Meyer, Heinrich August Eduard, Rev. (1813-1862)

Prepared by: 
Christine Lockwood
Birth / Death: 

born 5 May 1813, in Berlin, Prussia

died 19 December 1862, aged 49

Rev. Eduard Meyer, from the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, Germany, was the first missionary to work among the Ngarrindjeri people of South Australia, working among the Ramindjeri of the Encounter Bay area. While his focus was on spiritual work, he started a school, encouraged the people to support themselves through farming and left valuable ethnographic and linguistic records that have informed the present-day revival of Ngarrindjeri language and culture.




H.A.E Myer 1836, State Library of SA B8236

Heinrich August Eduard Meyer 1836
Source: State Library of South Australia B 8236,
Sketch by artist S. Jacobssohn

Theological formation

Pastor Heinrich August Eduard Meyer (known as Eduard) was born in Berlin on 5 May 1813.1 His father, Carl, was a lacquerer. Meyer aspired to be an artist but, as his family could not afford the training for this, he became a plumber. His family joined the Old Lutheran congregation in Berlin, whose pastor, Friedrich Lasius, was imprisoned for resisting the union of Lutheran and Calvinist churches in Prussia.2 Between July 1833 and October 1836 Meyer attended the Jänicke Mission Institute in Berlin, which had been training missionaries to work with British and Dutch missionary societies. In that year the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden (‘Dresden Mission Society’ or DMS) was formed as the first mission society to be committed to teaching according to the Lutheran Confessions and clearly Lutheran in its approach.3 It emerged out of an early nineteenth century revival of confessional Lutheran theology and the catalyst for its establishment was the decision of the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which had been employing Lutheran missionaries on its mission fields, to insist on Anglican ordination for all missionaries it employed. Like the DMS’s first missionaries, Pastors Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann and Christian Gottlob Teichelmann, Meyer was unwilling to accept ordination into the Church of England in order to work for an Anglican mission society. Meyer left the Jänicke Mission Institute and studied at the DMS from 1837 to 1839 because:

I cannot bring myself to enter into involvement with another society because the Lutheran Church is, according to God’s Word and my convictions, the only true one. Therefore it is my dearest wish and constant prayer to the Lord and Protector of the true church of Jesus Christ, that if he wishes to use me to proclaim His Gospel to the heathen, He may also in His grace bring it about that I will be sent out by a church to which I profess and upon whose confession I wish with God’s grace to live and die.4

The Dresden Mission Society was investigating the prospect of establishing a station in India in cooperation with the Royal Danish Mission Society. With this in mind, Meyer and fellow student Johann Carl Heinrich Cordes, on completing their studies, were sent to Erlangen to study the Tamil language in 1839. Erlangen University was home to noted confessional Lutheran theologians and Friedrich Rückert, then Germany’s foremost Oriental languages expert. However, Meyer had developed a close friendship with Schürmann during their student days. He requested to be sent to South Australia on hearing that South Australia’s Governor Gawler (governor 1838-1841) had invited missionary Schürmann to move to Encounter Bay and Schürmann was asking for another missionary to accompany him. After some hesitation Meyer’s request was approved.

Meyer was ordained with Pastor Cordes and Pastor Samuel Gottlieb Klose by Superintendent Schmidt of the Consistory of the principality of Greiz on 26 February 1838. Their ordination vows included a commitment to the Lutheran Confessions.5 The Saxon authorities had refused to ordain them, invoking an old law which reserved ordination for candidates trained in Saxon universities in order to convey their disapproval at the establishment of the Mission Institute and its employment of pastors exiled from Prussia as Old Lutheran separatists without obtaining the requisite permits. The Consistory of the Duchy of Altenburg, which had ordained Teichelmann and Schürmann, was no longer willing to ordain DMS candidates for fear of earning the displeasure of both the Saxon and the Prussian authorities.


Pastors Meyer and Klose were commissioned for mission service on 2 March in Dresden. Because of his ‘need for a wife’s care and assistance’, Meyer was permitted to marry Friederike Wilhelmine Sternicke on 4 March 1838.6 Friederike had been employed for eleven years by Prince Carl of Prussia at his summer palace in Potsdam, where she was in charge of the coffee kitchen. It was contrary to DMS policy at the time to permit missionaries to marry before they were established in their mission work and in a financial position to support a wife and family. However, Teichelmann and Schürmann, who were already working in the Adelaide area of South Australia, had persuaded the DMS that being unmarried hampered their mission work.



The day after their commissioning the DMS handed Meyer and Klose their instructions. They were directed to Teichelmann’s and Schürmann’s instructions in which they were asked to share ‘the Gospel of God’s grace’ with the heathen and to ‘preach the word of reconciliation’.7 They were to focus on spiritual work, preaching and teaching in the local languages. They were to baptise and gather people into congregations, instruct the children, translate Luther’s Small Catechism and the Scriptures and train Aboriginal assistants. The goal was an Aboriginal Lutheran church. While they were to establish their congregations on the foundation of the Lutheran Confessions they were to avoid polemics against other denominations. The DMS also instructed its missionaries to do what they could to relieve Aboriginal people’s physical suffering but it did not mention ‘civilising’ or Europeanising them as was commonly expected at the time. The DMS held the South Australian colonial administration responsible for protecting and providing for Aboriginal people and believed the government had undertaken to assume this responsibility.

The DMS also issued supplementary instructions to Meyer and Klose. These instructed them to work together with Teichelmann and Schürmann as equals, making joint decisions. The DMS would support them as it was able but warned them to ‘trust in the assistance of the Lord rather than in our care.’ The instructions for Meyer’s wife were that Friederike’s first responsibility was to be to her own household with the special request that she also help care for the domestic needs of her husband’s colleagues. She was not expected to have an active missionary role unless she had the time and inclination to visit and instruct the women.8


Encounter Bay

Together with missionary Klose, the Meyers set sail from Hamburg on 13 March 1840, travelling via London where they met George Fife Angas who had recruited the DMS missionaries for South Australia with promises of support. They arrived in South Australia on 9 August 1840. Meyer was disappointed to find that Governor Gawler had asked Schürmann to go to Port Lincoln as Deputy-Protector of Aborigines instead of going to Encounter Bay. Eduard and the now heavily pregnant Friederike proceeded alone to Encounter Bay. Teichelmann had concerns about Meyer. He thought he was too weak to work alone, especially as language work required much effort and, he believed, Meyer was not linguistically gifted.9 Meyer was to feel keenly the lack of a colleague, a situation he said would have been unbearable without his wife’s companionship.10



Adelaide and Encounter Bay (Details superimposed on Google map) Ngarrindjeri territory

Adelaide and Encounter Bay
Source: Details superimposed on Google map by C. Lockwood

Ngarrindjeri Territory
Source: Wikipedia


Meyer worked among the Ramindjeri, the westernmost of the eighteen Ngarrindjeri lakinyeri (‘tribes’ or dialect-linked units comprising a number of clans or family groups) of the Fleurieu Peninsula, Lower Murray Lakes and Coorong region.11 The Ramindjeri had borne the brunt of European intrusions into Ngarrindjeri territory. Sealing had begun around Encounter Bay as early as 1800-1805, followed by whaling. By 1836 the Ramindjeri distrusted Europeans, not the least because Kangaroo Island-based sealers had kidnapped and enslaved their women.12 In 1837 the South Australian Company had established whaling stations at Rosetta Head (Ramong or 'The Bluff') and Police Point, the latter promontory now connected by a causeway to Granite Island. The whaling industry provided employment for Aboriginal people but helped to spread introduced diseases that decimated the population. An epidemic thought to be smallpox had travelled down the Murray from the eastern colonies, possibly around 1830, killing large numbers of Ngarrindjeri with devastating effect on their morale and cultural and economic life.13 Other diseases such as influenza, chicken pox, tuberculosis, venereal disease, measles, whooping cough, typhus, typhoid fever and dysentery followed. The whalers’ sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women and children rapidly spread venereal disease, including syphilis.14 Meyer was appalled as previously healthy individuals sickened and died and fertility rates plummeted.15 In 1840 Meyer thought the numbers gathering at Encounter Bay justified it as a mission location but the local community was already disintegrating. Gawler had good reason to want a missionary’s influence at this point of contact between whalers and Indigenous people. He supplied the Meyers with a crude one-roomed hut built for police near Police Point.

Encounter Bay had been surveyed in April 1839. Leading colonists, including Protector of Aborigines Matthew Moorhouse, purchased 122,500 acres. In 1840 Europeans numbered about 150. Meyer estimated Aboriginal numbers at 350.16 Numbers swelled during whaling season (April-October) when 200-300 Aborigines ‘from the Murray’ would congregate there.17 Gawler reserved five eighty-acre sections for the Aboriginal use.18 Settlers had already appropriated the best land and fishing grounds and all the land up to one or two miles inland from the coast, where the Ngarrindjeri gathered because of the whaling, had already been sold.19 Meyer hoped to use the reserves for mission purposes but when settlers’ protested against such reservations, they were leased to settlers.20

In December 1840 Teichelmann and Moorhouse explored the area, establishing the Ngarrindjeri language boundaries.21 Teichelmann recognised that the Ngarrindjeri population was centred on Lake Alexandrina rather than Encounter Bay. However, Meyer did not have the resources to establish a station there. He received a minimal and at first irregular salary from the DMS but no financial assistance for a mission station and no support from George Fife Angas.22 He could only survive by growing his own food. His only option was Gawler’s invitation to go to Encounter Bay.


Encounter Bay  George French Angas (State Library of South Australia ) Encampment of native women near Cape Jervis (top) Natives of Encounter bay making cord for fishiing nets (bottom) 1846-7 (National Gallery of Australia 43887)

Encounter Bay
Source: George French Angas, State Library of South Australia B15276_16

Encampment of native women near Cape Jervis (top); Natives of Encounter Bay making cord for fishing nets (bottom)1846-7
Source: National Gallery of Australia 43887



The Meyers arrived at Encounter Bay on 13 September 1840. They lived in extreme poverty, often short of food.23 They spent Friederike’s dowry, borrowed money and relied on sympathetic colonists’ donations and gifts in kind to care for sick and needy Aborigines and do other mission work. Gawler’s promised support fell victim to Governor Grey’s austerity measures in the 1840s’ financial crisis. The hut Gawler supplied was dilapidated by 1843. The location was unsuitable as there were no nearby Aboriginal camps, the soil was too poor for farming and Aboriginal people avoided it as it was too close to the police. Meyer said they hated the police after two Ngarrindjeri men from the Milmenrura lakinyeri of the Coorong were hanged on 23 September 1840 for killing survivors of the shipwrecked Maria in July 1840.24

Meyer’s commission was ‘to devote [his] time truly and diligently to proclamation of the Gospel.’25 To this end he resolved to become well-versed in the Ramindjeri language and customs, applying himself assiduously.26 His greatest difficulty was making contact with the Ramindjeri.27 He wore out his shoes walking to their camps at Ramong, four miles west of his hut, at Kaindyenuald (Freemans Knob near Port Elliot) eight miles east, and near Goolwa on the ‘Little Murray’, twenty miles away, where Aboriginal people were 'almost permanently settled.’28 He could visit only in the evenings as during the day they worked for whalers and settlers or looked for food. He tried following them as they looked for food but this proved counterproductive.29 Engaging informants was difficult as Meyer could not supply them with the meat they expected or provide the remuneration they received elsewhere.30 Efforts to persuade leading Ramindjeri man, Tammuruwe, to live with him had short-lived results.

Encounter Bay (Compiled by C Lockwood).jpg

Map of Encounter Bay
Source: Compiled by C. Lockwood


Meyer started a school to learn Ramindjeri customs and language from the children with the hope that they would provide access to the adults.31 He began open-air classes in October 1840 with seven children, but the one and a half hour walk to school discouraged the children. Without a building or rations the classes were short-lived. Gawler had promised to build Meyer a school six miles away on a fenced section reserved for the Aborigines but Grey (governor 1841-1845) preferred to concentrate resources on the school for Aboriginal children in Adelaide.32 Finally, Grey gave Meyer a pony, rations for the children (for a short period) and permission to use a room in ‘Government House’, a slab hut at Police Point used by visiting police and officials.33 Meyer was delighted to begin classes there on 5 December 1841, as well as Sunday gatherings, though he realised that he would only succeed during the whaling season. At other times the people were scattered and the children pleaded tiredness because of the long walk to school.

Meyer’s attempts to build relationships with Ramindjeri adults were hampered as they moved frequently in small groups in search of food, spending only short periods in one location except when food was plentiful or ceremonial life drew larger groups together.34 They had become ‘more wandering than before’ as settlers claimed the best areas where Aboriginal people had previously camped for extended periods.35

Meyer became convinced an Aboriginal settlement was necessary if he was to learn Ramindjeri, share the Gospel, hold the school children or provide an alternative to employment in the whaling industry. However, his hopes for government assistance to establish a settlement or to teach farming came to nothing.36 The financially strapped government leased Aboriginal reserves to Europeans, including the area promised for Meyer’s use.37 Meyer believed Grey’s only concern was to pacify Aboriginal people and disperse them as casual labourers.38 In 1844 he claimed that because they were peaceful and beginning to work for colonists the government was withdrawing its support. 39

Meanwhile the DMS believed the local people would not adopt sedentary lives while still attached to their traditional religion:

[I]t seems to us, on the basis of mission history, that … a settlement of the natives could and should not emerge from human endeavour or on the part of a secular government, but from the free will of the natives, as a fruit of the Gospel.40

The DMS could not understand why Meyer was not in daily contact with the people and urged Meyer to live with them.

His initial hopes dashed, Meyer concentrated on learning Ramindjeri language and customs in order to proclaim the Gospel and perhaps help others through his language work.41 Two publications resulted: Vocabulary of the Aborigines of the Southern and Eastern Portions of the Settled Districts of South Australia, 1843, and Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of the Encounter Bay Tribes, South Australia, 1846. Meyer adopted Schürmann’s and Teichelmann’s orthography.42


A New Start

Finally, at Meyer’s request, Grey reserved section 14 near the mouth of the Inman River at Encounter Bay for the benefit of Aboriginal people. Here they camped for months at a time.43 In February 1843 Grey agreed to lease Meyer twenty acres of this for his own use, free for twenty-one years, on condition Meyer remained a missionary, built a house there and used the section only for locating speakers of the ‘Encounter Bay language’ ‒ and on the understanding he would not request money.44 Meyer wanted to live among the Ramindjeri but declined to build on the lease-hold land, fearing his family would be homeless if he died.45 Instead, he borrowed money to build a house on two acres Moorhouse gave him from his adjoining section 82. Myer employed Ramindjeri men to help clear, fence and cultivate them.46 He worked with them though he suffered high blood pressure and hard physical work was almost beyond him.47 Using government rations as payment he also employed them to begin clearing and fencing the 20-acre lease which he hoped they would farm. They took pride in their efforts, showing ‘great aptitude and liking for the work.’48 In the evenings Meyer visited Aboriginal camps. At last he was able to develop relationships with the people.49

Meyer farmed reluctantly, considering it outside his calling to preach the Gospel.50 The DMS counselled him not to shun such labour: it would help him win the people’s confidence.51 Moreover, Meyer needed to feed his family and appreciated the opportunity to improve his language skills and influence his workers. Unfortunately the land was poor, white settlers having occupied the best land, and Meyer could not compete with the wages other settlers paid.52 Moorhouse feared the people would never settle.53 The work ended when government rations used as payment ceased that same year.54

The school and Sunday gatherings at ‘Government House’ had proved temporary. Meyer believed a school in the new location was necessary.55 When Meyer told Grey he would ask the DMS for another posting, Grey promised £20 a year in sugar, clothing and other articles for the children and a subscription for a school building.56 With subscriptions, loans and settlers’ donations, Meyer completed a schoolhouse, doing much of the building himself, with Aboriginal assistance. On 10 April 1844 Meyer reported ‘moving into’ the incomplete schoolhouse a few weeks earlier but it was completed and opened on 27 October. The school began operation in November 1844 with an intake of boarders who lived at the school and were cared for by the Myers. Their numbers were limited to eighteen by the supply of blankets. The schoolhouse doubled as a chapel for Europeans. Meyer’s earlier school had been conducted in Ramindjeri but in 1844 Grey insisted all schooling be conducted in English. Meyer acceded to Grey’s wishes, recognising the children were learning English from whalers and settlers. Moreover, given government policies, he saw no future for them but employment with Europeans.57 Teichelmann protested against Grey’s English-only policy and Meyer’s acquiescence.58

For a while it seemed as if real progress was being made. Supported by Friederike, Meyer was very happy in his work. He found the Aboriginal children quick to learn, keen, intelligent and responsive.59 He reported growing faith in both children and adults.60 Friederike enjoyed teaching the girls to knit, sew and make clothes for themselves and the boys.61 Three evenings a week Meyer taught European children without charge, with Mission Hour and Bible Study on the other weeknights. On Sunday he held services for Europeans (which some Aborigines attended) after which he gathered and addressed Aboriginal adults. He grasped every opportunity ‘to be of use in some way or other to the natives,’ employing them for food and clothing, visiting their huts, caring for the sick, elderly and dying (taking some into his own home), and comforting and interpreting for Ramindjeri prisoners on trial in Adelaide. 62

There seemed to be progress on another front too. Meyer hoped some Ramindjeri would settle nearby. He discussed the benefits with them, pointing out that, as European numbers increased, finding food in traditional ways would become increasingly difficult.63 Farming would supply a more secure food supply than employment in the whaling industry.64 Nakandcanambe (or Salomo) built a hut nearby but came and went, torn between his tribal obligations and the new ways, his affection for Meyer and his ability to earn more elsewhere.65

Without a co-worker Meyer found it difficult to run a school, visit distant Aboriginal camps, preach, teach and farm while often in Adelaide interpreting for prisoners. He felt it was a mistake for the missionaries to have gone against the DMS policy of having two missionaries work together and to have divided their efforts.66 When he requested an experienced colleague, the DMS refused as it considered its Indian mission’s needs were greater.67 In 1844 a German farmer, Heinrich Lührs, assisted Meyer for six months before seeking a more adequate income elsewhere.68 In 1845, a young German, Ernst Wilhelm Mackenzie, assisted in the school.69 His services were dispensed with when Schürmann left Port Lincoln and joined Meyer in March 1846. By then the mission was struggling to survive.70

Government assistance for the school had only lasted one year. In December 1845 Moorhouse told Meyer if he could not afford to run his school the children should leave their country and go to the Native School Establishment opened in Adelaide in July 1845.71 In March 1846 forty Encounter Bay settlers petitioned Governor Robe for more support for Meyer’s school and for six huts to be built as some local people had shown a desire to settle. Robe agreed to supply £50 from the land fund for the school but not for huts as Moorhouse doubted they would be lived in.72

However, with the collapse of whaling in 1846 most adults moved away. School children came and went. They tired of the discipline of school life, unable to see its benefits, and adult influence drew them back into the old way of life, especially the girls. By late 1846 the children had all left. Schürmann and Meyer decided to focus on the adults. They bought land and farmed nearby to lessen their financial demands on the DMS.73 Farming also provided contact with Aboriginal workers who took part in evening prayers. Two men, Salomo and Sjirbuke, chose to live near the Meyers with their families and many Aboriginal people still attended Sunday services.74

The Ramindjeri repaid Eduard’s and Friederike’s kindness with affection and concern for them, but were frustrated at the Meyers’ inability to make permanent settlement attractive.75 Grey and Robe promised enough assistance to keep Meyer at his post but never delivered enough to give his plans any chance of success. The infertility of the only land he could acquire necessitated much toil for so little reward that the Ramindjeri questioned the whole enterprise.76 They saw no incentive to copy Meyer and try farming for themselves. Alternatively, if they worked for Meyer he was unable to pay enough to persuade them to do so for long as more money could be made elsewhere. Meanwhile the pull of their traditional lifestyle and obligations remained strong.


End of the Mission

By 1846 the government had withdrawn all support from the Dresden missionaries’ work. At a conference in January 1846 the four missionaries decided to concentrate work in two locations, Adelaide and Encounter Bay.77 Schürmann joined Meyer at Encounter Bay. Teichelmann insisted it was the DMS’ responsibility to support its missionaries but Meyer accepted its wish that they become independent and was reluctant to take money that could more profitably support the DMS’ flourishing mission in India. At Meyer’s instigation, the missionaries decided in September 1846 to retain their association with the DMS but relinquish its monetary support.78 They would work to support themselves, seizing whatever evangelistic opportunities arose.79 Schürmann and Meyer supported themselves while farming with Aborigines at Encounter Bay. Meyer supplemented his income working as a bullocky, carting goods between Encounter Bay and Adelaide.80

The Adelaide diocese of the Church of England was formed in 1847. Governor Robe (governor 1845-1848) supported Church of England aspirations to become the established church in South Australia. Bishop Short demanded the right to supervise the Dresden missionaries, with all converts becoming members of the Church of England as they were British subjects.81 Meyer reported:

Due to the removal of Governor Grey, the government has changed significantly … Adelaide has been appointed as the seat of the bishop. ... [H]e has encouraged us to continue the mission at his cost, with the stipulation however that if some should be converted to Christianity, they are then to be led to the English Church. … This is indeed no fertile ground for our Lutheran Church.82

Meyer suggested South Australia should have been left to the English churches, which had a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of people whose property English settlers had taken.83

Seeing no future for an Aboriginal Lutheran church, the missionaries asked the DMS to release them. Advice that the DMS had granted their request reached them early in 1848.84 The Lutheran Mission was closed, the four missionaries planning as individuals to assist Indigenous people as they were able.85

In April 1848 Meyer was called to serve Bethany Lutheran congregation, a congregation of German settlers in the Barossa Valley. He accepted, citing the Lutheran settlers’ needs, the opportunity to work more effectively as a pastor and the poor prospects for an Aboriginal Lutheran Church.86 While at Bethany Meyer started new congregations at Eden Valley, Hoffnungsthal, Rosenthal, Schönborn, Ebenezer, Neukirch, Carlsruhe, Friedrichswalde, Peter’s Hill, Gnadenberg and Steinau. He assisted Pastor Daniel Fritzsche to train the first Australian Lutheran pastors and through his congregation supported the Leipzig Mission (successor to the Dresden Mission) in India.87 He was the first elected President of the Bethany-Lobethal Synod (later the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia or ELSA) 1851-61.

Bethany (George Fife  Angas National Library of Australia nla.pic-na7350692- H A E Meyer 1860 (Lutheran Archives Adelaide)

Bethany South Australia in the 1840s
Source: George French Angas, National Library of Australia nla.pic-na7350692-v

H. A. Eduard Meyer 1860
Source: Lutheran Archives Adelaide



The Meyers had six children, only three surviving to adulthood. Meyer died of stroke on 19 December 1862, aged forty-nine. Some time after his death, Friedericke went to live with her daughter Maria in Hahndorf. Aboriginal people from Encounter Bay visited the two women annually for as long as they lived.88 Friedericke died in 1889 and Maria in 1890. Maria and her husband, Rev. Aldoph Strempel, periodically cared for Encounter Bay Aboriginal children in their home.


Impact of Meyer’s work

Meyer felt that he, his mission society and the government had failed Aboriginal people. He questioned the DMS’ wisdom in passing over more promising, populated mission fields while sending missionaries to ‘the most difficult field on earth,’ a field ‘the difficulties of which they had no idea’, without recognising the financial commitment necessary to first teach Aboriginal people skills which would enable them to adopt a sedentary lifestyle.89  Inadequate support made it difficult for him to achieve any of his aims and left him vulnerable to government pressure.

The government looked to Meyer to help ‘pacify’ the Aboriginal population because of his language skills and relationship with the local people. Police inspector Captain Alexander Tolmer considered Meyer’s mission ‘of more advantage in maintaining peace and good order among the natives, and between themselves and the white settlers, than half a dozen police constables could have been.’90 Interpreting for police, the Protector of Aborigines and the courts took him from his other duties and he travelled often to Adelaide for court cases. But in time Meyer became irrelevant to government purposes. Given government policies, Meyer’s hopes for an independent Aboriginal Christian church faded. The best he said he could hope for was to lead to Christ a few individuals who would assimilate into European society.91

Meyer received little government assistance though he believed he was doing the government’s job.92 Dependent on the government and local charity, he was constantly frustrated and forced to compromise. Meanwhile Teichelmann accused Meyer of kowtowing to the government and allowing Grey to dupe him.93 In particular he criticised Meyer for acquiescing to Grey’s policy of using only English in schools. Meyer doubted his ability to master the Ramindjeri language sufficiently to fully convey the doctrine of salvation and feared speakers of the language would die out before he could do so. Teichelmann thought Meyer was too quickly giving up finding ways of expressing abstract concepts and religious ideas in Ramindjeri.94

Meyer worked tirelessly. He recognised that caring for people’s physical welfare must accompany concern for their spiritual welfare.95 His letters suggest a warm relationship with many Encounter Bay people who adopted him as their brother, calling him ‘black man’ because he spoke their language.96 They mourned his departure in 1848 and his premature death. The first Ramindjeri people learned to read and write because of him and forty years after the mission’s closure they still spoke affectionately of their old teacher.97

Meyer, however, felt keenly his failure to convince the Ramindjeri to leave their former religion and embrace his offer of salvation in Christ Jesus.98 He caused offence with his criticism of practices such as infanticide, fighting and sexual mores spreading venereal disease, his questions about death and the ancestors, his talk of eternal rewards and punishment and his seeing them as sinners accountable for their actions. The Aboriginal community’s influence remained strong and eight years was too short a time for him to achieve his goals.

At the same time, some appreciated Meyer’s challenge to sorcery and beliefs holding them in the grip of fear and the vision of hope and a new future he offered.99 While Meyer baptised no-one and no Christian congregation resulted directly from his work, some adults and children did show interest in Christianity. Meyer reported faith developing in his students with some requesting baptism.100 However, he hesitated to claim conversions or baptise anyone without being sure they were well-grounded in the faith. He realised Aboriginal people sometimes said what was expected of them. He also feared lone converts would apostatise in the face of tribal pressures. 101 For this reason he had wanted to work with adult communities rather than focusing on the children. Nevertheless, Meyer’s friend, Pastor Daniel Fritzsche, claimed that Meyer made a number of converts.102 Church historian A.Brauer claims many children and a number of adults were ‘brought to a knowledge of the saviour and confessed their faith before the world.’103 He records that Meyer said he had instructed James Ngunaitponi (Anglicised as Unaipon) in the faith and claims he was one of Meyer’s converts though he was baptised in 1861 by Rev. James Reid at about age 27.104 James moved soon afterwards to the Point McLeay mission at Raukkan where George Taplin was a missionary 1859-79. He became the most influential figure among his people there.105 Taplin wrote:

His coming ... gave me what I had long needed ‒ a steady Christian, adult native who would always take the side of truth and righteousness. He became also a nucleus around which those who were impressed by divine truth could rally. There were Christians among the blacks, but they were isolated, and had no united communion.106

James was the father of David Unaipon who appears on the Australian $50 note.

Meyer laid the foundations for Taplin’s work. Initially negative towards Ngarrindjeri language and culture, Taplin learned Ngarrindjeri with the assistance of Meyer’s grammar and vocabulary and developed an interest in Ngarrindjeri culture. John Harris attributes the people’s acceptance of Taplin to Meyer’s popularity.107 Taplin expresses appreciation of Meyer’s influence in his journal.108 In 1867, he wrote to Teichelmann, ‘I realise that I am only reaping the fruit of the seed sown by Pastor Meyer and yourself, and I desire to give to both of you the credit to which you are entitled.’109

Since the last decades of the twentieth century there have been efforts to reclaim and revive Ngarrindjeri language and culture. By the 1960s, only a handful of elders spoke Ngarrindjeri in complete sentences and a vocabulary of only 480 words remained. Meyer’s Ramindjeri vocabulary and grammar and Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of Encounter Bay: South Australia have played a significant part in this revival.110 Linguist Mary-Anne Gale, a participant in the Ngarrindjeri reclamation project, calls Meyer a perceptive, persistent and gifted linguist.111 He produced ‘a remarkably insightful grammar’ with many example sentences, and a comprehensive wordlist of 1,670 entries.112 Meyer’s wordlist and grammar formed the basis for that compiled sixteen or seventeen years later by missionary George Taplin.113 Gale says Ngarrindjeri people often prefer Meyer’s work to that of Taplin.114 In 2008 Ngarrindjeri Learners Guide was produced, drawing on Meyer’s and Taplin’s work. Meyer’s example sentences have allowed the construction of new and authentic Ngarrindjeri sentences. Ngarrindjeri is being taught in schools in South Australia, from kindergarten to tertiary level, and used by Aboriginal dance troupes, choirs, bands and groups involved in cultural tourism.115

Gale describes Meyer as humble, compassionate, persistent and hardworking, and a thorough, capable linguist.116 Church historian A. Brauer reports contemporaries describing him as ‘a highly esteemed minister’, ‘a most intelligent and exemplary man’, and ‘extremely kind and able.’117



1 In formal situations in Australia, Lutheran pastors use the title ‘Rev’ (Reverend), following Anglican usage. Within the church, Lutheran tradition is followed and they are called ‘Pastor’, meaning ‘shepherd’ (Pfarrer in German). ‘Pastor’ can be used as a title or to refer to the office.

2 ‘Old Lutherans’: Lutherans who resisted the union of Lutheran and Reformed churches enforced by Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III in the 1830s.

4 Meyer to DMS, 30 Oct 1836, Applications from Prospective Students, Leipzig Mission Archives, Halle: Francke Foundation Archives. Translated by Lois Zweck.

5 Lutheran Confessions: the authoritative collection of Lutheran doctrinal writings contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

6Von Wirsing to Missionaries, 27 July 1840, Correspondence from Dresden Mission Society to all missionaries as a group, 1839-1949. Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, Adelaide: Lutheran Archives (LAA). Translators Marcus Krieg, Erich Meier, Herma Roehrs and Werner Hebart.

7 ‘Instructions for the two missionaries of the evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society at Dresden, Chr. G. Teichelmann from Dahme (ducal Saxony) and Clamor W. Schuermann from Schledehausen (via Osnabrueck) 1837', in George Friedrich Heinrich Rheinwald (ed.), Acta Historica-Ecclesiastica Seculi XIX, Hamburg, Friedrich Perthes, 1840:676-82. A translation from the German can be found as Appendix A in Christine J Lockwood, ‘The Two Kingdoms: Lutheran Missionaries and the British Civilizing Mission in early South Australia,’ PhD University of Adelaide 2014.

8 ‘Supplementary instructions on the commissioning of the missionaries Cordes, Meyer and Klose, 1838’, HAE Meyer, Additional correspondence from Dresden and Leipzig Mission and individuals there, HAE Meyer Biographical Box, LAA. Translated by Lois Zweck and Heidi Kneebone.

9 Teichelmann to DMS, 1 Sept 1840, Teichelmann Correspondence 1838-1853, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TB, LAA.

10 Meyer to DMS, 12 Aug 1840, H A E Meyer, Correspondence with the Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden 1839-1850, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) 2/Folder M, LAA. Translated by Heidi Kneebone, Cynthia Rathjen, Sandy Martin and Lois Zweck. (Hereafter MC)

11 Ngarrindjeri lakinyeri all speak dialects of the same language in which Kornarrinyeri or Kornarrindjeri means ‘belonging to man.’ George Taplin called the people Narrinyeri in "The Narrinyeri: an account of the tribes of South Australian Aborigines," in The Native Tribes of South Australia, ed. J D Woods (Adelaide: Friends of the State Library of South Australia, reprint 2009. First published 1879): 1. Kukabrak was the traditional term according to Ronald M Berndt, Catherine H Berndt, and John Stanton, A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia. (Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, 1993): 19.

12 Graham Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri: The Story of the Lower Murray Lakes Tribes. (Point McLeay: Raukkan Publishers, Reprint edition 1985): 26.

13 Ibid.: 28-30. It is suggested that this was in fact chicken pox in Boyd C Hunter and John Carmody, Estimating the Population in Early Colonial Australia: The Role of Chicken Pox Reconsidered, Australian Economic History Review, Vol 55, no. 2, July 2015.

14 Meyer to DMS, 11 December 1840 and Meyer to Wermelskirch, 23 March 1841, MC. South Australian Company manager John Macfarlen claimed his men introduced syphilis in 1837, Jenkin, Conquest: 46. Moorhouse believed it pre-dated formal colonisation. Protector of Aborigines Report, 14 Jan 1840, Papers Relative to South Australia. (London: printed by William Clowes, 1843): 324.

15 Meyer to DMS, 10 March 1841 and 25 July 1844, MC.

16 Angas gave a figure of 150 to the 1841 House of Commons Select Committee on South Australia.

17 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC. Other sources say 300 would gather for the whaling season. Jenkin: 50.

18 Section 14 near the Inman River mouth, Sections 173, 174 and 235 near Crozier’s Hill, and Section 213 west of Currency Creek. Hodge, Encounter Bay: 47. Sections were normally 80 acres.

19 Schürmann to DMS, 16 March 1840, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S. LAA.

20 Southern Australian, 28 July 1840.

21 Teichelmann to Angas, 27 Aug 1841, PRG174/1/1540- 43, George Fife Angas Papers 1808-1880, PRG174, Adelaide: SLSA.

22 Angas had promised £100 a year for as long as he was satisfied with the DMS missionaries’ work. He provided a total of £200, £100 of which went to pay fares for Klose and the Meyers on one of Angas’ own ships. In 1840 Angas ran into financial difficulties and further aid ceased.

23 Meyer to DMS, 7 Oct 1845, MC.

24 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843 & 25 July 1844, MC.

25 Meyer to DMS, 30 Jan 1844, MC.

26 Meyer to DMS, 12 Feb 1842, MC.

27 Meyer to DMS, 11 Dec 1840 and 2 Feb 1842, MC.

28 Meyer to DMS, 21 August 1841, MC.

29 Meyer to DMS, 11 Dec 1840, MC.

30 Meyer to Wermelskirch, 5 Sept 1841, MC.

31 Meyer to DMS, 11 Dec 1840, MC; von Wirsing to Meyer, 27 July 1841, MC.

32 Meyer to DMS, 10 March 1841, MC. Schürmann attributes this motivation to Grey. Schürmann to DMS, 11 Dec 1844, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, LAA.

33 Grey memo, GRG24/1/1841/688. State records of South Australia (SRSA).

34 Missionaries’ Conference Report, 15 April 1844, Collected letters from the missionaries and conference reports, 1838-1846, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA.

35 Teichelmann to Angas, 2 Jan 1843, Angas Papers

36 Meyer to DMS, 12 Feb 1842, MC.

37 Meyer to DMS, 2 Feb 1842, MC.

38 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

39 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

40 DMS to Meyer, 14 Oct 1842, MC.

41 Meyer to DMS, 12 Feb 1842, MC. Grey memos, GRG24/6/1843/145, 183, SRSA.

42 Rob Amery, "The First Lutheran Missionaries in South Australia, Their Contribution to Kaurna Language Reclamation and the Reconciliation Movement." Journal of Friends of the Lutheran Archives, no. 10 (Oct. 2000): 33.

43 Meyer to DMS, 13 March 1843, MC.

44 Meyer to DMS 9 Nov 1843, MC; Grey memos, GRG24/6/1843/145, 183; Moorhouse to Colonial Secretary 21 Jan 1843 and 8 Feb 1843, Letterbook of the Protector of Aborigines, 1840-1857, GRG52/7/1, SRSA: 66-67.

45 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843

46 Moorhouse says he would give one acre. Moorhouse to Colonial Secretary 5 June 1843, Letterbook. 76-77. He may have later given another acre.

47 Meyer to DMS, 25 July1844, MC

48 Meyer to DMS, 5 July 1843, 9 Nov 1843 and 25 July1844, MC.

49 Meyer to DMS, 5 July 1843, MC.

50 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

51 DMS to Meyer, 20 Jan 1844, MC.

52 Salomo complained about the inadequacy of clothing Meyer provided. Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC. Clothing became an issue with the demise of possums used for possum skin cloaks and a government ban on Aboriginal nakedness in settled areas.

53 Moorhouse to CSO, 10 June 1846, Letterbook.

54 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

55 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

56 Meyer to DMS, 30 Jan 1844, MC; Adelaide Observer, 2 Nov 1844. Robe tried to renege, only grudgingly granting it in October 1845 after numerous reminders.

57 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

58 31 Dec 1844, TA59, C G Teichelmann Diaries 1839-1846. Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TA. LAA.

59 Meyer to DMS, 30 Sept 1844 and 17 March 1845, MC.

60 Meyer to Graul, 18 April 1845; Meyer to DMS, 7 Oct 1845, MC.

61 Meyer to DMS, 17 March 1845, MC.

62 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

63 Meyer to DMS, 27 Aug 1844, MC.

64 Meyer to DMS, 7 Oct 1845, MC.

65 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

66 Meyer to DMS, 10 March 1841 and 25 July 1844, MC.

67 Meyer to DMS, 11 Dec 1840, MC; von Wirsing to Meyer, 27 July 1841, MC. Meyer repeated his request in December 1843.

68 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

69 Meyer fed him and borrowed money to pay him £10 a year. Meyer to DMS, June 1845, MC.

70 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

71 Moorhouse to Meyer, 16 Dec 1845, MC.

72 Moorhouse to CSO, GRG24/6/1846/261, SRSA.

73 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

74 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

75 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846 and 26 Jan 1847, MC.

76 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

77 Meyer and Schürmann to DMS, 22 Jan 1846, Collected Letters from the Missionaries and Conference Reports, 1838-1846. Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA.

78 Teichelmann to DMS, 5 Jan 1847, Teichelmann Correspondence, LAA.

79 Meyer to DMS, 26 Jan 1847, MC.

80 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

81 Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionsblatt, 1 July 1849 (Dresden: ELMS):195.

82 Meyer to DMS, 29 Aug 1848, MC.

83 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

84 Hermann Karsten, Die Geschichte der evangelisch-lutheran Mission in Leipzig. (Guenstow,1893). 65.

85 Klose to Robe, 15 Feb 1848, GRG24/6/1848/207, SRSA.

86 Meyer to DMS, 29 Aug 1848, MC.

87 The Dresden Mission Society was moved to Leipzig in 1848.

88 A Brauer, Under the Southern Cross, History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia. (Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House, 1956): 167-69.

89 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

90 Brauer, Under the Southern Cross: 165.

91 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

92 Meyer to DMS, 30 Jan 1844, MC.

93 Teichelmann to DMS, 5 Jan 1847, Teichelmann Correspondence, LAA.

94 31 Dec 1844, C G Teichelmann Diaries, LAA: TA59.

95 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844 and 26 Jan 1847, MC.

96 Meyer to DMS, 10 March 1841, MC

97 A Brauer, Under the Southern Cross:167-69.

98 Meyer to DMS, 3 Jan 1844, MC.

99 Meyer to DMS, 21 Aug 1841, MC.

100 Meyer to DMS, 17 March 1845, MC.

101 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC; Missionaries’ Conference Report, 15 April 1844, Collected letters from the missionaries and conference reports, 1838-1846, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA.

102 Brauer, Under the Southern Cross: 150.

103 Brauer, Under the Southern Cross: 167.

104 A Brauer, "History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia." Draft manuscript 303-000, 1947. (Adelaide: Lutheran Archives), chapter 17: 21. Reid arrived in South Australia in 1860.

105 Jenkin: 185.

106 A Brauer, "History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia," chapter 17: 21.

107 John W. Harris, One Blood: 200 years of Aboriginal encounter with Christianity: a story of hope, 2nd ed. (Sutherland, N.S.W.: Albatross Books, 1994): 354.

108 George Taplin diaries 1859-1879, PRG 186/1/3, SLSA.

109 Taplin to Teichelmann, 12 March1867. Translated by Lois Zweck from a German translation of the original letter published in the Kirchen- und Missions-Blatt, 15 April 1867: 58.

110 H A E Meyer, Vocabulary of the Aborigines of the southern and eastern portions of the settled districts of South Australia, preceded by a Grammar showing the construction of the language as far as at present known. (Adelaide1843).

111 Mary-Anne Gale, "Two by Two: The Linguistic Heritage of H.A.E. Meyer, Missionary of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society of Dresden." (Paper presented at the Society for the History of Linguistics in the Pacific conference, University of Adelaide, 6 July 2012).

112 Mary-Anne Gale, "Nothing Pleasing to Impart: H.A.E. Meyer at Encounter Bay, 1840-1848," in The Germans: Travellers, settlers and their descendants in South Australia, ed. Peter Monteath (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2011): 63-64. Clara Stockigt suggests that Meyer’s grammatical insights owe much to Schürmann’s input. Personal communication, 19 June 2013.

113 George Taplin, "The Vocabulary of the Narrinyeri language," in The Folklore, Manners, Customs and Language of the South Australian Aborigines (Adelaide: A Spiller, Acting Government Printer, 1879 ):125-41.

114 Gale, "Two by Two."

116 Mary-Anne Gale, "The Linguistic Legacy of H A E Meyer: Missionary to the Ramindjeri people of Encounter Bay, 1840-1848." (Paper presented at The German Presence in South Australia conference, University of Adelaide, October 2005).
117 Unnamed sources in A Brauer, "A Further Page from the Life of the Fathers," The Australian Lutheran Almanac, 1930: 55.