Thomas Shadrach James

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Thomas Shadrach James
Born Shadrach James Peersahib
(1859-09-01)September 1, 1859
Moka, Mauritius
Died January 9, 1946(1946-01-09) (aged 86)
Shepparton, Australia
Resting place
Nationality Mauritian
Religion Methodist
Children Shadrach Livingstone James

Thomas Shadrach James (1 September 1859 - 9 January 1946) was a school teacher, Methodist lay preacher, linguist and herbalist.


James was born as James Peersahib in a Muslim family to Samson Peersahib and Miriam Esther, née Thomas in Mauritius.[1] His father Samson Peersahib was an interpreter of Indian descent. After his mother's death he moved to Australia and changed his first name in honour of his mother.[2] James was fluent in the Tamil language.[3]

In 1885 James married Ada Bethel Cooper, a Yorta Yorta woman. James Peersahib converted to Christianity around this time and, taking another name from his family, became Thomas James, and it is by this name he became better known in Australia.[1] In 1890 they had a son, Shadrach Livingstone James, who later became an Aboriginal activist.[2][4] 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".[5]


On meeting prominent missionary Daniel Matthews in Melbourne, James volunteered to work as a teacher to Maloga Aboriginal School where he worked for two years without pay. 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.[2]

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.[2]

While at Cummeragunja he worked as a translator of the Yorta Yorta language.[6]

In 1922 James retired from teaching having been removed as head teacher in 1921. 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.[4][7]

James moved to Barmah and then to North Fitzroy.[2]

Later life[edit]

In North Fitzroy James worked as a herbalist and masseur, specialising in treatment of arthritis.[2]

James published a book on Aboriginal culture called Heritage in Stone.[2]


James died in January 1946 in Shepparton and was buried at Cummeragunja.[2]


  1. ^ a b 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
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "James, Thomas Shadrach (1859 - 1946)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  3. ^ Sharrad, Paul (2009). "The River is Three-quarters Empty". University of Wollongong. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  4. ^ a b Broome, Richard (2005). Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800. Allen & Unwin. p. 299. ISBN 1-74114-569-4. 
  5. ^ Jane Carey, Claire McLisky, "Creating White Australia", Sydney University Press, p. 79
  6. ^ "Dream Time People". University of the Sunshine Coast. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  7. ^ 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. Retrieved 2009-11-18.  [dead link]