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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tuckfield, Francis (1808–1865)

by C. A. McCallum

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Francis Tuckfield (1808-1865), missionary, was born on 10 May 1808 in the parish of Germoe, Cornwall, England. In his youth he was a miner and seasonal fisherman; at 18 he was converted to the Wesleyan Methodist faith and became an active local preacher. He was accepted as a candidate for the ministry in 1835 and received two years training at the Theological Institution, Hoxton. Upon representations by Rev. Joseph Orton he was selected, with Rev. Benjamin Hurst, as a missionary to the Aboriginals in the Port Phillip District.

The two young men reached Hobart Town with their families in the Seppings in March 1838. Four months later Tuckfield arrived in Melbourne, leaving Hurst to follow. Seeking a suitable mission site, Tuckfield made several journeys around Geelong, often with William Buckley as interpreter, and finally chose an area on the Barwon River, near Birregurra. This was confirmed by Hurst on his arrival as superintendent, by Orton and by Governor Sir George Gipps. The station was named Buntingdale, in honour of Rev. Jabez Bunting, an outstanding Wesleyan leader in England. Gipps made a provisional grant of 640 acres (259 ha) with a large encircling reserve to prevent settlers from encroaching too close to the mission station.

While Hurst took charge in Geelong Tuckfield worked at Buntingdale, where in spite of his devotion and enthusiasm the mission made small progress. The local tribes were nomadic and could not be confined to so small an area. The Colac tribe offered most hope of success and at times Tuckfield travelled and lived with it. Unfortunately, intertribal fights were common and Tuckfield and his family were sometimes in real danger; a fire in 1840 destroyed the mission buildings; Hurst was anxious to be relieved of responsibility for the mission; and Tuckfield found that while he could advance the education of the younger Aboriginals he could make little religious impact upon the tribes.

By 1841 Tuckfield was persuaded that mission work could be satisfactory only among tribes completely divorced from white settlement and in 1842, with Superintendent Charles La Trobe's approval, he travelled to the junction of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers seeking a more suitable place for mission work. However, neither the government nor Tuckfield's committee favoured this idea and it seemed that the whole missionary project was to be unsuccessful. With great courage and determination Tuckfield continued at Buntingdale, keeping a small number of Aboriginals around him, attending to his school and gradually developing the area into an efficient farming property.

The government became convinced that the mission was a failure and informed Tuckfield that the grazing licence, by which he now held the mission station, would be cancelled at the end of 1850. In spite of his dedication to the care of the Aboriginals and his persistence Tuckfield now had no alternative but to abandon the site, an unhappy outcome for both his church's missionary zeal and the government's humanitarian programme. Tuckfield was later appointed in turn to several churches in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. After a break caused by ill health, he took charge of the Portland Church, Victoria, in 1864. Next year he contracted pneumonia after attending a funeral, and died on 21 October 1865. He was buried in the Methodist section of the Portland cemetery.

Tuckfield was twice married: first to Sarah Gilbart of Cornwall; and second to Mary Stevens of Glenorchy, Tasmania. Of his eleven children, three sons became ministers and four daughters married ministers.

Tuckfield was an able and zealous missionary with a gift for native languages; the failure at Buntingdale must fairly be ascribed to causes beyond his control. Later he showed himself to be a greatly loved and self-sacrificing pastor.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Lang, Phillipsland (Edinb, 1847), 123-30
  • Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes (Syd, 1866)
  • W. L. Blamires and J. B. Smith, The Early Story of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Victoria (Melb, 1886)
  • G. W. Greenwood, ‘Rev Francis Tuckfield's magnificent failure at Bunting Dale’, Heritage (Methodist Historical Society, Victoria), no 6 (1956)
  • F. Tuckfield journal (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

C. A. McCallum, 'Tuckfield, Francis (1808–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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