Droughts and special prayers
in Prayer, providence and empire
Abstract only
Log-in for full text

The cattle disease of 1865–6 was the last time the civil authorities ordered special prayers in response to a natural calamity. Other colonial states, notably the Canadian and New Zealand colonies, followed Britain and did not mark environmental calamities with special worship after the 1860s.This chapter explains why days of humiliation, appointed in times of drought, proliferated in the unstable ecologies and environments of the Australian colonies after 1860. Drought was considered an appropriate cause, as such ‘slow catastrophes’ were not fully understood, and it was supposed that low rainfall, ruined crops and the mass deaths of livestock affected everyone – urbanites and farmers alike. Repeated days of worship sharpened a providential awareness, reminded colonists of what made their colony or region distinct, and encouraged the kind of provincialism discussed in Chapter 4. The days that churches and states and set aside in times of drought stimulated reflection and debate about the efficacy of prayer, the causes of drought, the relationship between human actions and climate change, and the environmental consequences of colonisation. An archive of ‘environmental sermons’ provides evidence that Christian ministers were conservationists who reconciled a belief in God’s natural laws and processes – His ‘general providence’ – with an interest in technological solutions to environmental degradation.

Prayer, providence and empire

Special worship in the British world, 1783–1919