Gibney Press Report

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter



15 December 1900




The following is a report by the Right Rev. M. Gibney, Bishop of Perth, upon his recent visit to the Trappist Mission established by him in connection with the-Roman Catholic Church some ten years ago. The report was read in the Roman Catholic Cathedral on Sunday, and the Bishop has ordered it to be read in all the churches in his diocese on the Sunday following its publication:



I left Perth on the 17th August, by the S.S. Karrakatta, accompanied by the Rev. L. M. Martelli and Mrs. John Bates, a lady journalist who had expressed a wish to see and report upon the mission for an English magazine. We arrived in Broome, a distance of 1,500 miles from Fremantle, August 27, and were very kindly received by the Acting-Resident Magistrate, Mr. Gibbons, whose guest I was during the term of my stay in Broome.

Father Nicholas Emo, who has the full charge of the Trappist Mission in the Kimberley district, was in Broome on my arrival, and, having to pass Sunday in Broome, I had an opportunity of witnessing the attendances at the services of the various nationalities which the pearling industry has congregated about Broome, more especially by the converted and baptised aborigines, for whose sake I made this visit. In speaking to the congregation at Broome, I referred to the report that had gone abroad that the mission was about to be abandoned, and assured them that so far from there being any truth in the report, the work was to be proceeded with more vigorously than ever. A new supply of fathers and brothers was arriving to replace those whom illness and other circumstances had forced to abandon their work for a time.

The Mission Headquarters.

On the 7th of September I started in the Sree Pas Sair, a schooner belonging to one of the congregation, Mr. P. Rodriguez, who is the owner of some pearling luggers, and we arrived in Beagle Bay on the 8th, reaching the monastery, which is nine miles distant from the bay, at sundown. Outside the house paddock gates we were met by a number of natives, who cheered and welcomed us to their home. The Mission buildings are some seven miles, in a direct line, distant from Beagle Bay, and had been built in the form of a quadrangle, with the community chapel in the centre, but in the beginning of this year one side of the square was destroyed by fire, and shortly afterwards a monsoon, locally termed "willy-willy," shattered and swept away two sides of the quadrangle, these buildings not yet being replaced. The Monastery, church, and kitchen, and a few out-buildings, being all that escaped destruction. The present building can accommodate 20 members, and has Chapter-house and Vestry attached, with Abbots' quarters. The church can hold about 250 persons. The other buildings on the station are kitchen, refectory, storehouse, carpenters' shop, school-room, boys' and men's dormitory, saw- mill shed, forge, and fowlhouses. Also a washhouse and four dwelling houses for the Manilamen and their wives, built some distance from the Monastery. These buildings are all erected on long, heavy cajeput logs, roofed and covered with galvanised iron and bark.

Planting Operations.

About seventy-five acres have beer cleared, grubbed, and prepared for cultivation; large paddocks have been planted with couch grass, and are principally used for horse paddocks. The couch grass grows remarkably well, and since the horses have been kept in these paddocks, none of them have died. Ten acres have been trenched, cleared, ant prepared for garden ground, and five acres for banana culture, but the banana growing proving successful, more land was trenched for that purpose, and then are now about 8,000 banana trees and shoots, all of the grown trees fruit-bearing. There are also 62 cocoanut trees and sixty date trees, but only a few of these trees have attained the age for fruit-bearing, for which they require to be planted from eight to ten years. The gardens are abundantly supplied with wells, and, besides the fruit mentioned, there are papayas, figs, rock and watermelons, pineapples, and pomegranates, and for vegetables there are pumpkins, sweet and English potatoes, beans, cabbages, tomatoes, an excellent vegetable somewhat resembling potatoes, called "taro,'' also various other kinds of vegetables and fruit. The tobacco plant has also been experimented with, with varying results, and rice and arrowroot have been grown successfully but on a small scale. I brought a sample of arrowroot with me to Broome, and showed it to a gentleman who at one time superintended an arrowroot plantation in Queensland, and he informed me that it was the "very best kind grown, and would, if planted largely, be a lucrative industry. The improvements made have been valued by the missionaries at £10,000, but this includes cattle and all live and rolling stock other than fixed improvements. The fixed improvements have been valued at £6,000.

Surveying the Mission Grant

The Government kindly sent on a surveyor to inspect the grounds, and report on the improvements, and to survey the 10,000 acres to which I was entitled. Mr. Surveyor Dreyer was re-called, however, and directed not to make the survey for which purpose I requested that the surveyor should be sent on, a proceeding which I could not understand. He, however, told me that he had valued the improvements above the amount required by the contract entered into with the Government, viz., that the 10,000 acres would be granted to the mission when improvements to the value of £6,000 had been made. I am satisfied that this agreement will be fully carried I out by the Government. The surveyor's departure necessitated my being obliged to form a mission survey party, by whose aid a survey of the 10,000 acres approximately was made. The lines were cut and marked and chained, and at every mile and half-mile posts were erected, so that any surveyor can now, even without a guide, follow the lines marked out by the mission party, and allot the ground required for the use of the mission. I would have been spared all this trouble had the surveyor been allowed to remain, as I could have pointed out the situation of the ground to him personally.

The ground laid out is all attached, and is in one block with the mission station almost central. Though there are no watercourses, there are various wells on the run and I have given directions that wells should be sunk in certain quarters where no surface water exists, and where it is necessary for the use of cattle on the run.

Work Amongst the Natives.

And now with reference to the work of the missionaries amongst the natives. In looking at the natives, as I saw them on my arrival at Mission, I must refer to the time ten years ago, when I settled the missionaries in that locality to labour for the Christian civilisation of the natives. Then I found them, as all travellers in the North-West have experienced, nude, rude, and wild, but with good traits of character, of which honesty was the foremost. Although I was warned by the Police Department that we should not go amongst them unarmed, our little staff, consisting of Father Ambrose, Brother Daly, a native guide, and myself, took no arms with us and, nevertheless, were not molested. Now, when I come amongst them I find them a Christian community, baptised, having given up a plurality of wives, married according to the rites of the church, resorting to the bush only when the mission is short of means to employ and keep them. They work be- tween six and seven hours daily, men and women working apart. Their natural mode of life has not been interfered with; the married couples have their own camp, a few of them living in huts. The young men have their sleeping quarters close by the Monastery. All are clothed. At sunrise in the morning they all attend Mass and go through their morning devotions, after which comes breakfast; then they work till 11, spell till 3, and again work till sundown, when they gather again for evening prayer. Observing how they go through their devotions one could not help being touched by the sincerity of their prayers and their humble and simple piety. Slowly but surely they are being weaned from their wild practices. Corroborees and fights are now but gone through in play, and, except when it is necessary to go there for food, they manifest no desire to return to the wild bush life. We were nearly three months amongst them, mixing daily in the gardens and paddocks, and during all that time we did not witness one mark of bad feeling or contention amongst them.

Some Statistics.

At the Mission itself I found 117 Christians, 74 males and 43 females. At Dis- aster Bay, a distance of about thirty-six miles, which I visited with Father Nicholas, there are 55 Christians, 29 males and 26 females. At Broome, a distance of 90 miles I found 63 Christians, 29 males and 34 females. The births at Beagle Bay Mission have been a total of 23, 11 males and 12 females. The deaths have been only seven, showing a notable increase of births over deaths. At Disaster Bay the births have been seven, three males and four females. The deaths have been 14. The contact with the pearlers, who are chiefly Malays, Japanese and other coloured men, accounts for the great mortality in Broome. I administered the Sacrament of Confirmation in the three places mentioned, and the total of the confirmed was 153. The marriages celebrated at Beagle Bay are 33, at Disaster Bay 12, and at Broome 13, giving a total of 58. At Broome there is a considerable number of Manilamen attending the church. The receipts and expenditure of the mission since its foundation in 1890 are as follows : -Receipts, £7,587 6s. 7d. This sum includes contributions from Cardinal Moran, £1,496 18s. 3d; Propagation of the Faith, £1,631 2s 6d; Aborigines' Board, £2,185 7s. 11d; different persons, £1,026 3s. 11d; Trappist Order, £3,247 14s. 1d; total, £9,687 6s. 7d. The gross expenditure of the Mission is £11,058 9s. 4d. It will be seen that there is a debit balance on the Mission of £1,471 2s. 0d.

Government Aid.

I was sorry to find on reference to the books that since the Government took over the administration of the funds which were devoted to the benefit of the aborigines, it had not contributed one penny to this Mission during the past two years, that is since they, took over control of the funds, although they were in receipt of repeated reports, and I appealed to them time after time, and to the so-called Chief Protector of the Aborigines. If the Government paid what the Mission was entitled to for the children and infirm persons kept by the Mission, this deficit would be wiped out.

The Prospects of the Mission.

And now to speak of the prospects of the Mission. The land must be cleared and made ready for cultivation, and that cannot be done under about £25 an acre. Hitherto, the missionaries have been unable to work systematically at the land, on account of their inability to lease a single acre of it to any of their coloured people for productive purposes, since the Government has not yet given them the fee simple of the 10,000 acres, which they have now for some years been entitled to by virtue of the improvements made on the land. The natives, who are now civilised, show a disposition to work for the development of the place. When they know that the lands belong to them, and that they will receive the benefit of their own labour, they will work much more willingly. Even now, some of them have expressed a desire to have a little portioned off for them, which they can work; for themselves, and which I need hardly say is provided for already under the land regulations.

The System Adopted.

The system pursued by the missionaries consists in welding Christianity into the ordinary life of the native; no interfering with his mode of life, except in that he is instructed in the Christian belief of one God, of Jesu Christ, His son, who came into this world to redeem and save men. He is taught especially to observe the Commandments, which, as a savage, he heretofore knew not, such as - he is to be one husband of one wife, he must not kill or injure his fellow-man, he must pray to God, and to know the prayers he is to offer. Gradually he is instructed more fully in the Commandments and Sacraments. Following this course, his natural mode of life is not interrupted, and he gradually becomes more and more charmed with the change which affords him grace and happiness, and considerably more protection than he ever had before.

A Community of Nuns.

I see the necessity of establishing a community of nuns at this mission for the women and children, to instruct and train them. When it was explained to the women that it was my intention to bring white women among them who would work with them in the same manner that the brothers worked with the men, they at once set to work to excavate the foundation of the proposed convent. According to the old customs, the women were the slaves of their masters, the "bingi" being constrained to do all the work, and now, under Christian management, they exhibit greater zeal and steadier perseverance in all their undertakings than the men. Therefore, I have great confidence in recommending this mission to any community of nuns who would undertake this arduous work. They will find the women and children willing and tractable, and I consider they are very quick and intelligent and warm-hearted, and with kindness and patience, and the charity that actuates the religious, these people will become a perfect joy to those who sacrifice themselves for their sake.

The Natives and the Practice of Religion.

I will close with a few words regarding the practice of their religion by these newly-converted natives. Perhaps what would excite the attention of a visitor most notably would be the regular attendance at their morning and evening devotions and their sincere and humble piety. I was sometimes present and sometimes came when the natives were assembled at their devotions, and the manifest spirit of piety was ever apparent by the fervent manner in which they went through their devotions. Whether they were working at the Mission itself, or had to go and find their food in their own native way, they assembled first thing in the morning at the church to say their prayers in common, and at the close of the day they again came together for their evening devotions, which they always closed with a hymn composed in their own tongue, and which they know by heart, and sing together, and in all this of their own free will - there is only the sound of the conch calling those who will come to prayer. During my stay at Beagle Bay there was always a full attendance, and I was told by the Superior that this is always the case. When coming from or going to their work, their voices are often heard singing their native hymns to the tunes composed and taught them by the Fathers.

A Duty to the Natives.

Prosperity and wealth have fallen to our lot in this country, which formerly belonged to the aborigines, and what we now possess was the property of their forefathers. For our prosperity and success much is due to our own skill and genius, but in honesty we must admit this land was once the inheritance of their ancestors, and justice demands we should make an equitable return for the benefit we have received. In this duty the Government has failed, but I expect the Cottesloe community of my diocese will discharge its obligations by liberally subscribing to the support of this Mission.

M. GIBNEY, Bishop of Perth.


"TRAPPIST MISSION AT BEAGLE BAY." Western Mail (Perth) 15 Dec 1900: 71. Web. 25 Oct 2012