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Matthew Moorhouse (1813–1876)

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Matthew Moorhouse (1813-1876), by unknown photographer, c1870

Matthew Moorhouse (1813-1876), by unknown photographer, c1870

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6912/K10

Matthew Moorhouse (1813-1876), medical practitioner, civil servant and pastoralist, studied medicine in London (M.R.C.S., 1836). He was practising in Hanley, Staffordshire, when appointed by the Crown as the first permanent protector of Aborigines in South Australia. Acquainted with the Congregationalist minister, R. W. Newland, at Hanley, Moorhouse joined his party in the Sir Charles Forbes and arrived at Holdfast Bay in June 1839. He chose a section near Newland's settlement at Encounter Bay where he was one of the first to cultivate land.

Official duties as protector involved Moorhouse in many activities. He had to safeguard native interests in land and see that agreements between settlers and Aboriginals were fulfilled, to mediate in disputes and bring offenders to justice, to find the number and location of the tribes, to learn their languages and customs, and to train them in the arts of civilization, specially reading, writing and cultivation. Above all he was to give them a knowledge of the Christian religion. His work demanded arduous travel to investigate sheep stealing and attacks on settlers. Although he centred attention on the Adelaide tribe his protection extended to tribes in the River Murray district and on Eyre Peninsula. He accompanied the commissioner of police, T. S. O'Halloran, on expeditions and was present at the summary execution of several natives after the massacre of survivors of the wreck Maria in 1840. He co-operated with members of the Dresden Missionary Society and the Anglican archdeacon, M. B. Hale, in opening Aboriginal mission stations near Port Lincoln. An enthusiastic believer in educating Aboriginal children, he built a school in Adelaide where he tried to teach them in their own language but without success. At Governor Grey's request he published A Vocabulary and Outline of the Grammatical Structure of the River Murray Language (Adelaide, 1846).

In defending Aboriginal rights Moorhouse sometimes conflicted with the government and hostile colonists while his methods were often criticized by the press. He saw the worst aspects of assimilation but his patient efforts did much to alleviate some of the harshness. Later deterioration of native and European relations and decline of the Aboriginal population made his efforts fruitless but his concern for Aboriginal welfare and justice won him respect from many settlers and affection from the natives.

Active in colonial affairs, Moorhouse joined the Adelaide Philosophical Society and was a vice-president in 1853. He lectured to the Literary Association on various topics and was a member of the Statistical Society. Appointed a justice of the peace in 1841, he was an able and diligent magistrate. In 1849 he served on provisional committees for the proposed railway to Port Adelaide. In June 1851 he was returning officer for the Yatala electoral district and in July was appointed to the Destitute Board, later serving as secretary. On 4 January 1842 at Trinity Church, Adelaide, he had married Mary Ruth Kilner; they had three children.

In 1856 Moorhouse went to England where he lectured on South Australia and promoted migration. He then visited North America where he travelled over 5000 miles (8047 km) by railroad and investigated various systems of education. On his return he resigned as protector and was elected a representative of the City of Adelaide in the House of Assembly in 1860 and in October 1861 served as commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration in the ten-day ministry of G. M. Waterhouse. In October 1862 he resigned and became a pastoralist. He bought shares in properties near Riverton and Saddleworth but soon sold out and with Joseph Fisher and others bought 27,700 acres (11,210 ha) near the Hummocks. Moorhouse managed the station until R. Barr Smith bought it in 1870. He worked other holdings near Saltia, but settled at Bartagunyah near Melrose where he often gave his professional services to settlers. After a brief illness he died at Bartagunyah on 29 March 1876, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. His estate of £7000 was left to his family.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1925)
  • J. B. Cleland, Pioneer Medical Men in South Australia (Adel, 1941)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1860 (165), 1861 (131), 1862 (88)
  • A. A. Lendon, Matthew Moorhouse (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Moorhouse, Matthew (1813–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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