Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Serena Lake (1842–1902)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

Serena Lake (1842-1902), evangelist and suffragist, was born on 28 October 1842 at Shebbear, Devon, England, daughter of Samuel Thorne, a farmer who became printer and publisher for the Bible Christian denomination, and his wife Mary, née O'Bryan, an evangelist whose father had founded that church. Serena was well read, lively and vivacious. At 17 she 'felt the Master's call' and first preached. From 1861 in Devon and Cornwall's Bible Christian circuits the 'sweet girl gospeller' drew crowds and converts, attracted by her persuasive, vivid oratory, unclouded faith and 'compassion for souls'. In 1865 she accompanied her brother to Queensland, worked among Primitive Methodists, then established a mission, at the English Bible Christian Conference's request, in 1866. Invited to Melbourne next year, she gave valuable assistance evangelizing there and throughout Victoria: she regularly preached three Sunday sermons.

In 1870 South Australian Bible Christians, including the lawyer (Sir) Samuel Way and medical practitioner Allan Campbell invited Miss Thorne to Adelaide. On 22 May, at the first of her thirteen, crowded, Town Hall Sunday services, over 2000 listened to her sermon 'with breathless attention'; hundreds were turned away. She preached, too, in suburban churches and in the country. On night visits to Adelaide prostitutes, she influenced some 'poor fallen sisters' to enter the Female Refuge.

Serena's life changed at country Auburn when a former Shebbear admirer, the Bible Christian minister Octavius Lake, proposed marriage. Torn between love and duty, she finally accepted when he vowed approval of female preachers: they married in Way's house on 2 March 1871. Serrie had seven children: only one survived early childhood. She preached and helped the needy in her husband's country and suburban circuits. On Yorke Peninsula, among familiar Cornish settlers, in 1877 and 1879 she opened new churches.

Because she believed sexual equality to be 'the original design of the Creator', Mrs Lake supported women's suffrage and in July 1888, having seconded the motion founding the South Australian Women's Suffrage League, was elected to its council. She combined logical argument, wit and evangelical passion, sharing platforms with suffrage leaders, including Mary Lee. In August 1889 Mrs Lake was appointed 'colonial organiser and suffrage superintendent' of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and shaped the union's commitment to women's suffrage. Living at Kapunda and later Gladstone, she drove her buggy long distances across country, and travelled by train to Broken Hill, New South Wales, opening some thirty-eight new local unions in the country and Adelaide, gaining hundreds of members, male associates and suffrage petition signatures. Her efforts epitomized the contemporary influence of evangelical religion. Confident that women 'possessing that sword—the ballot' would curb the 'abominable liquor traffic', she campaigned also on temperance society platforms. In 1891 she was appointed a W.C.T.U. life vice-president.

In May 1892 Serena eloquently moved adoption of the suffrage league's annual report. Subsequently, however, she apparently devoted herself to evangelical and humanitarian causes. In June 1891, in step with the 'forward movement' to win poor city-dwellers 'for Christ', she had been mainly responsible for initiating the Bible Christian Woman's Missionary Board, of which she was foundation president, and from October 1892 superintendent of evangelists. Following an operation for cancer, she died of peritonitis on 9 July 1902 in Adelaide Hospital and was buried in Payneham cemetery. Her husband and daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hunt, This Side of Heaven (Adel, 1985)
  • M. Harry, A Century of Service (Adel, 1986)
  • B. Dickey (ed), The Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (Syd, 1994)
  • WCTU (South Australia), Annual Convention Minutes, 1889-92
  • WCTU Executive Committee, Minutes, 1891
  • Bible Christian Magazine (United Kingdom), 1866, p 284, 1869, p 289, 1870, p 434, 1902, p 620
  • Alliance and Temperance News, July 1890, p 7
  • South Australian Bible Christian Monthly, 1891, pp 309, 351, 1892, p 144
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 25 July 1902
  • South Australian Register, 21 July 1888, p 6
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 May 1892, p 33, 12 July 1902, p 34
  • S. Thorne diary (Uniting Church History Centre, Black Forest, Adelaide).

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Lake, Serena (1842–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Thorne, Serena

28 October, 1842
Shebbear, Devon, England


9 July, 1902 (aged 59)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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