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Young, Florence Selina Harriet (1856–1940)

by Helga M. Griffin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Florence Selina Harriet Young (1856-1940), missionary, was born on 10 October 1856 at Motueka, near Nelson, New Zealand, fifth child of Henry Young, farmer, and his wife Catherine Anne, née Eccles, both Plymouth Brethren from England. Educated at home and for two years at a boarding school in England, at the age of 18 Florence experienced 'a crisis' during a prayer meeting at Dunedin: perceiving God's powers of forgiveness, she asked to be baptized.

Settling in Sydney in 1878, after the death of her parents Florence moved in 1882 to Fairymead, a sugar plantation near Bundaberg, Queensland, run by two of her brothers. With timidity, she began to hold prayer meetings for planters' families and, with one assistant, established the Young People's Scriptural Union which eventually attracted 4000 members. Her attentions were increasingly devoted to the Melanesian sugarworkers whose responsiveness to kindness she applauded and whose 'heathen' customs and 'addictions' to 'white men's vices' she abhorred. Asking that God instruct 'the teacher and the scholars', she conducted classes in pidgin English, using pictures, rote biblical phrases and a chrysalis to explain the resurrection.

Under Miss Young's guidance, the Queensland Kanaka Mission was formally established at Fairymead in 1886 as an evangelical, non-denominational church. Relying on unsolicited subscriptions and stressing 'salvation before education or civilization', it spread to other plantations and won considerable approval. The Q.K.M. aimed to prepare the Melanesians for membership of established Christian churches after their repatriation and employed paid missionaries and members of Florence's extended family. Reassuring in its message of hope, its open-air hymn singing and its mass baptisms in local rivers, at its height in 1904-05 the Q.K.M. engaged nineteen missionaries and 118 unpaid 'native teachers', and claimed 2150 conversions. As she embraced departing converts, Florence exhorted them: 'No forget 'im Jesus'.

Tall and slender, with her hair worn austerely, the clear-eyed evangelist dressed in well-cut suits and bore herself confidently. Between 1891 and 1900 she had spent six precarious years with the China Inland Mission. Despite a nervous breakdown, she recognized her work as a preparation for the South Sea Evangelical Mission which became a branch of the Q.K.M. in 1904 in response to appeals for help from repatriated Q.K.M. teachers. That year, singing hymns during the crossing, she helped to settle White missionaries on Malaita in the Solomon Islands in the hope of nurturing an indigenous church.

Miss Young administered and dominated the expanding S.S.E.M. from Sydney and Katoomba, New South Wales, and made lengthy annual visits to the islands until 1926 when her modest autobiography, Pearls from the Pacific, was published in London. She regarded universities as 'hot-beds of infidelity' and was opposed to women entering them. Inflexible though serene in later years, she died on 28 May 1940 at Killara, Sydney, and was buried in Gore Hill cemetery with Presbyterian forms. By then, the S.S.E.M. had recorded over 7900 conversions.

Select Bibliography

  • H. I. Hogbin, Experiments in Civilization (Lond, 1939)
  • A. R. Tippett, Solomon Islands Christianity (Lond, 1967)
  • P. Corris, Passage, Port and Plantation (Melb, 1973)
  • D. Hilliard, God's Gentlemen (Brisb, 1978)
  • R. M. Keesing and P. Corris, Lightning Meets the West Wind (Melb, 1980)
  • QKM and SSEM, Not in Vain (Annual Report), 1887-1940
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, 15 June 1940, p 70
  • Journal of Pacific History, 4, 1969, p 4
  • private information.

Citation details

Helga M. Griffin, 'Young, Florence Selina Harriet (1856–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-florence-selina-harriet-9214/text16279, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 2 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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