06 June 2018

Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay, 1841 (Part Two)

There was a convict settlement at Moreton Bay during 1825-42, centred in what is now the centre of Brisbane, but the first permanent European settlement in the area was established at Nundah in 1838. This was a Moravian mission run by German missionaries with the aim of converting local Aboriginal people to Lutheran Christianity, and was supervised by Reverend Carl Wilhelm Schmidt and later Reverend Christoph Eipper. The mission was named Zion Hill's and in later years the local area became known as German Station.

The settlement had limited success, probably because it was too close to Brisbane to engage with surrounding Aboriginal groups, and it was closed in 1846 and four years later the area was surveyed for land sales. Several of the missionaries and their families were laid to rest in the heritage-listed Nundah cemetery.

Occasional updates on the progress of the mission appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers back in Sydney, including the following extract written in 1841. These pieces give a good idea of everyday life at Zion's Hill.

Extract from Carl F. Gerler's sketch of the German Mission Station at Zion's Hill, 1846.
(John Oxley Library)

Colonial Observer (Sydney), Thursday 18 November 1841.

Extract from the Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay from the end of July to the l7th of September. 1841. (Concluded from our last.)

Week From the 28th of August to the 3rd of September. - Thirty-two children at school; twenty-three natives employed for the mission; On Saturday Mr.. E. went to the Commandant at Brisbane Town, to represent to him that we had but a small quantity of potatoes to pay the natives for the work they do at Girkun, for their own benefit, and that as it would be desirable to continue this plan; he would be pleased to furnish us with some corn-meal for the purpose of paying them for their work. In answer to this request the Commandant. immediately ordered twenty bushels of maize to be issued from the stores for this purpose.

Monday 30. The brethren Wigne and Hartenstein returned to-day rather unexpectedly from the Ninge Ninge where they had intended to stay for a month or two. The tribes had so much quarrelling with one another, and shed so much blood, that they thought it no longer advisable to stay amongst them. The hostile tribes had begun to throw womerams early in the morning, and at night, so that it became quite unsafe to reside there, and the friendly natives themselves advised them to return, promising that after the fight they would come to our station. The stockman from Eagle farm has found the oxen, and brought them back to-day ; he had to be rewarded with tea and sugar for his trouble.

Week from the 4th to the 10th of Sept. - Thirteen children at school; thirty-one natives at work. Dommi, Biralli, Debir Kallen. and the brothers Wogan, returned from Ninge Ninges, but not in good health, so much rain having fallen which always makes them look miserable; their fights, moreover, did not permit them to spend much time in procuring food, they were, therefore, half starved. Wet weather is peculiarly dangerous for them, because they are too indolent to take the trouble of making a comfortable shelter. As soon as it threatens to rain they want to go to make their huts, or they will rather carry every day a sheet of bark of ours to their camp than once for all strip bark for a good roof over their heads. We were in hope that they would now take up their abode in their huts at Girkun, but they say that that place is rendered unsafe through the devil on account of the deaths which lately occurred there; but when the flesh of the deceased has gone into corruption, and their bones are put into a dilly, then they consider the devil has no more power over them. Such dillies, with bones, skins, scarfs, and pipes, we have some times found hanging in hollow trees.

Friday, September 17. - Last week no children have been here, and only two or three natives made a short stay in passing our place. They have again changed their place of abode, as a boy named Turpy, whose leg had been ulcerated for a long time, and who at last became also dropsical had died in their camp behind our houses which, in addition to the deaths that happened before induces them to avoid our place for the present altogether. The new bridge was finished to-day, when the news arrived that two vessels from Sydney had come into the bay; As an extract of this diary will be sent to Sydney, it may be proper to observe that many other trivial things have been put down for no other purpose than to show in what way the greater part of our time has been spent at the same time it cannot be expected that a minute account should be given how every one of the brethren has employed his time. This account every one must be left to give before the tribunal of his own conscience as in the sight of God.

We think it also necessity to add the following remarks:- It will appear from this diary that much time has been spent in seeking the bullocks when lost, as well as in keeping them when feeding, that they may not run away. This time might be spent in a more useful way for the furtherance of our great object, if we had a servant to do such work. Such a suggestion does not arise from a want of devotedness to the cause but simply from a desire, on the part of the brethren, to be as nearly as possible employed in their proper sphere, that of living, working, spending, and being spent, for the benefit of the brethren, with which they humbly conceive bullock driving has so distant a relation, that another person, who knows nothing else, might with propriety be employed in it. Yet, as a team of bullocks is indispensably necessity, and the Governor having granted permission to purchase the requisite number from the government stock when it shall be sold by auction we would submit to the committee, to consider the propriety of our engaging a bullock driver who might either be hired here or sent from Sydney; and as labour is continually increasing with us, while it is necessary to direct our efforts more exclusively to the main object of our mission, we should be glad if we had also one farm servant who, with help of the bullock driver, might do the rough work, that the comfort of the brethren might be more attended to. Their rations would soon be felt to be no expense, as they would be able to cultivate so much ground as to provide our whole establishment with flour, maize, and potatoes. Our soil does not appear to be suitable for wheat, at least on the hill, and we cannot calculate that the crop will supply us with flour for one month. The flour we received from Sydney lately will last until October, at the ration of five pounds for one person per week. Under these circumstances, we shall require a supply of flour towards the end of November. If salt pork were cheap, we should prefer a supply of this article to going twice every week to Brisbanetown, and receiving the meat with which they supply us there, and for which we have to pay four pence per pound.

We would also again point out the great encouragement which it would afford our natives if we had it in our power not only to pay them for their work with food, but also to give them blankets for covering themselves. We cannot suppose that the government would refuse to put a quantity at our disposal, as they distribute blankets to the natives in the colony, if application were made in the proper season. We are happy to state that we are making progress in the language of the Aborigines. On the late journeys a great many words have been collected, and it will be Mr. E.'s business to arrange them. Finally we entreat all who may read or hear this to intercede and wrestle with God on behalf of these benighted heathen, than whom there is not a more miserable race on earth, and to pray for a blessing upon our work from the Master at whose command we have gone forth - not counting our lives dear - into his vineyard among these savages. The difficulties are great on every side, and there would not be one ray of hope were it not the work of Him who says: "To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear by the name of the Lord of Sabaoth."

Read Part One of this series here.

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