One Adventist book describes the event in the most glowing terms:
"From several sources we put the story together. It seems that part of the committee went ahead, leaving Sister White to make the journey with Elder and Mrs. G. B. Starr. On the train she told the Starrs of her dream in which she and they were standing on the piece of property, looking it over, and came upon a neat-cut furrow about one quarter of a yard deep and two yards in length. She saw two of the brethren, who had grown up with the Iowa type of rich, deep soil, standing by the furrow and saying, 'This is not good land; the soil is not favorable.' As they spoke these words Sister White was told by One who had often given her counsel, 'False witness has been borne of this land,' and He explained the value of the different strata in the soil and their use.Is this true? Did Mrs. White have a divine dream that convinced the brethren to purchase the property? Or could it be possible that this whole story was fabricated to prop up the prophethood of Ellen White?
"In due time she and her party arrived at Cooranbong, and they looked over the estate without reaching a decision that day. The next morning, May 25, 1894 ... the group scattered out to examine further the various parts of the property. The Starrs and Sister White walked over the place and came upon a spot where a neat-cut furrow had been plowed one quarter of a yard deep and two yards in length. As they stood there looking at the turned-up soil, two brethren came upon them from different directions. On seeing Sister White they remarked, 'This is not good land; the soil is not favorable.'
"Sister White then told them of her dream and of the fulfillment. With this evidence and evidence of the presence and the power of God as seen in the healing of Brother McCullogh, they decided to take the place, and made a down payment."1
1893 - The Search Begins
The search for a suitable property for the new Australian Adventist school begins in earnest in June, 1893, with the arrival of W.C. White from New Zealand. Elder A.G. Daniells, who is already in Australia, teams up with W.C. White in the search. General Conference president O.A. Olsen arrives on December 20 and visits a number of the proposed building sites. He leaves on February 19 without any decision having been reached.2
March, 1894 - W.C. White Finds the Property
W.C. White investigates the "Brettville Estate" property. This is the property that the Church eventually ends up purchasing for the Avondale school. Although concerned with the quality of the soil, W.C. White concludes that if the price were right, he would purchase it.3
March 26, 1894 to May 22, 1894 - Mrs. White Visits Property
Mrs. White moved to the city of Sydney, Australia on March 26, 1894. Over the course of the next eight weeks Mrs. White visited the Brettville Estate several times. W.C. White later reported that prior to May 23rd his mother "had visited the place two or three times, and had spoken in its favor to Elder and Sister Starr".4 A.G. Daniells also noted that Mrs. White had visited the site prior to May 23: "Several times Sister White, with her son, and her secretary, and a few of our brethren had visited the place, and she was favorable to its purchase."5
Stop now and consider the facts as they stand by May 22, 1894:
Based on these three facts, there is no doubt that the Whites had already decided in favor of this property by May 22, 1894. As further evidence, on May 9, Mrs. White wrote, "the decision we have so long contemplated has been made in regard to the land we hope to purchase for the school."6 It is evident the Whites had fully decided upon the property before there was any mention of a dream.
May 23, 1894 - Search Group Decides to Buy Brettville Estate
Mrs. White, W.C. White, A.G. Daniells, Elder Starr, and a number of others arrive at the property to examine it. Supposedly, this was when the furrow was first sighted, but there is no mention of it in Mrs. White's diary entry for the day. She tells of seeing trees and a river, and mentions a host of other trivial facts, but there is no mention of a furrow. If she had indeed seen a furrow that matched the scenes recently revealed to her in a divine dream, one would have thought it would deserve at least a mention in her diary. When A.G. Daniells' published his memoirs of the event there is no mention of a furrow. Elder Starr also failed to mention the furrow when he published his account of the event.7
Mrs. White reports in a letter that the group had a favorable opinion of the property:
"They came from their investigation with a much more favorable impression than they had hitherto received. They had found some excellent land, the best they had seen, and they thought it was a favorable spot for the location of the school. They had found a creek of fresh water, cold and sweet, the best they had ever tasted. On the whole, the day of prospecting had made them much more favorable to the place than they had hitherto been."8According to Arthur White, the committee decided to purchase the property that evening:
"Late that autumn night, the committee voted to purchase the Brettville estate for $4,500."9Notice that at this point there is still no mention of a dream or a furrow in any of the documentation up to that date.
Late August, 1894 - Mission Board Rejects Purchase of Brettville Estate
The Foreign Mission Board in the USA votes against the purchase of the property. After receiving this news, Elders Rousseau and Daniells take a stance against the Whites, arguing for acquiring property closer to the city.
August 27, 1894 - Mrs. White First Mentions a Dream
Ellen White first mentions in writing that she had had a dream regarding the property. She wrote to Elder S.N. Haskell in the USA:
"In the dream you have heard me relate, words were spoken of land which I was looking at, and after deep ploughing and thorough cultivating, it brought forth a bountiful harvest."10In a letter to her book editor, Marian Davis, written on the same date, she says:
"In the dream you have heard me relate, words were spoken of land which I was looking at, and after deep plowing and thorough cultivating, it brought forth a bountiful harvest. Having had this matter presented to me at different times, I am more than ever convinced that this is the right location for the school. Since I have been here for a few days and have had opportunity to investigate, I feel more sure than at my first visit that this is the right place. I think any [of the] land which I have seen would produce some kind of crop."11Thus, we find Mrs. White first mentions in writing about having a dream in late August of 1894. However, the details of the dream are sketchy. Mrs. White, says "words were spoken" but she does not give any indication of what was said or who said it, nor does she mention any furrow, or any opposition to the property. It is uncertain whether news about this dream ever reached the Foreign Mission Board, but on Sept. 11 they approved the purchase of the property.
October/November 1894 - The Ashfield Camp Meeting
At the time of Ashfield camp meeting, the tale of the dream and the furrow was not widely known. Dr. M.G. Kellogg, who had earlier visited the property, had no idea Mrs. White had received divine guidance on the subject despite having discussed that exact subject with her. At the Ashfield camp meeting he reported:
"I do not understand that Sister White has ever been shown that Brettville Estate is the place. In fact she told me herself that she could not ask the Lord as to giving her light as to what piece of land the school should be placed on."12If Mrs. White had indeed received a divinely inspired dream indicating the Brettville Estate was God's choice, then why did she never mention this to Dr. Kellogg and others? Would it not have saved a lot of trouble looking at other properties, not to mention the ensuing rift between the Whites and Daniells, if she had made it clear up front that God had commanded the purchase of this property?
At the same camp meeting, in response to continued opposition from Elders Daniells and Rousseau,13 Mrs. White first spoke of the dream to a public audience:
"Whoever turned up that plough, I do not know, nor anybody else. It was turned over about two yards wide, just as we would by a plough, and there were different grades of soil. One was standing at the end of that soil shaking their head. 'No,' they said, 'that would not produce. It was not good soil.' I thought that one that has authority spoke and said, 'The soil properly worked, properly educated, will bring its return.'"14It would appear the impetus behind Mrs. White relating the dream story was to counter the opposition of Daniells and Rousseau. Whether or not Mrs. White's dream had any impact on the final outcome is uncertain. However, it certainly appears that was her intent. This conclusion may be supported by the fact that the union conference went ahead and voted to purchase the property on November 20.
1898 - Dream is Finally Written Out
Mrs. White finally wrote out a full account of her "dream" four years after the event:
"Before I visited Cooranbong, the Lord gave me a dream. In my dream I was taken to the land that was for sale in Cooranbong. Several of our brethren had been solicited to visit the land, and I dreamed that as I was walking upon the ground I came to a neat cut furrow that had been ploughed one quarter of a yard deep, and two yards in length. Two of the brethren who had been acquainted with the rich soil of Iowa were standing before this furrow and saying, 'This is not good land; the soil is not favorable.' But One who has often spoken in counsel was present also, and He said, 'False witness has been borne of this land.' Then He described the properties of the different layers of earth. He explained the science of the soil, and said that this land was adapted to the growth of fruit and vegetables, and that, if well worked, would produce its treasures for the benefit of man. This dream I related to Brother and Sister Starr and my family.In this version of the dream, Mrs. White adds a number of important pieces to the story that were heretofore not mentioned:
"The next day we were on the cars, on our way to meet others who were investigating the land, and as I was afterward walking on the ground where the trees had been removed, lo, there was a furrow just as I had described it, and the men also who had criticized the appearance of the land. The words were spoken just as I had dreamed."15
This is an interesting revision of events! In this dream story we have two men opposing the property, but this is not at all what was reported by her four years earlier in the May 23, 1894, letter already quoted above:
"They came from their investigation with a much more favorable impression than they had hitherto received. They had found some excellent land, the best they had seen, and they thought it was a favorable spot for the location of the school. They had found a creek of fresh water, cold and sweet, the best they had ever tasted. On the whole, the day of prospecting had made them much more favorable to the place than they had hitherto been."17In fact, none of the accounts of any of those present on May 23, 1894, makes any mention of the opposition of two men. The closest example we have is an undated manuscript from Elder Starr that says in part:
"The next day after she related this dream, Sister White and I were invited by telegram to Dora Creek... Leaving the boat, the ladies sat upon a log lying near and listened to member of the committee express their minds regarding the place. ... I was listening to hear someone say, 'the land is sour' as Sister White said they would. But just near the place where we were gathered, there was a furrow in plain sight, and I saw Sister White looking intently at it. It certainly had all the appearance of the one she had told us of in her dream.1907 - Dream is Embellished
"Leaving the ladies seated on the log, the committee led us men to see the rich land in the large swamp near by. The committee had a man digging a deep ditch to ascertain the full depth of this soil. Here the man was still throwing out rich black soil at a depth of six feet or more. Someone inquired, 'What is the matter with this soil?' 'Oh, nothing,' was the reply, 'it is very rich. ...' Another spoke and said, 'Yes, but the land is sour.'"18
Thirteen years after the event, Mrs. White makes another mention of the furrow, this time embellishing the tale even further:
"When we came to Avondale to examine the estate, I went with the brethren to the tract of land. After a time we came to the place I had dreamed of, and there was the furrow that I had seen. The brethren looked at it in surprise. How had it come there, they asked. Then I told them the dream that I had had. 'Well,' they replied, 'you can see that the soil is not good.' 'That,' I answered, 'was the testimony borne by the men in my dream, and that was given as the reason why we should not occupy the land. But one stood upon the upturned furrow, and said, 'False testimony has been borne concerning this soil. God can furnish a table in the wilderness.'"19Now, let us examine some of the differences between four of the written accounts of the event:20
EGW Diary Account|
|Where was the furrow in relation to Sister White?||No furrow is mentioned. Sister White is sitting with Willie and Emily on a log.||Mrs. White spots the furrow while "walking around the ground".||"We came to the place I dreamed of, and there was the furrow".||All the ladies sat upon a log. The furrow was within eyesight.|
|Who Opposed the Purchase?||The men were favorable to the land. No report of any opposition.||Two men criticized the land while standing next to the furrow.||Two men criticized the land while standing next to the furrow.||One man said the land was "sour", but he was not near the women or the furrow. He was standing by the ditch that had been dug.|
|Did anyone else have prior knowledge of EGW's dream?||No mention of any dream||Starr is told of the dream beforehand||Mrs. White tells everyone the dream while at the furrow site||Starr was apparently the only one aware of the dream|
|Were the men surprised to see the furrow?||No mention of furrow||No mention of surprise||Men were surprised to see it||No mention of surprise--only Starr and EGW took note of the furrow|
Ellen White visited the Brettville Estate property "several" times prior to the pivital date of May 23, 1894. In any of these visits she may observed the furrow. In Sister White's diary and letters during May, June, July, and early August, there is no mention made of a furrow. She mentions a dream on Aug. 27, but not a furrow. Daniell's and Starr's published reports of the events do not mention a furrow.21 It was not until November, while facing opposition from Daniells and Rousseau, that Ellen White makes her dream known in public. She does not write it down until nearly 4 years later, and when she does, it conflicts with the notes in her diary which say nothing of any opposition to the purchase. In 1907, 13 years after the event, she embellishes the story even further, again contradicting earlier accounts.
So what did happen? Here is the most likely sequence of events:
1. Denton E. Rebok, Believe His Prophets, pp. 120-122, The Review and Herald Publishing Association Washington, D.C., 1956.
2. Milton R. Hook, Ed.D., "The Avondale School and Adventist Educational Goals, 1894-1900", p. 84 (doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1978).
3. Ibid., p. 90.
4. Ibid., p. 91, op. cit. W.C. White in Caviness Interview , Doc. File 170, EGWRC-AU.
5. Ibid., pp. 90-91, op. cit. A.G. Daniells, "Avondale College," 1928, Doc. File 170, EGWRC-AU.
6. E.G. White, Letter 40, 1894, p. 1. (To Brother Jones, May 9, 1894.)
7. E.G. White, Manuscript 75, 1894. Cited by Arthur White in the 4th volume of his biography of Ellen White, pp. 149-150; Hook, p. 314, op. cit. A.G. Daniells, "Wonderful Leadings of the Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement--Part 5", Record, Aug. 28, 1928, p. 2; E.G. White and G.B. Starr, "Experiences in Australia," book manuscript, 4 vols., EGWRC-AU.
8. E.G. White, Letter 82, 1894. Cited by Arthur White in the 4th volume of his biography of Ellen White, pp. 150-151.
9. Arthur White, Biography of Ellen White, vol. 4, p. 151.
10. E.G. White, Manuscript 35, 1894, p. 4. (To S. N. Haskell, August 27, 1894.) Manuscript Releases, vol. 8 p. 249.
11. E.G. White, Letter 14, 1894. See also Arthur White biography of E.G. White, vol. 4, p. 154.
12. M.C. Kellogg as quoted by Hook, p. 110, op.cit. "School Location: Discussion at Ashfield Camp meeting," in "Historical Materials," vol. 2, EGWRC-AU.
13. Hook, p. 315, "At the Ashfield camp meeting of October 19 to November 4, 1894, E.G. White related the dream for the first time to a public audience, in response to sustained opposition from Daniells and Rousseau." Please note that although the account speaks of "one" person who opposed the purchase, Mrs. White uses the plural terms "their" and "they", which would seem to indicate more than one person. When Mrs. White finally wrote out the dream four years later, she indicated seeing "two" people opposing the purchase.
14. Hook, p. 315, op. cit. "Education Work--Village Settlement, October 19-November 4, 1894," in "Historical Materials", vol. 2: "Educational Work in Australia, 1893, 1894," 1955, EGWRC-AU.
15. E.G. White, Manuscript 62, 1898, p. 2. ("Selection of the School Land at Cooranbong," June 26, 1898.) Manuscript Releases, vol. 8, p. 259.
16. Hook, p. 95, op. cit. E.G. White Diary, MS 75, 1894, EGWRC-AU.
17. E.G. White, Letter 82, 1894.
18. G.B. and N. Starr, "Personal Experiences and Observations with the Prophetic Gift in the Remnant Church," pp. 173-175, Doc. File 496, EGWRC-AU.
19. E.G. White, letter written October 22, 1907, from Sanitarium, California, to "Dear Children Edson and Emma" [Elder and Mrs. J. E. White].) Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 54.
20. A.G. Daniell's and G.B. Starr's published memoirs of the event are not included in this comparison. Neither of them mentions either a dream or a furrow.
21. Starr has a later, undated report of the dream and furrow, but some details conflict with Ellen White's version of the story.