A sacred duty
In December 1839 Lord John Russell, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, wrote to Governor La Trobe, that it was the government’s ‘sacred duty’ to compensate Aboriginal people for the taking of their land by giving them the “blessings of Christianity” and the “advantages of civilized life”.
In July 1842, the newly constructed church on the Franklinford Protectorate station opened for worship and 96 Aboriginal people attended. Parker preached partly in DjaDja Wurrung, hoping “to impress the great truths of religion on the minds of the Aborigines.” The older station inmates often left because of Parker’s interference in their ceremonies. They ridiculed his teaching and reminded him that apart from one Scottish shepherd, he was the only one to pray and that many white men including “gentlemen” had told them it was all false. Parker soldiered on. Referring to a child who came under his religious instruction from an early age, he concluded;
“He shows fully as much aptitude for instruction as any white child of his age. The experience of every successive day amongst these people convinces me that the obstacles to their improvement are not intellectual but moral.”
Assistant Protector William Thomas based in Western Port, also a Wesleyan preacher, reported in 1844 on the kind of questioning of Christian beliefs he received from an Aboriginal man in the face of the colonists injustice and cruelty against his people. Thomas wrote, “he believed there was a God but he did not believe there was a hell or else they [whites] would be afraid of going there.”
Removed to Coranderrk
In 1840 Parker had carried out a census of Aboriginal people in the Loddon valley, primarily DjaDja Wurrung. He listed by name and approximate age 220 people known to him. Attendance of people at the Franklinford Protectorate Station would fluctuate over time depending on food availability on and off the station as well as other factors. Life outside of the station was unsafe, but sometimes people left the station because of “too much sickness”. Contact with colonists and living in close proximity resulted in many deaths from introduced respiratory diseases. In June 1842 the four year old daughter of overseer Bazely was the first to be buried in the old Franklinford cemetery. The burial was soon followed by that of three young Aboriginal children. Years later while advocating enlargement of the cemetery, the Daylesford Express wrote indignantly that “The Aboriginal savages and the white settlers are all packed together in this charnel house.”
Parker continued running the station on a pastoral lease after its official closure in 1849 until his death in 1865. Some DjaDja Wurrung took up land on the station and farmed but the population continued to dwindle through death, and drift away during the tumultuous gold rush years. The 1861 census for the Daylesford district returned 3,513 “persons”. Those outside the “persons” category included 522 Chinese and 23 Aboriginals.
In April 1864 The Daylesford Express published as follows:
“Mount Franklin has for the last thirty years been the seat of a Protectorate for this people under the superintendance of Mr. E.S. Parker. The Blacks have so diminished in numbers that the Government has resolved no longer to subsidise the institution.”
With some satisfaction it noted:
“Many of the adults now in different parts of the country furnish evidence of the instruction imparted to them at this institution. Some at their deaths have expressed themselves devout believers in the Christian religion and furnish striking proof of its consolation.”
The remaining community from Franklinford was removed from their Country to Coranderrk Station near Healesville where they continued to face the risk of an early death due to unhealthy living conditions.
Epilogue: Who do we think we are?
In the SBS television series “Who do you think you are?” more or less famous Australians go in search of their ancestors. Tears flow easily as the hardships of distant relatives are revealed. The final scene is often the walk to the grave of an ancestor from a previous century. While placing flowers on the grave, the subject reflects on the positive characteristics they have inherited from this ancestor and assure them their hardships are not forgotten.
As we walk down to the Franklinford cemetery, where will we lay the flowers and ponder our society’s identity? The grave of Assistant Protector Parker, who faced an impossible task, is marked by a fine obelisk. Edgar Morrison who spent his retirement recording the history of the Protectorate is also here. There are the cherished and named children of the early pioneers.
Or do we turn towards the shallow mounds to face that other part of our history? Here are the graves of scores of Aboriginal people that have no markers or memorials.
Cahir, Fred ‘The Wathawurrung People’s Encounters with Outside Forces 1797-1849: A History of Conciliation and Conflict.’ PhD thesis, University of Ballarat, 2001.
Cahir, Fred ‘My Country all gone. The White men have stolen it: The Invasion of Wadawurrung Country 1800-1870.’ Australian History Matters, Ballarat. 2019. Available from Daylesford Museum.
Clark, Ian D., ‘Squatters Journals,’ The Latrobe Journal No. 43. Autumn 1989.
Fifield, Kyle Richard, ‘Second Wave Evangelicalism and the Myall Creek Massacre,’ The reformed evangelical review, April 2018
Golding, Barry, ‘Beyond contact’ , barrygoanna.com
Harding, Anna et al, ‘Uncovering the truth of our legal history’ The Legal Services Journal Oct, 2023
Holst, Heather, ‘Save the people’: ES Parker at theLoddon Aboriginal Station, ABORIGINAL HISTORY 2008 VOL 32
Morrison, Edgar, ‘A successful failure’, First published in three volumes 1965-71, republished Graffiti Publications, 2002. Available from Daylesford Museum.
National Museum Australia, ‘Defining moments: Myall Creek Massacre’
Scrimgour, Anne, ‘Colonizers as Civilizers: Aboriginal schools and the mission to ‘civilize’ in South Australia, 1839-1845,’ PhD thesis, Charles Darwin University, 2007.
Thiele, Frances, ‘Superintendent La Trobe and the amenability of Aboriginal people to British law 1839-1846’,The Journal of Public Record Office of Victoria, 2009
Thomson, Robert B., ‘Sir Walter Scott in the Western District, 1836-1851.’ PhD thesis, Deakin University, 2013.
Arie Baelde is a local resident and agronomist who has an interest in local history.