Swan Native and Half Caste Mission: the Anglican Church and Aboriginal Children in Western Australia from 1838 to 1920**

Swan Native and Half Caste Mission: the Anglican Church and Aboriginal Children in Western Australia from 1838 to 1920**


In 1829 Frederick Irwin came to the Swan River Colony as military commander; five years later he and George Moore went to Ireland and England and established the Western Australian Missionary Society.  In between those two events Irwin presided over the execution of Midgegooroo.

The Western Australian Missionary Society subsequently purchased an 866-acre site that stretched from the Swan River right up into the hills; the 69-acre “Swanleigh” property is what remains of that land.
The Society sent an Italian, Dr Luis Giustiniani, as its first missionary; he arrived at the Swan Parish in 1836. He built two houses – his home and an Aboriginal mission – and after advocating for Aboriginal people Giustiniani left the colony amid controversy in 1838.
Revd William Mitchell followed, he arrived with his family and a governess named Anne Breeze in 1838. Within a month Mitchell established a mission school on the Swan site for settlers’ children and Aboriginal children with Breeze assisting.
A second Anglican school was established at Fremantle by George King in 1841, it continued till 1850.
In 1841 Abraham Jones re-opened Giustiniani’s mission school in Guildford it also continued until 1850.
In May 1842, after arriving the year before, Revd John Wollaston proposed a plan to remove Aboriginal children to schools where they would be educated at the cost of settler families, who would then have the option of employing them as domestic servants.
In 1843 Mitchell established a second Mission School at Middle Swan and at Upper Swan Revd Postlethwaite established a Mission school for settlers and Aboriginal children which ran until 1848.
In the 1850s Swan Cottage was built at the Middle Swan site to accommodate young ‘native girls’ for the Mission School and Wollaston was granted 60 acres in Albany for an Institution.
The children from the King’s School in Fremantle were then moved to the Albany institution. Henry Camfield and his wife Anne managed the Albany Institution; Mrs Camfield being Anne Breeze who had worked in Mitchell’s Middle Swan School over a decade earlier.
When Hale was appointed as Perth’s first Bishop in 1856 he is said to have had three main areas of interest: care of the Aborigines, the spiritual welfare of the convicts, and a desire to provide higher education for the ‘sons of the better class settlers’.
In 1871 the Albany Native Institution was the longest operating educational establishment for Aboriginal children in the colony and the Camfields wanted to retire; but nobody could be found to operate the Institution. Hale was troubled by this and offered his resignation with the intention of going to manage the Albany institution himself – a delegation talked him out of resigning.
With no solution to the problem in Albany, Hale purchased a block adjacent to Bishop’s House in the city (cnr of St George’s Terrace and Spring St), built a house on it to accommodate and educate Aboriginal children and brought the children from Albany to it. This was all done at his own expense.
After Hale left Perth in 1875, his successor, Bishop Parry, took over the direct management of the Institution until 1888 when he moved the children to the newly established the Swan Native and Half Caste Mission on the Middle Swan site.
The purpose built two-storey building in the City was known as Hale House. After operating as the Bishop’s “Native and Half Caste Institution” (or, ‘Bishop Hale’s Institution for Native and Half-Caste Children’) for 16 years the land was eventually absorbed into the Bishop’s See (which to this day remains the key funding source for the Anglican  Archbishop of Perth ).
The Swan Native and Half Caste Mission operated on the site at the same time as the Swan Boys’ Orphanage and later the girls’ orphanage that had operated in Adelaide Terrace also moved there and was known as the Swan Girls’ Orphanage. The Mission and Orphanages were separated by some acreage and the Jane Brook. The Orphanages were predominantly for non-Aboriginal children, although some children from the Mission, particularly older boys, stayed at the Boys Orphanage. The department that was responsible for Aboriginal affairs appears to have been unhappy with this practice and after one visit instructed those responsible to move all the Aboriginal boys out of the Orphanage back to the Mission.
During this period some substantial grants of land were made to the Diocesan Trustees by the Crown in relation to these various institutions.
Later, the “Aborigines Act 1905” made the Chief Protector the legal guardian of ‘every Aboriginal and half-caste child’ under 16 years. A.O. Neville was appointed Chief Protector in 1915 and subsequently opened two major reserves, at Moore River near Mogumber and Carrolup River near Katanning.
In 1920 Neville discontinued the Government subsidy to Church run Institutions. This apparently forced the closure of the Swan Native and Half Caste Mission with the remaining children sent to Moore River Native Settlement, Mogumber.
Neville’s decision and the sending of the children from the Swan Native and Half Caste Mission  to Mogumber effectively ended more than 80 years of Anglican work with Aboriginal children who were predominantly Noongar – that is to say children of Aboriginal children from the Perth metropolitan area and the greater South West.


During that period of time the Anglican Church had responsibility for children who were moved from Fremantle to Albany (1850s), from Albany to Perth (1872), from Perth to Swan (1888) and from Swan to Mogumber (1920).


** I have been researching around the question of ‘The Anglican Church and Aboriginal Children Western Australia from 1838 to 1920’ for some time on an informal basis. from time to time people have contacted me and asked if I know anything about the SNHCM. So, I have posted the above outline of my preliminary research in case there are other people interested in knowing a bit more about that institution. The use of the whole site (known as Swanleigh) has changed in recent years and I have written on that elsewhere (I may post it here eventually.
The building that housed the SNHCM still stands, on the far side of the oval and Jane Brook from the rest of the Swanleigh facilities (as described above). The building is adjacent to the Swan Christian School and can be easily accessed (seen) from the school’s driveway.

Up until recently, the school has leased the old mission building and used it as music rooms.

The question of the extensive land grants made to the diocese in relation to the orphanages and institutions has been raised on occasions at the Anglican Diocese of Perth Synod at various times over the last 30 to 40 years. This is a contentious issue as it has been argued the land grants were made in relation to the welfare of children and subsidizing the work of the orphanages and institutions. While land has been sold off over the years the Diocesan Trustees still have substantial land holdings in the Stoneville area that relate to these grants.


Previously published July 2014

Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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