Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay, 1841 (Part One)

There was a convict settlement at Moreton Bay during 1825-42, centred in what is now the centre of Brisbane, but the first permanent European settlement in the area was established at Nundah in 1838. This was a Moravian mission run by German missionaries with the aim of converting local Aboriginal people to Lutheran Christianity, and was supervised by Reverend Carl Wilhelm Schmidt and later Reverend Christoph Eipper. The mission was named Zion Hill's and in later years the local area became known as German Station.

The settlement had limited success, probably because it was too close to Brisbane to engage with surrounding Aboriginal groups, and it was closed in 1846 and four years later the area was surveyed for land sales. Several of the missionaries and their families were laid to rest in the heritage-listed Nundah cemetery.

Occasional updates on the progress of the mission appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers back in Sydney, including the following extract written in 1841. These pieces give a good idea of everyday life at Zion's Hill.

Extract from Carl F. Gerler's sketch of the German Mission Station at Zion's Hill, 1846. John Oxley Library.

Colonial Observer (Sydney), 11 November 1841

THE ABORIGINES.

Extracts from the Diary of the German Mission at Moreton Bay, from the end of July to the 17th of September, 1841.

July 30 Through the kindness of Mr. Wagner, we have had the loan of a team of bullocks, and of a bullock driver, through that of Mr. Kent, since Friday last, to plough the swamp; which work will soon be completed, when the man will return to the settlement, but the bullocks are at our service 'for an unlimited period.' Mr. Tillmann and some of the brethren were engaged in making a long chain, and a harrow; they also set up the dray which had been taken to pieces, when shipped in Sydney. On the piece of ground on the opposite side of the swamp, appropriated for the use of the natives, where many trees are already cleared; away, the ground is broken up, and three huts have been completed, and will be ready to be inhabited as soon as the plastering will have dried. They belong to Parry., Biralli, and Wogan. This .place will henceforth, for brevity's sake, be called by a native term, "Girkum."

Since Friday last, there were occupied in building, clearing ground, and working it with the hoe - on Friday 6, Saturday 3, Monday 5, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 2, Thursday 3. and to-day 4 ; altogether 26 natives, who were daily fed with rice, and paid at the close of each day with potatoes. Besides these, other 26 were engaged during this week in shearing our swamp from grass and cornstalks, previous to its being ploughed, who were fed and paid in a similar way; and if to these are added 15, who were employed in jobs about the dwellings of the several members of the Mission, it will appear that 67 natives were occupied and fed in the course of this week. As there were only two or three infants present no school was kept. 

Monday, August 2. - Mr. E.* left the station with Mr. Wagner, in order to visit the Aborigines at Umpie Boonga Ninge Ninge, they were accompanied by three natives, Wunkermany, Boringayo, and Wogan. During their absence, working continued by the rest of the brethren with the natives, partly for their grounds, partly for the use of the mission. Thus; on Saturday 31st of July, four natives were engaged at Girkum, and nine for the mission generally. On Sabbath, the natives, who had been working during the week, received some food for dinner. On Monday, August 2, nine natives were employed for the mission, and Mr. Rode kept school with ten native children. 

Tuesday 3. - Twelve natives were employed for the mission, and eleven children at school. Altogether there were employed during this week 51 natives for the mission, and four ditto at Girkum, and 37 children at school.

Week from.the 7th to the 14th. - Children in attendance 95 - 48 natives employed at Girkum and 6 for the mission. Remarks. - Monday 9. - Two natives and two of the brethren were working at Girkum, to prepare the ground for potatoes; and as necessity shall require, the brethren will continue to do so, although there be no natives at work with them. The oxen had been lost since Tuesday last, and much time has been spent in seeking for them; the ploughing was consequently stopped; this evening the stockman from Eagle farm brought them back; but as the bullock driver has returned to the settlement, our brethren have now to drive them themselves. 

Week from the 14th to the 20th or August. - Children at school, 59; 49 natives were employed for the mission. Remarks. - Messrs. Eipper and Wagner returned this evening from their tour; Four tomahawks were made for the natives who had conducted them back. 

Monday 16. Logs and trees were drawn in for a new bridge, the old one having been almost washed away by the floods. Yesterday the native children were taught to repeat the Lord's Prayer, and the ten commandments, and to sing psalms. The natives could not be induced to work to-day because one of them (Pretty boy) died this morning, on account of which they made their usual howl, and cut their heads in a dreadful manner with tomahawks or sharp stones. Soon afterwards they buried him near the river. Another man, from Family Island, has also died; but we could not learn how their death was occasioned, the natives say that the Noppes, a tribe to the south, near the Logan River, had bewitched them, and so caused their death. 

Tuesday 17. - Mr. Tillman went with a native to Brisbane Town for meat.. On the road he met the widow of Presytry, who had cut her thigh dreadfully, so that even with the help of a stick she could scarcely walk; and her voice had become so hoarse with crying that she could only whisper. The brethren planted corn in the swamp. 

Thursday, 19. - Another native, Gawanbill, has left this world; he had been suffering from a consumption for a considerable time back, but latterly he appeared to be stronger again. The natives had left their camp at Girkum from fear of the devil; and he had been left behind alone, having no relations, and thus died without any one bewailing him. Messrs. Nigue and Harteristein left with Wunkermany, Jemmy Millboong, and other natives, for the Ninge Ninge. They sent word to-day (Thursday) that they had spent two nights and one day at the Pine river; and desire to have an alphabet sent for keeping school with the native children. 

Week from the 21st to the 27th August. Children at school 2; 15 natives at work for the mission. The bullocks were lost again on the 20th; Mr. Rode went in search of them on the 23rd and the 26th, but without success. The natives have left us entirely; they have partly gone to the Ninge Ninge's; but it is the fear of the devil chiefly that has induced them to change their place of abode for a season. Mr. Zillmann was lately present when a boy asserted at Girkum that the devil was in one of the newly erected huts, upon which two or three old men were immediately horror struck, none of whom could be induced to approach the hut, which Mr. Z. wished to examine, that they might point out where the devil was; but they said that the white man could not see him. On Saturday last, on his return from Brisbane Town, Mr. Z. observed an old man and some women attentively listening and looking stealthily around as they were pursuing their path; now and then they stood still, and the old man climbed upon some tree or stump and looked about in the same manner. At first they would not return any answer to his questions; but when he persisted, they said they had perceived the devil in the neighbourhood. He then wished to see him; but they told him that he would not stand his sight, but flee from him. Mr. Rode also related that his brother, Dabianioonie, had promised to stay one day with him to finish some work, but that the next morning he came in a great hurry to say that he must immediately set out for his place, for he had seen the devil's track in the sand, which was a sure sign that his wife had died. They are thus kept in terrible bondage and fear of death by this prince of darkness, who doubtless has a strong sway in a place where his dominion has not been disputed. (To he concluded in our next.)