upstairs was densely packed with a mass of humanity. Every seat of every kind had been taken and people were glad to find even standing room. The utmost order prevailed during the meeting, the sergeants and the police being on the alert amidst the crowd.”
Captain William Cooper, better known as “Happy Bill,” was described by the man from the Spec as “a tall, pale, rather good-looking Englishman. He is a convert of the Salvation Army at Newcastle. The earnestness of his conversion and his clear and forcible delivery soon caused him to be selected as an officer, and he has worked in that capacity throughout England and the United States and Canada.”
Captain Cooper would henceforth be much better known, both by members of the Salvation Army and members of the public as “Happy Bill” than his real name: “Captain “Happy Bill” made a very long and eloquent address. His style, sometimes is a perfect roar and rush of language; then again, so is soft and gentle that one can scarcely hear him. He is very emotional and full of movement during his talking. He said, among other things, that, above all, he liked to make the devil mad, and that he continually succeeded in doing so. He believed that when he was buried the devil would dance on his tombstone. “
On Saturday March 1, 1884, the third Canadian Corps of the Salvation Army, the Hamilton corps was just the third to be established in the country, held rousing “battles with the devil” both in the open air and at their barracks.
One division of “hallejuah lasses”, female Salvation soldiers led by Happy Bill marched onto to the Market Square from one direction, while a second division, comprised of male soldiers and the brass band, came on to the Market Square from another direction.
After some songs, march music and exhortations to sinners to join them, both divisions marched off towards the barracks followed by a large crowd.
The Spectator reporter was in that crowd and a portion of his account of the meeting follows :
“The army reached the barracks, and it was, as usual, crowded.
“After singing an army song set to a popular tune, short prayers were offered, interspersed with snatches of song, which had a peculiar effect on those accustomed to more solemn forms of worship.
“A song from the War Cry – the sale of which was most vigorously pushed – was sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body, and the chorus joined in most heartily by all. Here are the first two lines of the song : “Once the devil had me, And the fool he let me go.”
“During breaks in the singing, the captain fired small shots at his audience, asking help to build a new barracks. “Those who put their money in the Lord’s sinking fund will get good interest for it,” he said.
“The remainder of the service consisted of a free-and-easy in which the lasses and soldiers testified to the sanctifying power of the army. These experiences were both crisp and interesting, with many quaint and original sayings which, if gathered together, would make a respectable dictionary of phrases.
“One of the band said he was “still teasing the old gentleman” Another, referring to the common enemy, termed him “old smutty face” One youthful soldier said he was “jolly glad” he became converted.
Evidences of the good work of the army were found in the fact that the soldiers have given up “chawing ‘baccr,” and that all were “getting gooder,” an instance of army grammar.”
At the meeting, the reporter was told that the sale of the War Cry in Hamilton and Dundas had reached 1,400 copies weekly, considerably more than the sale in New York city, and next to Toronto in the comparative list.
On Wednesday March 5, 1884, a typical, yet very powerful and memorable evening of Salvation Army activities in Hamilton was witnessed by the Spectator reporter :
About 100 soldiers, headed by Captain Happy Bill, were in the street marching. They took a new route down Mary street to the bay, and certainly made things lively in their progress, with their drums, cymbals, tambourines and torches.
“Two young men, strongly under the influence of liquor, in a spirit of uproarious merriment, joined the soldiers and marched with them.
“In this they were encouraged by the captain. They were persuaded to the barracks and placed in the front seats by the platform.
“The inebriates took the whole matter as a good joke, but when Happy Bill commanded his soldiers to their knees and poured a long and powerful appeal to Almighty God that the two drunkards might be able to see the error of their ways, they began to sober up and look serious.
“The soldiers then prayed with all their might for the two men and hymns of supplication were sung for them. During the novel scene the men became conscious that many hundreds of people were looking at them, and they suddenly came to their senses and hung their heads.
“Happy Bill then spoke kindly to them, privately, and persuaded them to stay until the end of the services, a soldier furnishing them with hymn books and a War Cry.
“The captain and some soldiers took them well in hand, sending up prayer after prayer of vigorous supplicating words that their eyes might be opened. This continued until the men, to use the army phrase, “smashed up,” that is, were thoroughly humiliated. They were then left alone for sometime to pray, soldiers frequently coming to them and putting words into their mouths.
“Finally, at the close of the meeting, they were requested to stand up and tell the people all about it. They were mounted upon the platform so that all eyes could see them. They were by this time quite sober, and spoke at the captain’s command. Each made a speech, telling all about his life. It was the old story, bad companions and whiskey, they had often come to disturb the army meetings; but please God they would do so no more, but lead now good lives and try to serve God.”
Ironically, it is almost certain that the two inebriates had been supplied with liquor, and promised more, by a local saloon keeper. The saloon keeper’s intention, and it was not unusual, was to supply some men with free liquor in payment for them to harass the Salvationists as they were bad for his business.
But this time, at least, the end result was not what the bar owner intended.