State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 71 Autumn 2003


Charles Joseph La Trobe. ‘The Last’, 1854. Pen and pencil sketch. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Collection on loan to the La Trobe Picture Collection.

Charles Joseph La Trobe. ‘The Elephant and the great Plains’, 1847. Pencil and sepia wash. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Collection on loan to the La Trobe Picture Collection.


Robert Kenny
La Trobe, Lake Boga and the ‘Enemy of Souls’
The First Moravian Mission in Australia

The Moravian Church, although small, occupies a seminal place in the histories of both the English Evangelical movement and the Protestant ‘Mission to the Heathen'. In the early eighteenth century, it pioneered mission activity amongst the newly colonised peoples of the New World from its headquarters at Herrnhut, Saxony, and gained a reputation for tenacity, inspiring other Protestant Churches, particularly in Britain, to enter the field.1 But its influence was more fundamental than that: it was contact with the Moravian Church which kindled the fire in John Wesley and thus the establishment of Methodism and the British Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century.2 Most prominent amongst the British Moravian families were the La Trobes. Benjamin La Trobe, Charles Joseph's grandfather, became the leading Moravian in Britain and, as J.C.S. Mason has shown, a major influence on the establishment of British missionary societies.3
From very early in Australia's settler history, the Moravian Church had been interested in a mission to the Aborigines of New Holland. Yet it was not until the late 1840s that a mission was proposed in the Port Phillip District at Lake Boga just south of the Murray River near Swan Hill. The establishment and location of that mission were the direct consequence of Charles Joseph La Trobe's position as Superintendent of the District and that of his brother in London. Peter La Trobe was secretary of the Moravian Church there and as such co-ordinated all Moravian activity in areas under British control. But while Lake Boga began with promise, support and patronage — it had been seen as the greatest chance to reverse all the previous failure of attempts at missions to Aborigines — the mission closed after only five years, its failure the result of the personalities of the missionaries and of changes in the Colony, but also the result of Charles Joseph La Trobe's departure from the first Governorship of the new Colony of Victoria.


The Moravian Church originated in the old kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia amongst followers of the pre-Luther reformer Jan Huss, who died at the stake in Prague in 1415 for advocating, amongst other things, that the Gospel be preached in the vernacular. The Church managed to survive Roman Catholic persecution until the Reformation, but even then its members found themselves often exiled, called back, and exiled again from their homelands. In 1722, Nicholas, Count Zinzendorf,
offered them refuge on his estate in Saxony. Others too found refuge there: German Pietists persecuted by established Lutheran Churches. Zinzendorf, a Lutheran minister of Pietist persuasion, managed to unite these hitherto discordant communities and on the 12 August 1727 a spiritual firing welded them into the Renewed United Brethren, commonly known as the Moravian Church.4
From the Pietist tradition Zinzendorf inherited an anti-dogmatic approach to religion.5 He also believed profoundly in the exhortation from the Gospel of Matthew: ‘Go out and teach all the World’, and his vision of an Ecumenical Evangelical ‘Mission to the Heathen’ of the world came to dominate in this renewed church.6 The village that grew up with the United Brethren in Saxony came to be called Herrnhut — ‘the watch of the Lord’ — and from it Zinzendorf and his Church went out into the world. The first missionaries left in 1732, a moment seen by many ‘as the beginning of the world wide missionary movement.'7 Zinzendorf spent some time in England and, under authority of the British Government, mainly sent missionaries to British colonies and possessions.
A major field of Moravian activity was amongst the slaves and ex-slaves of the West Indies.8 British Evangelicals, along with Quakers, played the major role in the British anti-slavery movements but the Moravians were never overt supporters of these movements. Politically their ‘quietist’ acceptance of the world meant they could not interfere in issues of State. (The point at which John Wesley disagreed with them.)9 But while they played no overt role in the anti-slavery movement, covertly many Moravians gave practical support to the movement.10
Moravians liked to imagine their field of activity as among ‘the outcastes of men',11 spreading the Word to the furthest ends of the Earth, to the most destitute and degraded, reputed to succeed where all others failed. It may seem surprising, then, that by 1848 they had not attempted an Australian mission. In fact, a mission to ‘the Natives of New Holland’ had been a ‘long-cherished object’ for the Moravians12 and others had long been keen for them to establish it. In the early 1830s Major Irwin had written from the Swan River Colony asking the Committee of the London Association in Aid of the Moravian Missions (the London Committee) to establish a mission at that new colony, and in 1837 George Grey appealed for a mission in South Australia.13 However, in 1841 the Mission Board at Herrnhut replied to a request from the London Committee to embark on a Mission to Australia by declaring it was in no position to do so, as worthy as such a project would be, ‘because of the pressure of financial embarrassment'.14 The London Committee tried again in 1844, citing one reason for reconsideration as ‘the very gratifying fact which they cannot but hope may be a providential opening for the promotion of the object in view, viz. — the appointment of a member of the Moravian Church truly interested in the success of its mission to one of the Governments in Australia (Mr Chas. Jos. La Trobe) who had himself expressed a wish that Missionaries should be sent to the tribes frequenting the neighbourhood of Port Phillip.'15
Again the Mission Board felt compelled by circumstances to decline the invitation. This signalled no lack of interest amongst the Brethren. ‘[Z]ealous single
Brethren’ (as Peter La Trobe called them)16 ‘felt impelled’ to go to this most distant and exotic land. They formed ‘Australian Associations’ in their German towns to keep alive interest and work to carry out a Mission to the natives of New Holland.17 In 1848, their devotion was answered.
That year — ‘when the Continent was so seriously convulsed by violence and bloodshed'18 — the Church of the United Brethren held a General Synod at Herrnhut. Delegates from England, the United States, Russia, Holland, Denmark and, of course, Germany braved the upheavals of the Continent to attend the Synod, one of a series that supplemented the authority of the Church Elders.19 Partly in response to the upheaval in Europe, and partly because it now realised that the American and British branches of the church were as important as the German, especially as sources of finance, the Synod felt a need to reinvigorate its missionary effort.20 It resolved to commence, at last, a Mission ‘among the Natives of New Holland'. The London Committee was informed:

Revd Peter La Trobe (1795-1863). Photograph courtesy of the Moravian Archive at Herrnhut.

We have been encouraged by several circumstances of a favourable character, which we could not help considering as intimations from the Lord Himself, to comply with the invitation — which your respected Committee has more than once addressed to us, relative to the commencement of a mission amongst the natives of New Holland. It might indeed be presumption in us, to attempt anything for the spiritual benefit of a race, on whom, not a few of our Christian Brethren of other Societies have already appeared to spend their labour and their strength in vain. Nevertheless, we should consider ourselves chargeable with unfaithfulness, were we to disregard the providential leadings and directions of that Lord, with whom it is nothing to help…21
The United Brethren had long held deep respect for signs which might be ‘leadings and directions’ from the Lord.22 The God the Moravians knew was a God still active in history. But what intimations from the Lord encouraged them in 1848 to enter the missionary field in Australia after so much delay, and with ‘no time to lose'?23 One was certainly Charles Joseph La Trobe's position. There was never any doubt that if
the Moravians chose to begin a Mission to Australia it would be located in the district of Port Phillip, no matter what appeals came from the other colonies. Peter La Trobe wrote to the Mission Board at Herrnhut in 1844:
Of course if any attempt is made by our church I would wish it to be made under the auspices of one on whose co-operation we could rely, and who has a personal acquaintance with our missionary work. I have more than once of late reminded [my brother] of the wish which he has occasionally expressed, and urged him to give me his ideas and proposals.24
Yet, in 1848, Superintendent La Trobe's position was not a new intimation. However, the year before he had ‘in consequence of instructions from Home, transmitted through the Governor in Sydney’ set aside five reserves of Crown Land — under the new Orders-in-Council, March 1847 — ‘to be definitively turned to account or not, as the interests of the native population might demand.'25 There is a simple note amongst the Moravian Archives at Herrnhut; it is unsigned but the hand looks very like C.J. La Trobe's. Headed ‘Port Phillip’, it details ‘Reserves of land maintained, i.e., exempted from lease… in obedience of instructions from the Home government’ and dated 1847. Topping this list of five reserves is ‘Lake Boga, Murray River, 25 sq. Miles'. That land which could accommodate a mission was now clearly available, land with favourable resources of water and soil, may have been one new ‘leading’ for those in Herrnhut.
Another may have been the appointment, in that same year, of the very Evangelical Charles Perry to the Anglican See of Melbourne, the settlement's first Bishop (itself seen as a portent of Separation from NSW).26 Perry became almost immediately a close friend to La Trobe in Melbourne.27 They shared much in religious conviction and preoccupations — ‘[the Bishop] has I find german blood in his veins’, La Trobe wrote to his brother.28 Perry had been appointed Bishop of Melbourne on the suggestion of Henry Venn, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in London.29 Such a figure proved a great supporter of a mission.
But one of the most intriguing aspects of the Moravian decision to begin a mission in Port Phillip is how closely it coincided with the decision to finally abandon the Port Phillip Protectorate. La Trobe's support of the scheme, foisted upon him by London, had been ambivalent from the beginning. He had always believed that the task of alleviating the misery and oppression of the Aborigines was best done by missionaries; and no doubt, as a member of a Moravian family with a prestigious engagement in Mission (who had himself thought of a career as a missionary), he believed that the United Brethren would be the most suitable missionaries.30 The letter from his brother cited above testifies to his desire for a Moravian mission in Port Phillip. The year after the Moravian decision, the Protectorate was finally abandoned, but the likelihood of that abandonment was something La Trobe would have been well aware of the preceding year and therefore it may have been known to the delegates in Herrnhut. It is possible that the decisions cross-pollinated each other, with the Moravians understanding that a decision to
abandon the Protectorate would be most likely if they decided to establish a mission. The advantage would be that reserves that might be associated with the Protectorate could now be assigned to the mission, as could any sympathy and public support. It is too much of a coincidence that the Moravians should arrive at the beginning of the year after the Protectorate was abandoned.


Whatever the ‘leadings and directions’ were, the Mission Board at Herrnhut now moved with ‘no time to lose'. Two young Brethren were ‘appointed to engage in this interesting but arduous enterprise’: Brother Andrew Frederick Charles Taeger of Niesky (the Moravian seminary), ‘a member of the Australian Association in that settlement’ and an ordained minister, and Brother Frederich W. Spieseke, then a lay missionary, of Gnodenberg.31 They embarked for London in August 1849 and from there set sail to Port Phillip with a letter of recommendation to ‘Brother Ch. J. La Trobe'.32 La Trobe promised the London Committee and the Mission Board, as he had promised his brother five years before, that he would give the missionaries his every assistance. And assist he did. If ‘assist’ is strong enough a word: from the moment Brethren Taeger and Spieseke disembarked in Port Phillip, they acted in accordance with La Trobe's ‘suggestions’, ‘recommendations’ and ‘advice'. There is no evidence that they acted independently of such direction, at least not until they actually occupied the Lake Boga site in late 1851. (By then La Trobe was preoccupied: the District of Port Phillip had become the Colony of Victoria, with La Trobe its Lieutenant-Governor, and somebody had discovered it possessed a good proportion of the earth's gold.)
The missionaries’ deference to La Trobe is understandable — he was brother to their immediate superior in London as well as the highest official in the district. La Trobe confessed ‘more than common interest'33 in the project. He visited the La Boga site in January 1850, on the eve of Taeger's and Spieseke's arrival, in the company of the squatter Archibald Campbell who was then on a run called Ganawarra, near Lake Boga. La Trobe wrote later: ‘the examination of the locality and its neighbourhood led me to consider, at the time, that it was far from unfavourable to the attainment of the object in view.'34 And so the site of the mission was decided.
In February, the missionaries arrived and were ‘edified by the truly evangelical disposition of the Bishop.'35 In early April La Trobe wrote to his brother: ‘They have on my advice remained till this time in Melbourne and will Winter at the Aboriginal Station on the Loddon'. The ‘Station on the Loddon’ was Edward Stone Parker's, who until the year before had been an Assistant-Protector. There, La Trobe continued, ‘they will see something of the natives — learn something of one of their principal Dialects — & at least get some insight into the character of their work & future prospects.'36 Taeger and Spieseke left Melbourne on 11 April 1850 and stayed some months with Parker, their ‘valued friend’, endeavouring to learn the language and
habits of the ‘Papus’ peoples.37 They reported that the surrounding settlers showed them ‘much kindness’, which was not a portent of things to come,38 and the Revd Lloyd Chase, the Evangelical Anglican most involved in missionary activity, visited the station while they were there.39 But they did not stay the whole winter: on 7 June, at La Trobe's direction, they left the Loddon and headed north to the Lake Boga area, to reside at Archibald Campbell's run Ganawarra.
While at Ganawarra the missionaries’ spirits were high, despite contact with the Aborigines of the area having little positive to commend it. The Aboriginal peoples in the vicinity lived in association with the pastoral stations, sometimes working at them, often begging for food, interacting with passing travellers. The stories told by the missionaries are of battles and beatings, of young girls offered to passing Europeans for tobacco and spirits, of Aboriginal men too tired to work, and, of course, of disease — if these last two were related it did not occur to the missionaries. Only in January 1851 did they actually visit Lake Boga itself to choose a site, on ‘the south-east side’, on which to build their mission house.40
In June they travelled to Melbourne to attend a meeting at the Mechanics’ Institute Hall in support of the mission. La Trobe occupied the Chair, Bishop Perry opened the meeting with prayer, and the crowd spilled from the hall down the staircase and into the lobby. The first motion proposed that the meeting be adjourned to a larger venue, ‘the interest [being] so great upon the subject'. La Trobe rejected it as impracticable.41 Taeger addressed the meeting, apologising for his poor English, and explaining that he had been concentrating on the Aboriginal language. It was much richer a language than he had anticipated and he had the ambition to begin translating the Scriptures by the end of the year. But it was disease, Taeger told the meeting, which was the most pressing concern, disease that the Aborigines were certain had come with the Europeans. ‘It was incredible what they suffered,’ said Taeger. He described four-year-old children with ‘their flesh entirely corrupted'. For this reason he called upon all present to assist the mission as much as they could. As the meeting closed it was obvious that all present expected the mission would now survive with local support, and not have to draw on the Moravian resources in England and Germany.42
The Elders at Hernnhut believed there was no time to lose in establishing a mission in Australia, but Taeger and Spieseke were a long time in Port Phillip before they occupied a station at Lake Boga.43 Almost 12 months elapsed before they chose the site, and not until April 1851 did they receive, from Government House, Sydney, a positive response allowing them to build ‘on the South side of Lake Boga’ (interestingly, in light of subsequent confusions, the reply from Sydney took care to point out they were building the mission on Crown Land set aside ‘for the advantage of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Murray District.')44 Another six months elapsed — October 1851 — before a building was ready for them to occupy at Lake Boga.
There was great support for the mission initially. In the excerpts from diaries and letters published in the Moravian press, in the reports of the religious and
secular press in Melbourne, in the letters and reports amongst the archives, there is no suggestion before the June meeting that the settler community had anything but support for it. The Argus devoted a full page to the 30 June meeting. But the good citizens, officials and clergy of Melbourne who met on that night at the end of June, met on the eve of sharp change. Next day, official separation of the Colony of Victoria from New South Wales would be proclaimed. And already, north-west of Melbourne, prospectors were digging up gold: within days the rush would begin in earnest and the pastoral district of Port Phillip become the Golden Victoria.
How many of those gathered in the Mechanics’ Hall remained at their jobs over the following months we cannot know for certain, but many would have deserted jobs and homes to go to the fields (in an effort to stop civil servants doing so the Government twice raised their pay before the end of the year). Many no doubt forgot promised subscriptions to a mission for the Aborigines. Victoria's population trebled in the next three years. Most came from overseas, but the colonies without gold, in particular Van Diemen's Land and South Australia, lost half their population. South Australia responded with the Bullion Act, enabling it to buy gold at better prices than the exchanges in Melbourne were offering, saving the South Australian economy from collapse. It became the grain and food supplier to Victoria, which could not feed its expanding population.45 This would have critical consequences for the Station being built on the south shore of Lake Boga.


While La Trobe decided on the area of Lake Boga, it was the missionaries themselves who chose the exact location of the mission compound. From the moment Taeger and Spieseke occupied the newly-built log house they regretted its position: ‘it is too near the high road which obliges us to surround it with a fence… [or] we shall frequently be exposed to interruptions & disturbances.'46 A winter road ran adjacent to the mission's south-east boundary, but within the 364 acres assigned to the mission ran a summer road, impassable in winter wet, but the quicker route for dry summer. (See map p. 104) Fencing the boundary would protect the mission from interruption from the high road but close the summer road completely. Conflict between the settlers and missionaries centred on this road. Conflict which — ostensibly — killed the mission.
But not until June 1855 did Taeger begin seriously to build the fence. This delay is partly explained by the uncertainty Taeger felt over the tenure of the land. While La Trobe remained Lieutenant-Governor the missionaries could rely on his authority, but they had nothing in hand to show the nature of their tenancy to those who ‘trespassed’ in summer. La Trobe himself remained uncertain how to formalise the arrangement. He wrote to his brother in December 1853 explaining his difficulties: he could not grant the land to the missionaries since it was on an Aboriginal Reserve, and leases under the then law could not be given for more than 12 months
except for pastoral purposes.47 He decided in the end to ‘give them, what will be tantamount, full holding’ by ‘formal letter from the Colonial Secretaries Office'.48 Such a letter was sent in January 1854.49 It gave the Moravians ‘undisturbed and unquestioned’ occupancy of the land while they continued the mission. Still Taeger did not commence a fence. He confined himself to disputing the rights of those who used the summer road.
The traffic on the road was increasing. Sometimes herds of cattle would be driven along it, often carts. But Taeger and Spieseke had visited the site in summer: why hadn't they foreseen this problem? And why had not La Trobe and Campbell recognised the danger when they inspected the site in 1850? The answer is gold, and the commerce with South Australia. As La Trobe explained in 1856:
I travelled in 1850 the ordinary track … there was very little passage; but it was otherwise two years later, when it became one of the lines of communication between Adelaide and the goldfields… I saw reason to regret that the Brethren had been induced to sit down precisely where they did. Even supposing that their fencing had been quite out of the way of interference with public traffic, real or imaginary, the locality had so thoroughly changed its character.50
Land and fences became Taeger's obsession. Armed with the letter from the Colonial Secretary, he demanded that the summer road not be used and that the intrusions and trespasses be ended. He also wrote to the Government asking that the land allotted to the mission be extended; whether he wanted an additional 640 acres or the land allotted extended to 640 acres is a matter of some confusion, as was the position of the additional land.51 The purpose of the additional land is also a matter of confusion. The

Map of the Moravian Mission At Lake Boga

only possible reason was that Taeger thought additional land would protect the mission from intrusion. It certainly was not land Taeger had use for. In 1853 he refused an offer of a flock of sheep, sheep that La Trobe believed could be used as product to be sold and as food. The Lieutenant-Governor did not understand Taeger's refusal.52
When travellers did not desist, Taeger organised that a fence be built. The local settler Keene had his men remove part of it even before it was finished. Taeger went to the local magistrate armed with his letter from La Trobe. At first the magistrate decided in favour of Taeger, but then realising that the fence blocked a right of way that had had continual usage for over 10 years, he ordered the missionaries to pull down the fence. Taeger saw this as further evidence that the settlers and local authorities were working against the mission. Taeger headed for Melbourne. Soon after he left the local Police Inspector arrived and began to dismantle the fence.
Taeger, and his fellow-missionaries — he and Spieseke had been joined by Brother Hanson, earlier that year — could not understand why, if the mission had the right to undisturbed and unquestioned occupancy, settlers, drovers and merchants would still use it, particularly since they had recourse to the high road, the road around the mission. If the cultural divide between European and Aborigine is always evident in this frontier, what we find in Taeger's difficulties is the cultural divide between English and German, between Common Law heritage and Civil Law certainty. A matter the London Committee recognised in its review of the collapse of the mission:
[the missionaries] were foreigners … unacquainted with English laws and customs, ignorant of the extreme jealousy with which every infringement of popular rights, even in the matter of a foot-path, is wont to be resisted among us.53
The summer road was a right of way consecrated by usage. In 1850 it may have been a little-used track, but it was used. Taeger did not realise that even freehold possession did not give him legal right to block it. In Melbourne he waited for nine weeks for a decision, a decision he demanded to be in his favour.54 It did not come. On May 16 1856, Taeger arrived back at the mission and announced to his surprised colleagues that ‘having been unsuccessful in his appeal he had seen no other course, than to announce to the Government, that the Mission would be broken up.’ On 27 May the missionaries packed their possessions on to two ox-wagons and left for Melbourne.55


Although the summer road became the focus of the mission's difficulty, evidence of the real cause of pessimism can be found early in the mission diary. ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’ the missionaries wrote in early 1852,56 sentiments to be echoed in the first months of Ebenezer, the Moravians’ subsequent mission in the Wimmera. But no young men came to build a hut at Lake Boga as they would at Ebenezer, and any contact with the Aborigines of the area remained fleeting until its last year; even then there was never sign of the ‘Lord at work'. If the Aborigines performed work for
the mission — such as building the fence — they did so for pay.57 In this the mission was not distinguishable from the pastoral stations around them. From its beginning until 1855 there is little in the mission diary or the reports and letters from Lake Boga to induce optimism. Phrases such as ‘our prospects continue to be gloomy'58 predominate, and there is only occasional mention of Aborigines visiting the station. Attempts to introduce the Word — of which there are few mentioned — fell on stone. When the Aborigines Hamilton, Tommy and Boney, who were employed to build the fence, asked for leave to visit Hamilton's dying brother, the missionaries took the opportunity to point out that belief in the Saviour would cure the fear of death. Hamilton and the others replied ‘that they were afraid of death’, prompting the Moravians to comment:
When we speak to them about our Saviour, they generally listen quietly, admonish those who are inclined to be noisy, and not unfrequently put out their tongues (in token approbation), saying ‘Good story!’ yet, hitherto, no permanent impression is perceptible.59
The missionaries believed early that forces were at work against them and that the natives treated them warily because of them. One day a group asked Taeger and Spieseke if they were ‘likewise’ to the ones who had been before. The missionary understood it as ‘a reference to some act of oppression of the past’, but had only allusions to its nature. Whatever this case may have been, they were certain that local settlers turned the Aborigines against them, misrepresenting the mission's intentions. The theme is a constant refrain in their letters and diary: ‘Europeans hinder our progress’ (July 1852), ‘some European settlers keep natives from visiting our station’ (January 1853), ‘Aborigines prejudiced by insinuation’ (February 1854). The insinuations included that the missionaries meant to do their children harm.60 The London Committee and the Mission Board at Herrnhut could well believe this situation. Like the Aborigines Protection Society, the Moravian Church understood that the Aborigines were ‘a race disappearing due to aggression of the white man'61 and concluded: ‘…those of the colonists who were opposed to the Mission rendered [the missionaries'] position yet more difficult by slanders by which they endeavoured to prejudice the natives against the Brethren.'62
By 1855 the mission's persistence began to undermine the slanders and some families did take up more or less permanent residence on the reserve. But it was too little, too late; none built huts or houses and none showed signs of the Lord at work. Hamilton and others did imitate the missionaries and plant a garden, a patch of pumpkins, and the station becomes ‘a meeting place for different tribes on this and the other side of the Murray'.63 Spieseke wrote in December 1855: ‘I wish I could tell of the conversion of at least one of the poor natives, but, as yet, the favour has not been vouchsafed to us, of tracing the operation of the Holy Spirit on any of them.’ Therefore, Spieseke continued,
We must ask you … to continue with us in the exercise of faith and patience, until the Lord's hour has arrived. Nevertheless, I think we have reason to rejoice at what the Lord
has already done for us. I confess, that considering that there are not many natives still remaining, and that the enemy of the cross of Christ has used every exertion to hinder our work, I had not expected to have already come in contact with so many of these poor creatures.
Despite his claim that there be reason to rejoice, there is a defeatism in this writing. It rejoices at too little. It indicates no great Faith and shows the infirmity of the mission's heart. It shows, too, how the Moravians saw what they were up against.
Satan lay behind Lake Boga's trouble. Whatever temporal considerations motivated settler antagonisms, the Moravians were in no doubt as to what forces moved in the depths behind these motivations. As Heathen with the stain of sin unlifted by Baptism or the touch of Grace, the Aborigines were in Satan's grip and, with the mission, ‘the enemy of souls… feared he should lose his power over these poor people'.64 The Enemy ‘marshalled all his forces for a decisive attack.'65 But Satan's chief agents were not the Aborigines, they were the settlers, turning the Aborigines against them, intruding upon the mission, tearing down fences, stealing produce. The settlers acted on behalf of Satan, yet they could not in the end be held responsible for the mission's collapse. The Moravian Elders in Herrnhut laid the fault at the feet of the missionaries themselves. Satan could always be expected to attack, to tempt their hearts to fail, but if their hearts did fail, it was their own fault, their own fall into temptation. In the case of the missionaries, particularly Taeger, Satan's ‘assaults were all too successful’ and they permitted themselves to be rendered ‘fainthearted and confused'.66
It is difficult to know how this analysis by the Moravians will be now received. Decades back — when everybody denied the existence of the Devil, even Christians — one could be assured that most would find it a delusionary refusal of reality, but in the age that gives us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which God may be dead but the Devil is everywhere, many may find it convincing. And in some ways it is, even if you have no time for the Devil, because the real cause of Lake Boga's ultimate failure did lie in Taeger's heart. Taeger despaired early, almost from the time they occupied the mission proper. In June 1851, at the meeting in Melbourne, optimism characterised his speech to the meeting. He was confident he would translate scripture by the end of the year. But scripture faded from his attention and when he decided the mission be abandoned, and while Spieseke concerned himself with the fate of the Aborigines, Taeger's concern was, as Peter La Trobe put it, ‘money, money, money'.67
Taeger had belonged to the Australian Association in Niesky. He was one of ‘zealous young Brethren’ concerned to go to the most exotic of lands. Romance was never distant from nineteenth-century missionaries, or the Evangelical movement in general, and these German associations were in a land and time redolent with Romanticism. One can see the young Brethren envisioning themselves before an Australian vista like Caspar David Friedrich's young man standing before the vista of the Silesian Mountains, awaiting miracles. Taeger's was probably a romantic heart, it expected miracles. None came at Lake Boga. Instead, there was struggle and work
and little to show; and the romantic heart is not always possessed of steel. With Parker and at Ganawarra, the missionaries could live on promise, but at Lake Boga little promise showed and the goodwill they had experienced from settlers on the Loddon and in Melbourne had turned to antagonism.
Taeger made the dispute with the settlers his main fight. The brothers La Trobe both believed that this exacerbated difficulties with the settlers — if Taeger had taken a less hostile position from the beginning, the settlers may have agreed not to use the summer road.68 But this ignores one of the settlers’ chief grievances, the existence of the reserve itself. Reserves, whatever their nature, were intrinsically about the future; most settlers, including the pastoralists, were in the colony for immediate gain and they never liked La Trobe's vision.69 Lake Boga was part of a string of reserves for various purposes that La Trobe had initiated in the 1840s, mostly positioned to deny pastoralists the too-easy exploration of vital resources. The move was just another that caused hostility among settlers to La Trobe. It was not accident that Lake Boga encircled good supplies of water and was on good land. If it failed as a mission or even as a refuge for Aborigines, it would still have future benefits, possibly as a site of a township.70 Even for those settlers who did believe in the coming nation of Victoria, reserving good land for Aborigines must have seemed — at least to many — that sentiment not practicality informed the judgement: surely Aborigines were part of the past not the future.
Yet there is another aspect of the Moravian, and later views, of the Lake Boga failure which is worth commenting on. If the Enemy of Souls proved all too effective through his emissaries, the settlers, the explanation no doubt incorporated much of the conviction that the settlers must take responsibility for the condition of the Aborigines, the result of White aggression, but it also denied that Aboriginal action had its own motivation. Whatever slanders the settlers may have thrown the missionaries’ way, there were no doubt past duplicities, even atrocities, that would make the Aborigines wary. But more importantly, at Lake Boga — unlike at Ebenezer in the Wimmera — the Aborigines showed no sign of being moved by the Christian message, even if they did give it their ear. True, in the Wimmera the mission was surrounded by zealous supporters, but it is hard not to suspect that — with the missionaries so distracted with the settlers — their message must have seemed thin and unimpassioned. To blame Satan and have the settlers as his agents is to deny independent Aboriginal action.71
In Herrnhut the Moravian Elders were shocked to hear of the missionaries’ retreat. They waited for their return and then investigated the matter.72 Their ‘sorrowful and deliberate conviction’ did not support Taeger's decision. True, they acknowledged, ‘not a Few’ settlers in the district had ‘cherished an unfriendly feeling towards’ the mission, but the missionaries had ‘exceeded their powers’, failed to exhibit meekness, patience and hopefulness, to give due deference to friends and benefactors, and respect to the Government. The Board then pointed out that the site of Lake Boga had been of concern since before La Trobe's departure from Governorship, and the mission's future relocation had been a matter of contemplation. Indeed, Peter La Trobe had discussed the matter with Charles Hotham as the latter was about
to leave to take up the Governorship in Melbourne. It had been recognised in early 1854 that:
The time might arrive, when, owing to changes induced by the discovery of the gold-fields, — such as the increase in settlers, the influx of travelling adventurers, or the gradual withdrawal or disappearance of the natives from the vicinity, the Lake Boga district would cease to be suitable sphere of Missionary activity.73
But such a decision was not one on which the missionaries would be the sole judge and such a decision would not mean an abandonment of the mission but its relocation.
Charles Perry twice wrote to Taeger as the latter waited in Melbourne to embark for Germany. He pleaded that the mission be resumed. Tellingly, he even suggested that Taeger alone should leave and Spieseke and Hanson remain. Taeger was not moved. His supporters in Melbourne took his side entirely, particularly Lloyd Chase, who published a pamphlet containing most of the letters from Taeger and Government and settlers. Chase saw the fault in the Government, so did the Melbourne Herald, which published much the same group of letters as Chase did.74 Chase's action did not meet with the approval of either of the La Trobes: Chase

Mission Station, Dimboola. Wood engraving. Illustrated Australian News, 22 March 1882. IAN22/03/82/36. La Trobe Picture Collection.

misrepresented the case, and whatever faults might lie with the Government, the major fault lay with the missionaries themselves.75
The report of the Mission Board's conclusions, published in London, ended by assuring its readers that negotiations with the new Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, were already proceeding towards a resumption of the mission in Victoria. Indeed Barkly had met with Peter La Trobe before he left London for Melbourne following Hotham's untimely death. After Barkly reached Melbourne both exchanged lengthy letters examining Lake Boga's failure and looking at the possibility of resuming the mission. Barkly was keen to do so, but suggested that the site be moved from Lake Boga to the Wimmera. Both agreed that the previous administrations had been largely free of blame for the failure of Lake Boga, although both recognised the difficulty the site posed and the antagonism of the settlers. In London and at Herrnhut they agreed to resume the Mission, this time in the Wimmera.
What happened to Taeger is not clear; he bore most of the weight of the failure, but Spieseke was given another chance, and returned as an ordained Moravian minister to establish the mission in the Wimmera with Brother F.A. Hagenauer. The two were briefed by Charles Joseph La Trobe at his brother's London home before they left for Australia. La Trobe presented them with a copy of The Story of Willie Wimmera, an account of an Aboriginal boy who had been brought to England by Lloyd Chase and unfortunately died of tuberculosis. As the boy's name suggests, he came from the Wimmera, and the new mission at Ebenezer would be founded on the site where Willie's mother had been killed in a settler raid.
It is hard not to conclude that had La Trobe remained governor for a few more years, the Moravian mission would have simply been relocated with Taeger following La Trobe's direction. More importantly, the nature of the reserve and of the missionaries’ claim to land would have been clearly settled with La Trobe's authority. Indeed, it was because so much had rested on his authority that his return to England can be seen as the chief inciter of confusion over the nature of the claim to the land. That which had facilitated the establishment of the mission — the Governorship in the hands of a son of Britain's most important Moravian family — was proved also to be its weakness.


This influence is thoroughly detailed in J.C.S. Mason, The Moravian Church and the Missionary Awakening in England 1760-1800, Woodbridge, Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2001.


J. Van Den Berg, Constrained by Jesus’ Love: An Inquiry into the Motives of the Missionary Awakening in Great Britain in the Period Between 1698 and 1815, Kampen, 1956, pp. 74-75.


Mason, The Moravian Church, pp. 63f.


Account drawn from E. Langton, History of the Moravian Church, London, 1956; J.E. Hutton, A History of the Moravian Missions, London, Moravians Publications Office, 1923; A.J. Lewis, Zinzendorf the Ecumenical Pioneer: A Study in the Moravian Contribution to Christian Mission and Unity, London, SCM Press Ltd, 1962; Van Den Berg, Constrained by Jesus’ Love.


See ‘Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf on Reason and Experience’ in Alister McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader, Oxford, Blackwell, 1995, p. 62.


See Langton, History of the Moravian Church; Peter C. Erb, ed., Pietists: Selected Writings, New York, Paulist Press, 1983; Lewis, Zinzendorf, pp. 19-22.


Max Warren, The Missionary Movement from Britain in Modern History, London, SCM Press Ltd, 1965, pp. 146-47.


Moravian Missionaries, for instance, first arrived in Jamaica in 1754; see J.H. Buchner, The Moravians in Jamaica, [1854] Freeport, Books for Libraries Press, 1971, pp. 24ff.




The Moravians were accused in 1832 of having ‘conduced’ the slave uprising in Jamaica, a claim they adamantly refuted; see Buchner, Moravians in Jamaica, p. 100.


Van Den Berg, p. 100.


Periodical Accounts Relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren, XIX 1849, p. xxi.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. 155.


Document beginning ‘The Memorial of the Mission Board of the Church of the United Brethren…’, Moravian Archives, AIATSIS, Canberra (Hereafter MA) R15 V3.


London Committee to Mission Board, 8 September 1844, MA R15 V3.


P. La Trobe to Herrnhut, 20 February 1844, MA R15 V3.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. 156.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. v.


Langton, History, p. 164.


Hutton, Moravian Missions, p. 346.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. vii.


Often in their deliberations they cast lots, hoping that God would show his preference, honest enough to God to always leave a blank option for the Lord in case He did not agree with any of their possible decisions. Langton, History, p. 34; Lewis, Zinzendorf the Ecumenical Pioneer, p. 38.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. xxi.


P. La Trobe to Herrnhut, 20 February 1844, MA R15 V1.


C.J. La Trobe, ‘Remarks on Rev. S.L. Chase's Statement’, 11 December 1856, MA R15 V3.


Perry refused any liaison with Catholics (see A. de Q. Robin, Charles Perry, Bishop of Melbourne: The Challenges of a Colonial Episcopate, 1847-76, Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1967, pp. 46f, 150-51) and had doubts about the use of music in church (see Nunn, H.W., A Short History of the Church of England in Victoria 1847-1947, Melbourne, Melbourne Diocese, 1947, p. 23).


Robin, Charles Perry, p. 27.


‘Extract of a letter from Ch. J. La Trobe to PLT, April 6 Melbourne’, MA R15 V3.


Robin, Charles Perry, p. 32.


See discussion of Ignatius La Trobe's involvement in the missionary movement in Mason, The Moravian Church, pp. 138ff.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. 156.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, pp. 207, 265, 278.


La Trobe's comment, Argus, 2 July, 1851.


‘Remarks by Ch. J. La Trobe on Revd S.L. Chase's Statement’, 11 December 1856, MA mf 164. (my emphasis)


Letter from La Trobe, quoted, Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. 412.




Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 51.


Periodical Accounts, XIX, p. 531.


Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 49.


On the 20 January 1851, Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 219.


Argus, 2 July 1851.




‘Memorandum’ from P. La Trobe to Barkly, 19 December 1856, MA R15 V3; Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 319.


Government House, Sydney, to Taeger, 11 April 1851, MA R15 V3.


See Brian Fitzpatrick, The British Empire in Australia: An Economic History 1834-1939, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1949, pp. 105-08.


Taeger letter, 4 Jan 1852, Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 319.


C.J. La Trobe to P. La Trobe, 14 December 1853, MA R15 V3.




Colonial Secretary Gillies to Taeger, 9 January 1854, MA R15 V3. It set forth: ‘…that the occupation of the 363 acres of which a chart and description is enclosed; is confirmed and assured to the Moravian Missionary Society, and their accredited Missionaries, by the Government, and will remain undisturbed and unquestioned so long as it may be judged by them expedient to hold and occupy it for the purposes of a Moravian Mission to the Aboriginal inhabitants of the district.'


‘Remarks by Ch. J. La Trobe…’, p. 5, MA R15 V3. (La Trobe's emphasis.)


P. La Trobe, ‘Remarks’, MA R15 V3, p. 5.


See letters Colonial Secretary to Taeger, 6 December 1852; Taeger to Colonial Secretary, 24 January 1853; MA R15 V2; ‘Remarks by Ch. J. La Trobe'.


Periodical Accounts, XX, 1851-1852 p. 205. Also P. La Trobe's comment, ‘interfering with a public right (a matter about which Englishmen are peculiarly sensitive, as many a nobleman & country squire and powerful corporation has learned by experience)’, P. La Trobe, ‘Remarks on the circumstances attending the progress & abandonment of the Australian Mission’ p. 6, MA R15 V3.


Smith on behalf of Taeger to the Chief Secretary, Melbourne, 5 May 1856, MA R15 V2.


Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 203.


Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 320.


‘The natives helping them and receiving wages for their labour.’ P. La Trobe, ‘Remarks on the circumstances attending the progress & abandonment of the Australian Mission’, p. 6, MA R15 V3.


Letter from Taeger, 12 July 1852, Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 434.


Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 203.


‘It was said of them, that they intended to entrap and destroy the blacks’, Facts Relating to the Moravian Mission, First Paper, Melbourne, 1860, p. 3.


Periodical Accounts, XXI, p. iv.


Particulars of Intelligence Respecting the Missions of the United Brethren commonly called Moravians, 69, 1857, pp. 6-7.


Particulars of Intelligence 65, 1855, p. 16.


Particulars of Intelligence 69, pp. 6-7.




Ibid. See also comments in Periodical Accounts, XXII, 1856-58, pp. 204-08.




P. La Trobe, ‘Remarks’ 1856; C.J. La Trobe, ‘Remarks’ 1856, MA R15 V3.


R. Wright, The Bureaucrat's Domain: Space and the Public Interest in Victoria 1836-84, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 16.


Wright, The Bureaucrat's Domain, p. 57. See also the discussion Earl Grey's intentions and settler attitudes in Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales 1770-1972, 1996, pp. 44-51.


See discussion of British refusal to understand indigenous action in James Belich, The Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, the British, and the New Zealand Wars, Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989, pp. 311-35.


This account is based on the reports of the Mission Board's conclusions in Periodical Accounts, XXII, 1856-1858, pp. 204-08, and in Particulars of Intelligence 69, 1857, pp. 6-7.


Periodical Accounts, XX, p. 206.


Herald, 6 September 1856.


P. La Trobe, ‘Remarks; ‘Remarks by Ch. J. La Trobe'.