Encounter Bay (1840-1848)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter, 2019

Founded by Clamor Schürmann of the Dresden Mission Society, supervised by Heinrich Meyer


The colonisation of Encounter Bay

Encounter Bay sealing began as early as 1800-1805, and Kangaroo Island-based sealers kidnapped and enslaved Ramindjeri women.1 In 1830 a suspected smallpox epidemic along the Murray River killed large number of Ngarrindjeri.2 The South Australian Company established whaling stations at Rosetta Head (Ramong or 'The Bluff') and Police Point in 1837 and employed Aboriginal labour. Introduced diseases, particularly syphilis, influenza, chicken pox, tuberculosis, venereal disease, measles, whooping cough, typhus, typhoid fever and dysenterywrought havoc on the Ramindjeri people.3 Christine Lockwood writes that the Ramindjeri, the westernmost of the eighteen Ngarrindjeri tribes of the Fleurieu Peninsula, Lower Murray Lakes and Coorong region, bore the brunt of European intrusions into Ngarrindjeri territory.4

Encounter Bay was surveyed in April 1839 and leading colonists, including Protector of Aborigines Matthew Moorhouse, purchased 122,500 acres, quickly claiming he best land and fishing grounds. In July 1840 the survivors of the shipwreck Maria were killed in the Coorong region, for which two Ngarrindjeri men were hanged in September 1840.


The promise of a government-sponsored mission

Clamor Schürmann, one of the first two missionaries in South Australia, gladly embraced an invitation from Governor Gawler in August 1839 to commence a mission.5 He was already learning the language of the Lower Lakes and Murray River people.

Schürmann’s vision was based on farming, and he achieved the reservation of five 80-acre plots for Aboriginal use.6 He also lobbied the Dresden Mission society for funds to purchase cattle and provisions to set up a farming enterprise, however the DMS was of the opinion that such worldly tasks were the responsibility of government. They did, however, send two more missionaries to assist the first two missionaries in South Australia, Schürmann at Encounter Bay and Teichelmann at Pitlawodli. Heinrich August Eduard Meyer and Samuel Gottlieb Klose arrived in Adelaide on 9 August 1840, and in September 1840 Schürmann took up a position as deputy protector at Port Lincoln.


Meyer at Police Point, 1840-43

Instead of becoming assistant to Schürmann as expected, the newly arrived missionary Meyer was sent with his heavily pregnant wife Friederike Wilhelmine née Sternicke to set up the mission at Encounter Bay where he was allocated a one-roomed police hut at Police Point.

He was appalled to find evidence of the whalers’ sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women and children, the rapid spread of venereal disease, including syphilis, and concomitant decline in health and fertility.7 About 150 Europeans and up to 350 Aboriginal people were in the area during the whaling season between April and October.8 .9 All the land up to two miles inland had already been sold, and settlers now protested against Myer’s use of the reserved land for mission purposes. It was resumed and leased to settlers.10   The location, particularly on a police station, was not favourable. Teichelmann established in December 1840 that the Ngarrindjeri land was not primarily at Encounter Bay but at Lake Alexandrina.11 However a financial crisis led Governor Gray to reneg on Governor Gawler’s promise of government support, therefore Meyer had no means to create a mission and survived in poverty on a small and irregular salary from Dresden which he supplemented with his own garden. Since he had nothing to offer them he was unable to attract Ramindjeri people to settle near him.12 Most were working either in the whaling industry or on pastoral stations, and so Meyer took to walking long distances in the evenings to visit them. He visited the Ramong people’s camps four miles west, the Kaindyenual at Freeman’s Knob eight miles east, and a semi-permanent settlement near Goolwa twenty miles away.13 Only one elder, Tammuruwe, stayed with Meyer at Police Point for a short while.

In October 1840 Meyer started an open-air school with seven children who had to walk one and a half hours each way. It was a short-lived effort until he obtained permission to use another slab hut at Police Point as school, was allocated rations for the school children, and given a pony a transport, and re-commenced classes on 5 December 1841.14 During the whaling season he was even able to attract some adults for Sunday gatherings, but on the whole he felt that the mobility of Ramindjeri had actually increased under pressure for land.15 He needed Aboriginal people to become sedentary. Still, he did manage to learn Ramindjeri and produced two publications on languages and customs.16

By 1844 became distrustful of the motives of the government, who seemed to withdraw its support as the Ramindjeri became less violent in their engagement with colonial society.17

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.18


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.19 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.20 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.21 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.22 He worked with them though he suffered high blood pressure and hard physical work was almost beyond him.23 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.’24 In the evenings Meyer visited Aboriginal camps. At last he was able to develop relationships with the people.25

Meyer farmed reluctantly, considering it outside his calling to preach the Gospel.26 The DMS counselled him not to shun such labour: it would help him win the people’s confidence.27 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.28 Moorhouse feared the people would never settle.29 The work ended when government rations used as payment ceased that same year.30

The school and Sunday gatherings at ‘Government House’ had proved temporary. Meyer believed a school in the new location was necessary.31 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.32 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.33 Teichelmann protested against Grey’s English-only policy and Meyer’s acquiescence.34

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.35 He reported growing faith in both children and adults.36 Friederike enjoyed teaching the girls to knit, sew and make clothes for themselves and the boys.37 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.38

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.39 Farming would supply a more secure food supply than employment in the whaling industry.40 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.41

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.42 When he requested an experienced colleague, the DMS refused as it considered its Indian mission’s needs were greater.43 In 1844 a German farmer, Heinrich Lührs, assisted Meyer for six months before seeking a more adequate income elsewhere.44 In 1845, a young German, Ernst Wilhelm Mackenzie, assisted in the school.45 His services were dispensed with when Schürmann left Port Lincoln and joined Meyer in March 1846. By then the mission was struggling to survive.46

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 1845.47 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.48

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.49 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.50

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.51Grey 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.52 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.53Schürmann 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.54 They would work to support themselves, seizing whatever evangelistic opportunities arose.55Schürmann 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.56

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 1848.57 The Lutheran Mission was closed, the four missionaries planning as individuals to assist Indigenous people as they were able.58

In April 1848 Meyer was called to serve Bethany Lutheran congregation

In January 1846 the four missionaries decided to concentrate their work in two locations, Adelaide and Encounter Bay.

Schürmann joined Meyer at Encounter Bay in March 1846. He took over Meyer’s school while Meyer focused on the adults. But by then the mission was struggling to survive because the government had withdrawn all support and with the collapse of whaling in 1846, most adults moved away and the children soon followed.

in September 1846 the missionaries, while retaining their association with the DMS, relinquished its monetary support.59

The missionaries now decided to support themselves, seizing whatever evangelistic opportunities arose. Schürmann and Meyer bought land at Encounter Bay and farmed with a few Ramindjeri who still frequented the area.

On 11 February 1847, Schürmann married Wilhelmine Charlotte Maschmedt (Minna).

Seeing no future for a Lutheran church, the missionaries asked the DMS to release them.60The Lutheran Missions at Encounter Bay and Adelaide were closed early in 1848.61



1Graham Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri: The Story of the Lower Murray Lakes Tribes. (Point McLeay: Raukkan Publishers, Reprint edition 1985): 26.

2 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.

3 Graham Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri: The Story of the Lower Murray Lakes Tribes, Point McLeay, Raukkan Publishers, Reprint edition 1985:26,30,46. Most information for this entry is taken from Christine Lockwood’s entries for Teichelmann and Schürmann.

4 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.

5 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.

6 Schürmann to DMS, 19 June 1839, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

7 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.

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

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

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

11 Southern Australian, 28 July 1840.

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

13 Meyer to Wermelskirch, 5 Sept 1841, MC.

14 Meyer to DMS, 21 August 1841, MC.

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

16 Teichelmann to Angas, 2 Jan 1843, Angas Papers.

17 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

18 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

19 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

20 Meyer to DMS, 13 March 1843, MC.

21 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.

22 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843

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

24 Meyer to DMS, 25 July1844, MC

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

26 Meyer to DMS, 5 July 1843, MC.

27 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

28 DMS to Meyer, 20 Jan 1844, MC.

29 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.

30 Moorhouse to CSO, 10 June 1846, Letterbook.

31 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

32 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

33 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.

34 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

35 31 Dec 1844, TA59, C G Teichelmann Diaries 1839-1846. Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TA. LAA.

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

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

38 Meyer to DMS, 17 March 1845, MC.

39 Meyer to DMS, 9 Nov 1843, MC.

40 Meyer to DMS, 27 Aug 1844, MC.

41 Meyer to DMS, 7 Oct 1845, MC.

42 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

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

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

45 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

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

47 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

48 Moorhouse to Meyer, 16 Dec 1845, MC.

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

50 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

51 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

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

53 Meyer to DMS, 25 July 1844, MC.

54 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.

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

56 Meyer to DMS, 26 Jan 1847, MC.

57 Meyer to DMS, 4 Oct 1846, MC.

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

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

60 Teichelmann to DMS, 5 January 1847, Teichelmann Correspondence 1838-1853, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TB, LAA.

61 Hermann Karsten, Die Geschichte der evangelisch-lutheran Mission in Leipzig, Guenstow, 1893:65.