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James Robert Beattie Love (1889–1947)

by J. H. Love

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James Robert Beattie Love (1889-1947), clergyman and missionary, was born on 16 June 1889 at Lislaird, Killeter, Tyrone, Ireland, fifth child of Rev. George Clarke Love and his wife Margaret Georgina, née Beattie. When he was five months old the family migrated to Australia and, after a short stay in Victoria, settled at Strathalbyn, South Australia, where his father ministered to the Presbyterian congregation from 1892 until his retirement in 1923. Love received his schooling at Strathalbyn and the Pupil Teachers' School, Adelaide. He taught at Strathalbyn in 1906-07 and attended the University Training College in 1908-09 (B.A., Adelaide, 1915).

He was classified as head teacher and appointed to the school at Leighs Creek (Copley) in 1910. He began sending specimens of birds to Edwin Ashby who exhibited them at meetings of the Royal Society of South Australia; one of these birds was identified as a new genus and species, and named Ashbyia lovensis.

Late in 1912 Love accepted an honorary commission from the board of missions of the Presbyterian Church of Australia to investigate and report on the condition of the Aborigines and possible locations for mission work among them. His report was published as a pamphlet, The Aborigines, Their Present Condition as Seen in Northern South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Queensland (Melbourne, 1915). Two years later he took temporary charge of the Presbyterian Mission to the Aborigines at Port George IV (Kunmunya), Western Australia.

On 9 November 1915 Love enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he joined the 1st Light Horse Training Regiment in April 1916, transferring to the Camel Corps in May. In August 1917 he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Imperial Camel Brigade (Anzac Section) and promoted lieutenant in November. He transferred to the 14th Light Horse in July 1918, was wounded in September and returned to Australia next month. For ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ as a sergeant in 1917 and as a lieutenant in 1918, he had been decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross respectively, both awards being gazetted in 1918.

Love entered the Presbyterian Theological School in Ormond College, University of Melbourne, spending his first and final years at the college and the second as superintendent at Mapoon, an Aboriginal mission on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. After his ordination in 1922 he returned to Mapoon where, on 4 September 1923, he married Blanche Margaret Holinger of Melbourne, who was teaching in the mission school.

In 1927 the Loves moved to Kunmunya where he was superintendent until 1940. In the earlier years the missionaries (Love, his wife and children and another married couple) were dependent for communication and supplies on the mission ketch. It sailed to Broome once a month except December to February (the cyclone season). Later the installation of the pedal-radio and preparation of an airstrip enabled daily contact with the flying doctor base at Wyndham and quick transport to hospital in emergencies. Love himself dressed wounds, set broken limbs and dispensed medicine to the less serious cases.

The purpose of the mission, its methods, and the people of the Worora tribe are described in his book, Stone-Age Bushmen of Today (London, 1936). Cattle were bred for meat and goats for meat and milk. Vegetables, fruit and tropical cereals were grown. Some income was derived from the sale of peanuts and bêche-de-mer. However, the very rugged terrain and the remote location ruled out selling livestock. The intention was to train and employ the able-bodied men and women. The Aborigines were paid for working on the mission but, apart from the old and the sick, those who did not work were obliged to support themselves in their traditional ways, maintaining their dignity and self-reliance.

Love translated parts of the Bible into Worora and some Worora stories into English. His analysis of the Worora grammar was presented as a thesis to the University of Adelaide (M.A., 1933). His observations on the languages, religion and customs of the tribes among whom he lived formed the subject of at least thirty articles in scientific and religious periodicals.

During his long furlough in 1937 Love spent six months establishing a new mission at Ernabella in the Musgrave Range, South Australia. After a further three years at Kunmunya, he moved to Ernabella, where he stayed until early 1946. Sheep were run on the mission property, in the care of Aboriginal shepherds. Policies and methods were essentially the same as at Kunmunya.

Love retired from mission work in 1946 and was elected moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia. He accepted a call to the parish of Mount Barker-Lobethal-Woodside that year but illness prevented him from spending much time there. He died of kidney disease on 19 February 1947, survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Love saw himself, and was seen by his Aboriginal parishioners, as a paternal figure. The Worora gave him and his wife names in their language meaning, not the formal 'Father' and 'Mother' but the affectionate 'Dad' and 'Mum'. He encouraged the preservation of those aspects of tribal life that were compatible with Christianity and strove for a balance between upholding tribal law and maintaining the discipline that he considered necessary for the mission's well-being. With some exceptions, unacceptable practices, while discouraged, were not overtly suppressed. The people gradually changed their ways as they came to understand more of the teaching and example of the missionaries; many of them became Church members. Preaching the gospel, teaching manual skills, educating the children and caring for the helpless were regarded as inseparable elements in a mission that aimed to give the Aborigines a new religious faith and an introduction to modern technology that, Love believed, would make them healthier, happier and better able to survive the impact of contact with white people.

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Feb 1947
  • J. R. B. Love papers (PRG 214, State Library of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. H. Love, 'Love, James Robert Beattie (1889–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 June, 1889
Killetter, Tyrone, Ireland


19 February, 1947 (aged 57)
South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.