Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld - Missionary

Newcastle in 1825

Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld - State Library NSW

Rev. Lancelot Edward Threlkeld - State Library NSWRev. Lancelot Threlkeld made two voyages from Sydney to Newcastle in 1825, the first in January and the second in March, prior to moving with his family in May. He made the voyages on the cutter Lord Liverpool, the only vessel regularly visiting the settlement at that time. He was permitted to reside at the government cottage at Newcastle and remained there with his family until December 1825 before they moved to the Mission at Reid's Mistake.

After the introduction, the following articles printed in the Newcastle Morning Herald in 1912 relate to these first few months when the family resided at the Cottage at Newcastle -


The history of the foundation of the mission was given in brief form by the Rev. L.E. Threlkeld in a pamphlet which he issued a few years later, in order to vindicate himself in the eyes of the public, at a time when he thought he had not been fairly treated by the committee of the London Missionary Society. His statement in that pamphlet was as follows:

'On the 16th October 1814, I was directed to prepare for my future scene of labour in Africa, which was subsequently changed by the committee of the London Missionary Society for the South Sea Islands. Mr. Ellis and myself left England for Eimeo in January 1816 (on the
Atlas). The illness of Mrs. Threlkeld, and the death of our firstborn, detained us at Rio Janeiro; and in November, 1817, I landed, in company with Messrs. Bourne, Barff, Darling, Platt, and Williams on Eimeo. Mr. Williams and myself were co-adjutors at Raiatea until 1824, when the decease of Mrs. Threlkeld caused me to leave the islands for a season, intending to visit England in company with the deputation (Messrs. Tyerman and Bennet).

I sailed from the islands and landed in the colony August 1824. But no vessel was expected to sail quickly for Great Britain. Circumstances occurred that I married in the colony and intended to return to the islands. A day or two before the marriage Messrs. Tyerman and Bennet addressed me on the subject of a mission to the aborigines, to know if I would engage to conduct one at
Moreton Bay to which I consented, and readied accordingly. A variety of causes occasioned a change as to the site of the station and Moreton Bay was abandoned. I proposed to the deputation they being on the spot, that we should search for a suitable situation. On January 7 1825, we sailed to Newcastle, where upon inquiry we were informed that many natives often assembled at a place called Reid's Mistake, some 20 miles distant from Newcastle. The deputation obtained much information from the chaplain of the settlement but there was no suitable conveyance for them to visit the place. On their return to Sydney Messrs. Tyerman and Bennet wrote the following letter to the Governor:

'Sydney, January 20 1825 - To his Excellency Sir Thomas Brisbane K.C.B., Governor of New South Wales etc., Sir, Your Excellency is aware that we are anxiously desirous of finding an eligible situation in the colony at which to commence a mission to the aborigines in this country, to which we have devoted the Rev. Threlkeld with a view to instructing them in the great principles of Christianity, and the arts of civilised society. With this design, we have just paid a visit to Newcastle and its neighbourhood, and are satisfied that a place known as Reid's Mistake, situated about 15 miles to the southward of Newcastle is suitable to our purpose, on account of its being the resort of numerous tribes of the aboriginal natives, as well as from its local situation. We understand that the place to which we refer is neither surveyed nor appropriated, and we have to request the favour that your Excellency will signify your pleasure that the place which has been name may be reserved in trust for the use and benefit of the aboriginal natives; and also that the Rev. Mr. Threlkeld or any other missionary in connection with the London Missionary Society only, may be allowed to reside upon any portion of the said land that he may judge eligible who will immediately erect a house there, and reside among the natives with the view to the learning of their language as speedily as possible and prosecuting the great objects which we are assured meet with the benevolent views of your Excellency while they are highly important in the estimation of the British Government at home. With assurances of the highest consideration, we have etc., Daniel Tyerman, George Bennett'

In giving a record of these negotiations Mr. Threlkeld said: 'His Excellency was pleased to sent the following answer:

'Government House, Parramatta, January 26 1825, Gentlemen - I was unwilling to reply to your letter of the 20th instant until I had seen the Attorney General on the subject to which it was related. Having yesterday discussed it with that gentleman, I am now prepared to express my wish to meet your proposal in the fullest extent, in regard to the reservation of a certain tract of land, near Reid's Mistake, for the use and for the purpose of bettering the condition of the aborigines, in which I feel much interest; and shall be happy to afford the London Missionary Society as well as Rev. Mr. Threlkeld every protection during the period of his important and valuable experiment to civilise them. It therefore now remains for you to name what extent of land you consider will be requisite to be reserved in trust for these natives in order to enable me to take steps to give effect to the carrying on of the attempt, with the fine prospect of success; when I shall take the necessary steps to have the same surveyed and reserved, in order to its being appropriated accordingly and with every possible good wish in favour of the undertaking. I have etc. T. Brisbane.

The Rev. Mr. Tyerman and Mr. Bennet then wrote to the Rev. L.E. Threlkeld, as follows:

'The liberal promise which the Government in this country has given to the appropriation of a large portion of land for the use of the natives at Reid's Mistake and on which you will reside with your family, makes the way open and removes every impediment, so that you will proceed to your station there so soon as you can complete your previous arrangements and preparations. We think it advisable that you should take a house at the town of Newcastle for a short period, for the accommodation of your family while you will use your best endeavours to erect a suitable residence on some appropriate spot within the limits of the land which has been given. As to the best means of building such a house this will be left to your own discretion, the funds of the society being responsible for the expense. You will see that it is necessary to use all the economy which is convenient with domestic convenience and comfort. As a knowledge of the language of the natives must be regarded as essential to the success of your mission, you will deem it your duty while the house is in progress as well as after you have taken up your abode in it to be using your best endeavours to acquire a knowledge of it while it will greatly facilitate the progress of your work to make yourself familiar with their customs, superstitions and habits'

'The deputation urged me', the old missionary writes, 'to go down again to Newcastle and see the spot, which was not before effected. I proposed that another person should accompany me to view the land, being myself perfectly ignorant of agricultural pursuits, and in March we sailed for Newcastle. When we landed the rain after a drought of some months set in, and detained us nearly three weeks at an inn, without....opportunity of visiting Lake Macquarie, at a spot totally unfit for a residence. Notwithstanding this disappointment, a long range of mountains a vast sheet of water and its isolated situation characterised the place as suitable provided employment could be given to the natives to induce them to assemble on some more suitable part on the margin of the lake.

On our return to Sydney it was deemed most advantageous to procure a house at Newcastle, from which place journeys could be more easily performed to Lake Macquarie in order to ascertain the most suitable site for a missionary establishment. The importance of the knowledge of the arts of husbandry, to grow the produce for our consumption in a place to which no conveyance could be effected but by the open sea through a dangerous bar, induced me to address the deputation on the subject of engagement of someone for that work. However, in consequence of a communication I received from the deputation, the person I wished to engage was not engaged

Pastors and Priests in the Hunter Valley

Rev. Threlkeld's First Few Months in Newcastle

16th September the aborigines met to decide by mortal combat some disagreement; and, unfortunately, they chose the scene of action close to our house, just at a period when quietness was most needed, in the family circumstances. Many of them assembled and some were intoxicated. Their shouts, noise, clatter of spears and shields, with the loud whish of a weapon they throw in the air, were exceedingly annoying. But though they were highly enraged at my request, they departed and shortly afterwards they dispersed. Three of their number were wounded in the encounter. (This was the day of the birth of daughter Elizabeth Sophie)

October 31st, the aborigines from the Main River, Sugarloaf Mountain, Port Stephens and other parts, assembled to punish a man. The occasion was the supposition that he had killed a man by his conjuring skill as a doctor. The persons who were to throw the spears were naked, painted red, their hair decorated with the down of the black swan. They advance, pretend to throw a spear, then a crooked piece of wood, then brandish their bludgeons, held a spear in their left hand, and using every act to arouse the opposing party who attend to stop fairplay. If my information is correct, this mode of punishment is a kind of retribution, similar to our ancient tournaments which were witnessed by the fair sex with so much interest. The black ladies also take a lively interest in these scenes, and occasionally becoming a party concerned. A few spears were thrown at the man, and it afforded me much pleasure to observe them disappearing without injury, save the broken head of one female, upon whom an angry husband now had the opportunity of venting his displeasure in a forcible manner. The aborigines informed me of the meeting, but I told them that I would not attend, as I would not countenance them fighting. I told them that it was wrong, and I urged them not to engage in it. Whether my attitude and remarks had any effect in preventing a general conflict, it is difficult to ascertain.

5th November - A terrible screaming among the aborigines alarmed us this evening, and I ran out to see what was the cause. I saw a man beating his own mother dreadfully with a cudgel, and two or three women were endeavouring to avert his blows. I halloaed to him, but he was pale with rage, foamed at the mouth and was much intoxicated. He began again, striking a blow on the woman's skull, which laid it open, and her on the ground. I ordered him to desist, but he began once more. I expostulated with him, and threatened to turn him out of our fence. Again he attempted to renew his unmerciful attack; the cudgel was lifted up ready for the blow but I wrested the weapon from his hand, and ordered him to sit down. He listened squatted down by the fire, placed his head on his arms, resting on his knees, and appeared to be perfectly spent with rage. The poor woman lay stretched upon the ground before the fire, not dead, but stunned. Many men were sitting round, but not one of them interfered. Had they done so, punishment would have been inflicted, it is said. On inquiring the reason of this paroxysm of fury I found that it arose from the death of the girl before alluded to who was his sister, and of whom he was very fond. The fact that his mother had not sent for him when his sister was at the point of death, had enraged him, and this being the first time of seeing her since the sister's death, together wit him being intoxicated, occasioned the fray. On the following day his brother asked Mr. Threlkeld if I was very angry with the man, and what I was going to do with him.. Mrs Threlkeld informed him that I was grieved at his conduct, and would talk to him about it. The next day after this, the same brother came into the room, bowing very low, and saying, Sir, make it up with that man, this time, if you please; he is very sorry. The offender was requested to appear himself. He advanced, looking very much cast down. After endeavouring to make him understand my meaning he promised to get his mother a kangaroo next day and giving each one a pipe of tobacco, they departed pleased. [2]

7th November - On Monday night, 7th November, the natives came to me just as the sun had changed the shadows to blue, to say that the ceremony preparatory to the knocking out of the teeth of some of the young men - who by that operation are rendered fit to enter the married state - was about to take place. They pointed out to me the doctor or priest - perhaps more properly, the conjuror, as he completely deceives the natives, pretending that he has long bones inside of him, which Koon had given him, and which are used as punches to punch out the tooth. Koon is the name of the being who made the first man, but what is their precise idea of this spirit I have not as yet ascertained.

This mystic bone would have made its appearance out of the conjuror this evening, but the party from Port Stephens not having arrived, it condescended to remain where it was. After the ceremony had been performed, an aborigine informed me very gravely that the korarje had many bones within him that he came from the mountains and had been up with the fire in the sky (the comet) in fact, was a most wonderful man. I asked the man: 'Did you ever see a bone come out of him?' 'no,' was the reply; 'he goes into the bush and Koen give it to him. 'No person it appears is ever allowed to see the bone making its appearance.

The ceremony performed was after this fashion: About 20 men stood at the extremity of a circle, formed in the grass, 38ft in diameter. Every particle of vegetation was removed from within the ring and in the centre a small hillock was raised, where the mystical bone was to be used. The men stood at equal distances from each other in the circle and they wheeled round on their heels on a pivot, towards each other right and left, with their elbows on their hips; then with the right arm extended horizontally, and the left leg of each man swinging over the right foot at every turn. They then ran and shouted, meeting each other in the centre of the circle and the shout ending in a shrill scream.

Their frequent running forward in this manner appeared to increase the size of the hillock of sand in the centre by the shuffling of their feet. They next ran upon all fours from the extremity of the ring at the same time barking like dogs, until they met at the centre where they set up a genuine howl, which would have been mistaken for the howling of dogs if heard at a little distance. The next movement was that of reassuming the character of men. They walked from the extremity to the centre pretending to eat, one corn, another kangaroo, another fish etc., concluding the action with a shout. Whether they thought that this was not sufficiently characteristic of the human species remains to be discovered ; but they proceeded to give another and unerring description of the being whom they wished to represent. The whole of the party scouted off into the bush where one gathered a long stalk of grass, another a twig, another a little bit of bark etc., Then they all took their parts at the extremity of the ring. The most amazing attitudes were then displayed, the air rang with their shouts, the sham weapons were brandished, the blades of grass were poised, the twigs were ready to be thrown and they advanced in double quick time to the centre, where they met and discharged their weapons in each other's faces, shouting vehemently at the same time. They then formed into a company, four abreast and ran and jumped in exact time, shouting in every part of the circle driving the enemy away, and exalting in victory. The whole afforded them much laughter and sport.

The last ray of the setting sun was now barely visible in the west and the ceremony ended. The korarje standing by was pointed out to me. The bone was nearly out of him, they said, but would not come quite out that evening, as more ceremonies had to performed ere that event took place. Expressing my views on the subject the reply was, 'Massa, you know blackfellow no tell lies'.[3]

16th November - About ten o'clock on the night of 16th November, all of the aborigines came, requesting my attendance at a little distance in the bush, where the two korarje (medicine men) were waiting to exhibit the bones, as they would bring them forth that night. In vain was the unreasonableness of the hour urged, and a request made to defer the matter until the morning light. No' you come, massa, and see it. Not long. Come now. It must be in the dark' Most certainly was my reply; lest it should be discovered in the light. Well massa you no believe you come you see. You know all about it then. They led the way; I followed.

The moon shed its silvery light, darkened every now and then by thick dense clouds, The wind whistled among the tops of the high trees and through the scrub. The distant roar of the ocean dashing on the sandy beach; the black linked figures stalking before me, streaked a little with pipeclay, to make the blackness more visible, raised sensations pleasing yet strange. A few minutes brought us to some fires which were blazing briskly, amidst the crackling thorns, surrounded by beings who were standing, squatting, or lying around, warming themselves at the cheerful blaze. The numerous half starved wretched looking dogs set up a cry at our approach and were with difficulty silence. The men, women, children, and dogs formed a company the picture of misery.

Preparations were now commenced for the ceremony, and their few vestiges of raimont, tattered and torn, were deposited in care of the women as being cumbersome to those taking part in the ceremony. They stood, for the principal part completely naked; and although our English friends may start at the ideal of men and women going about naked, it is so common in this colony as to be scarcely noticed. It is an annoyance that will not be removed, I apprehend until a change is effected in the ideas of the aborigines. The men proceeded to the ring which has already been described, shouting and singing. The old men held up a shield, and beat time on it with a stick - this is all the music that they have - and chanting a pleasant chant. Then 'In the midst of a shout, in ran the two korarjes one of them on all fours, the other with a stick supporting himself and resting every minute with his chin upon the short stick; and thus forming when he ran a figure on threes instead of fours, a few manoeuvres were executed in the ring, and then one of them fell down flat on his back, motionless and stretched out as if he were dead. The other placed himself on threes, resting on his head. The group of men stood over him looking in an attentive manner. The old man quickened his taps on the shields, the chant was in a loud tone and then the whole of them paused

Up started the prostrate one; away followed after him the one on threes; the shouting an dancing proceeded, and all appeared lively and joyous. Once again the man fell prostrate; again the same ceremony was repeated; a groan burst from the prostrate one; then he started up, and around he went in the mystic maze. The women gathered the sticks, the children lighted the first, and the fathers were busily employed watching for the appearance of the bone. For the third time torpor seized upon the man, and a louder groan burst from him. A gentle tapping on the shield seemed to arouse him and gain the dance was resumed with the greatest vehemence.

At the time of greatest exertion on the part of the dancers the two korarjes leaped out of the ring and ran off into the bush and the group of men sat down inside the extremity of the circle. The grass and the bushes collected around the outside of the circle were not put into a blaze, and the whole of those present were waiting expectantly. The bone was coming out, I was informed; but this event was taking place in the bush, and no one must go near. After a few moments had elapsed a loud blow on the ground announced in the bush that they were coming back again. The group of men struck the ground and shouted in answer to the korarjes. Another blow was heard from the bush, and it was answered again by the party in the ring. I was directed to find out which way they were coming. Here? No. There? no. Another thump on the ground point out the line of approach.

The women rose, the children screamed, the dogs barked, and then the two men were perceived at a little distance jumping like frogs. The noise of thumping on the ground was made by their feet, occasioned by them leaping as far as they could in the frog fashion. All present pointed out to me the bone, which was held between the teeth, and used as a horn might be being pushed from side to side as they approached the blaze. I saw that one was about three feet long the other about half that length. In appearance they were like hazle rod, pealed and marked with black marks, as though done with fire. They jumped in the frog fashion, after the men, women and children the first named enjoying the sport, and the women and children running away screaming and apparently alarmed.

This performance continued for some minutes, and made the matter appear more like a scene of hilarity than one of superstition. Standing one side for their approach, to ascertain more closely the wonderful bones, my expectation was frustrated by their darting off suddenly into the bush with a loud shout. The whole party now burst into every demonstration of joy. They ran from side to side of the circle, driving away, apparently something from them with loud acclamations. This ended the ceremony. I asked to be allowed to look at the bones, but was informed that no one could see them, as they were within the flesh of the two korarjes until again required. I inquired how they came there in the first place and the reply was, Devil-Devil give it to them. However, I have since ascertained that the general belief is that Koen who made the first man gave them the bones 'devil-devil' being only an English phrase, which they had picked up and wrongly applied';. - [4]

Notes and Links

Arrival of Rev. Threlkeld and his eldest son in Sydney in on the Endeavour in November 1824

Lost Threlkeld Manuscript

Obituary of Rev. Thelkeld 1859 - Sydney Morning Herald

Cottage Creek

Rev. Threlkeld's Windmill -
Rev. Threlkeld's Windmill struck by Lightening..... On Sunday the 24th September at noon during divine service, a sudden terrible explosion took place over the dwelling house of the Rev Lancelot Threlkeld, living at Lake Macquarie. The electric fluid shivered the post of a small windmill erected but a few yards from the house, scattering the splinters to a considerable distance. A small iron pin in the vane attracted the lightening although the fans of the mill were much higher, the staff was broken and the fluid parted in its descent through the steel mill without doing it injury, but the post to which the mill was attached was rent from top to the bottom, nearly twenty feet. Providentially no personal injury was sustained. There was no storm of thunder or rain, either before or after the clap. Only very distant thunder was heard. Sydney Herald 2nd October 1837


[1] Newcastle Morning Herald 24 July 1912

[2] Newcastle Morning Herald 11 September 1912

[3] Newcastle Morning Herald 18 September 1912

[4] Newcastle Morning Herald 25 September 1912