Earliest missions in Australia

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter

Of the 16 missionary ventures in the Australian colonies up to 1850, eight had German-speaking staff. This represents an astounding German participation in missionary endeavour in Australia. Below is a list of the earliest missions up to 1850 that lasted for more than a year.


There were two reasons driving this dynamic. On the one hand, the ‘missionary drive’ among early settlers in the Australian colonies was weak, and also, British missionaries had far more attractive fields of engagement in the British Empire than Australia. India was a favourite destination next to China and Africa. Protestant German mission institutions collaborated with British and Dutch agencies to place their candidates in the colonies until Germany acquired its own empire in the 1880s.  
The missionary project took off slowly in Australia, and often its closest allies were its most vocal critics. Before any sustained missionary venture in Australia even got off the ground, there was already a camp of opinion that Aborigines were being spoon-fed. ‘Much money has been thrown away upon them’ explained the Rev. Marsden at Parramatta in 1831, to the newly arrived Rev. Handt.
Rev. Johann Christian Simon Handt from the Basel Mission Society was among the first qualified and trained missionary to arrive in Australia for the express purpose of 'heathen mission'. Missionaries had of course been sent, but this label encompassed both ‘heathen’ and ‘inner’ mission – the latter meaning the conversion and pastoral care of migrants. Lancelot Threlkeld, who preceded Handt in heathen mission in Australia, had not been trained as a missionary.  
Both the Rev. Richard Johnson and the Rev. Samuel Marsden had Aboriginal children living with them for periods, and lent their pious support to the missionary idea, but when the very first missionary, William Walker from the Wesleyan Mission Society arrived in 1821, Marsden opposed him at every opportunity.[1] Ten years later Handt arrived to a cool reception in Sydney because the Anglican bishop felt that as the head of the state church he ought to have been more involved in the initiative of the Church Mission Society (CMS). 
The Anglicans were slow in entering the mission field in Australia. German Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1830s, and Catholics made an entry in the 1840s. It was with the entry of Moravians in the 1850s that the mission endeavour in the Australian colonies received a boost.
This list shows the early mission efforts, including Aboriginal schools in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, that commenced up to 1850 and lasted for more than a year. Those with German staff are shown in green and are marked with an asterisk.
The Parramatta School (1822-1825), Sydney
Wellington Valley (1825-1827), Blue Mountains
Lake Macquarie (1826-1841), Newcastle
Wellington Valley (1832-1843), Blue Mountains*
Mt Eliza (1834-1838), Western Australia*
Wybalenna (1835-1847), Tasmania
Yarra River (1836-1839), Victoria
Buntingdale (1838-1850), Victoria
Zion Hill (1838-1848) Brisbane*
Aboriginal school (1838-1843), Adelaide*
Pt Lincoln (1840-1847, 1849-1852) South Australia*
Encounter Bay (1840-1848) South Australia*
Smithies Wesleyan school (1840-1854), Perth
Stradbroke Island (1843-1846), Queensland* (Catholic, one Swiss, three Italians)
New Norcia (1846-present) Moore River, Western Australia
Lake Boga (1850-1856) Victoria*
 Australian missions before 1850

Australian missions

founded before 1850

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55      
Parramatta School x x x x                                                                  
Wellington Valley       x x x                                                              
Lake Macquarie         x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x                                  
Wellington Valley *                     x x x x x x x x x x x x                              
Mt Eliza*                         x x x x x                                        
Wybalenna                           x x x x x x x x x x x x x                      
Yarra River                             x x x x                                      
Buntingdale                                 x x x x x x x x x x x x x                
Zion Hill*                                 x x x x x x x x x x x                    
Adelaide school*                                 x x x x x x                              
Pt. Lincoln*                                     x x x x x x x x   x x x x            
Encounter Bay                                     x x x x x x x x x                    
Smithies school                                     x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x        
Stradbroke Island                                           x x x x                        
New Norcia                                                 x x x x x x x x          

[1] Harris, John, One Blood - 200 years of Aboriginal encounter with Christianity: a story of hope, Sutherland, NSW, 1990, p. 45, p. 50.