James Dean, Edwin Blackwell, and Religious Revival

Part X of An Australian Emigrant Family

Peter Blackwell, Ph.D. Brown University '88 (Rhode Island) and Mark Blackwell, B.Com. B.D. (Euroa, Victoria, Australia) [[email protected]]

One of Edwin's closest friends was his brother-in-law and long time neighbor, James Dean. Somewhere in the 1870s, Grove Chapel and the people connected with it became identified with the Plymouth Brethren, a dissenting group from the Church of England having its origins around 1827. The first identified Plymouth Brethren evangelist to Australia was Harrison Ord, an engineer who had been converted under Charles Spurgeon and who became a notable evangelist during the revival in England. In 1876 he moved to Australia and evangelized throughout Victoria and Tasmania.

On the day of the first Bible conference at Tollymore (Grove Chapel) in January, 1873, James went to the races with his wife, Annie. He became dissatisfied and ended up attending the conference meeting where he was converted. Together, the two friends rode their bicycles up and down the coast, from Wynyard to Circular point, evangelizing. Edwin drove in a horse and cart on alternate Sundays to Sisters Creek to preach and at lunch hours sometimes preached in the streets of Wynyard. His grandson was to wonder if his efforts of going down the coast involved trying to covert the rabbits. It may well have been that his commitment to evangelism militated against success in business. But those roots lay deep in the dissenting traditions of Leicester passed down from his ancestors.

His grandchildren remember him as a dignified man, white haired with a fresh clear complexion and a neat, square-cut beard. His build was stocky and compact, his manner sedate and his speech measured. Inventive, independent, strong-willed, perhaps even hard, and physically strong, he was both respected and loved.

Edwin lived a full life until his death in 1932 at the age of eighty years. A fortnight before he died, it is rumoured, he rode his bicycle to Stanley to check on some land.

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