Life Summary



20 October 1788, Southwark, Surrey, England


10 October 1859

Cultural Heritage


Religious Influence



Coalmine owner
Congregationalist minister
Congregationalist missionary
Indigenous culture recorder
Religious writer

Aboriginal Mission

On his pioneer landing at Swansea Beach on December 25, 1825, the Reverend Lancelot E Threlkeld, a former actor and businessman turned missionary, set up an Aboriginal mission with government assistance. It was transferred from its original location on the eastern shore of the lake when Threlkeld was dismissed by the London Missionary Society after bitter disagreements over financial arrangements.

Following his dismissal from the LMS amid disputes with Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1828, Reverend Threlkeld secured a grant from Governor Darling for land at 'Ebenezer' (Toronto) and a public salary for his missionary work. His Lake Macquarie mission lasted until 1841, when he moved to Sydney and began performing pastoral duties for the South Head Congregational Church.

Threlkeld started the first coal mine around the lake at Coal Point (on the tip of the Toronto peninsula), c.1840, and subsequently bought ten acres at Swansea Heads for coal-loading and storage around 1842. The coal was shipped to the entrance channel by barge. He employed seventeen men in the enterprise.

By 1841 there were few Aboriginal people left on the mission as the tribes had scattered and so it closed. In 1844 he sold the mine and moved to Sydney but continued to work for Aboriginal welfare, acting as a translator in court.

Awabakal Language

His work on the Awabakal language was an early landmark of Aboriginal studies. He had high regard for his Aboriginal friends and spoke to them in their own tongue. As part of his missionary instruction, and with the help of Birabaan as his tutor, he questioned the Aboriginal people about their language, beliefs and witnessed some of their rituals, recording dreaming stories, important places, as well as ritualistic practices.

When Reverend Lancelot E Threlkeld commenced missionary work at Lake Macquarie in 1825 Birabaan became his principal assistant, and a 'mateship' based on mutual respect and affection developed between the two men. Birabaan instructed Threlkeld in tribal lore and absorbed the principles of Calvinist Christianity. He gave daily instruction in the language and corrected the missionary's transcripts. After a year's work the language had been reduced to a written form and by 1829 the first draft of St Luke's Gospel had been completed.

Threlkeld, as well as acting as protector of the Aboriginal people, compiled a grammar and vocabulary of the Awabakal dialect.

Threlkeld published a number of linguistic works, including Specimens of a Dialect (1827), An Australian Grammar (1834), An Australian Spelling Book (1836) and A Key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language (1850).

Threlkeld's correspondence and papers were edited by Niel Gunson in Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld: Missionary to the Aborigines 1824 - 1859. Threlkeld's published works on the Awabakal language that were originally published as pamphlets were brought together and edited by John Fraser in 1892 under the title An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the people of Awaba and Lake Macquarie (Near Newcastle, New South Wales) being an account of their Language, Traditions, and Customs.

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