Lake Macquarie History

Reverend Lancelot E Threlkeld, 1788-1859

Research by Dulcie Hartley


Threlkeld is reputed to have descended from Sir Lancelot Threlkeld. In the Lakes District of the UK there is a town of Threlkeld, not far from Keswick. At a nearby village of Grange there is a Church where the foundation stone was laid by a Reverend Threlkeld centuries ago.

However, our particular Lancelot Threlkeld was born at Southwark, London in 1788. Early in his career he was apprenticed to a trade, then became an actor and later a businessman. He was unsuccessful in these ventures and became an itinerant preacher. In 1808, at twenty years of age, he married Martha Goss at St George's Church, Southwark. He was ordained by the London Missionary Society in 1815.

photo: lancelot threlkeld

The London Missionary Society had been formed in 1795 when a congregation of Protestants met to adopt this new religion which became known as Congregationalism. The principle of the LMS was that 'our design is not to send Presbyterianism, Independency, Episcopacy or any other form of Church Order and Government' to the remote areas where they wished to Christianise the pagan inhabitants'

Missionary work in the South Seas

The Threlkelds left England to commence missionary work in the South Seas Islands. The eldest son became ill on the journey and the family disembarked at Rio de Janeiro, where they stayed for twelve months during which time the boy died. This caused displeasure from the LMS because the delay was considered too lengthy. They wrote 'The death of the babe was a flimsy pretext for staying..... '

'The family reached Sydney in 1817 aboard the ship 'Harriett' and soon boarded 'Active' bound for the South Sea island of Eimo which was reached in November 1817. Threlkeld worked there for several years with the famous missionary Rev. John Williams, establishing a mission at Raiatea [an island northwest of Tahiti] in 1818 and was also in Tahiti. During his period of employment in the islands he was found to be quarrelsome and difficult. [RAHS Journal 1939 Vol 25 pps 279-330, 344-411 -Ben Champion writing on L E Threlkeld - Historical Records of Australia Series 1 -Vol XI p. 5121

Threlkeld's wife Martha died on 24 March 1824, leaving four remaining children: Joseph Thomas, Martha, Tabitha and Mary. Threlkeld left the children at Raiatea, intending to return to England. On board ship he met the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and a wealthy layman, George Bennett who were members of a deputation sent by the LMS to visit and establish missions in the South Seas and in the east. These men were later to provide financial and moral support for Threlkeld during his residency in Australia. Apparently the plan of sailing to England was now abandoned. On reaching NSW Threlkeld met and married Sarah Arndell on 20 October 1824. Sarah was a daughter of Dr Thomas Arndell of Cattai Creek, Ebenezer, a prominent and wealthy landholder. They were also to have five children: Elizabeth Sophia , Lancelot Edward, Frances Hannah, Sarah Ann, Thomas Samuel

Threlkeld received an invitation to establish an Aboriginal mission at Moreton Bay (later to become Brisbane). This project was encouraged by Tyerman and Bennett with the approval of Sir Thomas Brisbane. However, it did not reach fruition due to the distance from the administration centre in Sydney. Tyerman and Bennett, as members of the deputation sent by the LMS, advised NSW officials that they 'have undertaken, on behalf of the Society, to provide maintenance for one missionary to be settled in NSW for the improvement of the religious and civil condition of the Aborigines thereof.' This led to a Deed of Trust for land for an Aboriginal mission, whereby 10,000 acres were to be reserved for the use of the aborigines.... [Sir Thomas Brisbane to Earl Bathurst - letter written 8.2.1825 -To Governor Darling from Earl Bathurst received 31.7.18251]

'I nominate the Rev. Samuel Marsden, being a life director of the LMS, John Oxley, Surveyor-General of NSW, Wm. Wemyss Esq., Deputy Commissary General, Edward Riley Esq., Alex Berry, Robert Campbell, all of Sydney and Francis Allman Esq., Commandant of Newcastle, to be Trustees of the land - 10,000 acres to be selected by Surveyor-General and George Bennett and Daniel Tyerman at or near an inlet called 'Yawanba', or Reid's Mistake'. [Historical Records of Aust - Series 1 Vol Xl p 5121. The land in trust for the aborigines stretched from the northern side of the entrance at Yawanba to Snake Creek, the border of Jonathan Warner's later grant.

Settling in Australia

The Threlkeld family arrived in Newcastle on 7 May 1825 and resided at the Government Cottage, by courtesy of Commandant Allman, near what became known as Cottage Creek in Newcastle West. [The cottage was approximately opposite the Palais Royale, near the western corner of Steel and Hunter Streets] The population of Newcastle in 1825 was 1471, of which 1195 were males and 171 females and children. This was still a largely convict population, where women were in great demand. A woman by herself required a young, able-bodied male protector. The convict population was to diminish as many were transferred to the new convict settlement at Port Macquarie. The Hunter Valley, with its cedar trees and rich alluvial lands had become a desirable area for new settlers from England who were encouraged to settle on extensive acreages. They were required to have sufficient funds and equipment to establish their farms and were provided with convict servants as labourers.

Threlkeld perceived his role towards the aborigines as that of protector, interpreter and evangelist. He fulfilled his role as protector whilst living at the Government Cottage. In May 1825 he wrote of witnessing a corroboree

'The native camp which surrounded our habitation gave a cheerfulness to the scene at night in consequence of the number of fires kept up by the families at the front of their sleeping places, which were mere erections of boughs and trees, or sheets of bark placed upright supported by stakes. The blacks chose our place of residence for their new encampment, they having been so frequently molested by many of the Prisoners of the Crown who perambulated the settlement in the night for purposes that would not bear the light of day. Our sable friends determined to celebrate our arrival amongst them with a ball and supper, and when all was prepared, late in the evening, messengers came to invite us to the entertainment in due form. About 40 natives were assembled and the music commenced, two sticks knocked together by one of the eldest of the men, which kept good time to the intonation of both male and female performers who changed the tune for the dancers, some joining in both exercises keeping the most exact time with the music of the sticks, the strains of the voice, the contortions of the body and stamping feet'. The first set of the dance was indescribable, the second part consisted of the kangaroo dance in which the blacks place their waddies so as to resemble the tail of a kangaroo, and stooping forward in a bending posture, as though they were on all fours, each one placed his hands on the one before him near the sham tail, when they all jumped together, going around in a circle, like kangaroos, making a peculiar noise to imitate the cry of the animal, grunting Wa! Wa! Wa!, and making the ground resound with the stamping of their feet. Supper consisted of kangaroo, wallaby (sic) and fish, all cooked by being thrown on the fire when after the fire and skin of the animals is thoroughly scorched, black as charcoal, the carcase was carved with a small hatchet into small portions and pieces were thrown to the company who squatted on the grass and the entrails were given to the dogs. It was nearly midnight when the dance finished.'

(Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Vol. 1 p.45)

With Aboriginal families camped in the grounds around the Government Cottage, the convicts often came after dark seeking the Aboriginal women. Liquor and tobacco were the usual rewards and Threlkeld observed the deleterious effect wrought by Europeans on these unsophisticated people. He left an account of his time in Newcastle during 1825-6.The aborigines 'wander about through the town and amongst the more scattered residences of the settlers completely naked, often intoxicated boys not yet seven years of age have been seen staggering under the effects of liquor. Often the aborigines are shamefully in-used.... forced to give up hard-obtained provisions to the more powerful whites, or personal maltreatment would be the consequence. It is not a matter of surprise that a few Europeans are yearly speared by the aborigines, but rather it is a matter for wonder that more of the Europeans are not destroyed'.

The culture and ceremonies of the indigenous people were under threat as well. Threlkeld wrote of a funeral he witnessed: 'The interment being over, a female came to me to beg that I should not tell any person where the body was laid. Inquiring the reasons for this injunction, (she) replied that they were fearful that the "white fellow' would come and take away her (the interred woman's) head. The public exposure of New Zealander's heads for sale is no doubt one of their fears'. As well, officialdom in the Colony made a practice of forwarding aborigines' heads to England for scientific study and for museums.

In 1826 the Rev Threlkeld encountered trouble when his convict servant, Ellen Moore, lately arrived from Ireland, said that she and ex-convict John Thomas, then residing in Newcastle, wanted to marry. Thomas wrote to Threlkeld seeking his permission to marry Ellen, but Threlkeld objected, advising Thomas of 'the propriety of his marrying the woman with whom he had been cohabiting for many years'. Threlkeld wrote to the Colonial Secretary on the matter, but was advised to allow them to marry. Threlkeld complained that he had lost his last female servant as she had married soon after coming into his household. As John Thomas was a time-expired convict, Ellen would be able to leave Threlkeld's employment. Meanwhile Threlkeld advised the Colonial Secretary that Ellen and John 'would have each other in spite of me'. Again the Colonial Secretary wrote to say 'let them marry'.

On 5 June 1826 Threlkeld was again writing to the Colonial Secretary advising that Ellen and Thomas 'gave me to understand in the most insolent manner that they had determined to become man and wife. Thomas had cohabited with a woman for years named Styles and whom he in justice ought to marry'. [Gunson S/Archives - CSIL4/1893, Reg.No.26/3003,26/3425, CSIL4/ 1893 Reg.No.26/4060,26/3425]

Another letter from Threlkeld to the Colonial Secretary on 2 July 1826 read 'John Thomas, after in vain attempting to seduce Ellen Moore from our service to live in town under his protection, or admit him improperly at night to her room, has abandoned her and forbidden the banns, a threat he used to induce her to comply with his wishes. He is now living with the daughter of the woman with whom he formerly cohabited'. Threlkeld wrote in praise of Ellen's character as it was likely that she would be returned to the Female Factory at Parramatta.

On 18 July 1826 a further event occurred in the saga. James Jackson, a convict in the service of John Thomas whilst armed with a spear and a waddy, accosted the Rev. Threlkeld and his wife when they were out walking, accompanied by their servant, Ellen Moore. Threlkeld, exhibiting great bravery, grabbed the spear and prevented the man from attacking. This story was collaborated by the servant, Ellen Moore. James Jackson was sentenced at Newcastle Police Office to receive 75 lashes. [State Archives-Police Office, Newcastle - Reel 2747]. It seems likely that Thomas ordered his servant Jackson to attack the Threlkeld party. [Jackson was in an unenviable situation - if he harmed Threlkeld he would be punished and if he refused to obey Thomas he would be punished]. In the meantime, Barbara Styles, 'the woman he (Thomas) had cohabited with for many years', married Samuel Beckett, Ticket of Leave holder, on 25 July 1826. John Thomas, now living with 'the daughter [Mary Styles] of the woman with whom he formerly cohabited' was to marry Mary at a later date.

During Threlkeld's stay of sixteen months in Newcastle while the mission house was being built, he played a prominent social role and was apparently well regarded. Finally, mid September of 1826 saw the mission house completed at Bah-ta-bah, present day Belmont. It consisted of four rooms 14ft x 16ft, and two small rooms 10ftx 12ft on the verandas, erected at a cost of just under £300, a huge sum for the times. The house was thought to be situated on the comer of Gen Street and the Pacific Highway. The family left the comparative civilisation of Newcastle for the mission house in the wilderness, some 14 miles away. All their possessions were carried on drays and bullock wagons over a rough bush track. Threlkeld was apprehensive about the move. 'I cannot express my anxiety and perplexities which continued until September 1826 when we left Newcastle to reside in the woods 14 miles from any civilised being, and exposed to the attacks of bushranging prisoners and uncivilised blacks'. Threlkeld had other worries at this time. He had drawn vast sums of money in setting up the mission and was heavily in debt. His extravagance knew no bounds and was to create grave problems for many years. The LMS were writing to him, protesting about his extravagance, as was the Reverend Marsden, their agent in the Colony. What ensued was an ongoing dispute with both Marsden and the LMS. Threlkeld maintained that his instructions from the LMS were:

  • To go to Newcastle
  • To build a house at Lake Macquarie
  • To stay at Newcastle until the said home was built
  • To take up residence at the lake
  • To learn the language of the aborigines
  • To convert the natives

  • On the subject of his extravagance, the LMS wrote 'We think it necessary to inform you that we experienced no small surprise and concern that you had drawn on the Society to so very large an amount for which....we are not at all prepared'. The directors of the LMS thought that the deputation's instructions to Threlkeld, to draw on the Society for his necessities, had been misinterpreted by Threlkeld as being a blank cheque.

    Nevertheless, putting all this aside, Threlkeld began his work at Bah-ta-bah (a hill by the lake).'I looked at the state of the blacks; I took up my residence in the wood, determined, if possible, to obtain a knowledge of the aborigines, leaving the event with the hands of Him who overrules all things for the good of those who love him'. Apparently his philosophy was, the Lord would provide - the Lord would look after him.

    Mission at Eastern Lake Macquarie

    When Threlkeld commenced his mission in 1826 there was community concern regarding the deprivation experienced by the aborigines since European settlement, some 38 years prior. Their food and clothing requirements had suffered in the Sydney and Newcastle districts. Their principal food and clothing sources, kangaroos, possums, wallaby etc. were either all destroyed, or driven into the interior, and they were suffering real hardship for the want of food and clothing. The Rev. Samuel Marsden, writing to Archdeacon Scott in 1826, said that a few blankets and some maize would be a help. 'Civilising the adults was a hopeless task' he wrote. They were addicted to spirits and tobacco'. Marsden, who had arrived in the Colony in 1794, considered the aborigines to be shrewd people and not at all stupid. He exhibited a realistic and enlightened view of the indigenous people, especially for that era. On 2 December 1826 he wrote to Archdeacon Scott. 'I conceive, as a National professing Christianity, we have much to answer for on their (the aborigines) account to the Judge of all the earth. The utmost one can do for them will only be a small atonement, a trifling return for the permanent injury they have sustained.' And this from the so-called 'flogging Parson' who believed that physical punishment for the convicts was a necessity, and, as a Magistrate, sentenced many to severe floggings. He had been in the Colony for a longer period than Threlkeld and had witnessed the changes that had occurred.

    Surveyor Henry Dangar, in his Directory and Index published in 1827 [pp9561 wrote of Lake Macquarie. 'There is a thin strata of light sandy soil, tracts with sand and gravelly surface - on the margins of the lake and in the valleys occasional tracts of productive land - Not suited to agriculture or grazing large flocks or herds' but is well suited to retired naval, military or civil officers, or merchants inclined to quit the busy scene - Excellent for one who is fond of shooting, hunting or boat sailing, where he can enjoy cheap living with most salubrious air - There are kangaroos, ducks, swans, pigeons, quail and fish, abundant oysters of a very superior quality'.

    With 25 acres cleared, the aborigines working under a free man, and Threlkeld's two sons employed at £65 pa with rations, Indian corn was grown as well as other agricultural products. Threlkeld mingled with the aborigines, writing words and phrases while learning the language. The aborigines grew very fond of corn and picked what they wanted. Of course the Society had envisaged an income from the mission, or at best, that it would be self-sufficient. In fact, the soil was poor, being very sandy.Threlkeld wrote to the LMS advising that he would require £500 pa for the mission "as well as three free men for farming plus one prisoner and two female domestics". He sent the Society an account for £400, well in excess of budget. This the LMS refused to pay and said they would only pay expenses sanctioned by Marsden, suggesting that Threlkeld should sell the property to cover the debt. This was impossible of course, as title of the property would revert to the Crown if the mission to the aborigines was abandoned. Threlkeld complained bitterly, and with justification, that the Society had no idea of conditions in the Colony, of the distances or isolation.

    Threlkeld was antagonistic towards the Rev. Samuel Marsden who was very reasonable in his dealings with Threlkeld. This resentment was due to the fact that Marsden was a 'Churchman', meaning a clergyman of the established Church of England, and therefore harbouring bigotry towards other religions. This was far from the charter of the LMS when one of the conditions of its constitution was to exclude bigotry and to proceed on nondenominational lines. Its charter was described 'as the death and burial of bigotry'.

    Threlkeld's critics have described him as officious, self-opinionated, pessimistic and lacking in humility, and these qualities were detrimental in his role as a missionary. He was quarrelsome and unsuccessful in the South Sea Islands and the LMS hoped he would have no one with whom he could quarrel in NSW. He was also found to be not of a practical turn of mind, and not ever engaging in manual labour.

    Threlkeld also incurred the wrath of the Scottish Reverend Dr. John Dunmore Lang who criticised the mission and the great expenditure, with little perceived achievement. These two prima donnas were to engage in written battles by way of the press for a long time.

    Ultimately the LMS paid Threlkeld's outstanding bills to save him from being gaoled for debt. [See Scott v Threlkeld - Supreme Court 11 March 1828) Understandably from their point of view, Threlkeld was dismissed from their employ and notified by letter dated 30 May 1828, so the Bah-ta-bah Mission lasted nearly two years. Threlkeld was requested to sell the moveable property but this only realised £30.

    Even though he had been dismissed, the Threlkeld family continued to reside at the mission house. He relied on financial support from his wealthy friends in Sydney. On 26 October 1829 he wrote to the LMS advising that he would resign [even though he had been dismissed!] and declined their offer of a free passage back to England for himself and family saying it was 'perfectly contemptible'. He also wrote to Marsden mentioning that it would take a year to shift his family; that he would draw bills on the Society; that he intended to abandon the mission as under the authority of the LMS; and that he was going to continue the mission on his own initiative.

    Mission at Western Lake Macquarie

    Threlkeld then applied for a land grant and chose 1280 acres on the western side of Lake Macquarie that today forms the suburbs of Toronto, Carey Bay, Coal Point and Kilaben Bay. The land, promised on 18.8.1829, was called 'Punte' by the Awabakal tribe of aborigines, meaning 'a narrow place' or 'a narrow point of land'. Assistant Crown Surveyor Ralphe marked the boundary of this land also called 'Deranban(m)bah' and Threlkeld renamed it 'Ebenezer' after the area on the Hawkesbury River where his wife had lived at Cattai. For some reason the grant was never finalised, and was ultimately cancelled. However, Threlkeld believed his title to be sound and made provision in his will in the event of his death for various portions to be inherited by his sons. Much of the land was cleared by convict labour, with assistance from the aborigines, crops were planted and on 29 December, 1831 the Threlkeld family finally left Bah-ta -bah for Ebenezer.

    Threlkeld is reputed to have received a small inheritance at this time, and the home built at 'Punte' was no mean effort. It was a neat, comfortable family home [there were nine children in the family], 80' x 27' 6" containing ten rooms, small pantry and dairy, with verandas. The outhouses consisted of a kitchen, a storeroom, a 60' x40' barn, three huts for men, two stockyards, a milking shed, piggery and other conveniences. As time passed there was a garden of about three acres well stocked with fruit trees and fifty varieties of vines. About 300 acres were divided by a four railed fence into eight paddocks, and five paddocks were cleared for cultivation, two of British grasses. Threlkeld employed overseers, assisted by convicts and Aborigines, to work his property as a horse stud, a dairy, and cattle and sheep runs. To enjoy the salubrious water of Lake Macquarie, Threlkeld had baths and a 'bathing house' built. Eventually a bridle track to Newcastle was cleared, and later a carriage road, the latter being 24 miles from Newcastle [through Wallsend to Hexham] and the former 16 miles. These improvements were to take a little time however, but at the end of 10 years, when the Threlkeld family vacated the premises, a thriving property existed.

    With the former Belmont mission house vacant, runaway convicts and the occasional traveller often used it for shelter. In July of 1833 Jonathan Warner, District Magistrate, reported extensive vandalisation and he was given the task of demolishing the building.

    Threlkeld, in selecting the site of his grant, was probably aware that coal was located there. In 1827 he had discovered coal at Bah-ta-bah, cannel coal, which was confirmed by the Government Analyst, and so it was probably with one eye to the future that he made his selection.

    Biraban, Pathy and recording the Awabakal language

    Threlkeld now devoted more time to his work on the Aboriginal dialect. His instructor was Johnny McGill, also known as Biraban [Eagle Hawk]. Biraban, a central coast aborigine, had been educated at the Military Barracks in Sydney while employed by a military officer called McGill. He spoke fluent English, as well as several Aboriginal dialects, and was extremely intelligent and helpful to Threlkeld. Biraban also worked for Captain Francis Allman, the Commandant at the penal settlement of Newcastle and later at Port Macquarie.

    Biraban was 'about middle size, of a dark chocolate colour, with fine glossy black hair and whiskers, a good forehead, eyes not deeply set, a nose that might be described as aquiline, although depressed and broad at the base'. '... It was evident that McGill was accustomed to teach his native language, for when he was asked the name of anything, he pronounced the word very distinctly, syllable by syllable, so that it was impossible to mistake it'. 'Though acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity and all the comforts and advantages of civilisation, it was impossible for him to overcome his attachment to the customs of his people, and he is always a prominent leader in the corrobories [sic] and other assemblies'. [United States Exploring Expedition - Wilkes and Hale. A member of the expedition, Mr Agate, drew his portrait].

    'Pathy', the wife of Biraban, was 'black and comely', kind and affectionate, as well as shrewd and intelligent. She exercised intellectual power over Biraban. Biraban died in1842 and Threlkeld dedicated his 1859 Awabakal Lexicon to Biraban 'As a tribute of respect to the departed worth of McGill, the intelligent Aboriginal, whose valuable assistance enable me to overcome very many difficulties in the language much sooner than otherwise could have been accomplished, his likeness is attached to this work'. [Published in 1892 from original manuscript - Edited by John Frazer - 'An Australian Language as Spoken by the Awabakal, the People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie - Beingan Account of Their Language, Traditions and Customs - Govt. Printer, Sydney]

    When Threlkeld commenced his new mission at Ebenezer, he was receiving Government funding. In August of 1830 Governor Darling sanctioned an annual salary for five years of £150 for Threlkeld towards the mission, plus clothing and rations for four convicts. This was on the understanding that he continued working on the translation of the Gospel into the Aboriginal language.

    Both Biraban and Threlkeld proved their worth by acting in many court cases involving the aborigines. A late 20th century scrutiny of Threlkeld's attempts to provide Christian comfort for Aborigines sentenced to imprisonment or death, reveals a lack of understanding of the depth of their culture. For example: 'In August last (1835) I was again subpoenaed to the Supreme Court in consequence of an outrage having been committed by the aborigines in the vicinity of Williams River; when another Black named Charley was found guilty of murder, which he did not deny, even when arraigned, but pleaded in justification the custom of his nation, justifying himself on the ground that a talisman, named 'Mura-mai', was taken from him by the Englishman, who with others were keeping a Black Woman amongst them, was pulled to pieces by him and shown to the Black Woman, which according to their superstitious notions, subject all the parties to the punishment of death, and further, that he was deputed with others, by his tribe, to enforce the penalty, which he too faithfully performed. It was deemed necessary, for the tranquillity of those disturbed Districts, that Charley should be executed at a place called Dungog'.

    Threlkeld gave Charley Christian guidance before his execution and 'much satisfaction was derived from the great attention and submissive behaviour of the unhappy culprit'. A spiritually confused Charley eventually met his fate. [Annual Report of the Aboriginal Mission at Lake Macquarie, New South Wales - 1835]. This is in contrast to the earlier attitude of the Reverend Samuel Marsden.

    Over the years Threldkeld was to publish the following

  • 1827 Specimens of Aboriginal Language
  • 1829 First Draft of the Gospel by St Luke
  • 1832 Translation of Prayers for Morning and Evening Service from the Ritual of the Church of England Selected by Arch-Deacon Broughton
  • 1834 The Australian Grammar
  • 1836 The Spelling Book
  • 1850 The Key to the Australian Aboriginal Language
  • 1859 At the time of his death he was engaged in completingt he translation of the four Gospels and was proceeding with the 'Lexicon to the Gospel by St Luke'

  • Commenting on Threlkeld, the London Missionary Society wrote 'His contemporaries expressed surprise that he could master the Aboriginal language as he acquired none of the Tahitian when he was there'. The writer wondered about the efficacy of Threlkeld's translation. (Letter from the London Missionary Society to Ben Champion April 1937)

    One of the conditions relating to Threlkeld's annual funding for the mission was that he provide an Annual Report to the Archdeacon on the progress made in translating the Gospel into the native language, care being taken 'that he does not pursue the same course (as before) of involving the public in additional expenses not sanctioned by the authorities'. It was therefore now necessary for Threlkeld to curb not only his extravagance, but his temper as well. Accordingly, Threlkeld supplied an Annual Report on the Mission to the Aborigines, and, as the years passed, he noted a diminishing number coming into the mission. In his 1835 report Threlkeld mentioned that 'the measles have been prevalent amongst the Aborigines, and have carried off many of the natives, from whom Mrs Threlkeld and our nine children caught the complaint and were laid up at one time'.

    In the same report he mentioned that 'Several of the blacks belonging to this district, headed by McGill, are travelling to Windsor, Parramatta and Sydney to teach other tribes a new song and dance, which have lately been brought from the regions far beyond Liverpool Plains, where my son has ascertained that the (same) song exists, though the dialect is different to that used in these parts of the sea coast'. Threlkeld felt encouraged by this, as he envisaged that the word of the Lord would travel Australia by the same route.

    In the 1838 Report Threlkeld mentioned that 'All the lake blacks are now employed at Newcastle where there is plenty of work for them, fishing, shooting, boating and carrying wood and water'. He had made progress on his translations, but sadly, there were now hardly any aborigines at the mission. Even though they were in the district, they were no longer coming to the mission and were often intoxicated. In this report he mentioned the massacres of blacks which had occurred during the year, the slaughtering of hundreds and condemned Major Nunn. He was certainly championing the aborigines in their predicament.

    However, the event to which he referred was known as 'the Myall Creek Massacre', which occurred at a cattle station near Bingara in NSW. At least 22 Aborigines were roped together and driven to an isolated place and executed. This event became notorious due to the fact that seven white men accused of the atrocity were brought to trial and hanged. (A Land Half Won by Geoffrey Blainey pg 76 - Sun Books 1982).

    In the 1839 Report Threlkeld mentioned that at first 160 blacks were at the mission, but now only 30 came to see him, and only one was living with him. (Gunson p26)

    The Mission drew its share of overseas visitors, among them Quaker missionaries James Backhouse and George Washington Walker c1838 and members of the Wilkes Expedition c 1839 who were on a world journey, by courtesy of the United States Navy. (RAHS p362 full index)

    In view of the falling off in numbers of aborigines at Ebenezer, Threlkeld suggested to the officials that the mission would be better situated at Newcastle but the Governor, Sir George Gipps, finally decided to end financial backing and this took effect from 17 May 1841. And so the mission closed.

    Ebenezer mine

    Having no doubt seen the writing on the wall, Threlkeld had applied for permission to commence a coal mine in 1839. In 1840 he developed a drive into the Great North Seam. There was a tunnel from the water's edge 118' long driven into the side of a hill at Coal Point, (Tirrabeenba) with an air shaft 39' deep. The seam was 5'6" at the face. The shaft continued down at least 40' towards the underlying seam. (Geology and Coal Mining in the Hunter Valley 1791-1861 - D F Branagan p65)

    In 1830 the wealthy Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co), formed in Britain to profitably develop the resources of the Colony with capital of £1,000,000 had been given 1,000,000 acres. The Company was also given a monopoly on coal mining, thus sterilising the many coal deposits on private lands. Threlkeld was able to establish that he had received his Grant in 1829, prior to the monopoly, so he obtained finance, arranged for shipping and opened up his mine which was known as the Ebenezer Coal Works, situated on the southern shore of Coal Point. A wharf was built and small sailing vessels ventured through the treacherous channel across the bar where the water was 4'6" at low tide. In 1841 the 'Anne' took the first shipment of coal to Sydney. Threlkeld later purchased land at Swansea Heads (a little over 6 acres) on which he built a wharf and sheds. Barges then brought coal from the mine to the Heads where it was stockpiled. Later it was possible to load shallow draft vessels from a wharf at Coal Point. Interestingly, there was a good coal seam on this Swansea land, probably the one from which William Reid had loaded his vessel in 1800, but Threlkeld was unable to mine this due to the monopoly of the AA Co.

    There had been a considerable financial outlay to open up the coal mine and evidently Threlkeld borrowed from many sources 'upwards of £15,000' to erect the works, store, railway, miner's huts and residence for the manager. By 1841 the mine was in full operation and Threlkeld had invested in several vessels, the schooner 'Lancelot' of 50 tons, schooner 'Sarah' of 49 tons, barge 'Hope' of 25 tons, schooner 'Henry' of 16 tons, boat 'Tiger' of 12 tons and boat 'Calcutta' of 12 tons.

    They were working the Great Northern Seam that was said to be 5' 6' to 8' thick, and the mine covered 2 sq miles. The coal was wheeled out of the tunnel in wagons and loaded from a wharf into waiting vessels. Threlkeld had trouble obtaining miners mainly due to the fact that the AA Co did not want competition, so he was denied the services of convict coal miners. He was also unpopular with the AA Co as he was able to undercut their price on the wharf at Sydney. However, some AA Co miners were disenchanted with their employment and Threlkeld was pleased to employ these experienced men. This again caused trouble with the AA Co. An early manager of Ebenezer was James Birrell who had been an Overman (underground manager) for the AA Co. He was an outspoken Scot who had encountered the wrath of the Company and was then dismissed. Birrell was later to be involved in many mining ventures around Lake Macquarie, as well as Plattsburg and Wallsend. He was to become an early Mayor of Plattsburg. His daughter Isabella was to marry James Fletcher who became famous in mining circles, and was parliamentary Member for Newcastle. Fletcher's statue is in Watt Street opposite the James Fletcher Hospital. Also the new suburb of Fletcher near Marylands commemorates him.

    Explorer, geologist and botanist F W Ludwig Leichhardt travelled from Alexander Walker Scott's Ash Island farm to visit Threlkeld at Lake Macquarie. 'They came to Lake Macquarie with its entrance all but silted up, except at high tide. With its bays and wood covered hills it would have surpassed Lake Zurich in Switzerland, if only the vegetation had been brighter. Mr Threlkeld was mining coal that could be cut into blocks, and would burn glowingly to the last ash. The coal was perfect, but he had no labour, and the entrance was making transport impossible. (c1843 - Ludwig Leichhardt translation)

    The entrance to Lake Macquarie continued to be a problem for the mosquito fleet, some sailing across to the new coal mine and others bringing prospective land purchasers to the new suburb of Newport (Eraring). The paddle steam ferry 'Kangaroo' brought passengers to Newport in 1840, and other settlers around the lake foreshores were also having to negotiate the troublesome channel to bring supplies to their properties. Threlkeld complained in December 1841 of the ship 'Victoria Bay' being endangered at the entrance to the lake by other vessels discharging their ballast into the bay, which adversely effects (sic) the anchorage'. 'Formerly' he said, 'my barge took the ballast out of the vessel in my employ, and, now having purchased a larger vessel of 48 ton ('Sarah'), I have furnished her with iron ballast to prevent injury to the harbour, as well as to expedite the trips. But other vessels are coming weekly to the Lake, and unless they can be prevented from dumping their ballast over the side, the entrance will silt up'. At this time he was employing men to make a rudimentary breakwater - stakes were being driven into the ground and boughs were woven in between. However, this was a stop gap measure and Threlkeld said it really needed a proper breakwater like at Newcastle. (State Archives CSIL 4/2579 - Reg. No. 4251 -Also N Gunson - Vol. II - 13.12.1841 p.293) In 1841 the cutter 'Thomsen' was making a weekly trip from Sydney, sometimes with provisions and at other times just coming empty (in ballast) for a cargo of coal. The increasing population at Coal Point in connection with the mine was providing a good market for Threlkeld's farm produce, as well as supplies to Sydney.

    Financial difficulties

    Threlkeld's timing for his new venture was unfortunate as the 1840s not only heralded drought years, but also a severe financial depression with bank failures. There were over 1000 insolvencies alone in Sydney. The economy really did not pickup until are the discovery of gold in 1851. The 1830s had seen great speculation inland, and many of these large landholders became bankrupt during the early 1840s. Of course, this is what happened to Threlkeld, having borrowed so heavily to finance his coal mine. No doubt the coal was there, as well as the market. However, those from whom he had borrowed suddenly found themselves in need of hard cash. As well, his eldest son Joseph had leased a property on the Gwydir River, in partnership with the Arndell family and others. Threlkeld senior was running stock there as well. In 1843 they could only realise 1/- per dozen for their stock which they were lucky to sell. By 1841 10,000 head of cattle and 30,000 sheep had died on the Liverpool Pains alone due to drought. This also led to the establishment of boiling down works where surplus animals were boiled down for fat for soap and candles and the skins sold. Cattle raising largely gave way to sheep farming during these drought years as sheep were able to graze on nearly any vegetation, whereas cattle were more selective.(The Squatting Age in Australia - 1835-47 - Stephen H Roberts 1843 p.193)

    So in 1841 Threlkeld was in serious financial difficulties. December of 1841 saw Threlkeld advertising his home, farm and property adjoining Ebenezer Coal Works for rental. He was obliged to assign his estate to his Trustees, among whom were John Campbell of The Wharf, T W Smart and Ebenezer Bourne of Pitt Street, all Sydney men. Robert Campbell (Campbell's Wharf at The Rocks) was an old friend and benefactor of LE Threlkeld and T W Smart was from the Commercial Banking Co of Sydney. These men and many others had been convinced of the viability of the coal mine and had confidence in Threlkeld's management. Due to the troubled times, Threlkeld's son Joseph became insolvent, as did Threlkeld's son-in-law G A Lloyd who had married Mary Threlkeld. Lloyd's fortunes fluctuated over the years, with further involvements in coal mining. He later became a Member of the Legislative Council and a person of property and influence. As a result, all of Threlkeld's properties were advertised for sale in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 December 1844. 'The Ebenezer Coal Mines, the home and outbuildings [which were situated at present day Toronto the site of the Toronto Hotel], his land and coal holdings at the entrance to Lake Macquarie [approx. 6 acres], his carts, drays, gig and harness and 40 head of cattle at the lake, mostly milk cows' as well as his shipping were advertised.

    The highest bidder at the auction was old missionary friend and creditor Ebenezer Boume. The land at the heads was sold to a Sydney solicitor, George Kenyon Holden.

    On 23 July 1845 Ebenezer Boume sold the property to Ralph Mayer Robey for £1900, with £723 paid in cash and the balance in promissory notes. Robey was a hardware merchant of 427 George Street, Sydney with premises on the site of the Queen Victoria building. It transpired that the official grant for Punte had never been finalised, even though Threlkeld believed that his title was sound. In 1846 the Ebenezer property was granted by Sir George Gipps to RM Robey, with a Quit Rent of £10.13.4 forever.

    Threlkeld's second wife Sarah Arndell had been given a property by her father at Cattai, near his estate, but this was also lost in the bankruptcy. (I think the creditors wound up getting 1/2 d in the £1) In 1842 Threlkeld became a minister at the new Congregational Church at South Head in Sydney, nearly opposite the lighthouse, 'The Church with the Chimney', so called because the residence was attached. He preached there for several years to a largely seafaring congregation. Captain James Siddons, Principal Lighthouse Keeper, married a daughter of the Threlkelds. In 1845 Threlkeld became Chaplain of Seamen at the Bethal Union Church at The Rocks, George Street North, Circular Quay. He spent the later years of his life raising funds to build a handsome Church. The Mariners' Church, extant, was not quite complete at the time of his death in 1859. A separate Sailors' Home was erected in 1863.

    The coal monopoly of the AA Co was challenged by John and Alexander Brown and although they lost the case, it led to the NSW Coal Inquiry, held in 1847, with a Report from the Select Committee. Threlkeld gave valuable information to the Committee. As a result of the inquiry, the coal monopoly of the AA Co was rescinded, leading to the opening up of great reserves of coal in private ownership.


    LE Threlkeld was buried in the Devonshire Street Cemetery (The Sandhills), in 1859, but his remains were removed to Rookwood Cemetery in 1901, when Central Railway Station was built on the site of the old cemetery.


    Hartley, Dulcie 2004, Reverend Lancelot E. Threlkeld 1788-1859, Dulcie Hartley, Fennell Bay, N.S.W

    Threlkeld, L. E. (Lancelot Edward) & Gunson, Walter Neil 1974, Australian reminiscences and papers of L. E. Threlkeld : missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra