James Henry Mills, missionary, pays a home visit (Image: Sydney City Mission Jubilee)

by Lyn Collingwood, August 2022, from Bulletin 6/2022

J.H. Mills was a missionary who worked in the Glebe-Pyrmont district for 35 years. He ran the Glebe branch of the Sydney City Mission from an office in the Mission Hall in Bay St, which opened in 1894. Scheduled activities included Sunday School, gospel services and prayer meetings, Bible classes, and meetings of Christian Endeavour, Band of Hope and women’s groups. A boys’ club with about 50 members focused on physical training, while sewing was the main activity of a 75-member girls’ club. On weeknights, a soup kitchen catered for about 100 children who were fed soup and bread in the Hall and given extra bread and jam to take home. Excursions were arranged to Clifton Gardens, the Botanic Gardens, and the Mission’s holiday home at Cronulla. Assistant missionaries, ‘Sisters’ Atkins and Pite, paid weekly visits to the Glebe Ragged School.

Glebe’s second City Mission Hall on St Johns Rd, opened in 1929 (Image: Sydney City Mission Jubilee)

Drinking and gambling were viewed by Mills as major social evils. Five hotels were within a 300-yard radius of the Glebe Mission Hall, and a local pawnshop did good business. Mills paid home visits to families whose three-room houses were occupied by as many as 16 people and whose children spent much of their lives on the street. He tried to make the Mission Hall an inviting space. In April 1905, it became a refuge for 100 families whose houses were flooded after heavy rain. Blankets and clothing were provided to residents of Athlone Place, which was under ten feet of water.

An Englishman by birth, Mills was converted to Christianity in the Centenary Hall in York St by Methodist revivalist preacher William George Taylor. By the time he joined the City Mission in 1890, Mills, like Taylor, was an accomplished brass bandsman and open-air evangelist.

Mills died aged 78 at his Mosman home on 9 April 1933. After a funeral service in the St Johns Rd Mission Hall (opened in 1929), he was buried in the Independent section of Rookwood Cemetery. Among the mourners was William Martin, designer of the Glebe War Memorial.

Mills was survived by his wife Mary Ann, son George and two married daughters. Another son, Andrew, had died in 1900. Suffering from bubonic plague, the 24-year-old had been taken by ambulance from the family home in Leichhardt to a Woolloomooloo wharf, where he was transferred to a steamer destined for the quarantine station at North Head. He died after being exposed to the weather for three hours on the open deck.

The Ragged School on Bay St (Image: City of Sydney Archives)

Sources: NSW cemetery records; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; Owen, June, The heart of the city: the first 100 years of the Sydney City Mission 1987; Sydney City Mission Annual Report; Sydney City Mission, Sydney City Mission Herald; Sydney City Mission Jubilee 50 years 1862-1912; Sydney City Mission Presenting ten decades 1862-1962; Trove website.