Peopling Early Queensland: the Archive of Brisbane’s Zion Hill Missionaries, 1838-1848
Dr Annemarie McLaren, Harry Gentle Visiting Fellow 2018

Establishing Zion Hill Mission

After a voyage beset by the rashes and fever of typhoid, ten German missionaries (eight of whom brought their spouses) arrived at Moreton Bay in 1838. The goal of this pious community was to work with their hands and evangelise Aboriginal people in the region through their teaching and example. From lean early years and dependence on Government stores, they built a reputation not only for fecundity – many had growing families – but also as productive gardeners and ‘purveyors of butter, eggs, &c.’ to Brisbane Town. [1]

“Brisbane: view of Moreton Bay taken in 1831”, State Library of New South Wales, SSV4B / More B / 1

This fledgling community mission was located some miles between the new settlement in Brisbane and the abandoned penal settlement at Redcliffe (see map below) and were ‘off limits’ to those at Brisbane. They named their mission ‘Zion’s Hill’, after the mountain upon which Jerusalem was built, and named the creek running through it ‘Kedron Brook’ – the Biblical threshold that marked the wilderness in which false gods were worshipped. What they did not know was that they had chosen land that served as a thoroughfare for all Aboriginal groups in the region, whether moving along the coastline or in from the west. [2]

Detail of Robert Dixon & Liley, T. 1842, This map of Moreton Bay Thomas Liley, Sydney,
National Library of Australia, nla.obj-231411550

Though the Nundah mission was disbanded in 1848 due to declining financial and political support, this small group of German missionaries is celebrated as the first community of free settlers in Brisbane. Their names and lineage are woven into the social fabric of the region, and many stayed on in the colony after producing Brisbane’s first ‘free-born’ settler children. [3]

With thanks to Michael Aird for his comments and advice.

[1] J Demarr, Adventures in Australia 50 Years Ago, (London: Swan Sonneschein, 1893), p.256.

[2] Libby Connors, Warrior: a legendary leader’s dramatic life and violent death on the colonial frontier, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2015), 32.

[3] For more on this mission and its missionaries, see Regina Ganter, German Missionaries in Australia – a web-directory of intercultural encounters, 2016, www.griffith.edu.au/missionaries, accessed 21 June 2020; Roger Ford, God’s harvest: a social and agricultural history of the German mission to the aboriginal people of Moreton Bay, (Master of Arts thesis, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2007); Libby Connors, Warrior: a Legendary Leader’s Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2015).