James Backhouse and George Washington Walker sailed from St. Katherine's Dock in London, England on 3 September 1831 bound for Australia. Also aboard the 236 ton barque "Science" headed to Hobart, Van Diemen's Land were a group of over forty Chelsea Pensioners who had commuted their pensions for an advance of 4 years' payment. Thus began a six year mission to Australia for these two Friends followed by a two year mission to Mauritius and South Africa. Though they were accredited by the Society of Friends in England their journey was self-funded. In Australia, in addition to their missionary work, they prepared numerous reports for the Government on the conditions of convicts, aborigines, etc.
A chronology of their brief visit to Port Phillip is as follows:-
3 November 1837 - Departed Hobart, V.D.L. on the 208 ton barque "Eudora" en route to King Georges Sound via Port Phillip and South Australia. Near Preservation Island in Bass Strait a visitor came aboard the "Eudora" from another vessel. He was a seafaring man whose profane language greatly pained Backhouse. Not having an opportunity to speak with him privately, Backhouse slipped a note into his hand together with two tracts, "A Christian Memento" and "Thoughts on the Importance of Religion." The note said "Permit a stranger to commend to thy notice, the enclosed tracts, under the feeling that thy soul is precious in the sight of God, and that it ought to be precious in thy own sight, and that the days for securing its salvation are fast hastening away." He later met this man on shore and received his grateful acknowledgement for this action.
10 November 1837 - Arrived at Port Phillip and anchored at Gellibrands Point. Stayed on board while the Captain and a Customs Officer went up to Melbourne.
11 November 1837 - Walked along a sandy bush track to the Yarra River. Crossed to Melbourne by ferry where they met George Langhorne. Joined his party in a boat, travelling 2 miles up the Yarra to the Mission Station. Dined with George and Mary Langhorne. Then went 4 miles further up the Yarra to the dwelling of John and Mary Gardiner where they stayed the night.
12 November 1837 - Met with John Gardiner's staff in the morning. Returned to the Mission Station in the afternoon. Then went back to John Gardiner's property for the night.
13 November 1837 - Returned to Melbourne by boat. Met a number of acquaintances from Van Diemens Land and New South Wales. Took tea with a family of Wesleyans with whom they had been acquainted in Sydney, N.S.W. Attended a meeting of about 40 residents in the School House which was being used by all denominations as a Church. Returned to Langhorne's Mission Station for the night.
14 November 1837 - In the afternoon they made a trip down the Yarra in a boat to the "Eudora" to collect some tracts. Returned to Melbourne where they attended a meeting for the establishment of a Temperance Society as a branch to the one in Sydney, N.S.W.
15 November 1837 - Visited John Batman. James Backhouse later wrote: "We called on John Batman, formerly of Buffalo Plains, in Van Diemens Land, who has been much of an invalid since his removal to Port Phillip. He continues to feel a deep interest respecting the Aborigines of these Colonies, and has now, in his employment, several Blacks from the vicinity of Sydney, and a woman and two boys from Tasmania, whom he finds useful servants. They are not disposed to indulge in wandering habits, now that they are removed from their native haunts. This may probably arise, from the fear they entertain of the tribes by which they are here surrounded. J. Batman showed us the skull of a Native, found near Gellibrands Point, which was perforated with slugs, and had some of the lead lodged in the bone, evidently proving, that the individual to whom it had belonged, had been shot. Though from its appearance, when picked up, the murderous deed did not seem to have been perpetrated above six months, yet, he said, no inquiry had been instituted, as to how the party had come by his death."
Backhouse and Walker then headed off in the direction of Geelong, hoping to catch up with their friend, David Stead. However, after walking about three miles, they returned to Melbourne. That evening they dined with Captain William Lonsdale, the Police Magistrate. Spoke with him about the importance of holding inquests into the deaths of Aborigines who may have died under violent or suspicious circumstances. Returned to the Mission Station where they viewed the Aurora Australis, which appeared in the sky very brilliant, in columns of yellow, on a diffuse, pale crimson background.
16 November 1837 - Leaving the Mission Station, Backhouse walked through the bush to the beach and tried unsuccessfully to establish contact with the "Eudora" which was about 2 miles from the shore. The pre-arranged signal of lighting two fires on the sand was hampered by strong winds and no response was received. He then returned to join Walker in Melbourne where they distributed books and tracts. They then returned to the beach but were still unable to make contact with the "Eudora." At sunset they went back to Melbourne and spent the evening with John Batman who presented them with some oval baskets manufactured by local natives. These were said to be stronger and more robust than ones they had previously seen. They also noted that John Batman had some locally caught Emus.
17 November 1837 - Returned to the "Eudora" but because of the sea breeze were unable to set sail.
18 November 1837 - Set sail early and cleared Gellibrands Point. That evening they dropped anchor in a bay a little to the north of Arthurs Seat. Mention was made at this time of about thirty dogs that had been taken aboard the "Eudora" at Hobart for sale in India.
19 November 1837 - Passed out of Port Phillip Bay through the Heads en route to South Australia. From there they went on to spend time in Western Australia and Mauritius before landing in South Africa.
James Backhouse was born on 8 July 1794 at Darlington, County Durham, England, the son of James Backhouse and his wife Mary, nee Dearman. In 1816 he went into partnership with his elder brother, Thomas Backhouse, in a Nursery business in York, Yorkshire, England. He married on 5 November 1822 at the Friends' Meeting House, Tottenham, Middlesex, England, to Deborah Lowe, daughter of Richard Lowe of Worcester, England. His wife died on 10 December 1827 at York aged 34 years. Leaving his son James and daughter Elizabeth with relatives, he joined up with George Washington Walker to sail for Hobart, Van Diemens Land in the early 1830's. Returned to England from South Africa in 1841. Was also well known as a botanist and an author and he made frequent mention of the flora and fauna he observed in his writings. In later years he made extended missionary journeys to Norway and Lapland. He died on 20 January 1869 at his residence, Holgate House, York, Yorkshire, England.
George Washington Walker was born on 19 March 1800 at London, England, the son of John Walker, saddler, and his second wife Elizabeth, nee Ridley. Served an apprenticeship to a linen draper named Hadwen Bragg. Sailed from England in 1831 with James Backhouse for Van Diemen's Land. Later returned to Van Diemen's Land and married on 15 December 1840 at the Friends' Meeting House, Hobart, V.D.L. to Sarah Benson Mather, daughter of Robert Mather. Opened a linen drapery. Distributed religious literature and was a Temperance worker. A Founder and sometime Manager of the Hobart Town Savings Bank. Died on 1 February 1859 at his residence at the Savings Bank, Macquarie Street, Hobart, Tasmania, and was buried on 4 February 1859 at the Friend's Burial Ground, Providence Valley, West Hobart, Tasmania.
On his return to England in 1841, James Backhouse wrote accounts of his missionary travels. These were published as "A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies" (London, 1843) and "A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa" (London, 1844). Following the death of George Washington Walker in 1859, he co-authored with Charles Tylor "The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker of Hobart Town, Tasmania" (London & York, 1862). Individual articles about James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, written by Mary Bartram Trott, appear in the "Australian Dictionary of Biography."
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