From Historic Hospital to Unique Kingdom Hall
IN 1770 the famous English explorer Lieutenant James Cook was sailing the 369-ton bark Endeavour along the unexplored east coast of Australia. On the evening of June 11, the vessel struck a coral reef in a remote area toward the north of the continent. The oak hull was seriously damaged. Repairs were urgently needed if the crew was to survive. The mouth of a nearby river proved to be an ideal location for the repairs, which took six weeks. One hundred and three years later, gold was discovered in this region. The gold rush was on! Tens of thousands came to seek their fortunes. Cooktown was born.
In 1879 government permission was granted to construct a permanent hospital to care for the sick and those injured in mining accidents. In the same year, on the other side of the world, July 1 saw the first edition of Zion’s Watch Tower. Since then, this magazine has provided a program for the spiritual health of millions of God-fearing people. It was not then known that the Cooktown hospital building would one day have close links with this magazine.
After more than a century, the Cooktown Hospital needed replacing. Government funds were available for a new structure, so tenders were called for the removal of the old hospital building. The National Trust of Queensland showed great interest in this historic building. However, the costs involved in relocating and restoring the building proved too high. No tender was offered.
At about the same time, the small congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cooktown was looking for a permanent place to hold Christian meetings. They owned no land and had only $A800. How could they build a Kingdom Hall? Representatives of the local congregation volunteered to relocate the hospital building and offered no payment. How would Jehovah direct things? Exciting news! Their tender was accepted!
Now to the next matter—land for the building. Yes, they were told, it seemed government land might be made available free of cost, provided the building was preserved and restored. However, by this time opposition to the proposed project was growing in an unfriendly segment of the community. A petition was prepared that was designed to bring a halt to the plans of the Witnesses. A rumor was circulated that Jehovah’s Witnesses would take over Cooktown, close all the hotels and gambling premises, and forbid the sale of tobacco. Of course, this never happened, but getting the land re-zoned and obtaining the necessary approvals for building became increasingly difficult. The deadline was fast approaching for the removal of the building. The intervention of the State Government of Queensland was sought. (Compare Romans 13:2.) Permission for use of government land was quickly granted, and a building permit was issued. With both land and the building in hand, what next?
Enter a team of hundreds of Witnesses, experienced tradesmen and assistants from various parts of the State of Queensland, who freely volunteer their time and have developed the expertise to build Kingdom Halls very quickly. This project presented special challenges: moving sections of the two-story hospital to the new location and then reassembling the building. The monsoon season was fast approaching, threatening torrential rains. Would the work be completed in time? Some of the townsfolk had reservations. However, what seemed to some to be an impossibility was soon accomplished. In April 1986 the building was relocated and thereafter restored to its original glory.
All of this activity did not go unnoticed, as is evident by comments in the Anglican Newsletter in Cooktown. In part it stated: “No doubt I’ll be taken to task, but . . . have a look around the Church and see how full it isn’t and have a look at the other mob [Jehovah’s Witnesses] and see how full it’s getting . . . , getting full with Anglicans and Roman Catholics . . . Did you know that a certain organization . . . [has] purchased the old Hospital to rebuild into what they might call a church building because the School is too small to hold them all? . . . How weak we have been, to allow this to happen.”
Thousands of tourists visit Cooktown each year. They come to enjoy the beautiful rain-forest setting and the Great Barrier Reef and to learn of the history of the area. The Captain Cook Museum is a popular attraction for most visitors. Since 1989 the historic Cooktown Hospital in its new role as a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has also been a major tourist attraction. Souvenir stores sell tea towels and T-shirts that have a picture of the Cooktown Hospital-Kingdom Hall printed on them. During the tourist season, between six hundred and a thousand persons visit the building each week to see firsthand its unique 1879 architecture.
The magazine now known as The Watchtower is freely available to visitors. Since 1879 this magazine has grown in circulation to over 15 million copies semimonthly in 111 languages. It directs individuals to the Bible’s promise that some of the generation of 1914 will be alive to see good physical and spiritual health restored to mankind. (Isaiah 33:24) The entire earth will be transformed into a paradise by millions of willing volunteers. (Psalm 37:29) Why not visit a Kingdom Hall in your vicinity? You will find something of far greater value than all the gold ever mined in the Cooktown region.—Proverbs 16:16.