White Criticism of the Maloga Mission

The Maloga Mission, started by Janet and Daniel Matthews was frequently criticised, and sometimes condemned, by the White establishment. Sometimes, even by Christians, and those who claimed to be sympathetic to the church.

In this thought-piece from the West Australian in 1885, one of the big things Mr Matthews gets wrong is, apparently, the muddle headed notion that Indigenous Australians could ever understand the gospel of Christ. There’s an implication that “christianised” natives were putting it on. That it was all for show. Never mind that many Christian Aborigines had actually heard the gospel from Aborigines. And, in fact, that many Aborigines had gone on to be evangelists – who had converted non-Indigenous people. (The conversion of Shadrach James may be an example.)

Likewise striking is the sentiment that all that matters, in managing Aboriginal matters, is practical things like caring for the sick. Something not unlike the policy narrative that we hear amid many “Closing the Gap” announcements.

An editorial in The West Australian rounds on Daniel Matthews for "vain delusions"

An editorial in The West Australian rounds on Daniel Matthews for “vain delusions”

The article reads:


A short time ago we republished from the columns of the Australasian certain portions of a most extraordi- nary report issued by Mr. Daniel Matthews, Superintendent of the Maloga native mission station, New South Wales. Since then we have received a copy of the report itself, -and find that the Australasian had eliminated, out of respect, we pre- sume, for the religious feelings ot its readers, some of the most serio grotesque portions in the extracts which it published-those extracts, thus pruned, giving buta faint idea of the extraordinary character of the production as a whole. Seeing that an extension of missionary operations amongst the natives of this colony is in contemplation-is, in fact, already being attempted-Mr. Matthews’ statement of his experiences in mis- sion work amongst Australian blacks may not be undeserving of notice, illustrating, as it does, in a very striking manner some of the weak points in this kind of philanthropic and religious enterprise.

Bishop Mooehouse, when lately opening a session of the Synod of his Diocese, is reported to have urged upon bis clergy to try and make themselves a little more like other people-to try and avoid peculiarities of speech and manner, such as ren- dered them a caste apart. The Bishop’s remarks were directed to point out how, through the peculiarities he deprecated, the clergyman lost in influence, and how very much more good he might effect, both by precept and example, if he moved as a man of the world amongst other men of the world. There is undoubtedly much truth in the view this most sensible of Bishops takes. And the same remark might be applied to Mr. Daniel Matthews, in very much stronger terms. For this, we have no doubt most sincere and philanthropic, gen tlemau has contrived so to place him- self and his work before the public as certainly to alienate the sympathies of the great majority of his readers. His opening address “To the young of Australia” is typical of all the rest. In that he sums up the result of his work not by stating the advance these poor natives had made in civilisation and usefulness, or the comfort, shelter and help he had been able to give to the sick and old and needy amongst the remnants of their tribes – all he thinks of is gathering in “precious souls,” and his chief subject of congratulation is the progress of the blacks under his charge in biblical lore, their delight in the singing of hymus, and the happiness they derive from ” retiring into the bush” for ihe purpose of private devotion. We are by no means exaggerating ; this is a positive fact. And yet, after rhap- sodising for page after page, in the technical phraseology used by a certain class of religious professors, about “the blessed work of the Spirit, “amongst these unfortunate children of the wilds, we find our author exclaiming ia the bitterness of his soul :

“Sometimes . . . the question arises in our hearts-What is the use of doing anything for such a people?”

It may be sad that it is so, it may show the hardness of their hearts and the coldness of their religious feeling, but it is neveitheless a fact that to the grealer part of ordinary common- sense people, who take things as they find them, and are inspired by no hysterical enthusiasm, reports such as that of Mr. Matthews are decidedly antipathetic. The cant phraseology used causes a feeling almost of disgust; the fervid out-pourings of gratification at the marvellous work wrought in the poor blacks’ souls gives rise to conclusions not very flattering to the missioner’s powers of discern- ment ; while his occasional admissions point to actual results very different from those he would fain have the public believe, and probably himself firmly believes, are a reality. And thus the majority lose faith in these missions and regard those who embark upon them as unpractical enthusiasts, likely to do more harm than good. We do not say this is the right view to take of mission work, even conduct- ed as Mr. Matthews apparently conducts it. All we say is that as a fact, it is the view generally taken, and a view which must be reckoned with when public support is desired. A great many people have had some experience of so-called ‘christianised’ blacks, and they wholly refuse to range themselves on the credulous side of the audience whom such mis- sioners as Mr. Matthews addresses. We think it desirable to emphasise this as a warning–perhaps not alto- gether unrequired–to those who are seeking to benefit the natives of this colony. Here, more perhaps even than in the Eastern colonies, the mis sioner’s success must mainly depend upon support and sympathy from the settlers. To practical, commonsense efforts towards ameliorating the con- dition of the blacks, especially towards rescuing the half-castes from the camps, and securing shelter and food for the sick, infirm, and aged, ready help and sympathy would, no doubt, be universally extended. But men who thoroughly know and understand the blacks, and have had experience both of the “converted” and of the bush species, have no patience with the visionary ideas and consequently mistaken course of action pursued by well-meaning persons of Mr. Daniel Matthews’ persuasion. We trust our own missioners will avoid such errors in their aims and endeavours.

They cannot do better than take a book out of the leaf of their Roman Catholic co-laborers. Amongst the latter we find, in their mission work, sound, practical commonsense, and no fond and vain delusions.

The similarities and the differences between 19th Century and 21st Century critics of Christian mission are striking.


Tags: , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply