Thomas Shadrach James

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Thomas Shadrach James
James Peersaib

(1859-09-01)September 1, 1859
DiedJanuary 9, 1946(1946-01-09) (aged 86)
Resting place Cummeragunja
Nationality Mauritian
Spouse(s)Ada Cooper
ChildrenMiriam, Priscilla, Shadrach Livingstone James, Rebecca, Garfield, Ivy, Carey

Thomas Shadrach James (1 September 1859 – 9 January 1946) was a Methodist lay preacher, linguist and herbalist. However, it was as a teacher, first at Maloga Aboriginal Mission and later at Cummeragunja, that he is remembered in history. Through this role, he equipped and influenced generations of Aboriginal activists, including Margaret Tucker, Pastor Doug Nicholls, George Patten, Jack Patten, William Cooper and Bill Onus.

Methodism Group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity

Methodism, also known as the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity which derive their practice and belief from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John's brother Charles Wesley were also significant early leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival movement within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond because of vigorous missionary work, today claiming approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.

In religious organizations, the laity consists of all members who are not part of the clergy, usually including any non-ordained members of religious institutes, e.g. a nun or lay brother.

Maloga Mission Aboriginal mission Station in New South Wales, Australia

Maloga Aboriginal Mission Station also known as Maloga Mission or Mologa Mission was established about 15 miles from the township of Moama, on the banks of the Murray River in New South Wales, Australia. It was on the edge of an extensive forest reserve. Maloga Mission was a private venture established by Daniel Matthews, a missionary and school teacher, and his brother William. The mission operated intermittently in 1874, becoming permanent in 1876. The Mission closed in 1888.



On his birth certificate, Thomas James is recorded as being "Thomas Shadrach Peersahib". His father was denoted as James Peersahib (in other documents, this name is Peersaib). And his mother was Esther née Thomas. The couple were both Tamil, of Indian descent living in Mauritius. [1] [2] His father James had been raised a Muslim in Madras and had moved to Mauritius to work as [1] an interpreter to Magistrate Edward Henry Martindale at Wilhelms Plaines. However, following some years of hardship at Black River had asked a local missionary to become a Christian and later became a catechist in the Anglican church. [3]

Tamil Mauritian

Tamil Mauritians are the descendants of Tamil migrants to Mauritius. The original immigrants from Tamil were craftsmen and tradesmen and arrived when Mauritians was ruled by France. The island nation has a Tamil population of 115,000. Most were brought by the British from Tamil Nadu after 1727 to serve as labourers on the sugar cane plantations. Around 15 percent of Indo-Mauritians are Tamils. The community includes a Hindu majority and the rest are Christians . They account to 55,000 of the Mauritian population. Of this number, around 7000 people reported that they spoke Tamil. Most Tamils in Mauritius are Hindus. A large population of the Tamils in Mauritius live in Rose-Hill.

Non-resident Indian and person of Indian origin Overseas Indians

Overseas Indians, officially known as Non-resident Indians (NRIs) or Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), are people of Indian birth, descent or origin who live outside the Republic of India. Overseas Indians are various individuals or ethnic groups associated with India, usually through ancestry, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship or other affiliation and live abroad overseas. According to a Ministry of External Affairs report, there were 30,995,729 NRIs and PIOs residing outside India as of December 2018. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs based on migrants overseas with India as the country of citizenhip at birth, in 2019 Indians comprised world's largest migrant diaspora populations in the world with over 17.5 million Indians out of total 272 million migrants worldwide, this excludes the second or more generation POI living in other nations. 2018 data complied by the India's MoEA puts the number of Indian NRI and PIOs living overseas at 31 million.

Mauritius Island nation in the Indian Ocean

Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, 560 kilometres east of Mauritius, and the outer islands of Agaléga and St. Brandon. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The area of the country is 2,040 square kilometres (790 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Port Louis.

As a young man, Thomas lived in Port Louis and was educated at the local school. Even as a teenager, he achieved local stature as an educator of other boys. However, in his later teens he was traumatised, first by the death of his younger brother Samson (in 1875), then the death of his mother shortly after, and by the quick remarriage of his father to Luckheea, which he saw as insensitive. With these misgivings, he decided to make a journey to Australia and began using James as his surname, presumably to honour his father, though he would never see him again. [4] James was fluent in Tamil, French, English and probably Yorta Yorta. [5] [6]

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 26 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

His interest in medicine and preaching may have come from his mother's family back in Ceylon. His maternal uncle Manuel as well as his cousins Gamiel and William "Nesam" Paranesam were all deacons of the Anglican Church. So too was his cousin Abishegam Thomas, who was also a medical doctor. Abishegam's family remember that, even as a young teen, "Shadrach was a really brilliant student; he was not only brilliant, his English was perfect and he did very good work". [7]

Thomas arrived in Tasmania in 1879, applying for a teaching job on 23 August, and may have taught there for sometime. It's believed by the family that he then moved to Melbourne to begin studying medicine, but he developed typhus - the subsequent shakes making a future in surgery impossible. With that setback, he found himself greatly attracted to the work of mission - after meeting a great number of Aboriginal evangelists and singers at Brighton in Melbourne on 3 January 1881.

The group of 25 Indigenous men and women had travelled down from the Maloga Mission, and Thomas was introduced to the founder of the mission, Daniel Matthews, by a mutual friend, the shipping entrepreneur, Charles Crosby. It's not known whether it was from Thomas listening to the message of the missionary or the black evangelists, but it is recorded that Thomas James believed, “God spoke to me that day!” [8] In the memory of Daniel's son, J K Matthews, "the result was that Mr James offered to assist in the mission work without remuneration.". [9] The missionary accepted his offer.

Teaching at Maloga and Cummeragunja

Thomas James became permanent assistant to Daniel Matthews when the Maloga School received its recognition as a State School on 1 August 1881, and from then on it is understood he received a government salary. Then, when Daniel Matthews formally resigned as official teacher at Maloga in August 1883, the department installed, "The gentle Indian schoolteacher, Thomas James, who was much liked by his pupils..." [10]

In 1883 he was appointed Head Teacher of the school. When the residents of Maloga were transferred to Cummeragunja in 1888, James relocated his school. [4]

In 1885 James married Ada Bethel Cooper, who had been one of the older students at his school when he first attended. She was a Yorta Yorta woman, whose mother, Kitty, was one of the real elders of the community. The couple were to have eight children, including Shadrach Livingstone James, who later became an Aboriginal activist and noted public speaker. [4] [11] Thomas would take Indigenous Australians to Sunday school, in order to "assist in preaching the Gospel of Salvation to the settlers on the Victorian side of the Murray". [12]

Over the course of his four decades of teaching James taught many Aboriginal people who later rose to prominence including Douglas Nicholls (his nephew), William Cooper (his brother-in-law) and Bill Onus. [4] Essentially, the men and women became who went on to be the founders of the Australian Aborigines' League had all came from the "scholar’s hut" of Thomas James. He taught them ‘reading and writing’ (according to a letter he wrote to Chief Inspector Thomas Pearson on 28 August 1891) [13] But it seems he also gave these leaders rhetorical skills, an understanding of government and rights.

While at Cummeragunja he worked as a translator of the Yorta Yorta language. [14] And he never ceased in his passion for preaching and evangelising, not just at Cummeragunja (where he was the Sunday School teacher), but out of town too, to Indigenous people and to white farmers, in places like Nathalia and Picola. [15]

During his career, he had many struggles with authorities, including some Mission managers, such as Mr Harris; as well as, at times, the Department of Education and the Aborigines Protection Board (APB). For one thing, Mr James' preaching was a cause of concern, for didn't just win souls, it caused discontent. One sermon, on February 7, 1909 was interpreted as inciting unrest about the removal of the Aboriginal farm blocks. Mrs Harris, the managers wife, wrote about the matter with great fury, saying that Mr James was being ‘disloyal to the APB who were trying to bring about friendly relations between the blacks and whites’. In return, the APB blamed him for unrest at Cummeragunja and the board and managers began speaking openly about their fears that he was giving the people ideas – enabling them to write petitions and complain. The APB tried to sack him twice; however, this was not easily achieved - as he led a very successful teaching team, with marks for children, both black and white, being above average for the state. The 1908 departmental report found that the Cummeragunja school had “earnest, capable and enthusiastic teachers. They are thoroughly in sympathy with the whole of the coloured parents and children and their influence is a good one.” [16] [ clarification needed ]

Sensing he could not survive too many more controversies, James resigned his position in 1922.[ citation needed ]

Later life

In 1922 James retired from teaching having been removed as head teacher in 1922 [17]

He had hoped that his son, who was his teaching assistant, would be appointed as his replacement. However the New South Wales Government decided to appoint someone else. [11] [18]

From there he moved to North Fitzroy James worked as a herbalist and masseur, specialising in treatment of arthritis. [4]

It is recorded that Mr James published a book on Aboriginal culture called Heritage in Stone; [4] however, no copy can currently be found.


James died in January 1946 in Shepparton and was buried at Cummeragunja. [4]

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  1. 1 2 George Edward Nelson, Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p257
  2. Bringing real learning: South Asian and Islamic Contributions to Australia by Professor Heather Goodall [Speech delivered on Sir Syed Day in Sydney, October 2009], Souvenir Magazine, Aligarh Muslim University Alumni of Australia, 2009:18-21
  3. Vincent W Ryan, Mauritius and Madagascar: Journals of An Eight Years' Residence in the Diocese of Mauritius, and of a Visit to Madagascar (London: Sheeley, Jackon, and Halliday, 1864)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "James, Thomas Shadrach (1859 - 1946)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  5. Nancy Cato, Mister Maloga (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1976) p97
  6. Sharrad, Paul (2009). "The River is Three-quarters Empty". University of Wollongong. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  7. George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p271
  8. As recalled by his daughter, Priscilla, recorded in George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p271
  9. CUMEROOGUNGA MISSION: Story of Its Early Days Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW), Thursday 15 August 1946, page 3 National Library of Australia
  10. Nancy Cato, Mister Maloga (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1976) p110
  11. 1 2 Broome, Richard (2005). Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800. Allen & Unwin. p. 299. ISBN   1-74114-569-4.
  12. Jane Carey, Claire McLisky, "Creating White Australia", Sydney University Press, p. 79
  13. George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p148 see Koori Heritage Trust.
  14. "Dream Time People" (PDF). University of the Sunshine Coast. Retrieved 2009-11-18.[ permanent dead link ]
  15. George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p187
  16. George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p289
  17. George Nelson, Robynne Nelson Dharmalan Dana: An Australian Aboriginal Man's Search for the Story of His Aboriginal and Indian Ancestors (ANU Press, Canberra, 2014) p25
  18. Goodall, Heather; Ghosh, Devleena; Todd, Lindi Renier (February 2008). "Jumping Ship: Indians, Aborigines and Australians Across the Indian Ocean". Transforming Cultures eJournal. University of Technology Sydney. 3 (1): 58–59. doi:10.5130/tfc.v3i1.674. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2009-11-18.