Francis Armstrong

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For other people named Francis Armstrong, see Francis Armstrong (disambiguation).

Francis Armstrong (18l3 – 1897) was a Scottish methodist pioneer and missionary to aborigines in Western Australia.

Early life[edit]

Armstrong was born around 1813 in Dalkeith, Scotland. He died on 22 May 1897 Perth, Western Australia. He was the eldest son of Captain Adam Armstrong. On 15 December 1829, Armstrong arrived in the Swan River Colony aboard Gilmore from Dalkeith with his father, four brothers and sister (his mother had died in Scotland). The family settled on the banks of the River Swan between Perth and Fremantle and named the locality Dalkeith after their home village in Scotland. While Armstrong helped with the work associated with establishing themselves he met and befriended a number of the local natives. He felt strongly attracted to these [[Aboriginal groupings of Western Australia |indigenous people]] and at once set out to learn something of their customs and language.

A little later Armstrong went to work in Perth for George Fletcher Moore who kept a small store. Then, for a number of years, he managed a store for George Shenton in St George's Terrace. Still later, he entered into business for himself as a grain and produce and commission agent. From this business and several others he ventured into he acquired sufficient wealth to give him a modest retirement.

Devotion to Methodism[edit]

The young Armstrong quickly associated himself with the Tranby Methodists and helped to establish the first Methodist Society in Western Australia. Armstrong never forgot his early contact with the local natives and it became his overriding ambition to do all he could to improve their lot. He became so proficient in the language of the Aboriginal people he wrote or assisted in the writing of two books translating some of their dialects into English. Before either government or church interest was stirred to the plight of the Aboriginal people, Armstrong and his wife were seeking to improve their circumstances and better their lives. Eventually his lone attempts to help the natives came to the notice of Governor Hutt. In 1841 the governor granted to the Methodists an annual subsidy of £75 to help establish a mission for the Aboriginal people on the foreshore near the Mount Eliza Bay area. It was to Francis and Mary Armstrong, that the Rev John Smithies, the first minister of Wesley Church, turned to entrust the superintendency of this mission. Aged 21, Armstrong had already been appointed the official Government Interpreter and Moral Agent for Aboriginal people on a salary of £90 a year. At one time Governor Hutt appointed him to investigate the treatment of Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island. In spite of a previous enquiry, complaints of the treatment meted out to Aboriginal prisoners continued to come to the governor's ears. Armstrong reported, 'It is refusal to work that brings on the punishment they complain of. This has been with the worst characters some of them who have robbed the store, killed the poultry and run off into the bush ... The number of strips is limited to 36, and I would respectfully suggest that it might he reduced to half that number and that only in extreme cases and immediately under the direction of Mr Vincent.' However complaints from the Island continued and Armstrong was involved in yet another enquiry, and for a short period was appointed Storekeeper and Moral Agent on the Island 'to improve the habits and morals of the prisoners'. Considering the fact that Vincent, the government manager of the prison did not co-operate willingly with the Moral Agent it is not surprising that Armstrong soon transferred back to Perth.

Judged by the light of the time, the Methodist Aboriginal Mission under the superintendency of Armstrong was quite successful. The baptismal register of Wesley Church records a number of natives received into the church by baptism.

Armstrong was one of the foremost men in Wesley Church and, with other equally devoted Methodists, his name is associated in the founding of the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday school in the colony. He also laboured in the same quiet way in the cause of temperance and other social reforms, and in his own modest manner displayed the finest qualities of a good citizen.

Gradually the years took their toll on his health and he was aware that his strength was beginning to fail, then he was attacked with influenza.

Personal life[edit]

In 1836, he married Mary Mews, second daughter of T W Mews. Mary was a devout Anglican and like her husband was greatly interested in the welfare of the local aboriginal peoples. They had four sons and five daughters.

References[edit]

  • Ronald E Turner, Foundations Not Made with Hands (Perth, 1984);
  • Wesley Lutton, The Wesley Story (Perth, 1970);
  • Thomas Farmer, Journal (Battye Library);
  • William McNair, 'Righteousness Developed into Intelligent Goodness' (Western Methodist, Sept 1965);
  • William McNair and Hilary Rumley, Pioneer Aboriginal Mission (Perth, 1981)