Poonindie Aboriginal Mission

Poonindie Aboriginal Mission

Poonindie Aboriginal Mission was founded on 10 September 1850 by Archdeacon Matthew Blagden Hale, born at Alderley in 1811. He was awarded a BA in 1835 and a MA three years later. He arrived in South Australia with Bishop Augustus Short in 1848. Hale’s main reason for coming was to Christianize Aboriginal people. Hale determined to set up a suitable village near Port Lincoln. Eventually he obtained a land grant from the Government for this purpose in 1850.

Matthew Hale (SLSA)

Hale only took teenage Aborigines from the Adelaide Boarding School for Aborigines. When this institution closed in 1852 there were no new students and if he wanted to continue and receive government assistance, he was told to take anyone sent to him by the Protector of Aborigines. He also was required to make Poonindie a distribution centre for rations for the local Aborigines.

By the end of 1852 there were 45 children at Poonindie. The agreement at that time was that Hale *relieve the government of all expenses connected with the school, which was under the care of Mr Schurmann*. He was also instructed to use *all diligence to draw as many native children to the school as possible and that you feed, clothe and educate them, including the truths of the Christian religion*.

All of this was easier said than done. For most of the time both children and adults were educated and instructed in manual skills to work the gardens, tend the sheep and cattle and grow wheat as well as building huts and cottages. By 1855 as many as 60 children, 34 of them baptized, were enrolled and educated by Joseph Provis, assisted by his wife and daughter. They also cared for 5000 sheep, including the shearing and managed about 150 cattle.

A major achievement was the completion of St Matthews’s Church by Thomas Hutchinson, born 1810, under the supervision of Master-Mason Tom Coffin in early 1855. Originally it was planned to be a school but, after completion it became a church, serving both the mission and the local community. The building stone was quarried from the Tod River whereas the roof was thatched with grass from the nearby swamp. The first service was on 17 May 1855 and was conducted by Hale. During the service two part-Aboriginal children, Tom and Tim Adams were baptized. School was conducted in the upper room with 36 students.

Unfortunately, not everyone was impressed. For most of the Mission’s existence, parliament and members of the general public questioned the time, effort and money used for its running. Many were the letters to the editors of different newspapers which criticized anything and everything about the mission, leaving no doubt about the writer’s point of view about Aboriginal people. Some editors wrote their own opinions as well, with several of them far worse than those of their readers.

In March 1856 Mr Angas moved that *there be laid on the table the following returns* which included, the number of natives maintained at Poonindie, the cost of feeding and clothing each native, the cost of the buildings, the wages for the schoolmaster and the mistress, the amount of money paid to the Archdeacon and the number of natives baptized.

The following article appeared in one of the Adelaide papers during the mid-1850s. *The first recorded attempt to civilize and Christianize the Aborigines here was made by foreign missionaries; but, owing to the late period of the session, time has not been allowed to obtain evidence of the success or otherwise of these efforts. Their example, however, was quickly followed by well-disposed colonists, who exerted themselves in this praiseworthy work. At this time a school was opened on the Park Lands, under the auspices of Governor Grey and placed in charge of Mr and Mrs Ross.

Shortly afterwards it was found necessary to open another school at Walkerville and at one period, there were under instruction at these two establishments the large number of 107 boys and girls, who were making satisfactory progress in the acquirement of the rudiments of education as also the habits and tastes of civilized life.

This apparently satisfactory progress of the children gave rise to the idea of founding an institution in an insulated position to whence the children could be removed after their preparatory training in these schools. This idea was practically carried into effect by Archdeacon Hale and the Poonindie Mission Station was founded on the purest principles of philanthropy, the Archdeacon undertaking to devote his energies and ability and a considerable portion of his own worldly substance in the endeavour to carry to a successful issue the labors of those connected with these elementary schools.

Perfect isolation was considered as necessary to relieve the rising generation from the evil influences and example of their parents and Boston Island was the first point selected. But, unfortunately for the objects of the mission, fresh water was not obtainable, and another site had to be selected, which was fixed at Poonindie. Good results, we are led to hope from the evidence, have arisen; but the main object of its founder was in the first instance frustrated by not being able to obtain a site completely isolated.

Secondly, the schools which were to receive the children for elementary training were, from circumstances not satisfactorily explained in the evidence, shortly afterwards broken up, and thus the chief source upon which the institution relied for material aid was cut off leaving the question of the effect of early separation from parents, and isolation afterwards from the evil influences of the tribes, a point still undecided.

The object of Archdeacon Hale was not confined to instructing the natives in moral and religious duties, but also to train them in steady industrial habits; and, consequently, reserves of land were made both for the purpose of cultivation and depasturing stock, in order to instruct them in agricultural and pastoral pursuits. The nucleus of the present flocks and herds amounting now to about 8,000 sheep, 300 cattle and 35 horses was purchased in 1850.

It does not appear that the employment of native labour is pecuniary of advantage, but the object was not that of a commercial speculation; and although the cost of superintendence of blacks when at work is about equal to the value of their labour at Poonindie, still they gain knowledge and acquire partial industrial habits*.

Poonindie 1867 (SLSA)

The following is an extract from a letter written to Archdeacon Hale by a gentleman, who recently had visited the Training Institution at Poonindie.

*At every stage of my journey I made, as opportunity occurred, and such was almost daily, minute enquiries as to the gradually wasting away of tribes of men once occupiers of the soil, and the progress of the remnant that was left, in European habits, general civilization, moral and religious improvement, as also to their food, their dress, their superstitions, the results of contact with the white man, their intelligence, their capabilities; and the result was that each day added to the hopelessness I felt of any such change as would rescue them from the degraded condition that everywhere, in one shape or another, was presented.

I became conscious of the amount of depravity that was conquered only when I contrasted the wretchedness to which I have adverted with the comforts you have bestowed on the aboriginal natives under your personal care, as evidenced by the condition or those around you. I think you had 60 inmates when I visited your institution; and when I saw the adult members of your flock pursuing the avocations of the farm, conscious of the self-respect which man owes to himself as a rational being, well clothed (by means of their own earnings), quiet, orderly, deferential yet not servile, supplying the place of my own countrymen (without their vices) in shearing, at the plough, with the sickle, as shepherd, standing out in strong relief from the wild tribes around them, I then felt that the objection was forever silenced that the aboriginal is not to be reclaimed.

He stood before me as an example of a good and useful member of society; but that was not all. I saw not only his social improvement, but the cultivation of religion bearing its fruits— in some thirty, in some a hundredfold. My feelings are not readily to be described when, as your guest, I found the matins bell summoning the village to early worship; and, obeying its call, I found your chapel benches filled by civilized and baptized natives, who were repeating in my own tongue the responses of my own Church, and listening reverentially to the portion of the Scripture she dispenses to them daily, and observing a demeanour which would put many of those white men to shame, who, when they enter a church, are there ashamed to kneel.

Some of the residents
John Wallace, Kittie,
Neddie and Jane Balston 1890 (SLSA)

Not only by outward posture, but with heartfelt earnestness, did these men reverence the sanctuary. I heard the tone of their repetition of the Confession. I heard the voice of their psalmody and thanksgiving in the accents of our own Church music, accompanied by their flutes, and I acknowledged that they were there my teachers. Here then, was the further proof that these difficult and blind tribes. can be brought to the light of faith and can evidence it by their lives.

Let no man henceforth say they have neither part nor lot with us in the salvation vouchsafed to all! And, as these things were thus passing before me, one there was in your hospital, whose hours were numbered, even then praying for the conversion of his tribe*. Unfortunately there were other letters which were not that complementary to the mission or the Aborigines.

On 15 April 1856 three Aborigines faced court in Port Lincoln on a charge of stealing mutton from Poonindie. They had already been expelled from the Mission. A few months later better news was reported when it was stated that during the previous year the settlement had produced 800 bushels of wheat and the value of sheep amounted to more than 2000 pounds, cattle 747 pounds and horses 550 pounds. The value of buildings and implement was estimated at over a 1000 pounds and the Mission was expected to be self-sufficient within three years.

A few months later though, some serious questions were raised when it became known that Hale had been paid one thousand pounds for the last years, up to a total of 5100 pounds. When he applied for the present year’s grant even more objections were voiced as no financial reports had ever been submitted by him, even though he had contributed large sums of his own money.

It was at this time that Hale was appointed first Bishop of Perth. He was presented with a breakfast service and a silver inkstand as a testimony of esteem from seat holders at St Thomas’ Church as he would be leaving Port Lincoln for Western Australia on 14 June 1856. Rev Octavius Hammond, was appointed to succeed him. Hammond was a doctor and surgeon with a practice in Adelaide. His skills would be a blessing to the Aborigines as well as the people of southern Eyre Peninsula.

In an effort to get more Aborigines to attend the Poonindie Mission, five Aborigines, converted to Christianity, arrived in Adelaide to induce other Aborigines to return with them to Poonindie. To reduce the cost of labour Hammond introduced a reaping and threshing machine, resulting in better results of the wheat harvesting. In February 1857 the Mission was visited by Governor and Lady MacDonnell.


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