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Matthews, Daniel (1837–1902)

by Nancy Cato

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Daniel Matthews (1837-1902), missionary, was born on 28 February 1837 at Truro, Cornwall, England, fifth child of John Matthews, master mariner, and his wife Honor, née Williams. He was educated at church schools in Truro and St Ives and the Wesleyan College, Taunton. With his mother and brother William he joined his father on the Victorian goldfields in 1853. After some success at the Bendigo diggings they moved to South Melbourne. Daniel became a temperance worker. After teaching at Geelong he moved to Echuca with his brother in 1864 and opened a store to provision river steamers. He championed detribalized Aborigines living about the town and across the Murray River in Moama. With William he selected three blocks with an 800-acre (324 ha) river frontage on John O'Shanassy's Moira lease in 1865-68. In 1869 Matthews visited England but failed to get financial help for the mission from his eldest brother John.

In 1870 Daniel and William gave twenty acres (8 ha) for an Aboriginal village and school which they called Maloga. In June 1872 at Port Melbourne Daniel married Janet, daughter of Rev. Kerr Johnston. The Maloga Mission School was started in 1874 and Janet became its chief voluntary worker. It was nonsectarian and received limited help from private persons, some rations from the Victorian Board for the Protection of the Aborigines and a few grants from the New South Wales government. Matthews publicized the plight of the Aborigines by visiting Sydney, constant lobbying, writing to the press and addressing meetings. In 1880 he helped to form the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Association. From 1883 the new Aborigines Protection Board provided funds for Maloga but Matthews received no salary until 1885. In 1883, through petitions signed by educated Aborigines from Maloga, he had 1800 acres (728 ha) of river frontage near Barmah declared an Aboriginal reserve, Cumeroogunga.

Unpopular with the younger generation because of his insistence on early rising, daily prayer and no alcohol, Matthews also faced hostility from local squatters and later from the Victorian Board for the Protection of the Aborigines and a faction of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Association. The trouble culminated when the association removed the Maloga buildings to Cumeroogunga, three miles (5 km) upstream, and put its own officers in charge. After a visit to England with two Aboriginal converts Matthews was the victim of a determined smear campaign in 1890. Though the Maloga property and homestead reverted to his elder brother in 1895 Matthews carried on the mission; the number of inmates had varied from fifty to two. From 1876 he had published annual reports, including excerpts from his daily diaries. For a time his base was Beulah House on the southern side of the Murray, where he took in displaced half-castes. In 1900 the last Maloga report was issued from Barry Parade, Carlton. It was succeeded by the Australian Aborigines' Friend, a monthly which appeared until 1902.

In 1899 Janet began the Metco and Manunka Missions near Mannum, South Australia. One of Matthews's last acts was to obtain the near-by 40-acre (16 ha) Forster reserve on behalf of the Aboriginals. With great courage Matthews could not be intimidated and made bitter enemies among officials. In his last decade he found every door closed against him besides suffering unfounded imputations against his honesty. As an itinerant preacher he travelled widely in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in an old Cobb & Co. coach with two horses, carrying the 'Maloga Quartette', an Aboriginal singer and three of his children. Matthews died at Mannum on 17 February 1902 from entero-colitis and was buried in the Mannum cemetery, survived by his wife, one son and three daughters. Janet carried on the Mannum mission until 1911 and died in Adelaide on 25 September 1939.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Gribble, Black But Comely (Lond, 1884)
  • E. R. Gribble, Forty Years with the Aborigines (Syd, 1930)
  • R. R. Morgan, Reminiscences of the Aboriginal Station at Cummeragunga (Melb, 1952)
  • E. G. Docker, Simply Human Beings (Brisb, 1964)
  • S. Priestley, Echuca: A Centenary History (Brisb, 1965)
  • Board for the Protection of the Aborigines, Letters, 1878-98 (held by Aborigines' Welfare Board, Melbourne)
  • Matthews papers and Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Australian history records catalogue under Coronderrk (State Library of Victoria)
  • newspaper cuttings under Aboriginal Affairs (State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. Matthews papers (State Records of South Australia)
  • Norman family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Nancy Cato, 'Matthews, Daniel (1837–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/matthews-daniel-4170/text6695, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 30 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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