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Matthew Moorhouse, a medical practitioner, arrived in South Australia from Staffordshire, England, in June 1839 to take up appointment as the colony’s first permanent protector of Aboriginals. His instructions required him to become acquainted with the languages and customs of Aboriginal people, protect them from exploitation and, above all, promote the reception of Christian religion and the ‘arts of civilisation’. His early reports included ethnographic descriptions of Aboriginal culture A Vocabulary and Outline . . . of the River Murray Language (1846). He encouraged the education of Aboriginal children, supporting the establishment of schools in Adelaide, Walkerville, Encounter Bay on Fleurieu Peninsula, and Port Lincoln and the mission at Poonindie on Eyre Peninsula. As European settlement spread, Moorhouse regularly visited frontier districts to investigate clashes between Aboriginal people and settlers, frequently serving as a court interpreter. He did his job as well as the prevailing attitudes of the time and the limited resources at his disposal allowed. Moorhouse resigned in 1856 and travelled to England and North America. On his return to South Australia Moorhouse became a pastoralist, settling at Bartagunyah, near Melrose in the Mid North.  

By Robert Foster

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 30 June 2015.

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