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In Good Faith?

In Good Faith?: Governing Indigenous Australia through God, Charity and Empire, 1825-1855

Jessie Mitchell
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    In Good Faith?
    Book Description:

    In the early decades of the 19th century, Indigenous Australians suffered devastating losses at the hands of British colonists, who largely ignored their sovereignty and even their humanity. At the same time, however, a new wave of Christian humanitarians were arriving in the colonies, troubled by Aboriginal suffering and arguing that colonists had obligations towards the people they had dispossessed. These white philanthropists raised questions which have shaped Australian society ever since. Did Indigenous Australians have rights to land, rationing, education and cultural survival? If so, how should these be guaranteed, and what would people have to give up in return? Would charity and paternalism lead to effective government or dismal failure - to a powerful defence of an oppressed people, or to new forms of oppression? In Good Faith? paints a vivid picture of life on Australia's first missions and protectorate stations, examining the tensions between charity and rights, empathy and imperialism, as well as the intimacy, dependence, resentment and obligations that developed between missionary philanthropists and the people they tried to protect and control. In this work, Mitchell brings to life hitherto neglected moments in Australia's history, and traces the origins of dilemmas still present today.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-11-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Contemporary Australia has been shaped powerfully by legacies of colonialism. Disputes over national responsibility, guilt, denial and shame for Aboriginal dispossession have become especially notable in public life since the late 20th century. This has proven most striking in debates about the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families (a process which can be traced back to the philanthropic projects described in this work), and while questions of national responsibility for historical wrongs have taken on slightly different forms of late – with the federal government′s 2008 apology to the stolen generations, and ongoing debates over government ′intervention′ into...

  6. ′This land of Barbarians′: missions and protectorates begin
    (pp. 13-38)

    Records from the Wellington Valley mission began with a death. In the spring of 1832, missionary William Watson wrote of his journey from Sydney to the Church Missionary Society station about 100 kilometres north-west of Bathurst. Watson, an energetic and cranky Yorkshireman, had worked as a shopkeeper and schoolteacher before moving to the colonies; for him, as for many of his contemporaries, missionary work meant an elevation through the ranks of the lower middle classes. He was accompanied in his journey by a ten-year-old Indigenous boy called Billy Black, who had been taken from the Wiradjuri country of Bathurst to...

  7. ′Godless political experiments′: philanthropy and governance
    (pp. 39-64)

    During the 1840s, a time of great dispossession, illness and social turmoil in western Victoria, the Buntingdale Methodist mission near Geelong witnessed severe conflict between different Indigenous groups. People living in the area still adhered in many ways to traditional law, but also tried to utilise their colonial connections. In 1840, missionary Francis Tuckfield wrote anxiously to his colleague Benjamin Hurst, urging that they clarify Indigenous people′s legal status. The Wathawurrung people were committing violent crimes nearby and portrayed themselves to Tuckfield as both protected by and exempt from colonial law: ′They think whatever they do whether it be to...

  8. ′All white masters belong to your King′: race, identity and empire
    (pp. 65-86)

    On Western Australia′s Foundation Day in 1841, Methodist missionary John Smithies caused a minor public controversy, when he decided to prevent the Indigenous children in his custody from taking part in official celebrations to mark the young colony′s progress. These festivities, which included boat regattas, horse races and balls, he described as ′scenes of evil′. The Perth Gazette criticised Smithies′ decision, complaining that such isolation and judgement might prove subversive, encouraging Aboriginal servants to see their white employers as sinners. Smithies retorted that no disrespect or insubordination was intended, but he had a religious duty to protect the children, especially...

  9. ′Our country all gone′: rights, charity and the loss of land
    (pp. 87-108)

    So wrote Port Phillip assistant protector James Dredge in June 1842, describing in his diary the material, personal and historical attachment to country he saw amongst the Daungwurrung people of northern Victoria. Dredge′s spell with the Port Phillip protectorate had been brief, passionate and ultimately disappointing. Arriving in New South Wales in 1838, in time to witness the public furore over the trials of the Myall Creek murderers, he had few illusions about the impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. By the time of writing, he had left his station in the Goulburn River district after an acrimonious resignation from...

  10. Deserving poverty? Rationing and philanthropy
    (pp. 109-128)

    Church Missionary Society representative JCS Handt of Wellington Valley was a sensitive, easily downcast man. A Prussian Lutheran and former tailor struggling to reinvent himself as a clergyman, he lived in frequent conflict with his Anglican colleague, William Watson, and quickly realised that Aboriginal affairs would not provide an easy route to advancement. In particular, he worried about being unappreciated by the Wiradjuri people he lived amongst, who relied on mission rations of food, clothing, blankets and tools. One day, in October 1833, he recorded speaking to a man who had been away travelling. Handt pointed out how thin the...

  11. Keeping body and soul together: creating material ′civilisation′
    (pp. 129-150)

    At his Goulburn River station in September 1839, Port Phillip protector James Dredge recorded a day′s events which demonstrated, he believed, the importance of the physical self to Christian civilisation. His wife, Sarah, gave a dress to a Daungwurrung woman (whose name went unrecorded) in return for a woven basket, a scene Dredge described thus: ′A stranger can scarcely imagine the pleasure this poor creature felt, and the gratitude she manifested in being clothed like a ″white lubra″ – and throwing aside her filthy rags.′ To the protectors, trading Indigenous goods for European ones seemed morally preferable to one-sided ′pauperism′....

  12. ′Can these dry bones live?′ Religious life and afterlife
    (pp. 151-172)

    Writing from the Swan River Methodist mission in Western Australia, John Smithies told his superiors in the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in 1843 that his station was undergoing an unusual atmosphere of revival. Of particular note was the experience of an adolescent girl called Nogyle, who lived with the missionaries. One morning, she declared to an emotional audience of missionaries and students that she had found God, after a vivid and Biblical dream of being visited by the devil.

    He say me your father, you pray to me. Then me look at him, me think he look so miserable, me...

  13. ′This bitter reproach′: destruction, guilt and the colonial future
    (pp. 173-194)

    In 1841, LE Threlkeld wrote to Colonial Secretary E Deas Thomson to report on the imminent closure of his Lake Macquarie mission. The mission had been marked by controversy virtually from the beginning, due to Threlkeld′s angry public statements about colonial violence and his disputes with powerful local figures – firstly, with missionary advocate Samuel Marsden (which contributed to the London Missionary Society′s decision to remove their funding in 1828) and later with outspoken politician John Dunmore Lang (which furthered the removal of government funding).¹ Throughout these tumultuous years, Threlkeld had contributed to the production of ideas about Indigenous Australia....

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-198)

    Christian philanthropic work amongst Indigenous Australians was a form of governance considered unlikely and limited from its earliest manifestations, a view that philanthropists themselves alternately challenged, utilised or reinforced. A final impression of missionary failure may have triumphed in these early decades, although, as demonstrated, we can still trace alternative Indigenous views, as well as interrogating exactly what failure meant to the missionaries themselves. Furthermore, the closure of the first missions and protectorates did not signal an end to Christian and government intervention in Indigenous issues; quite the contrary. Subsequent decades saw a growth in new missions and government stations,...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-224)