Yorke Peninsula (Point Pearce) (1867-1915)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Also known as: 
Point Pearce, Point Pierce (former spelling), Yorke Peninsula Native mission

A citizen initiative responding to mining around Port Pirie, established by Moravian Pastor Julius Kühn, and later involving Francis Gillen. This mission achieved what many others aspired - to engage Aboriginal people in productive work with a financial benefit.



Residents of the three townships on Yorke Peninsula, Wallaroo, Kadina and Moonta formed the Board of Trustees of Yorke Peninsula Aboriginal Mission in 1859 to address the displacement of Aboriginal people under the onslaught of mining and agriculture. The Board was comprised of over thirty members, presided by Captain Henry Lipson Hancock, the manager of the Moonta Copper mines.


The Presbyterian pastor William Wilson conducted an Aboriginal school at Kadina, and the Board wanted to allocate farming land to indigenous people to turn them into small-scale agriculturalists. Giving evidence at a 1861 royal commission into the condition of Aborigines in South Australia, three of them as trustees of Point Pierce mission pointed out how well the attempt to turn Aboriginal people into farmers had already succeeded in Poonindie (near Port Lincoln). Yorke Peninsula had a large proportion of German settlers, including a Moravian community at South Kilkerran. Among the mission board members were the German farmer Karl Friedrich Gotthard Heinrich and Francis James Gillen during his period as postmaster at Moonta, and with an already substantial profile as ethnographer working with Baldwin Spencer.1


To help out at Yorke Peninsula for a while, Rev. Wilson was able to recruit two of the four Moravian missionaries newly arrived in Melbourne in November 1864 destined for Coopers' Creek (Kopperamanna) , who had to spend some time to await the end of a prolonged drought.


Pastor Julius Kühn arrived in February 1866 and Pastor Heinrich Walder also joined him for a few weeks in February. Kühn's first efforts at holding school at Yorke Peninsula were dictated by the seasonal movements of Aboriginal people. Kühn began by teaching in the woolshed of Mr. Duncan's property near Moonta. However after a few months the Aboriginal people shifted to Gooduttera in Wallaroo Bay, and Kühn followed them, spending four months in a tent (from where he wrote a report on 4 May 1866). With the onset of the cold season everyone moved back inland to Kadina, where Kühn rented a small house to resume religious instruction 'and accustom them to regular work.' For this purpose it was considered necessary to form a permanent settlement. Rev. Wilson at Kadina found that a 'change in the Aboriginal demeanour' was already noticeable, and that their work was praised by the inhabitants of the towns. Great emphasis was placed on personal cleanliness, useful skills and the characteristically Moravian singing.


When the time came for Kühn to join the Kopperamanna expedition in mid-1866, Wilson managed to persuade the Melbourne mission committee to allow Kühn to remain at Yorke Peninsula since he 'did very well, and it would be a shame to recall him from there'.2 A site of 600 acres for a settlement was granted on 2 February 1868 at a place known as Bookooyanna (later Point Pearce), about 70 kilometers south of the township.


'In this way the Government has given back to the original owners of the soil on this Peninsula a square mile of almost uncultivable land of all the millions of acres which this thriving and prosperous colony occupies.' 3


Some huts were erected and the men engaged in quarrying stone and building a dwelling and large schoolroom. The 31 children included many of mixed European and Chinese descent. Some of them were presented to the annual meetings of the mission board to impress the trustees with hymn singing, reciting the Ten Commandments and answering questions. The Board raised £400 per annum in subscriptions and the government contributed rations and clothing valued at £676 per year.


The life at the mission revolved around the children at school, with the boys responsible for carrying water, and the girls cooking, washing and mending, and everyone cleaning the school first thing after breakfast. 'All must properly comb and brush themselves, or they get no breakfast.'4 Three meals per day were given out at school and church services held twice daily. Only sick or indigent adults received food.


Aboriginal people resented the institutionalisation of their children, but Kühn gradually drew the adults into the mission by purchasing large amounts of skins from the men in the camps (60 dozen in the quarter to December 1875) at market price (above the price paid by others in the region), and sold clothing and rations at the mission store at cost price. Soon the mission had 12 acres under wheat and was paying wages for adults employed. The sheep flock grew to 1,300 of which 200 were killed for meat, about 110 lost, and which produced a good clip with 20 bales. Farmers Wehr and Hofrescher helped with making hay.


In 1874 the reserve was extended by another 12 square miles, and including Wardang Island, in the hope of making the mission completely self-supporting from its wool and wheat income. At the same time a farm overseer was appointed, Andrew McArthur, and the number of residents rose. Expenses ballooned from £483 in 1873 to £1,750 in 1875 and the committee members were facing an overdraft and debts of over £2,000 at 10% interest. They began to sub-let portions of the land and invited several farmers to work them on a share system, again incurring protest from the mission residents, many of whom were of mixed descent.


Kühn retired from Point Pearce mission in 1880 or 1884 and worked for the Presbyterian Church in Perth from 1884 to 1913.5 He was succeeded by C. R. Goode (1880-1882) and T. M. Sutton (1882-1893). In 1894 or 1895 the Poonindie residents were transferred to Point Pearce, which had become a little township with 30 'native cottages laid out in municipal style with a park running parallel with the main street' officers' houses, bachelors, quarters, farm buildings, public baths and a church holding 150. The Department of Education took over the school in 1903. Rations were gradually abolished and replaced with increased wages. The mission men performed all work connected with farming including shearing, wool-classing, fencing, carpentry, blacksmithing, painting, road-making and building.


As a result of a royal commission into the mission stations in South Australia in 1913, the government took over management of the mission in 1915. During World War I men from Point McLeay and Point Pearce were among the first Aboriginal men to enlist in South Australia. They were initially rejected but later accepted. Harris points out that Point Pearce, like Lake Tyers and Cummeragunja were long-lived enough to offer their residence the emergence of common traditions and identities, and became sites of the expression of these new identities at the end of the nineteenth century.6





1 D. J. Mulvaney, Francis James Gillen, ADB http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gillen-francis-james-6383

2 Further Facts relating to the Moravian Missions in Australia. Sixth Paper, Melbourne, Fergusson & Moore 1867

3 T. S. Archibald 'Yorke's Peninsula Aboriginal mission - A brief record of its history and operations' Adelaide, Hussey and Gillingham 1915.

4 T. S. Archibald 'Yorke's Peninsula Aboriginal mission - A brief record of its history and operations' Adelaide, Hussey and Gillingham 1915.

5 Johann Peter Weiss, 'A General and Statistical History of the Australian Lutheran Church', 1999/2007, LAA MS (finding aid).

6 John Harris, One Blood: 200 Years of Aboriginal Encounter with Christianity: A story of hope, Albatross Books, NSW, 1990:613, 609.