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A Short History of the Church of England in Victoria 1847-1947

By H. W. Nunn

Issued by the Editorial Committee of the Centenary Celebrations, Melboune Diocese, 1947.



VICTORIA is now years ahead of all States in this country, other than Tasmania, in one matter: the extinction of the natives. The attempts to civilize and christianize the aborigines of Port Phillip failed, perhaps from lack of proper understanding of the native psychology, or as Governor Gipps explained, "from the difficulties of being amongst mutually hostile tribes, having no knowledge of the language, and chiefly through the deadly influence of the ungodly Europeans." (83). As early as 1842, the Reverend Benjamin Hurst of the Wesleyan Mission at Port Phillip, lamented that "judging from present appearances, by the time the missionary shall have acquired the language, so as to be able to preach the Gospel, he will have no one to preach to." (84).

There were however, some experiments, during the period of 1838 to 1850. One was Mr. George Langhorne's Government Mission on the Yarra in 1836-1839, but after two years of this work, Langhorne went to Sydney to qualify for Holy Orders, and his place was taken by an energetic churchman, Mr. James Smith. A native Police Corps village settlement existed from 1837-1839; a Protectorate with four districts from 1838 to 1850; the Buntingdale Methodist Mission from 1845 to 1848; there was a second Native Police Corps experiment during the period of 1841 to 1853, and also a school at Merri Creek from 1845 to 1851.

In 1861, a Board for the Protection of the Aborigines was set up, and with the help of the Churches a vigorous policy was put into operation; but by then there were only remnants to deal with. Possibly 10,000 natives occupied Victoria at the time of settlement, but even in 1851, only 2,963 of these remained, "an awful decrease." (85). Mostly people believed that the aborigine was "half-child, half-devil," and had to be treated with "due severity," but despite a thorough-going attempt to civilize them, the result [66/67] was their virtual extinction, and needless to say the natives lost their country. It is to the Christian Church's honour that it upheld the essential humanity of the aborigine, and today, anthropological advance has shown that the aborigine's social and religious life is of no mean order. Despite the fact that in the early days of Victorian history, an appeal to police discipline, to education and to self-interest was tried, little real impression was made on the aborigines, and until recently the missionary has been their only friend. (86).

Bishop Perry wrote in 1849, that "the present wretched condition of the aborigines . . . has long occupied much of my thoughts." (87). Before him, Bishop Broughton had put before the clergy as early as 1829, his fears that European settlement in their country "had deteriorated a condition of existence than which before nothing more miserable could be conceived." (88). Twenty years later, Perry reported that, in Victoria, he could not see "any opening for a mission among them. Almost every effort which had been made for their instruction and conversion had been abandoned. . . . the Wesleyans had just given up. It is a melancholy thought (he added) that such should be the result of our occupation of their country." (89). Two years later, Perry stated that he could not discover that more than two or three natives had ever been christianized in Victoria. Encouraged, however, by what had been accomplished in South and Western Australia, he promoted the formation of a mission on the River Murray, undertaken by the Moravian Brethren in 1850. As early as 1834, repeated requests had reached the Moravian Church, that she who had had a hundred years missionary experience in the hardest fields, should come to the help of those who were dealing with this difficult problem in Australia. Consequently Brothers A. F. C. Taegar and F. W. Spieske arrived in Victoria, and started work at Lake Boga, not far from Swan Hill, on the river Murray. They encountered hostility from the white settlers and lack of reception from the blacks, and when gold was discovered in Victoria, the influence of the gold settlers on their way to the diggings on a road along the river Murray, and past the Mission station, became so hurtful that the Mission was abandoned in 1856. The effort however, was recommenced in 1858, when the Reverend F. H. Hagenaeur joined his [67/68] fellow labourers, and with the support of Sir Henry Barkly, the Governor of Victoria, the Bishop of Melbourne, and the Presbyterian Church, operations were again begun in the Wimmera district at Antwerp, on a station called Ebenezer.

With no interruption from European settlement, the work soon prospered. The Church of England gave the Aboriginal Mission warm sympathy, and a large and enthusiastic meeting was held in their support in St. Paul's Schoolroom in March, 1860, and a similarly enthusiastic meeting at Geelong in the same year. Bishop Perry was often, at this period, compelled to defend the cause of missions to the Aboriginals in the columns of the daily newspapers, whose sneer that their work "consists in coaxing a few savages to profess a religion which they do not understand and cannot believe," betrayed a total ignorance of the history of Christian missions.

In 1863, the Reverend F. H. Hagenaeur founded Ramahyuk (our Home) near Lake Wellington in Gippsland. The Government, at the instigation of Queen Victoria, who begged in a letter to the Governor, that the natives be sheltered from violence, created six reserves for the sole use of the natives. A vigorous school and orphanage became the leading features of the Mission, the school obtaining a hundred per cent marks from the Government inspector. Hagenaeur laboured at Ramahyuk for 44 years, being for many years secretary to the Aboriginal Board and Protector of Aborigines. One of his pupils, acquiring a good literary style, wrote articles for some of the newspapers, and even dared to criticize Macauley's "Essays."

In 1862, the Church of England opened work near Warrnambool, the station afterwards being transferred to Lake Condah. Much success was obtained, under the Moravian missionary, the Reverend H. Stahle, but the gradual dying out of the natives led to the transferring of the remainder to Lake Tyers, another Church of England station, commenced in the same year under Mr. John Bulmer. Ultimately the work was taken over by the Victorian Government, with a chaplain, appointed by the Anglican Bishop of Gippsland, being responsible for the spiritual welfare of the natives. To-day, of the fine tribes of Victoria, only 57 full-bloods, 262 half-castes and 70 quadroons now remain. The care of this remnant is vested in a Board under the [68/69] control of the Chief Secretary. Most of that remnant is concentrated at the Lake Tyers Station, but there are smaller reserves at Coranderik, Lake Condah, Framlingham and other small areas, all under civilized conditions.

Besides its work for the aborigines, the Church of England also carried on Missions to the Chinese, originally attracted to Victoria by the gold discoveries. By 1858, there were 34,000 Chinese at the Victorian goldfields, not much less than a quarter of the whole digging population. (90). It was a common sight in the years of 1853 and 1854 to see a long string of Chinese, after landing from a Hong-Kong ship, move along in Indian file through the streets of Melbourne in wooden shoes, broad-brimmed hats, and clothes of the approved Chinese fashion, bearing on their shoulders a pole loaded at each end with a heavier burden than the ordinary Melbournian would wish to carry. Their destinations were the gold fields. They were not however, real colonists, for most of them had the fixed idea of re-emigration to their native Canton before they died. Chiefly belonging to a rural, agricultural class, the majority were illiterates, and although some of them belonged to Chinese secret societies, they were as a whole, industrious, thrifty, temperate, docile and easily governed. As the missionary Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, Dr. Smith, declared during his visit to this colony in 1859, "they dwell as strangers within your gates . . . they seek at your hands only that tolerance and immunity from unequal laws which their own Imperial Government in China has been compelled by the blaze of musketry and the cannon's roar to concede to Britain's favoured and formidable sons." (91).

Despite the antipathy towards the Chinese and the clamour for anti-Chinese legislation, there were Associations for the Evangelization of the Chinese at Geelong in 1855, where the Hon. James Balfour was secretary; at Ballarat and in Melbourne. Mr. Young, formerly a missionary in China, opened a mission at Castlemaine, and Lo Sam Yuen, an agent of the Geelong Association, went to work on the Ballarat fields. The latter had been a pupil of Bishop Smith for six years in the Church Institution at Hong Kong, and when the Bishop visited the evangelist on the gold fields, he found a weather-boarded chapel, raised exclusively from the subscriptions of the Chinese at the [69/70] cost of £200, and with a normal congregation of over 200 Chinese.

The Missions to the Chinese continued to receive support from the Church of the two dioceses of Melbourne and Ballarat, and although the "Chinese question" may be said to have solved itself when, in 1881, there were only 12,132 Chinese left in Victoria (92); when Bishop Perry presided over the 19th annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society in the last days of his episcopate, the report states that "there are now three Chinese catechists . . . viz; Matthew Ah Get at Maryborough and neighbourhood; James Le Wah, at Sandhurst and the surrounding goldfields; and Paul Ah Fat, at St. Arnaud, New Bendigo and the district adjacent. The mission at Percydale is being carried on as far as possible by the voluntary and unpaid efforts of a few Christian Chinese working-men there resident." (93). The 34th Annual Report of the Church Missionary Society, presented in 1889, still showed the Chinese Mission as making good progress.

There was one other mission with which Bishop Perry was concerned, and that was the Bush Mission, which later became the Gold Fields Mission. In 1850, the Reverend S. L. Chase, with Mr. Palmer as lay assistant, had accomplished a successful missionary journey through Wangaratta, Seymour, Violet Town and Benalla; but a young layman Mr. J. H. Gregory was ordained for this special Bush Mission. Shortly afterwards in 1851, the missionary spirit of the Church found specific organization in the Melbourne Diocesan Board of Missions. It had three objects: first home missions, secondly, to co-operate with the provincial board established in Sydney at the suggestion of Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand, in carrying the Gospel to the islands of the Western Pacific; and finally to receive and forward subscriptions to particular missionary societies. In 1851, too, the Reverend C. T. Perks of St. Peter's, Melbourne, volunteered for temporary mission service to the Ballarat goldfields, as did also the Reverend W. Hall, of Ballan, and Archdeacon T. H. Davies paid a visit to the fields on behalf of the Bishop, before his failure in health compelled him to return to England. At this crucial period, Bishop Perry suffered crippling losses in his staff, losing no less than five clergy through sickness, and one through [70/71] death, the Reverend Wood, curate of St. Peter's, being thrown from a dog-cart and killed.

Perry however, did not fail to grapple with his difficulties. In 1853, he set about raising £2,000 to bring ten additional clergymen from England, and the Reverend J. H. Gregory was stationed at Bendigo, the Reverend J. Cheyne at Castlemaine, and soon the Reverend J. R. Thackeray became the first resident Church of England minister at Ballarat. The latter found himself so close to Eureka stockade, and to the line of fire, that for the protection of his family, he found it necessary to line the walls of his weatherboard cottage with mattresses and other bullet-proof materials.

Today, the Australian Board of Missions is the constitutional missionary organization for the whole of the Commonwealth. Although its origin may be traced to the meeting of the six Bishops in Australia in 1850, at Sydney, no definite organization was framed until 1872, when the first General Synod framed the present Constitution of the Australian Board of Missions which co-ordinates the work of the A.B.M., the work of the Church Missionary Association of New South Wales and Victoria (originally organized in 1892), and provides for representatives of the reorganized Church Missionary Society of Australia and Tasmania. Previously, until 1908, missionary work fostered by the A.B.M., in Victoria, had been carried out by voluntary committees for Melanesia, New Guinea, and the aborigines at Yarrabah and Trubanaman (Mitchell River), but then the local committees were abolished to form an Australian Missionary Society for the Province of Victoria, and ultimately organized as the "Association for Missionary Service working under the Australian Board of Missions." In 1916, all efforts were finally merged into the present re-organized board.

Today, the mission activities of this Board, are represented by the Mission to Papua, founded in 1891; the Mission at Yarrabah in the diocese of North Queensland, founded in 1892; Mitchell River 1905; Edward River commenced in 1932; that of Torres Straits taken over from the London Missionary Society in 1914; Lockhart River in the Diocese of Carpentaria; Cowal Creek, in the extreme north of Cape York; and Forrest River in the Diocese of North West Australia. In 1916, two missionaries were sent to Japan, and [71/72] in 1928 the Protestant Episcopal Church of America took over the work. Work has also been maintained in China, and the A.B.M. budgets annually for the dioceses of Melanesia and Polynesia. Financial assistance is also given to the Mission to Jerusalem and the East, the Universities Mission in Central Africa, the Oxford Mission to Calcutta, and others. The great mission work in New Guinea is definitely the child of the Australian Church, and the administration of Papua is without doubt one of the best efforts that have been made to rule a native race in the interests of the people. The results of the missions in New Guinea are a proof that the teaching of the truths of Christianity, the moral uplift and training by the Church, do supply what nothing else can supply. During the 19391945 1945 war, the Mission lost 33 missionaries, eleven of them by death, including the eight who suffered martyrdom in 1942, and most of the others through ill-health. But, the Cathedral at Dogura now has flags presented by the U.S. Army, the R.A.A.F., and the R.A.N., in gratitude for services rendered during the war by the Mission and by Papuan Christians.

Last year the Australian Board of Missions expended over £50,000 on mission work, £14,000 of which was contributed by the Church in Victoria.

The other missionary body at work in the Church of England in Victoria, is the Church Missionary Society. It has as one of its principles, "the right and privilege of the members of the Church of Christ, in the fulfilment of the duty to preach the Gospel to all nations to form societies for the purpose, based upon such distinctive principles as will unite them together in mutual sympathy."

As far back as 1854, there was a Church Missionary Society of Victoria, with Bishop Perry as its President. It was quite a distinct organization from the Church Missionary Society founded in London in 1799, and its purpose was evangelization amongst non-Christian peoples at home and abroad, and developed along four lines; work amongst the Chinese, the Jews, the Aborigines in Victoria and the Melanesian Mission. A splendid, independent effort was maintained through this body and through a local branch of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, and substantial assistance was given to C.M.S. missions in various countries. The initiation and enterprise of this body [72/73] was due to the Reverend H. B. Macartney of St. Mary's Caulfield, and his fund was raising over £2,000 a year for work in India, China and Ceylon.

In 1892, however, a deputation from the parent Church Missionary Society in London came to Australia, and established the Church Missionary Association of Victoria, whose objects were to act on behalf of the parent society, and to operate in fields not occupied by the C.M.S., London. The new organization grew rapidly, but its first two missionaries, the Misses E. M. and H. E. Saunders died in the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1895, and H. C. Tugwell, another missionary died of malaria in Calcutta in 1896. In 1898, the Church Missionary Association took over aboriginal mission stations at Lake Condah and Lake Tyers, until the Victorian Government assumed control of the former in 1913 and the latter in 1917. In 1908, a further mission station was opened at Roper River, among the aboriginals in the Northern Territory, and there is now an important centre at Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and a further one at Oenpelli.

In 1916, the various branches of the society in Australia, established a Federal Council, and by determination of the General Synod in the same year, the society, known as the Church Missionary Society of Australia and Tasmania, was recognized as an agency of the Church for missionary purposes. Specific work, notably the Roper River Mission has been mandated to the Victorian branch by the Federal Council. In 1927, fresh work in Tanganyika, East Africa, was undertaken by the C.M.S. of Australia and Tasmania, the Victorian branch sharing largely in the responsibility. In 1933-34, the Victorian branch of the C.M.S. organized the successful Arnhem Land Peace Expedition to make friendly contacts with the natives in East Arnhem Land, an alternative permitted by the Government to projected police action there.

Today, there are 50 Victorian missionaries working under the Society amongst the aborigines in North Australia, in East and West China, in various parts of India and Ceylon, and in the three East Equatorial areas of Africa--Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika. During the last fifty-five years, Victoria has sent out 168 missionaries under the C.M.S., and in the present year the Victorian branch of the society budgets for £21,500 for its missionary work.

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