Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By the Rev. A. E. David, M.A.

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1908.

Chapter IX. Missions to the Heathen

THE rapid decline of the aborigines of Australia since the advent of the white man is one of the least attractive incidents in the occupation of the country. In the early days conflicts were inevitable between reckless convicts and the untutored children of nature whose hunting-grounds were wrested from them without the slightest form of compensation. The blacks speared and stole the sheep and cattle, reprisals naturally followed, in which many blacks lost their lives: in revenge, shepherds living in outstations were murdered, and then followed what were euphemistically called "dispersals." In other words, the settlers armed themselves, and in retaliation wiped out tribe after tribe. Thus the melancholy struggle went on, relieved here and there by efforts at evangelization, but the whole record forms a dark page in the history of Australian colonization. The destruction of the [185/186] aboriginal, begun with lethal weapons and chiefly in defence of property and life, has gone forward under the more deadly influences of alcohol, opium, and other forms of vice, so that, despite the efforts made by State Governments for their protection, the aboriginal race seems doomed to ultimate extinction.

The Tasmanian blacks, as we have seen, are already extinct, and of the scattered tribes in Victoria only a few hundred remain. In 1882 it was estimated that New South Wales possessed six thousand full-blooded blacks, but twenty years later the numbers had been reduced to less than half. The same process of declension is going on in Queensland. It is thought that in 1840 the aboriginal population of that State numbered upwards of two hundred thousand, but at the close of the century they had dwindled to about twenty-five thousand, and, despite the most stringent laws passed for the protection of this remnant, they would seem to decrease annually by at least five hundred. In Central and North-Western Australia there are large tribes living their primitive wild life, the numbers of which have been variously estimated; but with increasing opportunities for obtaining [186/187] drink and opium these tribes are rapidly diminishing in number, and it is clear that contact with civilization and its vices, despite efforts at isolation, is proving fatal to the Australian black.

It is only of late years that any organized attempt has been made to obtain accurate and scientific knowledge of the natural life and tribal customs of these people. The task has been rendered difficult by their nomadic habits, but the study has been interesting and of value to the anthropologist, since the aboriginal in Australia represents one of the most primitive types in the human family. Of agriculture he has not the remotest idea, and has relied for food upon wild fruit and vegetables, and upon the game secured during fishing and hunting expeditions. Although his development has been arrested at the stage of the manufacture of wooden weapons, he has succeeded nevertheless in producing the boomerang and the woomera, both highly ingenious weapons which he uses with great skill. The string or fibre baskets woven by the black "gins" also show great ingenuity and some artistic feeling. It has been the fashion to regard the Australian aboriginal as but one step removed from the condition of an anthropoid ape, but these [187/188] indications of skill and the experience of missionaries in introducing agriculture and education in their settlements entirely refute this idea. Black children, up to a certain age, learn with remarkable facility, and even compare favourably with white children in elementary reading, writing, and arithmetic, but their powers of acquiring the higher branches of knowledge seem to be arrested. That they are susceptible to Christian influences goes without saying, and not a few mission settlements have become centres of civilization and Christian life.

From the earliest days of white occupation the condition of the aborigines attracted the attention of the Government chaplains. The Rev. Samuel Marsden was unwearied in his exertions for their protection, and his efforts were ably seconded by Governor Macquarie. In 1814 attempts were made to establish schools for black children who haunted the outskirts of the settlement, but this step was not attended with any success. Bishop Broughton also, when first appointed as Archdeacon, gave much time and attention to the problem of their evangelization, and prepared a grammar of the aboriginal dialects. In 1829, in his charge to the clergy, he described in vigorous [188/189] language the relations of the white settlers to the black population surrounding them, and spoke of the appalling consideration that, after an intercourse of nearly half a century with a Christian people, these hapless human beings continue in their benighted and degraded state, so that European settlement in their country seemed to have "deteriorated a condition of existence than which nothing more miserable could easily be conceived."

The Government was not insensible to their duties in the matter, and from the first assisted the organized efforts made by the different religious bodies for the benefit of the much-wronged race. In 1832 a mission station was founded under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in the Wellington Valley, about two hundred miles from Sydney. Towards the endowment of this institution the Government granted seven thousand acres of land, besides £1,000 for an annual supply of blankets and provisions, and an annual grant of £500 for maintenance. The mission, however, did not permanently prosper. Later on, grants were also made to similar missions on the Murray at Maloga and Warrangesda, which proved more [189/190] successful. The conflict between white and black raged furiously in Victoria, and, after the formation of a local Government, steps were taken to mitigate the evil. A mission station was founded at Lake Condah, under the control of the Anglican Church, assisted by the State, and another on similar lines at Lake Tyers, though worked chiefly through Moravian missionaries; whilst at Corranderek the State itself founded and directed successfully a community of blacks who were engaged in the cultivation of hops. These efforts served to show that, where the black could be induced to forsake his nomad habits and to settle, good results could be obtained. In South Australia Sir George Grey endeavoured to deal with the aboriginal population on a larger scale, and adopted isolation on reserve as the best policy, but the nomadic habits of the blacks interfered with this, and the plan of civilizing by wages was tried, whilst they were encouraged to appeal from native custom to English law. The plan, however, ultimately resolved itself into a system of doles of flour and blankets, which proved fruitless, and merely changed natural hunters into tramps. The Church, however, was more successful, and, under [190/191] the superintendence of Archdeacon Hale, secured a sheep station adjoining an aboriginal reserve at Pooninde. Here, assisted by a Government grant, the aborigines were collected, and work found upon the stadion and a farm of about 250 acres, and, as was afterwards proved in Queensland, they showed themselves capable of civilization and of receiving Christian teaching. On Bishop Hale's translation to Brisbane his interest secured the appointment of a committee for the care of the aborigines, religious work amongst whom had been undertaken almost from the foundation of the settlement by Lutheran missionaries. The Government, at first, made a grant of 10,000 acres near Mackay as a reserve, but this grant was subsequently recalled, and the system of doles of flour and blankets was adopted with the usual injurious results. In 1891 a return was made to the plan of setting apart reserves, and, at the instance of the Australian Board of Missions, a large reserve near Cairns, in a favourite haunt of the blacks, was gazetted, and a mission established under the superintendence of Mr. Gribble, an Anglican clergyman, who had gained considerable experience of the work at Warrangesda. The Yarrabah [191/192] Mission has been already mentioned, and the excellent work accomplished there by the Rev. E. R. Gribble, son of the first superintendent, and by Lutheran and Moravian missionaries both in Queensland and in other parts of the country, goes to prove the capacities of this despised race. Yarrabah in 1904 threw out an offshoot at the Mitchell River, on the east coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, where a large tract of country had been set apart as an aboriginal reserve. The mission, under the Rev. E. Chase, soon caused a marked improvement in the habits of the blacks, and has won the appreciation of the white settlers in the neighbourhood. In the Northern Territory the work of the Anglican Church is represented by a mission at Karparlgoo, about one hundred miles east of Port Darwin; and in Western Australia similar work is being carried on, not only by the Anglican Church, but by other denominations, amongst which is a Benedictine Mission at New Norcia, founded in 1847.

Notwithstanding these evidences of care for the aborigines, it must be confessed that the Church of England in Australia has been slow to realize her responsibilities in this respect. The scarcity of clergy, and the extreme difficulty of the work, [192/193] account for a good deal, but do not excuse the supineness shown in neglecting opportunities. The Australian Governments have recognized the debt due to the ancient inhabitants of the land, and have always been ready to assist, by grants in aid, any movement for their betterment. In Queensland the appointment of a protector of aborigines, and the passage of a very stringent measure regulating their employment, and other matters, are evidences of the interest which the Government has for their well-being, whilst in West Australia public opinion against inhuman treatment of these people has assisted in improving their condition. There is, in fact, fair prospect, now that the memory of the violent deeds of early days has passed away, that the remnant of the aboriginal races will end their days in peace, surrounded by influences more worthy of a Christian country.

Apart from the presence of an indigenous coloured race in its midst, Australia has long had its "colour problem," due to the proximity of Asia with its surplus millions of population. The danger arising from the growth of a hybrid people, combined with the hostility of the Labour Party to the introduction of cheap coolie workers, [193/194] has led to the cry of "a white Australia"; and the Commonwealth Parliament soon after its formation enforced the most stringent measures of exclusion, especially against the Chinese, South Sea Islanders, Japanese, and Indian coolies. Before these steps were taken, and despite less restrictive legislation in the different states, a large number of coloured immigrants had already found their way into the country. The latest census revealed their number at 55,000, of whom 32,000 are Chinese, 10,000 South Sea Islanders, whilst the bulk of the remainder consist of Hindoos, Japanese, Manilamen, and Afghans.

Of these aliens the first to arrive were the Chinese. The earliest capitalists of Sydney obtained leave to import, but did not import, Chinese labourers for the cultivation of hemp in 1 809; and some years later, Dr. Lang, a prominent Presbyterian minister of Sydney, urged the introduction of 1,000 Chinese families for the purpose of growing tea in what is now Queensland. Between 1846-50, 515 Chinese labourers were imported into Sydney and Melbourne by private enterprise, and in 1850 there were about 400 in the neighbourhood of Brisbane. The attraction of the gold discoveries multiplied the [194/195] yellow race by ten or more. Victoria, panicstricken by the hordes pouring in, started a poll tax, and this example was followed by the other colonies, but the expedient only partially succeeded in arresting the stream of coloured immigration. With rare exceptions the Chinaman gathered but never mined gold. He was content to work over again more thoroughly the abandoned tailings of the mines. In the wake of the gold-seekers came Chinese tradesmen, cabinet makers, etc., and when gold or other sources of wealth failed they turned to market gardening, cooking, and similar occupations. These men are not real colonists, but come "to make their pile," and then to return to their native land. The numbers in Sydney and Melbourne are considerable, and there is practically a Chinese quarter in each of these towns; but for the most part the Chinese are scattered sporadically throughout Australia, and do not congregate in communities of any size. This fact makes the general work of evangelization difficult, for without some knowledge of the language it is almost impossible to teach a Chinaman the rudiments of the Christian Faith. At both Melbourne and Sydney there are ordained [195/196] Chinese clergymen ministering to their countrymen in churches built for their exclusive use, whilst at Hay, Brisbane, and Townsville, Chinese catechists under European supervision, conduct services and classes. The progress of the work is slow, for the Chinaman is not easily converted, but when once won to the Christian Faith he remains staunch and loyal to his profession. He is generally credited with unusual subtlety, and is regarded, owing to his use of opium and passion for gambling, as a source of moral contamination; but, whilst this view is not without instances in its support, the Chinese in general are thrifty, honest, and law-abiding, and have proved themselves useful members of the community, and their general intelligence when Christianized makes them eminently fitted to act as missionaries to their own countrymen, and to proclaim the Gospel in the land of their birth. Thus, through the residence of so many Chinese in Australia, the Church is furnished with a great opportunity of aiding those missionary agencies working in the home of the great Mongolian race.

The sugar industry, which from a very early period was established in the coast districts of [196/197] Queensland and northern New South Wales, led to the importation of large numbers of Pacific islanders for the purpose of cultivating the cane. The system of "black birding," as it was called, under which coloured labour was obtained from the islands by the irresponsible agents of the planters, who received a bonus for every labourer imported, led to a series of outrages, which caused the Queensland Government to interfere. There can be little doubt that in the northern plantations a state of things existed at one time which resembled the conditions of slavery. The islanders did not understand the agreements upon which they were engaged, and the mortality was very heavy, whilst gross cruelties were perpetrated in recruiting labour from the islands. Stringent regulations were introduced, and the whole system subjected to State inspection. The regulations, however, were evaded, and ultimately recruiting was stopped. The effect upon the growth of sugar-cane was so disastrous that in 1892 the Queensland Government re-established the system under stricter inspection, and the importation was continued for twelve years free from the old abuses. The labourers were well paid by the planters, and were contented [197/198] with their lot. On the formation of the Commonwealth, however, the Federal Parliament dealt with the question by providing that importation of labour should at once cease, and that by December, 1906, when the existing indentures would have expired, the islanders should be deported to their homes. At the same time bounties were offered for sugar raised by white men only. It is unnecessary to enter into the economic effect of this legislation. Its practical effect was to close the doors of many missions to the South Sea Islanders in Queensland.

The Pacific islander is eminently teachable, and anxious to be taught, and from, the time of his first arrival, agencies were at once started for his evangelization, the work of which has been carried on with conspicuous success. From Richmond, in New South Wales, up to Thursday Island, in the extreme North of Queensland, classes for instruction were held, to which the islanders came in large numbers. At Bundaberg, in the Diocese of Brisbane, the work was supervised by a clergyman, licensed for the purpose, and its growth was so great that, recognizing its importance, the Melanesian Mission sent over a clerical member of its staff to act as superintendent. [198/199] In North Queensland, at Mackay, the Selwyn Mission, founded by the wife of a planter, Mrs. Robinson, and a mission on the Herbert River, further north, did excellent work; the character of which may be gauged from the circumstance that many of the coloured staff of the New Guinea Mission received their first impressions of Christianity from the Queensland Missions. To the Melanesian Mission also the work has been of value, for it is of the first importance to the social life of the islanders that the crowds of deported labourers, acquainted with the conditions of European civilization, should have been brought under Christian influence.

At Thursday Island, in Torres Straits, and at Broome, on Roebuck Bay in the North of Western Australia, are situated the headquarters of the pearling industry. Most of the Japanese, Malays, and Manilamen in Australia are engaged in this occupation, and from each centre a fleet of three hundred pearling vessels puts out. The crews and divers engaged on these boats are all coloured men, who work under the direction of a white skipper. There are no special evangelistic agencies for the cosmopolitan population of these places, but classes of instruction are held by the [199/200] local clergy, assisted by residents, and amongst the Japanese particularly there is a distinct movement towards the Christian Faith.

The whole of the colour problem is one beset with intense difficulty. In the exclusive legislation of the Commonwealth, two voices can be heard. On the one hand, there is the still small voice of the idealist, who is jealous of the dignity of man, and who sees in the system of indented labour traces of the degradation of slavery. His attitude is one that must command the deepest consideration from the Christian Church. On the other, is the voice of the labour leader, who is jealous of competitors, whether they be white or coloured, and his attitude is one which commands less respect. For good or for evil, at all events, the restraints placed upon coloured immigration tend to diminish the numbers of heathen aliens, and the claims upon the Church in this regard have been proportionately reduced.

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