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The Reverend George King and Fremantle

Bob Reece

Reece, Bob 2005, 'The Reverend George King and Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 4: 32-49.

The most celebrated Christian mission to the Aborigines of Western Australia in the 19th Century was the Spanish Benedictine settlement at New Norcia, established one hundred miles north-east of Perth in 1846 by Dom Rosendo Salvado. The Wesleyan Native Institution in Perth established six years earlier by the Reverend John Smythies has also received some recognition from historians. 1 Few people realise, however, that an Aboriginal mission school was initiated at Fremantle in late 1841 by a vigorous, red-headed young Irishman from County Tyrone, the Reverend George King. The port’s first resident Church of England clergyman, he was also responsible for erecting churches in Fremantle and at the outlying settlements of Mandurah and Pinjarra on the Murray River.

The second son of William King, a linen merchant of Fintona, County Tyrone, and his wife Anne, George was bom on 20 March 1813 and was sent as a young boy to the prestigious Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Acquitting himself well in classical languages, he entered Trinity College at the age of eighteen in October 1831 and was registered as a fifteen guineas per annum ‘pensioner’? This placed him in the lower ranks of the College population whose fathers were not ‘gentlemen’. However, he was fortunate to have as his tutor a distinguished academic who later became College Provost. Under his guidance, George worked hard and managed to win a prize for Hebrew which may have helped to pay his fees.


The Reverend George King

During his time at Trinity, young George established a Sunday school in a city parish where his cousin was rector. A pleasurable diversion was a walking tour of County Wicklow, including Powerscourt, Devil’s Glen, Glendalough and Avoca. This expedition was to remain one of his most vivid memories of Ireland during his long life in Australia.

Graduating from Trinity in the spring of 1836, he was at the point of embarking on further study when one of the Fellows offered him a curacy at Larne on the coast of County Antrim. The local rector had lost his voice and needed someone to look after the large church and parish. Regarding this as ‘a Divine call’, King accepted at once and after an examination by Bishop Mant of Down and Connor and the archdeacons of the parish was ordained as a deacon at Christ’s Church, Belfast, on 4 September 1836. 3

The duties at Lame were extremely arduous and he received no assistance from the rector even after he moved with him to the more prosperous parish of Portstewart near Coleraine. However, when Bishop Mant’s own church at Holywood became vacant in early 1840 he was appointed there. In his Reminiscences, published in 1887, he recalled:

This was a most delightful change to me. I had now the assistance, not of a rector, but of a bishop, both in the church and in the parish. The Bishop preached frequently, and took part in the Communion Service; Mrs. Mant distributed food and clothing to the poor, and wine to those who needed it, and placed the management of her charities under my superintendence, which was congenial and agreeable to myself. 4

On 9 July 1840 King married a young widow, Jane Stewart Mathewson, who already had a ten year old daughter. While the position at Holywood was everything that he wanted, Jane, who suffered badly from asthma during the winter, asked him ‘to remove to a milder climate’. When he mentioned this to Bishop Mant, he was given a letter of introduction to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) which ultimately led to his appointment as their minister and agent in the young colony of Western Australia. He was allowed £250 towards his passage and outfit and was permitted to delay his departure until the sailing season in May 1841. He was also guaranteed an annual income of £250 for a period of five years from June 1841 on the understanding that the SPG would make up the balance of what could not be obtained locally. By this time, Jane had already given birth to their first child; one of what were to be seven.

One of the other passengers on the Ganges, the ship chartered by Perth lawyer John Schoales to take labourers recruited by him in England and Ireland to labour-starved Western Australia, was William Wade, a Protestant farm-boy from Moneymore, County Derry. Arriving in Belfast with his brother Thomas to join the ship in Liverpool, Wade was taken by his father to meet King:

He received us very kindly and we told him who we were and where we came from, the parish and our Minister’s names with which and our late locality he expressed himself very familiar. . .He was very tall, six feet I should say, very fair and young, under thirty in appearance, no beard or whiskers. His face was red and white and clear, just like a young woman’s, very healthy and strong in expression, altogether a handsome young man. He introduced us to Mrs King, who did not impress us so favourably as she had not the fresh, youthful appearance of her husband. We took our leave, we learned afterwards that she had been a widow and married Mr King for his beauty. 5

Of King’s role as ship’s chaplain during the voyage to Fremantle on the Ganges, we have this reminiscence from Wade:

In fair weather service was held in the quarter-deck but in rough water in the cabin. Mr King was a fine figure of a man in his surplus [sic] but I cannot recall anything of his sermons. He used fine words, I mean fine English words such as ‘converging rays’, ‘ultimate realisation of our anticipations’, general grandeur of expression but not, it seemed to me, impressive like the words falling from Hugh McNeill. 6

Fremantle in 1841 was a tiny settlement of about 400 people. During the first years of settlement it had prospered as the colony’s port and staging place for newly-arrived immigrants. However, Govemor James Stirling’s decision to establish his capital further up the Swan River meant that administrative and mercantile activity was quickly transferred to Perth. Fremantle subsequently languished and most of its largely working class population had to depend for their livelihood on the unloading of merchant ships by lighter at South Bay and the trans-shipping of goods by river to Perth. A limestone bar across the mouth of the river made it impossible for anything but the smallest vessels to enter.

The town must have had a forlom appearance when the Kings arrived on 16 October 1841. There were some general stores and a number of inns which catered for visiting seafarers, but few substantial buildings in brick or stone. Most prominent were the Round House gaol on the little promontory of Arthur Head and the courthouse standing next to it. A straggling village spread over the low and swampy land at the base of the limestone promontory. During the following years there was to be a steady drain of labourers to the more economically promising colony of South Australia where copper-mining commenced in 1842. By mid-1846, Fremantle’s population had thereby been reduced to about 300.

For some years a handful of influential Irish Anglicans had been discussing the desirability of establishing a mission to the Aborigines of Swan River Colony. The former Lieutenant Govemor, Captain PC Irwin, Advocate-General George Fletcher Moore, Magistrate WH Mackie and John Schoales were all members of this group. During a visit to London while on leave in September 1835, Irwin had called a public meeting to form the Western Australian Missionary Society which would minister ‘to the natives and more destitute of the settlers’. 7 As its Honorary Secretary, Irwin went to Bath, Bristol and Liverpool to promote the Society and appeal for funds. A Dublin Auxiliary was formed there at his instigation in early December and the meeting was addressed by the Reverend Dr Louis Giustiniani, an Italian convert from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism, who had been designated the parent Society’s first missionary. The mission was supposed to be conducted along Moravian principles, emphasising the teaching of practical skills.

Giustiniani arrived in Western Australia in June of the following year, accompanied by two catechists, and established himself in the Guildford area north-east of Perth. 8

However, his public support for native rights and his criticism of the settlers’ punitive expeditions against the Aborigines of the York district greatly embarrassed his patrons and brought about his forced departure from the colony in February 1838. 9 No doubt King during his time in Fremantle heeded the example of what happened to people who spoke out too strongly in support of the Aborigines of Swan River.

The Society lapsed until 1840 when it renewed its appeal for funds. Early the following year when Schoales was in London on a visit to recruit English and Irish labourers for the colony, he made contact with the SPG Secretary, the Reverend Ernest Hawkins, and distributed a circular publicising the Society’s aims. This contained ‘proofs of great eamestness and executions on the part of Colonists to obtain additional “itinerating” Clergymen on the Swan River and throughout Western Australia’ .10 By March 1841, Schoales was aware of the SPG’s negotiations with King and no doubt subsequently arranged for the missionary and his family to travel to Fremantle on the Ganges.

The Colonial Chaplain, the Reverend J B Wittenoom, had also taken the initiative of writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury requesting that a clergyman be sent out to Fremantle by the SPG. He had been encouraged in this by a letter from Western Australia’s Colonial Secretary, Peter Brown, informing him of Governor Hutt’s positive response to a petition from 103 Fremantle parishioners asking for assistance towards a clergyman’s stipend. In accordance with the Act of Council (4 Vict, n 6) which authorised such assistance, Hutt had agreed to give £100 per annum towards a clergyman’s salary.“ Wittenoom recommended that a single man be appointed, or a married man with independent income ‘inasmuch as £250 per annum or even £300 is a very inadequate income for the support and maintenance of a Clergyman and his family at Swan River’. 12


Swan River Natives

King’s appointment by the SPG was in response to these various approaches. His original destination was the Avon valley sixty miles east of Perth which had only recently been settled. However, on his arrival in the colony he discovered that one of the colonists, a former naval chaplain, had agreed to act as clergyman there and he was advised by Govemor John Hutt and others to establish himself at Fremantle instead. 13

Perth was the seat of government and the Colonial Chaplain, the Reverend JB Wittenoom, had long since ceased to visit the port after the townspeople refused to meet his travelling expenses. Consequently it had been seven years since an Anglican service had been held in Fremantle, making it ‘the most destitute and neglected spot’ .14 Another reason for the choice of Fremantle was that the Wesleyans had already begun to build a chapel there as well as in Perth, and King had no time for either Dissenters or Roman Catholics. For his part, Wittenoom believed that King’s services were more required in Fremantle ‘than in any other part of the Colony’. 15 However, Resident Magistrate RMB Browne and other local notables knew nothing of Schoales’ earlier proposal to the SPG that a house would be built there for the missionary; instead, King had to rent a cottage at his own cost on two acres of land about half a mile from the town. 16

By mid-November 184l, King had established a Sunday School for forty children at Fremantle and had plans well in train for the erection of a church in the town square set aside for this purpose by Surveyor-General J S Roe some years earlier. Convinced of the spiritual-mindedness of the Aborigines he encountered in Fremantle and Perth, he had also decided to establish a school for native children and applied to Hutt for assistance:

The native children are intelligent, and apt to learn, but the advanced men are so removed from civilization, and so thoroughly confirmed in roving habits, that all the exertions made on their behalf, has [sic] found them totally inaccessible: but we have reason to conclude that they have no vague idea of a future state. They are exceedingly superstitious — they never venture out of their huts from sun-set till sun-rise, for fear of encountering goblins and evil spirits; and they have a peculiar idea of the transmigration of spirits — when any of their tribe die, they say - ’he’ll soon jump up white man, and come back again in big ship’, and when a stranger arrives they examine his countenance minutely, to trace the lineaments of some dead friend; and when they think they have discovered him, they sometimes request him to expose his breast that they may see where the spear entered which caused the life to fly away so long a time."

Within two years of his arrival, the energetic red-headed Irishman had not only built churches at Fremantle, Mandurah and Pinjarra, but had established schools for white and Aboriginal children. With scant assistance from the colonial government, King managed to complete the Church of St John the Evangelist in Fremantle, where he held the first service on Friday, 4 August 1843. Until then he had been obliged to use the courthouse next to the gaol on Arthur Head, where he also acted as chaplain to the Aboriginal and white prisoners. Although Fremantle’s population was about 90% Anglican, it was also predominantly working class with little capacity to contribute to King’s salary let alone help to pay for the new church. Consequently, he was unable to obtain the promised £100 per annum assistance from the colonial government, which it now insisted was conditional on the provision of support by the parishioners. 18 To his chagrin he had to depend on the SPG as his sole source of income during his entire time in the colony. The one substantial endowment he received, a gift from the landowner Thomas Peel of five hundred acres of land on the Serpentine River, could not be tumed to any advantage.

The Fremantle congregation also posed some parochial problems for a conscientious churchman, not the least being domestic violence amongst those who regarded themselves as gentry. At the end of August 1844, King recounted to Hawkins the tragic story of the town’s first suicide, a forty-one year old woman called Margaret Lamb who had been forbidden by her husband to attend the new church. William Lamb was a merchant who had brought out his family with the first group of settlers in 1829. His business had suffered from the effects of the economic recession and his behaviour had consequently become highly volatile. When King declined to perform the burial service but indicated that he had no objection to a lay service being conducted outside consecrated ground, the irate Lamb wrote a strong letter of complaint to the Anglican Bishop of Australia, WG Broughton, in Sydney.

Defending his decision, which was in accordance with the explicit instructions in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1661, King explained to Hawkins that he had invited the woman to sit in his own family pew when he learned that her husband had made no provision for the payment of pew-rent. When she did not appear in church, he had gone to visit her at her home and repeated the invitation:

The husband, who was present, exclaimed in a very rude manner - “you have not offered me a seat, Mr. King, and you must know that I am a gentleman’ etc. and at the conclusion of a long tirade he requested that ’I would not preach to his children”. Now, the reason that I did not invite him to my seat, was simply this, though I did not mention it, that he is a very wicked man, a blasphemer and a drunkard, and such a man I could not invite to sit with my wife and children.

Mrs. Lamb, with tears in her eyes, besought me not to leave the house until I had persuaded her husband to permit her to go to Church but he would not. This persecution of his wife was so cruel, that she several times abandoned him, bearing on her back and limbs shocking marks of violence: and at length she committed the awful deed of suicide on a Sunday morning. 19

Margaret Lamb’s seventeen year old daughter, who was estranged from her father and continued to attend church, accepted King’s views on the burial service but Lamb himself wrote ‘a very insulting letter’ which he pasted on the church door at Fremantle after the Perth newspapers had declined to print it. 20

King, as he believed he was bound to do by the rules of the Church, also withheld Communion from a married woman living with another man, although she was a regular church-goer. Nor would he agree to perform the service of Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, better known as the ‘churching of women’, when he considered that the women concemed had been living in adultery. 22 This can hardly have made him popular and it is an interesting reflection of the social mores of early Fremantle where it seems to have been believed that illegitimate children could be made legitimate by means of the ancient ceremony.

As well as his parochial and missionary responsibilities in Fremantle itself, King ministered to the needs of the widely-dispersed settlers of the Canning River, eighteen miles to the east, and the Murray River, fifty miles to the south. This necessitated long and tiring expeditions on horseback each month through summer heat and winter floods. Nevertheless, he had been successful in improving Thomas Peel’s tiny chapel at Mandurah, which he opened in June 1842, and in building a thatched wattle and daub church at Pinjarra.Z3 However, his hope for a school there for white and Aboriginal children failed for lack of government support.

King’s other priority was a school solely for Aboriginal children which, as we have seen, he decided to establish at Fremantle shortly after his arrival. Taking pains to obtain their parents’ permission, the missionary had ‘collected’ eighteen children between the ages of five and ten from the Pinjarra area and set out to civilise and convert them to the Anglican faith so that they could take their independent place in colonial society.

The costs of the school were offset by the colonial government, Governor John Hutt reluctantly agreeing to give £50 per annum on a trial basis - about one-tenth of what King thought was necessary - and to build a wooden school room at Fremantle’s South Bay.  24 Half of the money was spent on paying a matron-teacher to look after the children. 25 There was little left for food, clothing and educational materials and King had to appeal to the SPG and to his former parishioners in Ireland for support. King and his wife supervised the school and provided clothing and other items from their own resources. Eventually Hutt agreed to provide a daily ration of one pound of bread per pupil, but even this modest assistance was withdrawn in February 1844 on the grounds of economy.

Very little assistance was forthcoming from the people of Fremantle, who were highly sceptical of ‘improving’ schemes for Aborigines. ‘I have urged upon the people the advantage to themselves of having these hitherto abandoned creatures brought up in domestic industry’, King told Hawkins in February 1842, ‘but they, having tried so often in vain to make servants of the natives, without attending to spiritual instruction, or indeed any instruction at all, look upon our cause as a useless experiment, and withhold their aid’. 26 One unexpected problem King encountered was that all his Aboriginal girls had been betrothed to future husbands in the traditional way. Accordingly, he sent an Aboriginal servant to summon the men concerned and, finding that they already had wives, persuaded them to surrender their claims ‘for a few pieces of silver’, the agreement being properly signed by them with crosses under their names and witnessed by two magistrates. 27

In some ways, King’s views on the Aborigines resembled those of other evangelical missionaries of his time: that they were a spiritually degenerate people who had to be rescued from heathenism and barbarism. He believed that the constraints imposed by their way of life had limited their spiritual and other development:

The natural paucity of human food, and the difficulty of procuring it, have necessarily restricted the energies of the aborigines to the supplement of their daily wants, so there is not to be found, as far as European research has advanced, a single memorial throughout this great continent, by which to trace their origin, or the period of their immigration to these shores. They have no traditions beyond the idle tales of fanciful romance; and though they have an innate horror of a powerful unseen something they denominate ‘gyngar’, and which they believe is commissioned, they know not how, to torment departed life, yet they have no pretentions [sic] to the knowledge of the means of escaping this future ordeal, whether by personal recommendation, or sacrificial atonement. Their law which demands the life of an individual of a neighbouring tribe, on the death of a friend, is merely a political measure for the adjustment of the balance of power. 28

King also believed that the only way forward was to separate the children from their parents and educate them to take their place in civilised society. However, he had learned at first hand of their treatment by the settlers (Pinjarra had been the site of the massacre of thirty or more Aborigines perpetrated by Govemor Stirling in October 1834) and possessed a strong sense of the moral obligation incurred by their dispossession. Repeating his earlier appeals to the SPG to assist the school, King told Hawkins in February 1844:

To the aborigines we owe, and England, whose subjects they have now become, owes, a debt of which nothing less than the bread of eternal life can be an equivalent: we have usurped their well-stocked hunting grounds; taken possession of their fisheries; and ploughed up the very staff of life, which the rich valleys naturally yielded in the bulbs and roots so congenial to native life. 29

Education of Aboriginal children was thus a moral responsibility and, unlike most of the colonists, King believed that they had the same intellectual capacity as whites. In January 1846 he told Hawkins that after four years of observing their progress at the school,

Their advancement towards civilization and evangelical knowledge has been uniformly progressive: and I have no hesitation in stating my conviction, that in moral sentiment, as well as in the ordinary attainments, as well as in the attainments of ordinary humble tuition, they are not one degree inferior to the common average of European children. 30

This judgement he qualified subsequently by remarking that Aboriginal children taken from the bush, ‘if educated with the care ordinarily devoted to children, will be able to enter civilized life with sentiments as refined, and capacities equally comprehensive as those of the children of any peasantry in Europe’. 31

King and his wife occasionally had some of the children to dinner at their house and were gratified to see them ‘acquit themselves in every respect with much propriety’. 32 They also took one of the girls to live with them, possibly to assist in caring for their own young children, and were relieved when she resisted the persuasion of some of her own people to follow them back to the bush, replying: ‘bus [bush] he no good, no rice, no sugar, no flour; me cloathes put on, me paper talk [read], learn, by and by all the same white woman’. 33 King’s long-term plan was that his students would in time become the teachers of their own people. ‘I have no doubt’, he told Broughton in July 1845, ‘with the Lord’s blessing, these children will, one day, be able to take the place of masters and mistresses in similar, but I trust, more largely endowed institutions.’ 34

On 29 October 1842, King baptised ten of his Aboriginal flock: Neart, Cobbut, George, Kibba, Dunbuck, Yeack, Wealbuck, Yieep, Corman and Mary at a well-attended ceremony. When eleven year old Neart died four years later, it was thus possible to give her a proper Christian burial. However, it was a sad personal loss for King, as he made clear in the account he gave to Hawkins in a letter of 28 December 1846:

She read the Bible and other books with accuracy, and with understanding also; and wrote legibly and I had hoped that in a short time she would have been a valuable assistant in the school. The government surgeon attended her, and every comfort that could be devised was bestowed on her. The children of the school followed her remains to the grave, and joined in the service with much feeling. When I came to the words ’Lord have mercy upon us’, they all fell down on their knees around the grave, and in that posture, and with due solemnity, repeated the response and joined in the Lord’s prayer. Now this I had not instructed them to do; they must have gathered it from the lessons which had been taught them on the m[ornin] g and e[venin]g services. 35

On 18 February 1844 King had also baptised Derbuck and Kangup and on 31 May 1846 Sarah, Jane, Emma, Mary and William. He evidently decided to give the latter group Christian names and thus did not record their Aboriginal names in the St John’s church register. The likely reason for this was that the first baptisms had raised some eyebrows amongst his clerical colleagues, if not the laity who witnessed the ceremony of 31 May. In June 1846 he wrote to Hawkins:

I find that some of my brethren in the ministry here, and at home also, dissent from me as to the propriety of admitting the children of heathens into the Church before they have evidenced the fruit of repentance and faith; and gone through the ordeal of a strict examination on the principles of the Christian religion.

Now, in the present state of the Church, since the disceming of spirits has been withheld by the Holy Ghost from the officiating minister, I cannot perceive how the Church could determine the fitness and unfitness of this and that candidate for baptism. I cannot ascertain the exact amount of orthodoxy, short of which, it would be improper to administer the rite of baptism; and at which, it would be sinful for one moment to withhold it.36

Although he deprecated what he regarded as the degrading habits of their bush life, King also appreciated the Aborigines’ knowledge of the bush and its resources. With no time to grow anything in his sandy Fremantle garden, he was nevertheless very interested in botany and the Aborigines’ intimate acquaintance with the different plants and animals:

They retain and exercise their remarkable power of observation to a remarkable degree as they advance in years; and the book of nature is studied by them with much attention. They have particular names for plants and flowers innumerable; and in the animal world they distinguish the different varieties of the same species, from the slightest peculiarity, or a shade of difference, with a minuteness which would astonish a scientific naturalist."

During his second visit to the settlement of King George Sound in June 1847, King became convinced of the need to establish an Aboriginal school there on a larger scale than in Fremantle. This was a high priority as disease and violence had already taken a terrible toll:

The native population is yearly disappearing and I feel convinced, from my personal observation, that the fine tribe which, twelve years ago, could muster 300 fighting men in an hour’s notice, will not be able in the next generation to furnish hewers of wood and drawers of water for the few European families who remain in the settlement. 38

It was frustrating for him to have to return to Fremantle in the knowledge that there was very little that he could do to bring his wishes to fruition:

To me it was exceedingly painful to leave the place without being able to effect anything for the natives. They repeatedly surrounded me, while walking in the neighbourhood, and with much earnestness inquired - ‘what time you make native school? boy and girl plenty go’. They had heard of our institution at Fremantle, and felt jealous that they too had not similar opportunity of making their sons and daughters ‘all the same as white people’. And when I informed them, that I had not the means to establish a native school there, several of the boys volunteered to go with me to the Fremantle school. This was an extraordinary instance of confidence in European protection: for the individual who ventured far beyond the boundaries of his tribe, is deemed by his friends a dead man. However, I had no means of maintaining an additional pupil at Fremantle, and it grieved my heart to be obliged to say - nay. 39

In late 1847, threatened with the withdrawal of the £50 per annum given by the colonial government towards the Aboriginal school, King strongly resisted the official suggestion that his pupils should be sent over to nearby Rottnest Island (which had been an Aboriginal prison since 1838) to cut costs. Apart from the ‘contaminating influence of the native convicts’, he believed that it would destroy any confidence Aboriginal parents possessed in giving their children to be educated. ‘If they be sent thither’, he emphasised to Hawkins, ‘we shall not readily be intrusted [sic] with the guardianship of their little ones again’. 40

After seven years, during which the Aboriginal children had made impressive progress in literacy and such skills as needlework, and most had been received into the Church, King wrote sadly about his lack of success in apprenticing three of the boys to local tradesmen in carpentry, tailoring and shoe-making:

there seems  to be a latent feeling of jealousy, on this point, among the few tradesmen here, which must be overcome. I offered one of the boys, an active, useful, intelligent lad, to a shoe-maker who is advanced in life, a man of excellent character, and withal quite solitary, but not on any terms would he receive him. 41

He was also concerned for the future of the three older girls at the school who were by now between fifteen and seventeen and rapidly approaching Womanhood:

With regard to their temporal wants I feel no apprehension for I would find no difficulty in procuring eligible situations for them as servants and seamstresses, for which they have been well educated; but this would be to expose them to the many temptations by which, from their earlier associations they might be more easily ensnared. 43

On 27 December 1848, King was relieved to be able to give in marriage the two girls, Derbuck and Sarah, and another Aboriginal girl called Anne Thornton, to three young Aboriginal men from the Reverend John Smithies’ Wesleyan Native Institution in Perth. After the ceremony, Jane presented each of the girls with a ‘little outfit’ she had prepared and saw them off by boat to their future home at Wanneroo to the north of Perth. There Smithies hoped to establish a self-sufficient agricultural settlement after the loss of many of his charges to tuberculosis and other diseases contracted from the colonists in Perth. King was sad that his charges would thus be lost to the Wesleyans but nevertheless rejoiced in the achievements of his school:

The three girls were among the first ingathering that I made to the fold of Christ from the Australian bush. Seven years ago I found them, in a state of absolute nudity, the most debased in habits, and the least happy of all creatures which the forest sustains. Today I conducted them to the altar of God, and heard them pledge their vows of fidelity to their Christian husbands, advisedly, reverenrly, and intelligently.“

Bishop Short of Adelaide, whose diocese included the entire colony of Western Australia, performed the marriage ceremony during what was his first visit and wrote favourably of the pupils at King’s school:

My impression, generally, of the natives of Western Australia, as compared with those of South Australia, is in favour of the former. Those of King George’s Sound, and on the Western coast are superior to the Adelaide tribes, physically, and in point of civilization. And so, the children of the school appeared more domesticated, if I may so term it, than the children at Adelaide. In fact, the native Australians have been very unduly underrated. In intelligence, good temper, and faithfulness to their engagements, they are remarkable.“

He found that the Aboriginal girl taken in by the Kings had proved to be an excellent nurse and took as much delight in reading books as their own children. Her answers to questions on religion put to her by his Archdeacon, Matthew Hale, also indicated that she was ‘equally intelligent and well instructed’. However, when Short attempted to persuade King that some of the boys should be indentured as domestic servants, the missionary was extremely reluctant to give his permission. 45 To place them in service, as Smithies had done with his pupils in Perth, was ‘objectionable’ to King. ‘Naught but necessity would induce me to adopt this provision for them’, he had told Hawkins in June 1848. 46

In a written statement given to the Bishop, King set out the views that had inspired his establishment and maintenance of the school:

In gathering the children of this district from the bush, in order to bring them under the influence of evangelical truth and civilizing habits, I ever considered it incumbent on us to recognise them as the offspring of the providentially located and rightful owners of the soil. As such I considered it our imperative duty, to endeavour, as far as it in us lies, to place them in such a position as would enable them to earn an independent livelihood in the midst of civilization. I did hope that pecuniary assistance granted by the government  would have been considerably augmented by aid from home, as well as in the Colony; and that we would have been able to teach the pupils trades according to their several capacities; and ultimately to establish them in life, married to their fellows, so as to escape the many temptations to evil habits, by which, under other circumstances they might be surrounded. 47

By way of compromise, King suggested that a committee of three from his congregation should oversee the indenturing of the boys for no more than a year, and without compulsion, to ‘sober members of our Communion’. Another condition was that the indentures should provide for two hours’ attendance at school each day and that the boys would have the right of appeal to the committee ‘if aggrieved in any respect’.43 However, there was little choice but to accept Bishop Short’s suggestion that the nine remaining pupils be sent to Smithies’ Native Institution where the government had agreed to support them.

By early 1848, King’s exertions were taking a serious toll of his health. On one occasion he had fainted from exhaustion on the floor after returning from a round trip of thirty-two miles to preach at the Canning. In June, in response to the pleading of his wife and their friends, he decided to give up his two churches at the Murray. Telling Hawkins that he now wished to move to New Zealand, where Bishop Selwyn had invited him to take up a position, he outlined the routine which had so seriously affected his health:

Sunday: Sunday school; & mg & evg. Service with sermons.
Monday: Occupied with preparations for the week.
Tuesday: I ride forty miles to Mandurah.
Wednesday: Mg service & sermon at Mandurah: the thermometer standing upwards of 100 deg. In the shade; & in the evg. I ride fifteen miles to Pinjairah.
Thursday: Mg service & sermon at Pinjarrah: the thermometer 106 deg. In the shade. After the service much exhausted. Thermometer llO deg. on the verandah of Mrs. Ts house.
Friday: Occupied in my journey homewards, the wind hot and withering.
Saturday: Preparations for the sabbath. 49

Living conditions for the King family had also become extremely difficult, particularly with the addition of two more children by June 1845. With no support from the local Anglican congregation, apart from six months’ feed for King’s horse supplied by some Murray River farmers, they had to live on his modest SPG stipend. Basic necessities such as flour, meat and clothing cost twice as much as at home. Even oats for horse feed had to be imported from England and Tasmania at considerable cost. In June 1846, in his response to a questionnaire sent out by the SPG, he had expressed his dilemma at being forced to choose between his horse and his family:

The increasing family of your missionary in a strange land, and so circumstanced, had caused him to practice [sic] much self-denial: and how to retrench further, he really cannot discover. The altemative rests between his missionary horse and his family. Now that he has established three distant Churches, and with no small sacrifice to his health and strength, kept them together, and guarded them for four years by God’s good Providence, to be at length thrown upon the alternative of abandoning them, by reason of his inability to meet the expenses of his horse’s keep, or of denying his children many of the common comforts of life to which they have become accustomed, would create a powerful struggle within his soul. 50

King claimed that his travels in the service of God were seven times as extensive as the combined labours of his fellow clergy in the colony. Furthermore, he had not availed himself (as they had done) of the opportunity of profiting from the ownership of land and livestock. Indeed, he was perhaps too scrupulous for his own good. Gifts sent from home which he and Jane considered too expensive or unsuitable were sent to a local store-keeper to be sold. However, when a relative in Ireland sent out linen to be sold through an agent, King had the consignment sent on to Adelaide. When the relative suggested that part of the profit could be used for church purposes, King refused. ‘I can therefore say’, he told Hawkins, ‘from a thread to a shoe—latchet have I not made a gain in the Colony’. 51 What he did not reveal was that he had undertaken some part-time clerical work in Fremantle in 1843 to relieve the financial pressure.

King’s position further deteriorated in early 1846 when he received the unwelcome news from Hawkins that his annual stipend from the SPG was to be reduced in June from £250 per annum to £200. Indeed, Hawkins emphasised, it had never been the intention of the SPG to pay the entire amount guaranteed. 52 Telling Hawkins that although Governor Hutt himself had written to the Chief Magistrate in Fremantle shortly after his arrival to say that £250 per annum was not sufficient to maintain a clergyman there and that the townspeople would have to contribute, King replied that there was no prospect of obtaining additional income in the colony sufficient even to have milk in their tea, ‘a luxury which we have latterly denied ourselves’. ’Heretofore’, he concluded, ’we have barely been able to live on this annuity; how then shall we be able to bear a reduction, when I inform you that at present I am obliged to feed my missionary horse on bread ...’. 53

By the time of Bishop Short’s visit in 1848, King had abandoned his strenuous journeying and his health had improved somewhat. However, his inability to fulfil his responsibilities to the outlying communities of the Murray had already prompted him to resign his post and to apply for removal to New Zealand. The Colonial Surgeon provided a certificate for the SPG to testify that the further continuance of his duties in Fremantle would endanger his life. This was countersigned by Short who paid a warm tribute to King’s zealous efforts during his ministry.54

King’s reluctance to leave Western Australia was bound up with the future of the Aboriginal school. Government support in the form of the annual subsidy was due to be withdrawn and the remaining pupils were to be sent to Snrithies’ Native Institution rather than to Rottnest. The churches at Fremantle, Mandurah and Pinj arra, together with a number of schools for white children, were well established and he had good reason to be satisfied with his labours. A Valedictory Address signed by seventy-eight of his Fremantle parishioners was further evidence of the good impression he had made despite his strict adherence to the Book of Common Prayer. It testified that he had discharged his duties in an ‘exemplary manner’ and that Mrs King had been ‘all that the partner of a faithful Minister of Our Lord should be’. 55

King and his family sailed for Sydney on the Ranee in early January 1849. On arrival there, Broughton dissuaded him from going to New Zealand and established him instead as the incumbent of St Andrew’s parish, where he immediately became active in the completion of St Andrew’s Cathedral from its foundations. His reputation as an energetic builder had preceded him and he anived at an opportune time to fulfil it.

His subsequent career as a churchman in Sydney was worthy, if controversial at times, but will not detain us here. It suffices to say that from 1853 he campaigned vigorously for an Anglican mission to the Aborigines of New South Wales and was given a substantial piece of land for the purpose by a private donor. However, he was eventually frustrated when Broughton’s successor, Bishop Frederic Barker, insisted that the designated missionary, the Reverend William Ridley, abandon his Presbyterian affiliations as a condition of the appointment.57 He was more successful in the establishment of St Paul’s College as part of the new University of Sydney where one of his grand-daughters, Dr Hazel King, was subsequently to distinguish herself. King died in Sydney on 20 March 1899 and Jane just a year later.

George King’s contribution to the establishment of the Church of England in Fremantle and on the Murray, and to education (particularly Aboriginal education) constitutes an important achievement in colonial Western Australia. Although he does not seem to have maintained links here, his daughter Georgiana became an enthusiastic supporter of Daisy Bates and her work with the Aborigines. Their correspondence, now held in Sydney University’s McLeay Museum, reflects Georgiana’s warm childhood recollections of the little Aboriginal school at Fremantle.

Fremantle Studies Day, October 2003


Unless otherwise indicated, source material is drawn from the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), Rhodes House, Oxford, UK, C/AUS/PER 1

1 For a full account of Smithies’ Native Institution, see W McNair and H Rumley, Pioneer Aboriginal Mission: The Work of Wesleyan Missionary John Smithies in the Swan River Colon)" 1840-1855, University of Western Australia Press, Perth, 1981.

2 GD Burtchaell and TV Sadleir, eds, Alumni Dublienses, Alex Thom & Co., Dublin 1935, p. 468.

3 Reminiscences of The Rev George King, LL.D., Edward Lee, Excelsior Printing Works, Sydney,1887, p 7.

4 Ibid., p. 8.

5 Transcript of the reminiscences of William Wade, courtesy of Christine Uphill. The original documents can be found in the Battye Library of Western Australian History, Alexander Library, Perth, Accession nos 949A, 1026A, 1075A

6 Ibid. McNeill was presumably the Wades’ local minister at Moneymore.

7 Mission to Western Australia, commonly called The Swan River Settlement, London, 1835

8 Dublin Auxiliary to the Western Australian Missionary Society, Dublin, 1835

9 See N Green, ‘Aborigines and White Settlers in the Nineteenth Century’, in CT Stannage, ed., A New History of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Perth, 1981, pp 86- 7.

10 Elizabeth Wigleworth to the Bishop of London, 2 February 1841 Original  emphasis.

11 Brown to Wittenoom, 3 March 1841

12 Wittenoom to Archbishop of Canterbury, 6 March 1841

13 King to Hawkins, 28 October 1841

14 Wittenoom to Hawkins, 12 November 1841

15 Ibid.

16 King to Hawkins, 16 November 1841, ibid.The exact location of the house has not been established, but it was somewhere in the vicinity of King St, East Fremantle, which was named in his honour.

17 King to Hawkins, 28 October 1841

18 Brown to King, 11 April 1842

19 King to Hawkins, 31 August 1844. Original emphasis. According to her death certificate, Margaret Lamb committed suicide ‘in a fit of insanity’. P Statham, (ed.), Dictionary of Western Australians, Vol. I, 1829-1850, University of Western Australia Press, 1979, p 191. For a more detailed analysis of this and other cases involving women during King’s time, see Hilary Rumley, ‘A Missionary’s Moral Burden: A Perspective on the Problems of Women in Fremantle in the Early 184O’s’, The Push from the Bush, no 16 (October 1983), pp 33-8.

20 King to Hawkins, 30 August 1844

21 King to Hawkins, 12 August 1844

22 King to Hawkins, 26 July 1845

23 R. Richards, Mandurah and the Murray: A Short History of the Old Murray District of Western Australia 1829-1900, The author, Perth, 1980, pp 53-4.

24 The site of the ‘Native School’ is indicated in the 1845 notebooks of Assistant Surveyor PLS Jauncey, Battye Library AN3 RED 420. It was probably somewhere near present-day Cicerello’s Fish and Chips, Mews Road.

25 Unfortunately there is no indication of her identity, but she may well have been one of King’s parishioners.

26 King to Hawkins, 27 April 1843

27 King to Hawkins, 27 April 1843

28 King to Hawkins, 1 January 1846

29 King to Hawkins, 22 February 1844

30 King to Hawkins, 1 January 1846

31 King to Hawkins, 1 June 1848

32 King to Hawkins, 15 February 1845

33 King to Hawkins, 28 February 1842

34 King to Broughton, 26 July 1845

35 King to Hawkins, 28 December 1846

36 King to Hawkins, 22 June 1846. Original emphasis.

37 King to Hawkins, 11 June 1847

38 King to Hawkins, 11 June 1847

39 Ibid.

40 King to Hawkins, 23 December 1847

41 King to Hawkins, 1 June 1848

42 King to Hawkins, 15 September 1845

43 King to Hawkins, 27 December 1848. Original emphasis.

44 Report of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for 1849, pp  clxxxvii-clxxviii.

45 King to Hawkins, 28 February 1842

46 King to Hawkins, 1 June 1848

47 King to Hawkins, 27 December 1848. Original emphasis.

48 Ibid.

49 King to Hawkins, 1 April 1848

50 King’s response to SPG questionnaire, 12 June 1846

51 King to Hawkins, l1 June 1847

52 Hawkins to King, 31 December 1845

53 King to Hawkins, 22 June 1846. Original emphasis.

54 King to Hawkins, 4 June 1849

55 Copy supplied to the author by the late Dr Hazel King, grand-daughter of  George and Jane King.

56 See the entry for King in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 5 (1851-1890), pp 25-6.

57 ‘Copy of notes by the Rev. George King, LL.B.’, typescript supplied to the author by Dr Hazel King.

Bob Reece

Bob Reece is Professor of History at Murdoch University and has lived in Fremantle with his family since arriving in Western Australia in February 1978. His book (co-written with Rob Pascoe), A Place of Consequence (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1981) was spurred by a wish to come to terms with a new environment. His other publications have been in Aboriginal history (including Western Australia) , Borneo history and Irish convict history. Most recently, he contributed an essay on Western Australian convict historiography to a special convicts issue of Studies in Western Australian History (Centre for Western Australian History, University of Western Australia). He is currently working on the letters of Daisy Bates as a Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia.


Garry Gillard | New: 12 February, 2018 | Now: 16 February, 2018