Thomas Gainford was born in 1823 in Cumberland, England and by the age of 19 years was the Cumberland champion wrestler. In 1842 Thomas Gainford was converted whilst working on board a ship as a carpenter. He later married, migrated to Australia in 1853, and was employed as a ship-builder.
In1857 he worked in the Victorian Goldfields, where he also preached and carried out temperance work. Later he was asked to represent the goldmining community in parliament but declined, although he did accept the position of magistrate. Gainford became a Congregational Minister with churches in Newcastle (Stockton) and later Sydney, where he especially became involved in the Mariners or Bethel Church which gained him worldwide recognition. Thomas Gainford died in 1884, having been instrumental in the conversion of many Australians, some of whom were notorious murderers, and of sailors from around the world.
The following excerpts are from the chapter 'On the Goldfields' in his book Memoirs of the Life and Labour of Thomas Gainford published in 1886.
Thomas Gainford, Source: Sydney Bethel Union
ON THE GOLDFIELDS
"During the greater portion of my life on the diggings I was engaged in preaching almost every Sunday. Great interest was taken in the services, and the little chapel in which they were held very soon became too small; we accordingly set to work and had its accommodation increased by adding sixteen feet to its length and raising the roof two feet higher.
"A revival broke out in our midst, and many were added to the Church; amongst them were one English and six Scotch families. They were all genuine cases, having before had the theory of religion, but no power. After their conversion they told me that, before they were brought to a knowledge of the truth, they used to think I inquired after the welfare of their souls as I would ask about the state of their bodies, and did not like my questions. They now, however, saw things in a different light, and were ready to reply as to their spiritual state. Not content with being right themselves,they were anxious that those who were near and dear to them should also experience the happiness and comfort of mind they themselves enjoyed, and read over to me some letters they were sending to their parents and friends, in which they warned them against a mere form of religion without any power, and besought them to have the Spirit of God with them and be happy, as they were.
"I used to hold a temperance meeting once a week, and had the pleasure of persuading many of the diggers to sign the pledge, and lead sober, honest lives.
"Notwithstanding all my digging ventures turned out to be what miners call 'duffers', the three years I spent upon the Victorian gold-field I count amongst the happiest days of my life. There is something fascinating in the free-and-easy life of the digger - a certain sort of independence that is not met with in any other class of men. Such a life was congenial to me, and it was through sheer necessity I was compelled to abandon it. The many failures and bad speculations I had made used up my capital to such an extent, that I was compelled to seek other employment. Had I been working purely on my own account, I should have been able to hold out longer, and perhaps, have fallen upon something worth working for; but, unfortunately, my partners were men without capital, and all the losses fell upon me, - losses which it took me years to pay.
"I could look back to my life upon the diggings - to the many happy hours spent in striving to benefit, both morally and spiritually, those with whom I was constantly coming into contact, to the many warm friendships formed, and to their associations - with feelings of unmixed pleasure and satisfaction, were it not for the recollection of one sad, dark day, - the day when I lost my faithful friend and mate, George Ward. George and I came from Sydney together. Through thick and thin we had stuck to each other. He was my 'man Friday', not only on weekdays, but on Sundays also. In the claims he was my factotum; and his cheerful happy countenance and contented disposition went a great way towards lightening our toils, and taking off the keen edges of our many disappointments and failures. On Sundays he was my right-hand man; he used to lead the singing. And such singing it was, would that we had some of its soul-stirring harmony in our churches nowadays! Our little chapel was situated in a valley; and on a still, quiet night George's splendid tenor voice, as he led the singing of some of our favourite hymns, such as 'There is a fountain', 'My God is reconciled', or the Doxology, could be heard upon the hillsides for at least a mile around. It was a picture to see him standing beside the pulpit, singing with all his might and main, while perspiration, and often tears, streamed down his sunburnt face. George needed no hymn-book - he knew all our hymns by heart; indeed, a book would have been of little use, for he invariably sang with his eyes closed, while his body kept time with the tune, rolling from side to side, like, as sailors would say, 'a seventy-four in a gale of wind'. George was a happy Christian, - not one of those long-faced, woe-begone individuals so often met with, and from whom everybody shrinks, but rather one of those joyous cheerful ones who recommend their religion. He was greatly attached to me, and I to him. I believe he would cheerfully have laid down his life to save mine. Our times are in God's hands - when we came into this world, and when we shall depart from it. George's life was cut off suddenly, without a moment's warning; he died in the high day of his manhood, and died, too, in my stead.
"In one of our claims George and I were working together. We had commenced a new drive from the bottom of the shaft, and had carried it about ten feet under what appeared to be solid pipeclay. We were working by candlelight; and as our candle was nearly burnt out, George left for home to get another. As he came back he was swinging the candle round by the wick, and singing merrily. While passing a diggers' tent his happy mood attracted attention, and the remark was made, 'Well, that man must have a good claim and be making lots of money, he seems so happy and contented.' Little did the man who made the remark know that poor George had anything but a good claim, and so little money, it was with great difficulty he could make both ends meet. Yet, for all that, George was rich; he had the 'pearl of great price' and much treasure laid up in heaven, where neither moths corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. The assurance he had one day of entering into possession of the riches laid up for him in heaven kept him happy and contented whatever his lot might be. His expectation was to be realised far sooner than he expected.
"On reaching the top of the claim he called out, 'Tom, you had better come up and let me take your place; there is not enough room for two to work in the drive, and as I am much shorter than you, I can work there better.' 'No,' I replied, 'I am getting on all right, and can manage it very well.' For a few moments I continued my work, when he again called me, saying, 'Tom, come up here; Macfarlane wants to speak to you.' Now, Macfarlane was a young convert in whom I took much interest; and, thinking he might want to see me very particularly, I dropped my pick and came out of the claim. On the top I met George, and we had some conversation regarding Mr. Campbell, the lawyer to whom I have already referred, George remarking, as he went down the shaft, that the new convert would be a great assistance to me at the church, as he was a good speaker, while he himself could only sing, and was very little use in any other way.
"I remained in conversation with Macfarlane about ten or fifteen minutes, and, having occasion to leave with him, I called out to George, saying that I was going away. I received no answer, and called again. There was still no reply, and I became anxious. Quickly descending the shaft, I rushed into the drive, and found, to my horror, that the whole roof had fallen in, and, where George had been working, there lay a large heap of earth which had buried him alive. Seizing a shovel, I dug with all my strength, and quickly had him exhumed; raising his head, I called to him, but received no answer; alas! he was dead. By this time the alarm had been given, and a doctor was in attendance, but nothing could be done; George was far beyond human aid; his happy spirit had winged its flight to those bright realms of which he so often talked and so constantly sang. As there was no clergyman in the district, I was obliged to conduct his burial service myself, and on the following Sunday preached his funeral sermon.
"George died almost penniless, and his widow was left totally unprovided for; however, we made a collection amongst his digger-friends and raised sixty pounds, with which we paid her passage and sent her home to her friends in England.
"The death of George Ward was a great blow to me. I felt his loss most keenly. We had been so much together, I now missed him at every turn, and it seemed as though I had lost my right hand. I determined as soon as possible to leave the diggings.
"About this time I received a visit from a friend, Mr. James Scott, of Newcastle, New South Wales, who, while in Victoria for a short time, came up to the gold-fields to see me. He was then the proprietor of the Patent Slip at Stockton, and was very anxious that I should accept the position of foreman under him. I agreed to do so, and started as quickly as possible for Newcastle.
"When my intention became known there was universal regret amongst those with whom I had been associated. I referred to my intended departure at the next week-night service, and on leaving for home was accosted by one of the diggers, who, after expressing his regret at my going away from them, said, 'I want you, Mr. Gainford, to accept this little present from me; it is six sovereigns to help you on your way. I know how unfortunate you have been, and how much capital you have lost. You have had bad claims all along, while I have had good ones; besides, had I not taken the pledge from you, I should have squandered ten times that amount in drink.' At first I refused the present. I had so far been enabled to preach the Gospel without fee or reward, and gloried in the fact that, whilst I was enabled, by God's blessing, to minister to their spiritual wants, my hands ministered to my own temporal necessities. He persisted in my taking the money, saying, 'Use it now, and some day, when you can afford to do so, buy something by which you can remember me.' At last I consented, remembering how useful it would be to me on my journey to Newcastle, especially as Mrs. Gainford had that very evening told me she had parted with the last penny we had in the world. The digger wept like a child in leaving me, saying, 'Good-bye; may God make you a blessing wherever you go, and thank you a thousand times for stopping me that evening.' By thanking me for 'stopping him that evening,' he referred to the occasion of his conversion. At one of our prayer-meetings I had noticed this man, who was then a stranger to me, leave the chapel, and return again several times, as if he had a desire to go away, but could not do so. Going over to him, I said, 'Well, my friend, Satan has tried hard to get you away from the prayer-meeting to-night, but has not succeeded; do you wish to give your heart to God?' 'Yes, I do wish to do so, and I shall.' 'Very well,' I replied; 'after we have finished this hymn, just kneel down and ask God for that pardon you require, and for strength to set out upon, and continue in, that Christian life you wish to lead.' He promised to do so; but I could see there was a fearful struggle going on in his soul. Every now and then he would look towards the door as if he intended to rush out. When we knelt for prayer I was careful to place myself between him and the door; not that I intended to forcibly detain him, but it occurred to me that my presence there might assist him to overcome the temptation he had to leave.
He kept his promise and prayed, though he trembled to such an extent, the whole form shook again. His prayer was from the heart, having for its burden, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner;' and, like the publican of old, he went down to his house justified. He often used to thank me for kneeling where I did, saying, 'What a good thing it was you knelt between me and the door! for, had you not been there when you asked me to pray, I should have bolted, and you would have seen no more of me; but, thank God, it was not so.'
"On the eve of my departure the members of the Church and congregation, as well as the public, held a farewell meeting, at which I was presented with the two following addresses, accompanied by a purse of ten guineas:-
"To Mr. Thomas Gainford, of Wedderburn, in the Colony of Victoria.
"Wedderburn, 3rd October, 1859.
"We the undersigned members of the Mount Corong Total Abstinence Society, having heard with deep regret of your intention of leaving this place for Newcastle, N.S.W., deem the present a fit and proper opportunity of expressing our sorrow at your leaving, and, at the same time, of tendering you our most heartfelt thanks for the very able and efficient manner in which you have advocated the principles of our society, and have so strongly denounced the evil effects of intemperance; and we beg to assure that much good has resulted to familues and individuals in this locality, who were induced by you to eschew the slavish vice of drunkenness and intemperance, and to rally round the standard of total abstinence. And it is further our most anxious prayer that you may be spared to carry out that good work in the place you are now destined for, and that the blessing of God may ever attend you and yours for the many benefits you have conferred upon that portion of God's creatures who were so deluded by the use of intoxicating liquors as to forget the respect due to themselves and their duty to God.
"Meanwhile believe us to be, sir,
(Signed by forty members of the Wedderburn Total Abstinence Society.)
Wedderburn, 3rd October, 1859
"Dear Brother -
"We the undersigned members of the Wesleyan Chapel, Wedderburn, have heard with much sorrow of your intention to leave this place for Newcastle, N.S.W., and we feel that we cannot permit you to leave without testifying to you the sincere affection and respect which we have and bear towards you as a brother in Christ, and a zealous and devoted labourer in His vineyard. It is now upwards of nine months since it pleased God to send you to dwell amongst us, and during that time we have had frequent opportunities of witnessing your efforts for ameliorating the condition of your fellow-men, not only by inculcating the principles of religion and morality, but by your own good example as a kind and affectionate husband and father, and as an honest, upright, sober, and industrious man; and we feel assured that much good has resulted to many of us from your pious example, kind sympathy, advice, and conversation. We have much pleasure in testifying that during the whole time you have been resident amongst us you have most zealously preached the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and we are happy to say that your preaching has been both powerful and efficacious, inasmuch as it has been the means of bringing many persons to acknowledge their evil ways and turning them from sin and Satan unto Christ, and to whom grace and peace have been so multiplied that they are now enjoying the felicity and happiness of true believers in Christ Jesus, and, as such, are heirs of His Kingdom. We have also much pleasure in being able to testify to the inestimable value and efficacy of the Bible-class you held here, and the religious instruction and benefits which many derived therefrom who had but imperfect knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; and we can assure you that the time you so ungrudgingly and unsparingly devoted to that class has already been productive of much good in the cause of Christ's Church and Kingdom, inasmuch as private individual inquiries had to be made by members in order to answer you questions; and thus a desire and a thirsting after Scripture knowledge was created, and the seeds of gospel truths sown in many hearts, which it is hoped, by the blessing of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit, may bring forth good and abundant fruit.
"And in bidding you this our last farewell we beg to tender you our most sincere and heartfelt thanks for the many benefits you have conferred upon us as a body and as individuals, and also for your unwearied exertions in propagating and establishing the gospel and the Church of Christ; and we pray that the blessing of God may rest upon you, your wife, and children, and that you may be long spared to each other, and that you may continue to be instrumental in turning sinners from their evil ways unto Christ, until it shall please God, in His infinite wisdom, to take you to Himself.
"Meanwhile believe us to be, dear brother,
(Signed by upwards of fifty members of the Wesleyan Chapel.)
"When all our arrangements were complete, one of the church members who had a conveyance agreed to drive us to Melbourne. There were no trains so far into the country in those days, and the journey had to be done by coach. It occupied several days and nights, and was no small undertaking. The morning of our departure was beautifully fine, and many of our friends accompanied us some distance along the road. The final halt took place, and we were obliged to say farewell, the scene reminded me much of the account, given in the Acts of the Apostles, of Paul's departure, and of the members of the Church of Ephesus falling upon his neck and kissing him. Our friends fell upon our necks and kissed us; sorrowing most of all because they should see our faces no more. Our final adieu having been said, we knelt for a few moments in prayer, commending each other to God's keeping.