Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hubert Ernest de Mey Warren (1885–1934)

by Keith Cole

This article was published:

Hubert Ernest de Mey Warren (1885-1934), missionary, was born on 2 March 1885 at Prahran, Victoria, son of William Robert de Mey Warren, agent, and his wife Selina Jane Cornish, née Horrell; both parents were of Cornish descent. After being educated at All Saints Grammar School, St Kilda, Warren served his apprenticeship to Robison Bros & Co., Melbourne, marine engineers, before becoming a ship's engineer. Converted at a George Grubb Mission, Warren trained for the Anglican ministry at Moore College, Sydney, being made deacon in 1910 and ordained priest in 1911. In 1913 he joined the Church Missionary Society's Aboriginal mission at Roper River in the Northern Territory and was appointed superintendent in October. On leave in Sydney, he married Ellie May Potter on 6 April 1915 at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Physically strong and over six feet (183 cm) tall, Bert Warren had a tough physique, an open nature and an infectious laugh. In 1916-21 he explored the east Arnhem Land coast and islands in a small launch called the Evangel to find sites for 'a chain of missions' on the west of the Gulf of Carpentaria. In recognition of this work he was made a fellow (1918) of the Royal Geographical Society of Victoria. Returning from furlough in 1919, he completed an historic 3000-mile (4828 km) journey from Sydney to the Roper River in a T-model Ford. In 1921 Warren started the C.M.S. mission at the Emerald River on Groote Eylandt to house and train children of mixed descent from camps and towns in eastern areas of the Northern Territory. Contact was also established with the local Aborigines. Despite appalling isolation and hardship, the mission developed: in 1925 Captain (Sir) Hubert Wilkins praised its work and in 1928 Commissioner J. W. Bleakley commended it in his survey of Northern Territory missions. In 1929 the C.M.S. adopted a policy aimed at evangelizing the Aborigines. Relieved of his position and given a year's leave, Warren served at the understaffed Roper River mission. To the Aborigines, he was 'long fella cobberlile'—a gecko.

Appointed rector of Cullenswood in Tasmania in 1932, Warren led a 'peace expedition' to Arnhem Land in 1933-34. In response to the killing of five Japanese trepangers, two white beachcombers and a policeman by Aborigines on the east Arnhem Land coast, police had planned a punitive expedition. The C.M.S. intervened and—with the approval of the Commonwealth government—Warren, Rev. A. J. Dyer and D. H. Fowler made contact with the Aborigines implicated in the incident and persuaded them to go to Darwin. The nature of their trials emphasized the incongruity of the court system for Aborigines in remote areas.

Warren then accepted nomination to the parish of St Thomas, Enfield, Sydney. On 19 October 1934 the aircraft Miss Hobart, on which he flew from Launceston bound for Melbourne, disappeared over Bass Strait. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. Warren's colleagues saluted him as 'one of Christ's gallant men' and the Groote Eylandters wrote: 'He was like our father and he treated us as his children, so a person who does that to us shall never be forgotten'.

Select Bibliography

  • C. C. Macknight (ed), The Farthest Coast (Melb, 1969)
  • K. Cole, Groote Eylandt Pioneer (Melb, 1971)
  • K. Cole, The Aborigines of Arnhem Land (Adel, 1979)
  • Oceania, 17, 1947
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20, 22 Oct 1934.

Citation details

Keith Cole, 'Warren, Hubert Ernest de Mey (1885–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 March, 1885
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 October, 1934 (aged 49)

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