Lake Condah (1867-1913)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Also known as: 
Morovian, Stahle

A Victorian CMS mission staffed with a German speaker (1875-1913), associated with Framlingham and also a site of Aboriginal struggle.



Beginnings at Framlingham


The Lake Condah mission had its beginnings in the Framlingham mission, which in turn was the result of a strategic decision to enter the Western District of Victoria on the part of the Church of England’s Mission to the Aborigines Committee (formed in 1853). In August 1865, the committee appointed Warrnambool farmer Daniel Clarke to establish a mission at Framlingham. The Clarkes soon resigned over their unfavourable terms of engagement.


The Rev. Job Francis was recruited in April 1867. He had served at the Moravian Ebenezer mission (November 1861 to circa 1864) but was forced to leave the Moravian church because he had entered into an unauthorized marriage outside of the church. Francis pointed out that the Framlingham site was ill-chosen because many of the neighbouring peoples refused to enter the area, and that many more Aboriginal people lived further west in Dhauwud Wurrung country on a run owned since 1859 by the Anglican Cecil Pybus Cooke. Cooke had changed the name of Lake Condon to Lake Condah in the mistaken belief that it meant 'black swan'.1


Francis was authorised to oversee the removal of Framlingham mission to Lake Condah in October 1867.2 However, most of the Framlingahm residents refused to go, while others came for a while and then returned to Framlingham. The mission site, 2,000 acres fronting in the south the Darlot's Creek, was formally reserved in 1869. That year the average attendance at Lake Condah mission was 60.3


High Staff Turnover


The first decade of the mission was beset by a high staff turnover. Job Francis was dismissed in September 1869 because he had incurred some unauthorised expenses. He was replaced with Anglican pastor Joseph Shaw who had been assistant missionary at the Anglican Yelta mission. When the Board of Education took on the mission school, Lake Condah received its first government school teacher, D. H. Hogan (August 1870 to circa 1878). Once Rev. Shaw left in February 1873, teacher Hogan conducted the mission, his wife giving sewing lessons. The new pastor, former Lake Tyers missionary Anglican Amos Brazier, only stayed for half a year (February to December 1874). The schoolteacher was again left in charge until another former Moravian missionary, Heinrich Stähle, arrived in April 1875, who, like Job Francis, had served at Ebenezer and had been refused marriage within the Moravian church.


Stähle at Lake Condah


Stähle's first report in 1876 raised several criticisms of the conditions at Lake Condah. In comparison to Ebenezer, the meat rations were inadequate, the huts poorly ventilated, and their earthen floors bare and often flooded for lack of drainage and seepage through the bark roofs. Ebenezer, built on limestone, had a much less humid environment.4 Stähle also resented the fluidity of traffic that had developed between Framlingham and Lake Condah.


A few years later fellow German missionary Rev. C. A. Meyer and his wife Emma Luise visited the mission and were 'greatly surprised and delighted'. They found much 'evidence of diligence' in the large fields of hops, potatoes and arrowroot, and the women 'hard at work on Saturday scrubbing floors or baking bread or performing other household tasks'. Meyer noted the neat layout of the mission with the church occupying the central position framed with the school and orphanage, and the missionary's house, store and mission garden, and 'Aborigines have built their timber houses facing a large open square'. 5


The residents of Lake Condah were subject to close personal scrutiny. The children were examined 'every morning to see that their bodies are clean and their garments mended. Each child receives a warm bath at least once a week'.6 In 1880 one of the mission residents threatened Stähle with a gun. Stähle was considered a disciplinarian and – therefore – a good mission superintendent.


Choir performances, sewing and domestic skills were emphasized in the daily routine at the mission. The two Australian mission wives (Stähle’s second wife Mary Ann Chisholm and the schoolteacher’s wife) taught sewing and housewifery, the mission store sold home made apple pie with fruit from the mission orchard, and for the Harvest Festival the church was decked out in flowers, fruit and vegetables from the mission garden. On Pets Day the residents were encouraged to bring their domestic pets to the church service. The mission language was English (as required by the Church of England and by the government), and indigenous languages were discouraged.


The number of residents increased, and a basalt stone church, St. Mary's, was erected. This church was funded through choir performances. It was built with the help of a Cornish stonemason, John Dashpar, who moved to the site with his family in 1883, and by the mission men, who cut the stone at Darlot Creek and formed human chains to transport the heavy blocks from the creek to the mission. The church, with a 23-metre high spire, was consecrated by the Ballarat Bishop Thornton in 1885, just a year before a new Aboriginal Protection Act in Victoria practically spelled the end of the missions. During 1887 at least sixty persons of mixed descent were ejected from the mission under the new Act.


The subsequent annual reports from Lake Condah repeat with monotonous similarity how deaths outnumbered births at the mission. Stähle lamented the frequent change in teaching staff 7 and in 1905 the number of children dropped so low that the school was reduced to part-time operation, but still with a fully funded government teacher. The Church Mission Society handed over Lake Condah and Lake Tyers to the Church Missionary Association in March 1898.8


The mixed descent people who had been ejected from the mission since 1887 continued to look upon it as their home, and many attended the Sunday services and sent their children to Sunday school at Lake Condah.


The Stähles retired in 1913, like many other German missionaries, most likely as a result of anti-German pressures. Thereafter the mission was managed by the Aborigines Protection Board, superintended by Captain S. Crawford and visited by vicars. Presumably the captain was meant to fulfil an internal security surveillance function.


The patriotic response to military call-up was very strong at Lake Condah. Herbert Lovett, who had helped to lug around the mission piano to the various concerts given by mission choir, became one of the five Lovett family members, altogether at least eighteen young men from Lake Condah, who died in active service during World War I. An Honour board, now located at Heywood, also lists the sons of Stähle, Dashpar, Egan, King, Arden, Mullett, Saunders, Taylor, Young, two McDonalds and two Winters.9 Several of the returned soldiers from the mission tried to obtain some land at the mission, that had been leased out in small parcels for grazing, but none were successful.


In late 1918 the mission was closed and the remaining residents were transferred to Lake Tyers. Only four old people were allowed to remain in their cottages supervised by a local police constable. The government school, on the other hand, continued to operate at Lake Condah until June 1948.10


Many of the Lake Condah people retained a strong attachment to the land. After World War II again several returned servicemen tried unsuccessfully to obtain land at the former mission site. The church had to be dismantled in 1957, and in 1984 the Gunditj Mirring people were among the first in Victoria to have their land handed back to them - 53 hectares at Lake Condah and 1,130 hectares at Framlingham.


Staff at Lake Condah mission


Daniel Clarke, farmer from Warnambool, established Framlingham mission 1865

Rev. Job Francis (ex-Moravian) October 1867 - September 1869, moved Framlingham mission and most of its residents to Lake Condah

Rev. Joseph Shaw (Church of England) September 1869 - February 1873, was formerly missionary assistant at Anglican Yelta mission

D. H. Hogan August 1870 - (?1878) (and wife), government school teacher was in charge of mission during absence of missionary for some months in 1875

Rev. Amos Brazier February 1874 - December 1874, formerly at Lake Tyers

Rev. Heinrich (ex-Moravian) 1875-1913, formerly at Ebenezer Moravian mission

Mary Ann Chisholm, 1875-1913, former teacher at Coranderrk, second wife of Stähle, taught housewifery (not employed at Lake Condah)

Miss Gregory ca. July 1878-1885, government school teacher

Mr. Oelrich 1885 - 1885 government school teacher

John Dashper local stone mason erected St. Mary's church, 1885

David Mullet, mission resident, took over school for six months in 1886

W. Dunstan June 1886 - government school teacher

Miss Boston 1906 - government school teacher

Miss Black 1908 - government school teacher

Captain S. Crawford 1913 - late 1918, superintendent





1 Aldo Massola, ‘A History of Lake Condah Aboriginal Reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, 1963:32.

2 Jan Critchett Our Land Till we die: a history of the Framlingham Aborigines, Deakin University Press, 1980.

3 Aldo Massola, ‘A History of Lake Condah Aboriginal Reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, 1963:31.

4 1876 Annual Report of the Central Board for Aborigines, B332/0 1861 – 1924 Victorian Archives Centre.

5 Stähle, Annual Report, 1889 in Keith Cole, The Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission, Bendigo, Keith Cole Publications 1984:37.

6 1912 report in Aldo Massola, ‘A History of Lake Condah Aboriginal Reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, 1963:39.

7 Stähle, Annual Report, 1889 in Keith Cole, The Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission, Bendigo, Keith Cole Publications 1984:37.

8 Aldo Massola, ‘A History of Lake Condah Aboriginal Reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, 1963:37.

9 Olive McVicker, Cicely Fenton and Sue Pizzey 'A Church that Became a Site of resistance and a Symbol of Hope' Local-Global 2007:41-48:45.

10 Aldo Massola, ‘A History of Lake Condah Aboriginal Reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, 1963:40.