Skip to Content

Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 81

Original Document 81

[518] Queries

respecting the mission at Wellington Valley answered by James Gunther, Missionary.


I)           What journies have been made by the missionaries during the last twelve months?

There has only one journey been made; that is to say by the Revd Mr Watson. The numbers of Aboriginal Natives visiting the Missionary Station having for the most part been very considerable, and sometimes more than sufficient to engage the attention of the missionaries in conjunction with the secular engagements devolving on them, travelling was less practicable or desirable.

II)         What is the greatest number of native men, women & children you have at any time seen together?

            I once counted upwards of 120 at the native camp which number on the day succeeding increased to about 150. From 70 to 100 I have frequently seen together.

            The number of men and women respectively, I consider to have been almost equal; the latter rather exceeding the former; the former perhaps being like 5 to 6 . The number of children bears, among those tribes that visit the station, no proportion whatever. Even including those children that reside at the mission, they will at the utmost be like 1 to 18 compared to the number of the elderly natives.

III)        What is the number of those Aborigines that either reside at the mission or migrate within 10 miles of it?

            As the various tribes interchange visits at great distances it is difficult to give a precise answer. The number of those that come under this question may be about 60.

[519] IV)          Are the missionaries sufficiently acquainted with the dialects of the natives to converse with them and to address them in their own language upon the Doctrines and precepts of the Gospel?

            In reference to myself I must own that I am not sufficiently acquainted with the native dialect to converse fluently or to give an address. Situated as I had too little time to devote to the study of it. Mr Watson as   far as I can judge converses pretty fluently in the native tongue, has frequently given them addresses in it upon religious subjects read to them translations of portions of Scriptures of the Common Prayer Book. I apprehend, however that considerable time and labour will be required before we can fully and distinctly communicate to them the truth of our holy religion in their own language.

V)         What is the number of those Aborigines, old & young, that have received religious instruction to any extent, or attended the ordinances of religion?

            About 20 or upwards have received religious instruction to some extent. At least 20 attend frequently or almost regularly both church service on Sunday and Family Prayers in the Week, and about 30 more may be said to attend occasionally.

VI)        What is the number of these that reside with the Missionaries constantly?

            There are 12 children male and female that have been from 1 to 3 & 4 years severally at the mission. About 8 young men and boys have of late with little interruption been with us. About 20 natives men, women and children have their camp mostly near the Mission and seldom leave the mission ground. From these we have daily visits or they are visited by us.

VII)       What number have learnt to read, write to repeat any religious formularies or Scripture sentences?

            There are at least 10 that may be said to read fluently or tolerably well in English. 8 to 10 have made considerable progress towards it. Upwards of a dozen have made a slight beginning. Three only can write and about half a dozen have made a beginning. From 25 to 30 know to repeat religious formularies such as Church Prayers, Rhymes and Scripture sentences.

VIII)     Do you observe any instances of religious improvements and civilisation among the Natives?

            So far as regards the knowledge of religion, the observances of religious ordinances, a consciousness of what is right & good & the contrary [520] there is undoubtedly some, & I should say great improvement. Occasionally also we have observed religious impressions in some of them, and more reflection and inquiry than are commonly witnessed in the Blacks of this country who have not had the benefit of being taught. As for civilisation, though they all at times show something of their savage dispositions, on the whole the conduct of a considerable numbers shows a change for the better (I do not speak of a real change of principle &c. &c.) Some are becoming more steady , less addicted to their wandering habits, have a desire to have huts to themselves and have built new huts for the purpose. Also as regard general and domestic work, some do at times very well. Habits of cleanliness likewise are obtaining with several.

IX)        Can you suggest any plan likely to be attended with more favourable results than have hitherto appeared?

            Since the nature of a mission among these savages requires not only a minister of the word of God to instruct the natives in religion but also assistants of the labouring class both for raising the means of maintaining the mission, the natives and teaching the arts of civilised life. I should above all things suggest (and as far as human calculation goes I am certain that before the arrangement is made I expect not much success) that the Mission ought to be supplied with a number of well and religiously disposed men of the labouring class: if possible married. Such men would by word and example have a very different influence on the minds of the Blacks from what has hitherto been the case, and would save the missionaries so much time which hitherto they have been obliged to spend by looking after and directing every trifle of a secular nature and particularly watching a set of wicked men. Without however entering further into the subject I beg to refer to the statement in my "Remarks and Suggestions" and the various observations in my diary, especially what I wrote if I recollect well on the 26 th April 1838 .

                                                                                    Sydney .    Nov 30 th   1838


Questions on the

Mission to the


Nov 1838


Observations on the Aboriginal Mission at Wellington Valley

and the Aborigines themselves

State of the Mission

As it regards the state of the Mission I would refer to the Annual report for 1837(written in April 1838). Since that time not much alteration has taken place, at least there has been little improvement. Our prospects are rather less promising, the visits of the native blacks having been less frequent, the stays shorter, their number more limited for these 6 to 8 months than previous, and those that do stay with us i.e. principally young men are too often distracted in their attention to the Missionaries through the presence of a number of people. The sense of curiosity in consequence of the Police Establishment to which circumstance also the less frequent visits may be attributed, at least in part, for partly that may be owing also to our not being able to feed so many [523] as before. We do however not refrain [illegible] were necessary.

Another difference from what is stated in that Report is that very rarely service has been performed in the native dialect since the time the Report was written. The desire to erect huts has not altogether subsided among the Blacks still they do not always live in the hut they have built.

If there was more encouragement for cultivation no doubt several of them would cultivate a piece of land to themselves, attempts they have made in gardening &c &c &c but the dry seasons are so discouraging.

The desire to read is with (?) of the young men still. The same & 3 or 4 have made much progress during the last 10 months so that they can read the Bible & in fact understand it. Of the 12 children & elderly girls all except 3 can read fluently. The English some of them appear to understand all they read. Religious knowledge also has been obtained by several [524] to a considerable extent. The children & girls & even some of the young men have learned to sing English hymns and tunes with much correctness. Several of them can raise a number of (?) and lead the rest.

As to a change of disposition & heart there is not one that gives decisive evidence   though indeed the outward conduct of some has somewhat improved. A few have at times appeared to be under religious impressions but there is nothing lasting. They may in one hour apparently quite devout kneel down & say prayers, the next they are as wild in their behaviour as ever. It (?) the Holy Spirit & (?). Some also are inquisitive since   though no lasting out of a fervent desire of the (?) yet give at least proof that they think of what we teach them. One young man named Cochruni ( ?), more especially puts interesting questions. The following are a few of his questions and observations "What do you mean by soldiers of the cross", "Do we eat and drink in heaven [525] and why we don't in hellfire". One day he said being engaged in work "No reading today, no reading no learning, never will be baptised", "When shall I be baptised?" I replied "When you believe in Jesus Christ". "I do believe in him" he replied "all the young men do, not those old fellows".

I explained to him what was meant by believing. One evening when he had done reading he asked me to pray with him but began to laugh when he was moving to kneel down. I said "No no ! I cannot pray with you if you laugh, that will never do." "I know" he replied "it is wrong, that would be take God's name in vain." He is naturally of a very violent temper and at times appears to feel sorry first, occasionally he will cry out "Now it is coming on, it is burning like fire in my head. I can not help it". He mostly appears to retain something of the discourse we address to them and repeats sentences of it. He also engages into religious conversations (if it may be called so) with Europeans he meets with and asks them sometimes about their belief. At times he observes "That fellow does not believe, he not believe in Jesus Christ", he wicked fellow." Many of the blacks know in some measure to distinguish between good and bad men.

[526] Defficiencies [sic] in the Management

Of the Mission

I consider there has been from the commencement of the mission one great mistake. I mean this that the Missionaries (or at least one of them) had to devote too much of their time to secular engagements. The superintending of the Cattle & Farming Establishments and the attendance to the stores which as you must give the blacks things just as they use them (and not give them rations in (?)) takes up almost one person's time and then the directing of & watching convict servants. All these engagements while they steal away the precious time of the missionary; to be devoted to some higher duties are at the same time (calculated) hence to secularise the mind of the minister of the Gospel.

For want of men & especially such as could be trusted the missionary was often obliged [527] not only to supervise and look after the general work, but to spend days and hours in handy work himself. I will not speak only of such seasons as wool shearing and harvest (in Dec 1837 Mr. W. and myself had the greater part of the month to reap as had as any labouring man for want of hands). As the missionaries were desired to do without domestic servants they had to spend other portions of their time in domestic work. I have frequently been obliged not only to break wood but even to fetch an arm full from the bush, have many a time been obliged to nurse our own infant, as all the rest of things. Mrs G. who might have spent her time in teaching the Natives an engagement in which she should have delighted has had to spend her time quite like a common servant, though not fitted for such work. I might indeed give a long & curious tale about this subject but these hints may suffice. I do not speak of these things in [528] as much as they require a condescension on our part to submit unto, for, I can (?) declare, I am ready to submit to the nearest service if it promotes the great object, but in our case I must question that, nay I am certain it does not. If there was no other reason against it, the one that we have too little time left for the principal duties is strong enough. Besides it must be remembered that the fickle minds and & human disposition of the Blacks requires our constant attending watching and (?) them, so as to avail ourselves of their humors & inclination. They will not watch my time, I must watch theirs.

N.B. I cannot avoid here averting to the Society's Mission in New Zealand , to answer something like an objective offer made to our representations of the preceding kind. We are often told , the missionaries there are doing without servants. It is not my province to decide about the [529] expediency of the plan there and I am however aware of some differences.

I)          It is generally admitted that the natives there are superior to ours.

II)        The missions in New Zealand are almost principally composed of Catechists and (?).

III)       In Wellington Valley we have for several months what may be called tropical heat during which season it is requiring what is near to impossible that ladies should cook &.&.

IV)       Those natives whom we have with us under instruction dependences as so many children, & many an hour must of necessity be spent by us in attending to their bodily wants you must for inst. look after & watch every little thing they have such as their clothes & which presence is not so much the case in N. Zealand.

In that so long as there is no real change effected in any of our blacks it cannot be adjudging the inerests of the mission to depend on their services however well they may work at times you can place no (?) in them. Besides they take advantage of the [530] circumstance of our being obliged to depend on their work; they   think if they do something we are under great obligation to them and will be rewarded in a manner which neither the mission nor we can afford to do.

Another, I should say, the greatest error was committed in employing Convict Servants for the Farming Establishment of the Mission . It is beyond doubt that these have done a great injury to the progress of the work. Let me merely state the fact that there was scarcely ever a European employed in the Mission but what has proved as now to the native females. As if we since( ?) the Blacks along with these (?) White men to any kind of work they will frequently abuse & laugh at the ignorant savage so that the latter is discouraged & leaves work; at other times the European will teach the black all manner of tricks to deceive us &c &c &c. [531]Limitations of means is another difficulty under which the Mission labours. To feed, at least, those blacks who are instructed or do some work is an absolute necessity; and to feed occasionally those only now & then visitors is very desirable; it is the only inducement we have for them to stay with us. Whatever may be said against the practice as a general principle it cannot be avoided. We cannot expect them to visit us & to stay with us unless we feed them. I have no doubt many a poor Native female who now lives with the voluptuous Europeans might be rescued from bodily & moral ruin and an opportunity afforded us to instruct, had we sufficient means.

As Wellington Valley appears to become more & more a very dry plan a Mission there will always be very expensive. We either must have an unlimited i.e. a larger sum allowed for the Mission or must have land that produces plenty [532] for in proportion as the Mission advances, the expense must naturally increase.

Had we some people of the labouring class we might make an arrangement especially that would save much as well as promote order & more regular habits. I mean there ought to be some kind of cooking & eating House for the blacks. When we give them the food to prepare themselves they waste much, they keep not a regular time, they continue their voracious habits & above all those whom being more deserving give often are compelled by others to share with them a (?) to give all; this is especially the case with our young men who are in subjection to the elderly natives.

Indeed if we had a few decent & religious men married couples of the labouring class we might make many better arrangements & would then be what we ought to be a city on the hill that sheds light around it.

[533] Should the mission be removed the following considerations ought to be kept in view.

I)  That a parcel of land be allowed sufficent to maintain at least one horse and sheep & from 200 to 300 head of cattle.

II)         That this land may either be granted for the Society or at least such arrangements made that we could depend on a (?) and not are interfered with by the Colonial Government as at the present. N.B. It will be remembered that the Home Society according to their arrangement with the Home Government make sure that W.V. is granted to them.

III)        There must be some arable ground to enable us to cultivate wheat.

IV)       There must be plenty of water as they Natives are like to be where plenty of water is.

V)        If possible the Mission Establishment must be close to the water as that would save so much trouble and labour.

[534] VI)         It must be remembered, however desirable it is that the Mission might be established farther in the Interior as far away from a (?) European population as practicable, yet the greater the distance from Sydney the greater the expense on account of the carriage.

VII)      If it was removed lower down the River Macquarie (about 50 or so miles) we should find the same dialect we have begun to study.

VIII)    We should be likely to meet natives most of whom we have seen & probably those of Wellington & the neighbourhood would follow us as there is much visiting to & fro between these places. However it appears that their number is fast diminishing and down the River with many have died lately - a few receded to the bush I am not certain.

[535] Religious Notices and

Superstitions, Habits

However low these poor Blacks stand in the scale of natural creatures, the notion of a deity has not altogether been lost among them - faint as it may they give at least evidence of the desire & need of a Divine being having been implanted on their mind by the Creator himself. But it is very difficult to learn from them (from those that have been (?) with Europeans) what their original notions were as they are apt to confound them with ours. Besides they are so very confused & uncertain among themselves. The one says this and then that. Moreover, they are not very willing to communicate their notions of this kind but only insinuate sometimes gravely that "Black fellows know a great deal." (?)(?) a Exorcist(?) pretend to know most of the secret & to do great things. The following are the names of their fictitious [536] deities; probably they have more of them I have not heard.

I)          Baiamai is the principal one. He lives in the East near and in the sea, his food is bread - he has two wives. His feet are like emu feet. Black fellows that live far off sometimes see tracks of him. He lives for ever. He also is thought by many to have created the world at least certain objects, such as water, certain animals, trees . That they desire( ?) his help & support & that he has any further reflection on the water as man they appear not to anticipate nor have they, as far as I could learn ever offered up petitions to him. (No wonder then that polygamy is so common among them).

II)        Darraroirgal(?) lives in the West i.e. down the River Macquarie, lives a fish is as big as a mountain, and out of his thigh grows a tree in the shape of a rainbow. A few years (?) he beat the small pox & I believe also the Meazles [537] among them & many natives died. He was angry with them. It appears to be the same that gives them sometimes revelations, so far east( ?) sometime river(?) a very great flood was prophesised which covered all the valley & even little hills. They speak of a very great one having ever been which filled the valley & even the hill on which the Mission House stands. Perhaps there is a remnant of a tradition respecting the Deluge.

III)       Gundigan is a third one, he seems to live in the hills. His principal business is to give orders to effect the death of the Blacks, ever the Lord of life & death. The shooting of a star as is vulgarly called   indicates that death of a Black. Once sometimes they say they have heard a very strong sound & breaking in the clouds (not thunder) indicative of death. The last deity is also supposed by some to have had a hand in the creation. All their notions of a deity are accompanied with dread, more than comfort & delight.

[538] These poor Aborigines however speak by far more of a bad spirit than of a Divine being. Wanding is the name of the being whom they constantly dread. He is the author of all evil that befalls them such as sickness & other misfortunes. By blowing the breath by a little whipalis(?) & by means of smoke he is driven off. Also it is necessary often to move hence the moving of the camp is very frequently; if they encamp upwards of 3 days days in one place then wandering comes. N.B. Our Natives now remain sometimes upwards of a week at the same camp.

The Bad Spirit is especially near a dead body; to drive him off it must be constantly smoked till it is buried. He sometimes gets into the grave; takes the head & liver out of the dead body. They are much afraid to visit a grave. Also they smoke the places where the deceased has encamped for months back. [539] They sometimes sing to (?) to appease him. Frequently also they fancy to be possessed of a bad spirit which can be driven out by their physicians. Natives, bad ones (reminds one of witches) also cause each other to be sick they put leaves & branches of the trees in the bowels of others which these physicians also pretend to draw out by drawing at the naval.

At the funerals many especially women cut themselves as a sign of mourning & cover themselves with pipeclay a common clay, the widow & their companion for a length of time. They paint themselves with white & red. With white they paint themselves also in curious figures at their corrobories , also red & yellow before they engage in a fight.

[540] A curious custom they have is more (?). When a boy is about 12 or 14 years old he is by a curious ceremony in the bush (?) far off introduced into the circle of young men. A disguised old man appears pretending to be some marvellous being by much threatenings it appears he gives them certain laws, the principal one is not go near or speak to a female for a space of several years. They cannot speak to their own mothers and also prohibited from various, the best pieces of food.

The whole may originate in notions of modesty & chastity, but it is not always achieved when they can secretly break the rule. I prescribe(?) partly by this the fact that the male in general is much charge(?) most handsome healthy. [541] Then the females; the latter being too early made the victims of voluptuous demons.

During the day the both sexes do not like to be in each other's company & it would be a great crime on the part of a female to approach a number of men, for a young man likewise to approach a number of females.

They have no chiefs, the old men are the leading men.

The idea of migration of souls seems also to be found among them at least parts of it, nothing distinct that I could learn. I also have been told by one of them that soul go up to heaven before missionaries came. But many of them are in reality altogether infidels. I heard one comfort another who was expected to die and in fear. "Be not afraid you will die altogether".

[542] Objections to a Township

Near a Mission

I)  If it is generally admitted that we exercise as much influence in our fellowmen by example as by teaching, if not more, it much with reference to the Aborigines of this Country in particular be granted that example is of the greater importance. They being in such a low stage of savage life can only imitate actions & are little able to judge of principles. Now it is well known what a deplorable example is given by the generality of European inhabitants of this Colony. Much injury is done to a Christian Mission among these Blacks even by a few European stations in the vicinity -   number of Europeans & these close to the Mission must do proportionately more harm. Nor do these Europeans rest satisfied in setting a bad example, they also make every effort to prejudice the minds of the Natives against the Mission & their endeavours.

II)  Among the various temptations & snares presented in a township is that of intoxicating liquor. That many Europeans delight in offering this temptation to the Blacks & thus corrupting them has been sufficiently shown and how liable the latter are to fall into the vice of drunkenness, every town in the Colony affords abandoned & melancholy instances. When once these beastly habits have taken hold on the savage, he having no moral power to resist, the missionary's effort will be in vain.

III)  [543] Besides the Blacks when near a farm become acquainted with so many European customs which not only pose so many temptations inducing( ?) them to make every effort to obtain these new luxuries by whatever means they may effect it, but they will also grow discontent with the members of the Mission if they do not allow them what in reality the Mission would neither be able to afford nor if it could would it be desirable to satisfy their appetite.

IV)  The presence of a number of inhabitants unconnected   with the Mission will prevent the missionaries from having that controul over the Natives which is so absolutely requisite in order to instruct & bring them into regular habits. If the missionary, for instance, feels it his duty to punish them, as he sometimes must, by not feeding them in consequence of idleness or other ill conduct, they will set him at the defiance, and knows to obtain a "feed" from someone or other by begging or other means, a circumstance which will promote both his independent spirit & lazy habits.

V)  Moreover a township will present so many scenes of curiosity which will distract the attention of the Black from the Mission 's object. In the midst of his reading lesson or work he will run off   & witness what is going on and the Missionary's objective is thus if [544] not altogether defeated at least much retarded.

VI)  These Natives that are more attached to their wild savage customs & have seen little of Europeans will find it is incongenial with their feelings & practices to live near a town, they will not frequently visit a mission thus situated and at least never stay for a continuance.

N.B. I infer this observation from the fact that since the Police Establishment has been put in operation at W. Valley the number of our Aboriginal visitors has never been so great as before. What I advanced in the preceding two paragraphs is likewise founded on observations.

VII)  The Wellington Mission will not have a sufficient extent of land to keep that number of sheep & cattle which are absolutely requisite for its subsistence, if part of the land is appropriated for a township. And (?) in the land left to the Mission for such we have such we have every reason to apprehend would frequently involve the members of the Mission in unpleasantness.

VIII)     In the last place I might add that even the living of the members of the Mission would become far more expensive near a town than what it is in the retirement of the bush, and their present income at least would not admit of a difference.

From the whole taken together it is expected that the troubles & differences & expenses of the Mission near a township would be much increased & the possibility of success diminished.

[545] Here a few instances how our European

Neighbours endeavour to prejudice & entice

the Blacks against the Mission & its agents.

The Blacks frequently come & tell us: "All that is in the Mission sheep & cattle &c &c &c belongs to us every body   tells us you must give it when we like". "You must give it without work."

"No good a Wellington , no good there, many gentlemen tell us so, always praying & going to chapel."

"You are no good" said a Black youth lately to us, "What you come here for? You came only here to get a living, you could not get a living at home."

Some time ago a Black youth (?) by declaring that he had a great secret to tell which appeared to distress the rest. I had some difficulty to get it out of him. At last they told me that a White man had said when they had learned to read & were baptised & made Christians then they would all be taken away to some other country as prisoners.

That they also imbibe infidel notions from Europeans we have repeatedly had proof.

A respectable gentleman on whose word I can depend assured us the other day when coming back from a journey along the River Macquarie that people in the bush had so many bad & awful things to say against us, especially calculated to prevent the Blacks from giving us their children.



[1] We thank Ron Hulme for the transcription of this difficult document.

For further primary source documents on the Wellington Valley mission, click here.

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW