Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Copland King (1863–1918)

by Ian Stuart

This article was published:

Copland King (1863-1918), missionary, was born on 24 June 1863 at Parramatta, New South Wales, son of Rev. Robert Lethbridge King, and his wife Honoria Australia, née Raymond. A twin, he was great-grandson of Philip Gidley King and grandson of both Phillip Parker King and James Raymond. Educated at home until 15, he later attended Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1885; M.A., 1887). A lay catechist at Holy Trinity Church, Sydney, from 1885, he was ordained in September 1887 and served curacies at Castle Hill, Rose Hill and Dural.

King heard an address in 1890 by Rev. Albert Maclaren who had just been appointed to launch an Anglican mission in New Guinea. When they met King accepted Maclaren's challenge to join him. Arriving at Wedau on the eastern end of New Guinea on 10 August 1891, they established their headquarters at nearby Dogura. Having lost many of their Papuan and European workers by sickness and desertion, the two leaders also fell sick. King was sent back to Sydney to recover and Maclaren died late in the year.

Against the advice of his family and friends, King insisted on returning to New Guinea and in March 1892 was appointed head of the mission. The following month he resumed his work and concluded it twenty-six years later. In 1897 he declined an invitation to become the first bishop of New Guinea, believing that his talents were more suited to subordinate positions. With his flair for languages, he soon mastered the Wedauan tongue used around Dogura. He spent his time mainly in missionary journeys and translating the Scriptures and educational material.

King was with Sir William MacGregor when he discovered the mouth of the Mambare River in 1898. The discovery of gold in the upper reaches by MacGregor's party resulted in a rush of miners to the Gira and Yodda goldfields. After violent clashes between miners and the local Papuans with much loss of life on both sides, an uneasy peace was established. At MacGregor's prompting, the Anglican mission opened a station near the government post at Tamata Creek which served the goldfields. King took charge of the station in 1900 and remained in the north-east for the rest of his time in the country, becoming the first, and one of the very few Europeans ever, to master the difficult Binandere language. He was at odds with resident magistrate C. A. W. Monckton and most of the miners on the field, and was one of the few Evangelicals in a largely High Church diocese. He made accurate and valuable anthropological observations, collected plant specimens and corresponded with botanists abroad. He donated his botanical library and specimens to the Botanic Gardens, Sydney; after his death his photograph was placed in the fern herbarium at the gardens. He was awarded the diploma of scholar of theology by the Australian College of Theology in 1914.

Unmarried, King died of chronic nephritis and heart disease in Sydney on 5 October 1918 and was buried in the churchyard at Camden where his brother was rector. In 1972 his portrait was published in a series of the stamps of Papua New Guinea honouring early missionaries.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Synge, Albert Maclaren (Lond, 1908)
  • A. K. Chignell, Twenty-One Years in Papua (Lond, 1913)
  • G. White, A Pioneer of Papua (Lond, 1929)
  • H. Nelson, Black, White and Gold (Canb, 1976)
  • D. Wetherell, Reluctant Mission (Brisb, 1977)
  • Bishop M. Stone-Wigg, diaries and papers (Bishop's House, Port Moresby)
  • Dogura papers (New Guinea collection, University of Papua New Guinea Library)
  • publications of the Australian Board of Missions (ABM Library, Sydney).

Citation details

Ian Stuart, 'King, Copland (1863–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 June, 1863
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


5 October, 1918 (aged 55)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.