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

Highlights from the Collection

In what follows, I will provide some highlights from this rich collection, teasing apart some of the reasons the diaries and travelling journals are so significant.

Page from the J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay, Mitchell Library

Ethnographic details

The journals are threaded with fine ethnographic details, which point to the rich cosmological world that the Aboriginal people of South East Queensland inhabited – potent with meanings, rules and rituals through which life derived its direction and meaning.

An extract from the 1843 diary provides one such detail of the Aboriginal people farming at Girkum who, ‘when their stomach is bad, they cut some of their hair, which when it is chopt up with roast fish, they eat and thereby their stomach is always cured’. [7]

Other extracts indicate that for the Ningy Ningy [8] , evil spirits associated with death would only leave a place once the flesh of the deceased had wasted away and the bones were put into a dilly. [9]

Grass fibre dilly-bag, loop netting, Cleveland, Moreton Bay, Queensland. 1888. British Museum, Oc1954,06.386

It also seems individuals had personal cooeeys (as in the Sydney region) that they used to communicate with each other – and that a cooeey could be ignored. In 1843, David Bracewell, a serial absconder from Moreton Bay penal settlement who had lived with different Indigenous groups in South East Queensland for years, found he recognised the call of an Aboriginal man in the bush. He also found that one individual refused to return a cooeey in what appears to be a calculated social snub. [10]

There is also the gripping story of a woman singing the ban or war song for over thirty minutes to challenge a man to fight – a precious insight into the lives of Aboriginal women when references to Aboriginal men often dominate. [11] Another woman, the unnamed wife of Biralli, sang late in the evening and before the sun rose as her grandson had lately died. [12] There are also details of Aboriginal women looking for oysters and roots – called dangum and bangwall – which they pounded to make dinner  [13], and of women moving the camp for the men to return to in the evening. [14]

Alongside these details, there are stories which shed light on the cross-cultural misunderstandings these differences could cause:

In November 1842, the Reverend Eipper and Gottfried Haussman were travelling to Umpieboang with Aboriginal locals. They had just held school with nine children when the camp at Ballaballawur was thrown into disarray. A local woman had brought the news that a dugong had been caught by the men – a creature that Eipper identified as an Arewing in what he called the Umpie Boang dialect, but that he knew as a Yuangan.

Horace Wikmunea 1963, Waaram (Dugong), Collection of University of Queensland, 2008

Eipper had often heard of these creatures, but as he had never seen one he hurried along hoping to catch a glimpse. He was left sorely disappointed. The dugong was already on the fire and the men would not let him approach, saying instead that they would call him when they were ready. In reply, Eipper asked them not to cut into it until he had seen it. He knew his request had been dismissed when he heard the sound of hacking axes. [15]

The men had a good reason for their actions. They explained ‘that Yuangans would know that white men were here and would come no more if Eipper saw it whole’. They even told Eipper to be quiet when he was making too much noise, telling him that the Yuangan would hear him. [16]

This was not the only time that animals, food and the protocols that a accompanied catching, cooking and distribution were to cause friction between the missionaries and the Ningy Ningy. On the evening of 16 March 1842, missionaries Peter Nique and Franz Rode found themselves asked to cook cornmeal for a group at a Ningy Ningy camp. Unsuccessful in their fishing that day, the Ningy Ningy were very hungry, and blamed Nique and Rode – who had eaten their fishes in pieces instead of roasting them whole on the fire – for their misfortunes.

Yet two weeks later, on the very same journey, Nique and Rode were told the exact opposite:
‘They gave us two Buygun (whitings) which they told us, we might eat with the knife and boil, because the Buyguns were stupid, and those in the water knew not the fate of those that were caught, but the Andeals (mullets) were very knowing and go away if their captured brethren are cut with the knife’. [17]

Aboriginal names

The records are also significant for the sheer number of Aboriginal names they contain. This is not always the case in colonial sources, with many colonists only recording the names of the most prominent Aboriginal men and women.

The fact that so many individuals are named and described in these records creates many possibilities, including for community descendants to trace kin, and to create a large archival base from which historical portraits of individuals can emerge. With careful reading, these records lay the foundation for deeper humanisation of the past and for fresh understandings of personalities and dynamics in the historical landscape. [18]

List of Aboriginal names located to date:

Aboriginal place names

Aboriginal place names present clues that allow the remapping of regions as well as the reconstruction of regional mental maps and pathways. [19] They often ‘represent a very ancient layer of the vocabulary, just as place names do in European traditions’. [20] This makes such records of place names immensely valuable. For community members as well as linguists, anthropologists and historians, they present data about language distribution and cultural stories – the very shaping of the landscape and its uses.

Consider the place names from the following journal:

Sabbath 26th. We had some rain in the morning which we thought would oblige us to stop. But it cleared up towards 10 O’Clock & we resumed our journey. For 6 miles the road went over a bad & broken country. We had to ascend a Range called Doolong from the top of which we say to the eastward Carruga, a sugarloaf shaped mountains & to the right of it Curor, about 10 miles distant from us and 15 from the Coast. From these mountains a Range runs N.W. called Moppewah, the continuation of it is called Kannayin which ends in Bahpol on the Wide Bay River. From our last crossing this River makes a wide sweep to the N.W. and comes round again to within 5-6 miles to the northwest of Bahpol, whence it runs about SE into Wide Bay. To the left is the large Bunya Range called Dikkir ending in Kroman balon. Right ahead, that is due north is a Range called Dueng part of which we have to cross. The River runs on the left side of it, & the road takes us along and then around Kannaiyin. Moving thence onwards we crossed a Creek at which we had to unload; & having travelled over 4 miles of very bad country we halted on a gulley, the length of our journey being 10 miles this day. [21]

Page from the J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library

Similar details are in evidence in other journal entries:

Monday 27th. Continued our journey in a N.W. & W. direction over a very bad country. The soil is white clay & yellow slates are seen on the top of the ridges. 6 miles from our place of starting we crossed a Creek & a small scrub called [152] Bäron; after which we ascended a ridge, where we fell in with a black Native named Worumwillo, his gin, mother & two children, a particular friend of Davis whose cooey he recognised. By promises he was persuaded to go with us to where we should camp for the night. He had never seen a white man; the horses however most excited his astonishment by eating the grass clean of the ground, and he would pull it out of their mouths. He belongs to the Dallambra Tribe; the plains Baliyah & Barregan are part of the ground of the Jungwubera Tribe, which is the least numerous of the Wide Bay River Tribes; The mount which is to our left, & the valley where in we camped is called Gudhin; there are a number of waterholes along the road, and the Country is improving. We expect to make the first Sheep Station of Mr Eales tomorrow; we have done 12 miles this day.

Tuesday 28th. The black man at first would not eat bread by seen he liked it & was dismissed with a damper & two tomahawks, he promised to get Bunya nut against our returning hither. Having thence travelled for five miles along the valley and passed a number of fine Lagoons, named after Davis, as this ground belongs to the tribe, he had been living with for 14 years; the track, which which [sic] had always served to guide us, was lost; and after two hours circuitous travelling we made the Sheep station, which originally had been intended for the bend Station. Here we learned, that he present head station was 20 miles distant. We then see out, & travelled over 7 miles of very indifferent [153] country in a nearly northeasterly direction. We passed a Thor, or place used by the Natives for making Kippers, close on the River; Kannaigin we had on the right & Dueny on the left, and camped on a Creek about 3 miles from the River; The bed of this Creek contains slate in regular layers; the soil is again white clay and the grass has the same unhealthy hue, which we noticed before. This days work was 12 miles half of which was done showers of rain; and such we had also during the night. [22]

Other place names in these sources include:

Cross cultural relations

The re-inscription of the landscape to reflect these shifting historical circumstances during colonisation offers further precious clues to social and cultural changes. New names like ‘Umpie boang’ also emerged in the transforming cross-cultural world. This is thought to mean ‘dead houses’ – to refer to the ‘Old Settlement’ or the original penal settlement at Redcliffe before it was abandoned for a settlement at Brisbane. [23]

As the story of missionaries and the arewing (dugong) demonstrate, these records also shed significant light on how cross-cultural relations unfolded. Blankets distributed by the missionaries on behalf of the governor quickly left the hands of those to whom they were given, possibly traded across clan and tribal borders as they were in New South Wales – much to the missionaries’ annoyance.

As the story of missionaries and the arewing (dugong) demonstrate, these records also shed significant light on how cross-cultural relations unfolded. Blankets distributed by the missionaries on behalf of the governor quickly left the hands of those to whom they were given, possibly traded across clan and tribal borders as they were in New South Wales – much to the missionaries’ annoyance.

They were also frustrated in their evangelisation attempts, even when Scripture was read in language. In December 1842, Schmidt wrote:

As soon as I read to them some passages from the sacred Scriptures which I had translated with Bracefield, they fell asleep. Only one listed attentively a few minutes and told us, rubbing his belly, that it did good to his bowles and desired me to read more. He had however scarcely uttered his wish, when he like the rest, answered with snoring upon our questions. – We closed the day with the fervent prayer, that God Almighty may soon send help out of Zion; to these “fugitives and vagabonds of the earth.

Fri 30. It was very painful to us that we could not prevail with them to be silent during our morning prayer. They smoked, laughed, shewed us their teeth and tongues and [127] and did just what they liked, so that we had to commence also this day with sorrow and patience of hope being greatly troubled in our minds, when asking us, what will become of this nation? One even lifted up his tomahawk against me when I told him, to be quiet, whilst we were speaking with God. [24]

Rivalries across Aboriginal groups are also illuminated through these records. [25] When at Sandy Beach at Turrbul, the missionaries’ guides suggest that they hide their provisions because the local group ‘were so greedy’. [26] In October 1841, it was the missionaries’ turn to play one group off against another: Nique and Hartenstein told a group of local Aboriginal people that ‘if they would not work with us we should go farther to the Bonya natives’. [27]

These sources also shed light on some of the more hidden relationships between Brisbane convicts, soldiers and Aboriginal people, such as the following:

Wednesday 9: Two Soldiers were just leaving the Camp intending to go shooting on the Pine River with the two Nat, Bianco & Karkenn. These two Natives said that the previous night the Duke of York Natives had been disturbed in their Camp at Barrambin by three soldiers, who came with a gun, defending black gins, when they were refused, or rather had frightened so [sic] whole so, as to cause men women & children to run in every direction, they set fire to the huts, broke & burnt spears, tomahawks, nets, & dillies; they killed also two dogs which were burnt, and belonged to Wunkermany. On hearing of it he began to cry aloud and did so again at night as if they had been his brothers and children. There was formally a regulation not permitting soldiers to go beyond a certain distance from the settlement. The camp is at any rate beyond that distance, but whether this order be rescinded or no, what shall be said of soldiers, who are paid to protect her Majesties subjects, invading a Camp of peaceful Natives…. [28]

Along with these tensions, there are signs of religious and cosmological frission. On the itinerancies and on the mission, these missionaries gave explanations of the Lord’s Prayer, the Old Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, and stories of the creation, who the saints were, the story of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection – yet it was the miracles of Christ which seemed to make the most impression, and ‘they asked in their simplicity why Christ did not come down to raise from the dead all the black fellows’. [29]

Some cultural translation did occur. In January 1843, when Schmidt and Rode were itinerating to Toorbal, two boys approached Schmidt to make them repeat a prayer ‘that the devil might not approach them’. [30] A similar thing happened when news came to Nique and Rode that Woggalle, a Ningy Ningy man, was very sick, on the first day of their itineration to Redcliffe in March 1842. To this, the Ningy Ningy with them said ‘The Natives said we should pray for him, and give him a little wine, which would make him well again, as it had done good to Parry (the sick man who was in our company on the way); they said, they know that God would hear the prayers of the Missionaries’. [31]

Yet on balance, the missionaries more often than not met with astonishment or ambivalence – they simply did not appreciate the robustness of the cosmological world they were encountering. When in April 1843, for instance, Eipper attempted to tell an unnamed indigenous group they did not know very well – possibly the same group Eipper called the Gudhing or the Guibera tribes – through the translation of Bracefield of ‘God & his works’, ‘the only impression’ he could perceive ‘seemed a stupid surprise that I could ask such questions as who had made the things around us; & they directed me to one of their number who was a mighty speaker. He happening to be asleep’, their conversation ended. [32] On another night, when the story was told ‘of the creation of man, and that all men are sprung from one pair’, there was also astonishment. [33]

One of the most gripping episodes dates to October 1841 when the Rev Christopher Eipper and Wagner found Wundermany, Wogan and others calling to them while itinerating to Toorbal. Eipper and Wagner were alarmed, but not completely: they knew that had they been under physical threat of ambush, their Aboriginal friends would have grabbed their arms or called to them for help. Instead, they found themselves told to be silent, ‘for Wunkermany was speaking to the Devil’.

When Eipper and Wagner continued their question, they replied ‘the Devil was taking hold of the moon with his two arms, to eat it up, and would not let it go. They then began to call the name of every one of their tribes three times, fearful lest they should forget any one, which’, as Eipper and Wagner noted:

they did for two reasons – first, in order to frighten the Devil by naming all their mighty men and boys, and then to secure themselves against his power over them in death. For it is the Devil who would swallow up every soul, which rises into the air after its separation from the body; and nothing but their great lamentations for the dead, accompanied with cutting their bodies and beating their heads with sharp instruments, will move him at last to let the departed soul fly off.

Eipper and Wagner were intrigued, but not impressed: from the words they could catch, it appeared that they ‘scolded him, calling him every bad name their language afforded, and frequently cursed him, so that it is a wonder he is moved at all, by their thus speaking to him to let them off, and not rather provoked to destroy them’.

This was, as Eipper and Wagner understood it, a solar eclipse. The missionaries had to wait and watch on for the two hours that it lasted. When it passed, the missionaries tried to explain the science of a solar eclipse, and they met with an instructive answer: ‘this was, they said, what the white man believed, but it was not for the black man’. [34]

[7] “Extracts from the General Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay, from the 27th of September 1842 to the 17th of January 1843”, J. D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library

[8] This is the group name used in the original record. Where it is not clear in the record, or where research–to date does not allow me to be more specific, I refer to ‘Aboriginal locals’.

[9] “Extract from the Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay from the end of July to the 17th of September 1841,” Colonial Observer, Thursday 18 November 1841.

[10] Observations made on a journey to the larger Bunya Country along the Wide Bay River, on which the Chr Eipper was invited to accompany the Commissioner of Crown lands S. Simpson Esq. That gentleman having been directed by His Excellency the Governor to report on that Country with a view of settling the German Mission to the Aborigines upon it, March-Ap 1843”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[11] Annemarie McLaren and Shino Konishi, “Searching for Aboriginal Woman in Early Colonial New South Wales” in Samraghni Bonnerjee and Ethel Maqeda (eds), Strident Voices, Dissenting Bodies: Subaltern Women’s Narratives, Routledge, Roultedge (forthcoming).

[12] “Diary of Messrs. Nigue and Hartenstein, of the German Mission to the Aborigines, at Moreton Bay, during a journey to Toorbal, a district of country to the Northward”, Colonial Observer, Thursday 28 October 1841, 27.

[13] “Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, Aug. 2, 1841”, Colonial Observer, 14 October 1841, p. 10. (By the Rev. Christopher Eipper, of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay).

[14] “Journal of the Brethren Nique & Rode who were itinerating among the Natives at Unpieboang from the 12 of March to the 31, 1842”, J. D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[15] Aunty Marg, who grew up on the Myora Mission, has recorded that it was women and children who were unable to look at a cut up dugong. “Yun-Gun (Dugong): As told by Aunty Margaret, Queensland Museum, https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/collections/collection+online#.XsIvomgzaUk,viewed 18 May 2020.

[16] “Journal of the brethren Eipper & Hausmann during their residence at Umpiebong from 22 Nov to the 3 of Dec 1842”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867, German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[17] “Journal of the Brethren Nique & Rode who were itinerating among the Natives at Umpieboang from the 12 of March to the 31 1842”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[18] See for instance the current project, ‘an Indigenous Australian Dictionary of Biography’. Shino Konishi, ‘In Indigenous Australian Dictionary of Biography’, in Karen Fox (eds), True Biographies of Nations’: the Cultural Journeys of Dictionaries of Biography (Canberra: ANU Press, 2019), 39-158. See also the historic portraits that Libby Connors builds in Warrior: a Legendary Leader’s Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2015).

[19] See Clark, Hercus and Kostanski eds., Indigenous and minority placenames; Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges, Jane Simpsons eds., The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, (Canberra: Pandanus Books, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 2002); Jason Gibson, Shaun Angeles, Joel Liddle, “Deciphering Arrernte archives: The intermingling of textual and living knowledge” in Archival returns in Central Australia and beyond, edited by Linda Barwick, Jennifer Green, and Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, 29–45. LD&C Special Publication 18. Honolulu & Sydney: University of Hawaii Press & Sydney University Press, 2019, http://hdl.handle.net/10125/24876/.

[20] Ian D. Clark, Luise Hercus and Laura Kostanski, “Introduction: Indigenous and Minority Placenames – Australian and International Perspectives,” in Indigenous and minority placenames: Australian and international perspectives, (Canberra: ANU Press, 2014), 4.

[21] Observations made on a journey to the larger Bunya Country along the Wide Bay River, on which the Chr Eipper was invited to accompany the Commissioner of Crown lands S. Simpson Esq. That gentleman having been directed by His Excellency the Governor to report on that Country with a view of settling the German Mission to the Aborigines upon it, March-Ap 1843”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[22] “Observations made on a journey to the larger Bunya Country along the Wide Bay River, on which the Chr Eipper was invited to accompany the Commissioner of Crown lands S. Simpson Esq. That gentleman having been directed by His Excellency the Governor to report on that Country with a view of settling the German Mission to the Aborigines upon it, March-Ap 1843”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[23] William Coote, History of the colony of Queensland from 1770 to the close of the year 1881, vol. 1 (Brisbane, William Thorne: 1882), p. 17.

[24] “Journal of Wl Schmidt during a journey to Toorbal, made with A. Rode from the 28th December 1842 to the 6th of January 1843” J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[25] Libby Connors discusses some of these tensions in Warrior: a legendary leader’s dramatic life and violent death on the colonial frontier, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2015).

[26] “Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, Aug. 2, 1841”, Colonial Observer, Thursday 14 October 1841, 10.

[27] “Diary of Messrs. Nigue and Hartenstein, of the German Mission to the Aborigines, at Moreton Bay, during a journey to Toorbal, a district of country to the Northward”, Colonial Observer, 28 October 1841, 27.

[28] “Journal of the brethren Eipper & Hartenstein, who resided among the Native on the Pine River from Nov 4-11 1842”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[29] “Journal of the brethren Eipper & Hausmann during their residence at Umpiebong from 22 Nov to the 3 of Dec 1842”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.
[30] Ibid.
[31] “Journal of the Brethren Nique & Rode who were itinerating among the Natives at Umpieboang from the 12 of March to the 31 1842,” J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[32] “Observations made on a journey to the larger Bunya Country along the Wide Bay River, on which the Chr Eipper was invited to accompany the Commissioner of Crown lands S. Simpson Esq. That gentleman having been directed by His Excellency the Governor to report on that Country with a view of settling the German Mission to the Aborigines upon it, March-Ap 1843”, J D Lang Papers, Item 20: 1837-1867; German mission, Moreton Bay Mitchell Library.

[33] “Diary of Messrs. Nigue and Hartenstein, of the German Mission to the Aborigines, at Moreton Bay, during a journey to Toorbal, a district of country to the Northward”, Colonial Observer, 28 October 1841, p. 27.

[34] “Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, Aug. 2, 1841”, Colonial Observer, 14 October 1841, p. 10.